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Age of Ragnarok

Steed's Tale - "Age of Ragnarok"
Journal of Prince "Major" Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Jeremy Stock during Ambercon VIII, 1997.
A journal by Jeremy Stock and Brad Foreman.
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr. in 1998.
Steed's history was written in 1994.

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


Family Background:
Mother: Flora of Amber 
Grandmother: Dybele (deceased) Grandfather: Oberon (deceased)
Great-grandmother: Unicorn Great-grandfather: Dworkin 
Father: unknown

Personal History Time Line:

Time conversion: 4 Amber yr. = 10 Earth yr./4 Earth yr. = 1.5 Amber yr.

>Ages 0-10: (1922-1931) (2369-2372 d'L)
Born Jonathan Steed, on February 6, 1922.
Shadow Earth: in Berkshire, England.
>Ages 11-14: (1932-1935) (2373-2374 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Boarding school in Winchester, England.
Amber: Walked the Pattern at 12.
>Ages 15-18: (1936-1939) (2375- 2376 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Eton College, student.
>Ages 19-28: (1940-1949) (2377-2380 d'L)
Shadow Earth: British Royal Navy, title Major.
>Ages 29-32: (1950-1959) (2380-2384 d'L)
Amber Army, title Major. 
>Ages 33-50: (1960-1977) (2385-2390 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Ministry of Intelligence, independent agent.
>Ages 51: (1978-1979) (2391 d'L)
Return to Amber after the Patternfall War ended.
>Ages 52: (1980-1981) (2392 d'L)
Present. In Chaos for exchange program.
>Ages 53: (1982) (2393 d'L)
Present. Return to Amber, royal agent.

Alexander, son of Fiona - Scott "Stormy" Whitney
Ariel, daughter of Fiona - Heidi "Kassi" King
Carachel, son of ? - Rich Driscoll
Colin, son of Flora - William ?
Conner, son of Deirdre - Robert G. Ewart
Corvina, daughter of Brand and Dara - Lori Turi
Graham, son of Eric - Michael ?
Harrison, son of Oberon - J. P. Brannon
Macallan, son of Fiona - Ian Ng
Steed, son of Flora - Cal Westray

Episode A0-1 - A Passion Play - of Beginnings and Endings

In which Steed views a play
... and life imitates art. 

I am troubled with bizarre memories. Are they dreams? Are they projections of someone's thoughts? Somehow, I find myself in theater box seats. How I got here and why I am here is unknown to me.
I sense some people sitting next to me, I am unaware of their identities. We are watching a play. Somehow, the play itself will provide the answers to why I am here and what I must do. Everything from start to finish should be revealed to me.

Scene one:

Stage is set. Golden curtains slowly open as a deep, dark voice speaks.

Narrator: In the dim and distant past, as it were in the year one, all things were formless and empty. Darkness covered the surface of the deep and the multitude of Voices returned from their past.

The stage looks like a black hole. There are no lights or sounds, only the void of the eternal damnation.

Narrator: Then the multitude of Voices spoke.

All Voices: Let there be Light!

Voice 1: Call upon the mist and open the gap to bring forth the waters of our blood.

Mist rolls in from the void, and out of the center of the void a small crack is formed. Out of this crack, a fountain flows forth and twelve rivers issue from it.

Voice 2: Let the rivers of our blood divide and flow away from its source to consume the darkness, for it is our desire.

Voice 3: And let the rivers of our blood turn to ice and the light shine forth.

Each river travels in a different direction, filling up the void. When the rivers flow far from their source, they turn into ice. The ice reflects a strange glow of white light.

Narrator: The multitude of Voices saw that the light was good and separated the light from the darkness.

Voice 4: The light shall be called Chaos.

Voice 5: And the Darkness shall be named the Abyss.

The frozen rivers begin to melt and the vapors rise. Suddenly a flash of blinding, white light explodes in the void. The darkness is gone, replaced by Chaos. Lights and colors constantly move, change and mold with each other. Objects randomly appear, disappear, melt, explode, implode, ignite, freeze, collide, always moving. Nothing ever stops.

Narrator: And the Voices saw that it was good. The Voices spoke again.

All Voices: Let us prepare for our children.

Voice 1: Let there be an expanse between the seen and unseen and all things around be as one.

Voice 2: Let the seen be gathered to one place and let the seen produce the seed of our children.

Voice 3: And let the unseen be the doorway to our domain.

Voice 4: Let there be lights in the expanse of the seen to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark our ever watching.

Voice 5: Let the seen teem with living servants for our coming children.

Voice 6: Be fruitful and increase in number and fill all that is seen in the Chaos.

Voice 7: Let these servants be the messengers to the unseen for they are our eyes, ears, and mouths.

Voice 1: And let the Chaos produce other living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the Light and Darkness, and wild animals, each according to its kind.

Narrator: And the Voices saw what they created and it was good.

Voice 2: Let us make life in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over all that we shall give them.

Voice 3: From the wars that we have won and lost.

Voice 4: From the blood of our dead and fallen.

Voice 5: From the time of the Forgotten and the time of the Creation.

Voice 6: From the hands of our enemies and the hearts of our damned.

Voice 7: From our own flesh and blood and bones.

Voice 1: And from the roots and seeds of the seen and unseen, let life as we see fit begin!

A piece of ice emerges from the mass of Chaos and begins to melt. Out of the ice comes a large piece of clay. The clay begins to mold and rearrange itself with random objects from the Chaos adding itself to the body. The clay slowly changes into a demonic type form.

Narrator: And the Voices spoke to their new creation.

All Voices: Be fruitful and increase in number.

Voices 1: Fill and subdue all that I have given you. Rule over and care for everything seen and unseen, for you have inherited what I made for you.

All Voices: This is all I shall give you.

Narrator: The Voices saw all that they made, and it was good. So began life.

Stage goes dark and the curtain falls.

Scene three:

Curtain raises. A large cauldron of fire appears in the center of the stage. The flames in the cauldron cast reflections on the walls.

Narrator: So the new creations lived in exile from Paradise. They took what was left for them and began to build a civilization.

The shadows show several dancing, shape shifting, demonic figures on the walls.

Narrator: The spawns of Chaos thrived and multiplied, but there were many. It came to be that they could not tell one from the other. Confusion and fear grew among them, and death was soon discovered.

One of the shadows starts to strangle another shadow, killing it. The other shadows begin to fight each other as well.

Narrator: And the multitude of Voices spoke for the last time.

All Voices: Stop!

Voice 1: What have you done? Listen!

Voice 2: Your kindred's blood cries out to me!

Voice 3: I commanded you to care for all that I gave you, seen and unseen.

Voice 4: Yet you disobeyed my orders once again and listened to the Serpent's tongue for the last time.

Voice 5: For now you are under the eternal curse of the damned!

Voice 6: You shall never know peace ever again!

Voice 7: Know now that I shall not intervene in your affairs any longer, but only when I see fit to.

All Voices: Behold!

Voice 1: I give you one last gift. They shall be your masters!

Voice 2: They shall show you the ways of old and teach you the meaning to all things seen and unseen.

Voice 3: Listen to them and obey them, for they are your new masters.

The shadow figures stop fighting and run away. A flash of light blinds the audience and twelve tall demonic shadow figures stand in a row.

Narrator: There were many greats among Chaos, but none as great as the Masters. They were the heroes of old, ones of renown. It was they that brought knowledge, understanding and communication to the Chaos. It was they that gave names to all of Chaos. It was they that divided Chaos among Houses and made a Kingdom. And so, the Golden Age of Chaos came to pass.

Stage goes dark and curtain falls.

Scene twenty:

Curtain opens. There is a large stone hedge in the center of the stage. Before it are ten ominous looking figures standing in a circle. Off to stage left is another ominous looking person waiting for something. Then another ominous looking person enters stage left.

Figure 1: The Council is called. You are the last to arrive. Come, the rest awaits for you.

Figure 2: I bear grave news. The king is planning to betray us. We must act now!

Figure 1: We all know of the King's actions, but that must wait for another time. The Council has other issues that must be dealt with for now. Come, we have no time to discuss such issues.

Both walks to center stage and joins the circle. Everyone is quiet for a moment.

Figure 3: I have called the Grand Council to speak of a new dilemma that has been brought to us. For you all know of the betrayer who stole that which is ours.

Everyone in the circle murmurs to themselves and nods.

Figure 4: That young whelp killed several of my servants and destroyed my complex! If I ever get my shadow around that piece of trash, he'll regret the day he was even conceived.

Figure 5: We all know of his past. But what he does now pales in comparison of what he plans to do.

Figure 6: I know he has stolen our toy, but what can he do with it. It's useless for him. He doesn't know how to use it.

Figure 3: True, but I know a being from the Unseen who has traveled beyond and is planning to assist the betrayer. He has already gone beyond the Tree.

Everyone seems disturbed by this remark.

Figure 7: How is that possible? He is no master of the Ways or the Arts.

Figure 8: He has broken another law by passing the Tree. We must stop him before he continues any further.

Figure 3: I agree. But we do not have the time to pursue the betrayer. The King preoccupies us. We must send someone or something to stop the betrayer.

Figure 9: If we cannot do anything, then we must rely on the inferiors to assist us.

Figure 10: Yes, but who will we send? The Fire Angels would not be strong enough to pass the Tree.

Figure 11: Nor would any of my servants be able stop the betrayer. Though he is weak, we should not underestimate his ability to use our toy. By now, he should be able to defend himself with it.

Figure 1: Yes, that is true. But what of the Nine? They would surely be able to consume him.

Figure 12: The Nine would destroy the betrayer, but they would also consume the object we desire as well.

Figure 3: Or take it for themselves and try to use it against us. No, the nine will not do. They shall be needed here for the coming war.

Figure 8: We must make a decision quickly. I feel the presence of the coming doom. The betrayer is preparing himself as we speak.

Figure 4: If he finishes what we think he plans to do, then it will be too late for us to stop him. We must act now

Figure 6: What of the Valkyrior? They are reliable and most powerful.

Figure 9: They are the strongest of all inferiors. They will do the job nicely.

Figure 2: But we need them here. Without them, we could fail here.

Figure 1: We have no other options. We must summon them now.

Figure 3: Yes. They are our only option. Let us begin the summoning.

The twelve dark figures begin a bizarre and gloomy chant. Suddenly a white glowing circle forms on the head of the large stone. A monstrous roar echoes and a large strand of colors of all type springs out of the circle and floats before the Grand Council.

Colors: You have summoned us. What is your biding my lord?

Figure 3: Go. Go beyond the Tree and retrieve that which was stolen from us. Consume the one who is branded a betrayer. Let not a drop of his blood continue to live!

The strand of colors erupts in a flash of color, blinding the audience. The curtain falls.

Episode A0-2 - Hunt the Man Down

In which Steed chases an assassin
... and finds him in a house of cards. 

It all began when Random assigned me the task of locating an assassin(s). One who kills nobles in their beds, then skins them. To be fair, Quinn is also assigned to the task. Quinn is Deirdre's son. A descent chap, with a good head on his shoulders.
To complicate things, when Merlin took the throne, he ordered the release of ten Chaosians who were prisoners. A thoroughly rotten bunch, chosen by the various houses. Each of the various houses had prisoners of the others. Their release was a way to ensure the cooperation of the houses. The Black Watch is keeping an eye on them. Not all of them were released because they were loved by their own houses. The Black Watch will try to keep them alive and keep them from getting into trouble. Many of them have sworn retribution to their houses or to Amber. The details vary, but as I said a thoroughly rotten bunch.
We are liked by Benedict and Fiona, lucky us. Quinn and I were asked by Fiona to locate a children's book that was taken by Benedict many years ago. After talking to Benedict, he allowed us to borrow it. Quinn brought someone from Shadow who was skilled in copying magical and regular text with superb skill. We arranged for a quiet place for her to work as we continued our own pressing investigation. The copying will take nearly a week to do.
At least Fiona will get an identical copy of the manuscript, we hope that it will do. The copying took all day and Benedict took it for the night and will return it tomorrow, so she can continue her work the next day. Quinn arranges her quarters and negotiates her fee for completing the work. They are both satisfied with the arrangements.
After a quick drink, we hear from the guards that there is a lot of activity. Benedict keeps his men busy making preparations to leave at a moments notice: cleaning weapons, practicing combat, packing, unpacking, and constant activity. He doesn't allow his men to grow bored.
We continue our search for the assassin in the town of Amber, while we wait for her to finish copying Benedict's papers. We wander the city, talking to people, and gather clues about the deaths. There are no obvious patterns to the victims or locations. The assassin has a broad range of victims and strikes in many areas of Amber. This makes it difficult to estimate where he or they will strike next. The only commonality is the way they were killed. Their skin was surgically cut away and taken. Professionally done, but no indication of what is done with the skin. No clues are ever found at the scene.
The town is considered under martial law. The local constabulary, Quinn's men, and the military have joined forces to protect the population. People are encouraged not to travel alone, if at all. Also, they are encouraged to take any security precautions in their homes. Days pass with no leads and continued patrols and investigations.
I find myself growing concerned about the elders. They have been acting rather odd, almost like petulant children. They bicker over seemingly insignificant items. So far, my cousins have not been behaving the same. Well, there is Jute. An irresponsible youngster, who is constantly getting into mischief. Well to be fair, he dabbles in things that tend to go horribly wrong. He has been conspicuous in his absence.
The next morning, we go to town and continue our search for the assassin. I go to uptown Amber and a runner finds me. A scream was heard and people were gathering. He takes me to the scene. We find a woman who was mugged and beaten. She is the wife of one of the ambassadors, a call for medical help was made; she will be all right. So, it is an unrelated incident.
I tell the runner to notify the embassies, under 'no' circumstance should anyone wander off alone. The network of runners spread the word, we don't want anymore incidents. I return to the area I left, concerned if it was a diversion for an actual attack. I look around to see if anything doesn't 'feel' right. I become momentarily distracted by a Trump call. I hold off the Trump contact for a moment, it goes away. It was nothing important then. I continue my patrol. Shortly, I receive another Trump call. I open contact.
It is Benedict. He picked up his papers. The lady is finished and she has the copy. I thank him for his help, we close contact. Later, I locate Quinn and we return to the castle. Quinn makes plans to take the lady home, while I take the manuscript to Fiona's room.
Fiona opens the door. "Yes, Steed. How can I help you?" She invites me in.
"Hello, Fi. I thought you may want to see these. They are an identically transcribed copy of the manuscript that Benedict had that you wanted." I carry the manuscript into the room.
She takes the manuscripts and examines them. Her face turns red. "What kind of stunt are you pulling, Steed? What is this? Are you trying to humiliate me, Steed? Where the hell did you get these?"
"From Benedict. Great care was taken to carefully replicate each page."
"These aren't my books. Benedict is not going to 'willingly' give you my books."
"Is there a reason why he wouldn't? Look, it would help greatly if I knew what the book was. How would we know if we found it?"
She throws the manuscripts, scattering them across the room. She goes into a petulant frenzy and goes to her bookcase and scatters them too. "Steed! What are you doing?"
"Aunt Fi, please explain what is wrong."
"These are not my books!'
"What are they?"
"They are children's books, something 'Benedict' would write!" Her voice lowers by three octaves. "Get out!" The walls reverberate.
"Very well." I leave, not daring to expose my back to her. I quickly close the door and lean against the wall.
In the hall, I sigh in disbelief. Time to search for Quinn, to give him the wonderful news. He will want to know what happened, he will probably regret spending his gold reserves on the manuscripts that are scattered on Fiona's floor. As I often heard, no good deed goes unpunished. Note: Do 'not' try to mend bridges between the elders, or anyone else.
Back to my investigation on the assassin. I ride a carriage into town. I check with the constabulary to see if there are new clues. Another day with similar results. The frustration level increases, the longer the investigation goes on. 
The next morning, we are sent for. Another murder just occurred; another noble. He was found in a different area of town. All residents have been alerted not to travel alone until this has been resolved. Also, they should not sleep alone or unguarded. As the others, the victim was found in his chambers. The assassin does a professional job: breaking into the embassies, quietly dispatching the victims, and leaving no clues behind. There are no footprints, fingerprints, hair, cloth fibers, and no witnesses. The locks were picked or windows were jimmied, with no equipment left behind. I would expect a professional assassin to be involved in a crime of this nature. It is not some psychopath out to randomly kill nobles. I can't eliminate that possibility; but in my experience, there 'must' be a pattern that connects these victims. Something that will lead us to the culprit, and soon.
It is time to find help, before we lose anyone else. If our assassin strikes at night, we have time. It is mid-afternoon. I withdraw my Trump deck and sort through them for one I haven't used for over a year. I trust he will be cooperative for his adopted kinsman. I concentrate upon his aristocratic visage and his white hair. I send my thoughts across the great distance between Amber and the Courts of Chaos. Reaching, reaching, something stirs and clarifies. I see him standing before a forest.
"Who is it? I'm very busy."
"Hello Mandor, Steed of Amber and the House of Sawall. We are investigating a series of murders of the nobles of Amber. It involves the filleting of the victims. Is there a situation like this in Chaos?"
I can visualize him turning up his nose with disdain. "Charming. No, get to the point of your call."
"Very well. The released Chaosians, have any of them been in Amber recently?"
"No, they are all free men; but we have the Black Watch on them. They have all remained in Chaos."
"Thank you, Mandor. I will keep you no longer." We close contact.
At least if he is truthful, our assassin is not one of the Chaosian prisoners.
I break out my notebook, which has a detailed map of the town of Amber. I placed an 'X' on the map to mark the spot of each death, with a number noting the sequence which each occurred. No pattern is evident: by the arrangement of the marks, by the name or occupation of the victim, or the names or numbers of the streets.
I verify from the constabulary what areas are under surveillance by the guard. I believe that I will take an area 'not assigned' and patrol it myself tonight. Quinn organized his men to watch other areas. Hopefully, we will cover enough of Amber to find something. Quinn leaves to attend to other matters.
After the activities are coordinated; I ride to the castle for a quick meal, a catnap, a bath, and get dressed in my evening stealth attire. I drink a carafe of coffee on the carriage ride into town. I have patrolled on other evenings, with no results. Possibly, something will finally turn up.
The area I chose is near the Harbor district, one of the older sections of Amber. The buildings here were quite striking in their time, now they are mansions scarred by time. Years of neglect and people moving away from the harbor, have caused the section to deteriorate.
Nobles still live here in some of the estates, too proud to leave their homesteads. Those houses are extremely old and well maintained. Others are little more than places for the homeless to scurry for shelter. Two blocks down is Harbor Road in Death Alley, where crime is rampant. A short walk to Seabreeze Lane and Bloody Bill's, a wonderful place for seafood and a fight. Not necessarily in that order.
I will be patrolling a two block area, a block away from the last murder. I wear a charcoal gray wool suit, with soft leather shoes. Best for night work, and will keep the chill away with minimal noise. Each of us carries a tin whistle, to blow if there is a problem. I begin my patrol at the corner of Coral Road and Cutlass Road.
My Trump deck is arranged so that Quinn, Random, and Ge'rard will be on top. The Unicorn Grove Trump is on the bottom, my ace in the hole. My flask is filled with Napoleon brandy, in case it gets very cold out. Evening temperatures have been comfortable lately, so I don't expect to get too cold.
To cover the most area, some places will be left unguarded. The area I chose, was one that would have been exposed most of the evening, and no victims were found - yet. When one of the watch returns to cover the area, I will return to check on the evening's progress with the constable. It was arranged that if anything happens during the watch, a few horsemen will ride through town to alert the watch.
The patrol will be a figure eight of the two blocks. East on Cutlass, south on Crystal, east on Sabre, north on Flint, west on Cutlass, south on Crystal, west on Sabre, and north on Coral back to Cutlass.
It is getting dark as I begin my watch. The watch are in position and on the move. I head east on Cutlass. I closely check all buildings for activity and lights. The entire area takes twenty minutes to patrol. I keep track of all details of each house. There are no dogs barking anywhere, few lights are on, and all doors are closed. First pass is to gather details, but nothing of interest yet.
I begin my next pass, nothing suspicious. Hours pass with no change. It is nearly morning and I approach the manor of a lesser noble, who is a member of the Golden Circle. The manor is on the corner I began my patrol.
I take a different tact. I follow the pathways between the mansions, the back alleys, and past the servants houses. I check the back of the mansions. They are hidden by trees, shrubbery, and fences. I reach the manor on the corner of Crystal and Sabre; I look over the fence, behind the house of a noble of the Golden Circle. Near the gate, I see an open door.
It could be nothing to worry about, but I better investigate. I open the gate, follow the short path, and examine the door. The lock is broken, jimmied open. The inside of the door was bolted. I withdraw Shadowveil from the umbrella sheathe. I have Quinn's Trump in my jacket pocket.
I slowly push the door open, checking to see if the hinge squeaks, it doesn't. The door opens into a low corridor, I have to bend slightly to get through. There are a few branching hallways. There is plenty of dust on the floor, I follow the obvious footprints in the dust, it looks like one foot was dragged along.
Every twenty feet of the hallway has a dim glow basket torch, but most sections are very dark. At the end of the long hallway is a spiral stairway, leading up and down. The footprints lead upward, I follow as fast and softly as possible.
My senses are at full alert. There is no way to know what is ahead. At the top of the stairs, I hear the metallic click of a door. I move to the wall, as close as possible and approach the door. I strain my senses to hear something, but hear nothing.
I firmly turn the knob and open the door. An odd door, metal on this side and designed to blend in with the stonework on the other side. Probably a concealed door. I leave the door open, remaining silent. It opens to another hallway. As I look around the corner, I see a dark form slip into one of the rooms. I follow as quietly as possible. I reach the door, which is closed. I try it gently, it is locked.
I withdraw my lock pick set. The tumblers easily click into place, with minimal noise. I slowly turn the knob and push the door open. I look into the room, it is very dark. I can make out a suite, with a couch and coffee table. I move quietly into the room. It appears to be a typical design of the older suites; the opposite wall has two doors. There should be a bedroom on the left and a sitting room on the right, with a washroom joining them.
Judging by the layout of the manor; I am on the second floor and there should be no back doors from this suite, just windows. This door should be the only way out.
It does occur to me that I could be following a resident of the manor. Usually, people don't roam the halls in the dark. I am not overly concerned, if I am following a resident; I will explain that I am investigating a possible breaking and entering.
It is time for a different approach. I close the door and knock, from the inside. If they are a resident, they will call out and come to the door. Instead, I hear the sound of a thud and a basin knocked over and shattering. A basin that may be used for surgical work. My vision is becoming more accustomed to the darkness, I see nothing moving. I move along the wall, working my way to the far wall without being seen. Trying to position myself by the door where I heard the noise. I lower myself, staying in the darker section of the room, concealing myself as well as possible.
My quarry may come out the left or right hall. He will not escape me. I hear footsteps from the left hall. I move forward and remove my bowler. Blade in right, bowler in left. He moves closer, closer. I brace myself. I receive a Trump contact. Damn. Not now! I push it away, concentrating upon the sound of my quarry approaching. The contact fades, good.
I sense a human form, lunging down the hall, quickly. I estimate where his head should be as it emerges. I swing the bowler for the head, but he comes in too high. Curse me for a novice! I get caught underneath him and he knocks me over, rolling over me.
We tumble and instinct takes over. I drop the bowler and reach for his wrist; catching it, I twist. I swing my blade for a cut, he falls back to avoid the cut and turns away; unable to pull free. I get his arm behind his back and pull up. A groan escapes his lips and he falls forward, face first on the floor. I get both arms under control. I withdraw my handcuffs and slip them on my prisoner. I get up to light a candle to get a better look at him.
He rolls over, leaps up, and charges me. He is quick but not bright. I could kill him, but I use the pummel of Shadowveil to his temple. He falls to the floor like a puppet whose strings were cut.
I recover my bowler, light a few candles, and examine the suite. My prisoner is quite dirty, covered with mud and rags. He looks more like a homeless person than an assassin or surgeon. He doesn't follow the same characteristics. It is possibly a disguise. He left plenty of footprints in the dust and with the light on, I can see bits of dried mud where he walked. He may not be the person I am looking for.
He is middle aged and unkempt, most likely he broke in to burglarize the place.
Before I decide what to do with my prisoner, I take a candle and check the other rooms to see what he was looking for. In the bedroom, I find someone still in bed. He is unmoving, facing the ceiling. He is also sporting a crimson necklace. He is still warm, there is no pulse, and the sheet is covered with blood.
The floor decides to lurch forward, then back. Earthquake! I run past my prisoner and sprint down the hall to leave the building, as the floor continues to lurch in all directions. It completely collapses as I reach the outer door. Stopping for a second to collect my prisoner, I would have been trapped in the rubble. I withdraw the Trump of Quinn as I examine the carnage caused by the earthquake.
Quinn responds. "Steed, the guard is being reorganized to look for survivors."
"Pull me through." I clasp his hand and step through.

Episode A0-3 - Disaster Recovery

In which Steed digs for answers
... and gets wrapped up in his work.

I find Jute with Quinn. We are in Kashfa. What are we doing here? "Hello Jute. Quinn, there's been another killing. I was patrolling the area and found an open door, jimmied. I followed him, caught him, and found another victim. My prisoner is buried in the rubble of the building I was in. What caused the earthquake?"
Jute answers. "Exploding demons."
"Exploding demons caused an earthquake in Amber? Well, it looks like the assassin is the least of our worries now. What actually happened?"
Jute tells us that as he passed Ygg, the tree that marks the border between Chaos and Amber, he found a barrier beyond the border that marks the area of Corwin's Pattern. He was examining the barrier that surrounded Corwin's Pattern. He was looking for a way to neutralize the barrier, so he hired a demon to break through the barrier. The demon hit it with Primal Chaos.
I would have thought that such an action was on the top of the list of things 'not' to do. The mere act of bringing up the Logrus near a Pattern is explosive and dangerous.
Apparently, this was a proper assumption. Jute realized what the demon was doing and tried to get away - quickly. An explosion occurred, the ripples were felt in Amber. Jute, wrapped in protection spells, was blown quite a distance to Kashfa. He was lucky he wasn't vaporized, the demon wasn't lucky and he was.
Jute asked us about the assassin I mentioned. I briefed him about our investigation and my prisoner. Jute informs us that he killed one of the ten people that were released in Chaos. Another was seen in Amber, contrary to Mandor's claim. This unfortunate was in a fight with Julian and Julian is still alive. So, that leaves eight of the Chaosians.
Jute seems to think the killings are linked to terrorists, trying to destabilize the Golden Circle countries and Amber. That sounds plausible, but there is no evidence to indicate who is behind it. There have been no individuals or groups claiming responsibility. Which ever is the case, we must find out who is behind this.
The earthquake probably killed more people and the assassins have. Our work has just begun. Jute suggests that we employ a demon to examine one of the victims and have it search for the skin that was taken. They sound like magical hounds, like a hell hound. Unfortunately, Jute has exceeded his limit; whatever that means when dealing with demons. He also says that asking Julian for one of his hounds is a very bad idea; I remember that Julian 'really' doesn't like Jute.
Quinn will provide Jute with a large quantity of gold to employ a demon, then Jute will make the necessary arrangements. Jute also suggests that we ask Benedict to ask Julian for the use of a hound to track the skin of a victim.
I withdraw a Trump of Benedict. He responds to my contact. "Benedict, we have an idea on how we can find the assassin. Can you pull us through?"
"Quinn, Jute, and myself."
"Then, come." He reaches out and draws us to him.
"Thanks, uncle." We step through and into the Great Hall of Castle Amber. I nearly stumble as I see that the right half of the castle is missing. I fail to keep my words silent. "By the Unicorn! The earthquake spread to the castle itself." From our vantage, we can see the remains of the town of Amber. I can see the full extent of the damage in the light of day. This is a morning I will not forget.
It is pointless to give a briefing, we can see that 85 percent of the buildings have collapsed. The survivors are sifting through the rubble for others. Benedict considers me fortunate to have escaped the collapsing of one of the buildings. We have just witnessed an earthquake of epic proportions.
We offer what services we can provide, to help with search and recovery.
Jute tells Benedict that he was near the center of the explosion that caused the earthquake, by Corwin's Pattern.
I never thought that I would see Benedict's face give way to a look of surprise. I hope that I won't be the person who causes that look in the future. He looks at Jute, with almost cold loathing. "Follow me." He turns and walks away, not checking to see if we are following.
Jute follows, but I can tell he wants to run in the opposite direction. He knows that it would be futile. He has an imploring look on his face, wanting us to go too.
Quinn and I shrug. Quinn smiles. "He didn't give us any orders, and my curiosity is aroused. Why not?" We follow along. As we walk, I wonder if the wine cellar is intact.
We avoid piles of rubble around the castle, until we reach the Library. It has become a make shift infirmary. Many of the elders are there along with many staff members. The uninjured are tending to the injured. Benedict takes us to Random. He points to Jute. "Random, Jute has something to tell you."
Jute looks down, embarrassed. He slowly walks to Random.
"Hello son, what news have you?"
"There was a small Primal Chaos explosion."
Random's face goes white and he rises. "What? Explain!'
"I was trying to get to Corwin's Pattern and found a barrier. I found this demon to break through the barrier. He hit the barrier with Primal Chaos, it exploded when it made contact with the barrier. I was thrown to Kashfa."
He turns to us. "Do you two have anything to do with this?"
I respond. "No sire, we were investigating the assassinations in Amber. I barely escaped a collapsing building and Trumped to Quinn in Kashfa."
"Steed, as usual, you are a lucky man. Many today weren't."
"I know, the building I was in at the time contains the latest victim and I hope the assassin. I left my prisoner unconscious and handcuffed. If he is still alive, he is buried under a pile of rubble."
"So is most of Amber, John."
Jute moves to leave. "Well, if that's all." He lets it trail off.
"I think not." Random's gaze holds him fast. "A demon and you were at Corwin's Pattern."
"As I said, there was a barrier around the Pattern. We tried to shatter it. The explosion was caused by the Primal Chaos that the demon used."
"The explosion threw you to Kashfa?"
"I was running away when I realized what the demon was doing. It was too late to stop it. Then, I was caught up in the explosion and blown there."
"Jute, I don't know what to do with you." Your actions have reduced Amber to rubble. We will have to completely rebuild the city and the castle. We must also locate and treat any survivors." He turns. "Benedict. Keep and eye on him, until I decide on his fate."
"Must I?" Benedict says through clenched teeth, he sees this as baby sitting.
"Steed and Quinn. I want you to return to the city. Use your contacts and help the officials organize a search and rescue. Take some horses and a scout to assess the damage, the scout can report back to me if you need my help."
"As you wish. It may be unimportant but an assassin may still be loose, if there are more than one. Jute had an interesting idea. If Julian can provide one of his hounds, it can track the assassin who has the skin of a victim."
"I will discuss it with him. Good luck in town. Steed, arrangements will be made to bring in volunteers from the Golden Circle countries to assist with search and rescue. Help is on the way."
"Thank you." We turn to leave. Jute volunteers to go with us, but Benedict bars him with his blade. Jute wishes us good luck.
I stop in the Great Hall to fill a carafe with coffee to take with us. It's been a long night, now it will be a long day. We make our way through the rubble and out of the castle. What a mess! The stables are gone. The horses are loose and wondering around the castle grounds. The road is gone. The face of Mount Kolvir has collapsed, there is no sign of the stairs down the mountain. A pile of rubble marks the path to the stairs up the mountain.
We will have to walk to town, this may take awhile. We reach the town and every able bodied person is working on clearing rubble. People from adjoining areas have arrived to help.
The harbor is in ruins, the docks are tilted and under water. It tells a bleak tale of mass destruction, from the lower tier of the city to the upper tier. This is worse than any natural disaster I have ever witnessed. It will take decades to rebuild the city. The remaining population will have to be relocated to the undamaged buildings. Food and medical supplies will have to be sent in. Probably by Trump, that would be the easiest way.
We begin our search at one of the embassies. We listen for any sounds to indicate any sign of life. We dig through a lot of rubble to check on noises. Occasionally we get lucky and find someone.
A group of people tend to the injured, as they are pulled from the wreckage, then they are taken to a makeshift infirmary. Youths are assigned jobs of carrying water and supplies to where they are needed. The work is going faster since it is well organized. Food stores that are accessible are gathered from ruined buildings and taken to the buildings that survived. The population and supplies are being consolidated as much as possible.
The spirit of cooperation and work to help others, spreads to all. Even the homeless now have shelter and food. They have found a new purpose, nobles and peasants alike work for the survival of Amber and its people. I assist with the search for several days, catching naps and meals when possible. I put my back to the task, without complaint. Well, I do have a strong stand on work. 'I tried work once, I didn't like it; it was too much like work.' 
After a long day of strenuous work, Quinn Trumps me and suggests that we make preparations to climb Mount Kolvir. Tonight will be our best opportunity. I agree, they will not miss us. We may be more help to everyone by taking this little excursion. I have been wanting to do this for some time, but something always came up to put it off.
He pulls me back to the castle. I stop at the Great Hall to grab a quick bite. I then go to my room to gather any needed items. I leave my bowler, brolly, and carnation in my room. I don't anticipate the need for them, where I am going. We leave the castle and begin our walk to the steps of Mount Kolvir.
The damage from the earthquake was extensive, the coastal face of Kolvir is rubble from the landslide. It nearly reaches the upper stairs. The upper stairs are damaged, but they can be climbed. Moving through the rubble, the first dozen steps have to be climbed using hands. Above that point, the steps are stable. Since the steps are cut into the side of Mount Kolvir, the steps are only as secure as the face of Kolvir. We make our way up the stairs, some places we can walk easily, others we have to inch our way along.
I look up and see the full moon emerge over the horizon and into a clear sky. The conditions are perfect. At the top of the stairs, there is a platform that overlooks the edge of the cliff, below is a sheer drop hundreds of feet over the water.
Shortly, the appearance of the platform changes. More stairs appear. At first they are transparent, then translucent; leading up to a ghostly version of Castle Amber. It is Tir-na Nog'th. Few have dared what we are attempting. It only appears during a full moon. If clouds obscure the moon, it becomes insubstantial. Within its walls, it provides visions and insights. Sometimes enlightening, sometime obscure. Within the basement of Tir-na Nog'th is a Pattern, a ghostly version of our own artifact. I plan to walk it to gain insight and power, for guidance on how to correct our current problems.
Quinn and I have the same idea. We are looking for supernatural understanding, guidance, and power. We want to find a way to undo what has been done to Amber by Jute's negligence and to put an end to the assassinations. Failing that, a way to restore Amber. Time is crucial, because time moves differently within its walls. We can't stand around enjoying the scenery, we have to go through as quickly as possible. I get some Trumps ready in case I need a quick rescue, it is a long way down.
We reach the top steps and enter the ghostly castle. From those steps, we see the ghostly images of people who are still trying to rescue others from the earthquake. They are finding survivors and just as often, just body parts. The loss of life in Amber is a palpable thing, terrible to witness. Since all realities are Shadows of Amber, the effect will be felt throughout Shadow. Tir-na Nog'th also reflects the damage of Castle Amber.
I see earthquakes spread to other Shadows, an effect of being here. I also see ghosts rising from the remains of Amber. I also see my own Shadow Earth affected by the earthquakes. Seismic waves passed through Shadow Earth and major earthquake belts are triggering severe quakes in the belt around the Pacific Ocean, known as the Ring of Fire. If it continues, it will spread through Asia into Europe and Africa. From the other direction, it will spread through the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Ocean.
In this place, visions are rampant. Is it happening, will it happen, or might it happen? I must do what I can do to prevent it. I make my way to the Pattern, my way is clear to me.
Quinn wants to check the Library first, hoping to find something of interest. We do see the ghostly images of the elders in the Library, in a discussion. Quinn wants to listen to the conversation. I don't know what he has in mind; but if it can turn up something to help, I can willingly eavesdrop.
They are discussing ways to rebuild the Castle. The last time it was damaged, the Castle seemed to repair itself. If we give it time, it should happen again. The damage is much worse than the last time, so it may take much longer. We will have to wait and see.
As I look around the castle, it looks as though minor repairs are indeed occurring. Bricks are individually being moved into place by invisible workers. I can see it repairing itself as if the castle was a living thing.
Quinn leaves the castle, I don't know what he is planning, but he says that he is climbing the Mount Kolvir of Tir-na Nog'th. I wonder if that is possible and what he will see. Another castle in the sky? Does Tir-na Nog'th repeat versions of itself? To each his own, I hope we find what we are looking for.
Learning that the castle is repairing itself, gives us hope that all will be well. I make my way to the Pattern room, more stairs that spiral downward. Down the stairs, I use lanterns that give off a ghostly glow instead of a bright light. At the bottom of the stairs, I walk down the hall and find the door to the Pattern room. The door is locked and no key is visible. I take out my lock pick set and work on the mechanism. It opens easily. The door swings open and I see the blue glow of the Pattern.
Time is short, so I waste no time. I approach it and steel myself for the arduous task ahead. No one takes this lightly. I probably walk the Pattern more than most of the family members, and I don't do it without a purpose. I take my first step upon it, the sparks begin at my feet. I continue step by step, and the sparks move up my legs. I meet the same resistance as I do on the other Patterns, it takes a force of will to continue it. I make it through the veils, losing track of time. I just want to finish it and get out of here. In the veils, there are the typical flashes of memories. Some visions appear to halt my progress. I ignore them and press on. I redouble my efforts to continue my walk.
Sweat pours over me, muscles ache, and fatigue sets in. I follow the myriad turns, as the Pattern energies flow through my body; rebuilding me, marking me as its own, and granting me access to power over Shadow. As I walk, I can feel the power flowing through me, as my own energy is drained from me. Nothing matters but movement, step by step. An eternity passes between steps, I must keep moving.
I am receiving a Trump call. By the Unicorn, not now. It is all I can do to walk the Pattern, making no misstep. To step off the Pattern is to die. Focus on the Pattern and keep walking. The contact goes away. Step. Turn. Step. Step. A series of twists and turns, a straight line into the Final Veil. It feels like I am pushing through a solid wall, push. Push. Push. The resistance slackens and gives away. I almost fall through the veil, my body is covered by blue flames. I make it through to the center of the Pattern. I made it, I drop to my knees, gasping for breath, my lungs are on fire. The blue flames are still with me. That shouldn't happen. I scream! The flames disappear, but so has all my possessions. I look down and all my clothes and hair are burned off. I appear to be covered with near second degree burns.
By the Unicorn, I hurt! The pain is growing, I am suffering from shock and trying to remain conscious.
What is it they say? No pain, no gain. I tell the Pattern to send me to my room in Castle Amber. I hope Quinn fares better than I did. I fade and reappear in my room. I grab the bell pull as I collapse to the floor. I mercifully pass out, but not for long.
The pain reminds me that I am still alive. Muscles ache and my skin burns and itches. This doesn't make sense, I have never heard of anyone being affected this way walking the pattern. I wish it wasn't me that it happened to.
I get to my feet and get a large soft towel, which feels like sand paper against my skin. A young lady came to see what I wanted. She sees me with a towel wrapped around my hips and she gasps. I tell her to go to the infirmary and have the burn treatment team ready. I will be right behind her, moving slowly.
She turns and runs down the hall, yelling for help. I walk down the hall, down the stairs, slowly and painfully. Some interns meet me in the hall and help me along. I reach the infirmary. They get a table ready, but I tell them that I'd rather stand if they don't mind. However, they want me horizontal and quick, to prevent shock. They tend to me quickly. I am bathed in cool water and covered with anti-bacterial creams. They give me fluids which are high in protein, calories, and high doses of vitamins. Thankfully, they also give me some pain killers and some medication which will quicken my own natural healing factors.
I hope the healing factors kick in overtime, I make a terrible patient. I don't want to be a resident of the infirmary. There is too much to do.
I am now covered in bandages and look like a stand-in for Boris Karloff, I return to my room. The pain is subsiding a bit and sleep sounds wonderful. I take some extra pills along, in case they wear off too soon. I soon fall asleep and have dreams of roaming the corridors of a pyramid. I hear a pounding. Is it my heart or someone beyond the wall of the pyramid? I wake. There is a knock at the door. The window over the bed indicates that it is morning. The pain returns. 
"Steed? Are you in there?" It is Random.
"Come in, sire. It is not locked."
He enters. "Have you see Jute or Quinn?"
"I haven't seen Jute since the earthquake. Quinn and I were in Tir-na Nog'th. He was climbing the Mount Kolvir in the sky, to see what was there. I don't know where he is now."
"I see and what happened to you? You look like hell."
"Thank you, my luck ran out. I decided to walk the Pattern in Tir-na Nog'th to gain enlightenment. As I left the Final Veil, the flames engulfed me and burned my clothes off. It did a fair job of burning me as well. At least the Pattern was kind enough to return me to my room. The staff in the infirmary did their typically excellent job in fixing me up. I have no idea how long it will take for these burns to heal. The only enlightenment I received was that Castle Amber seems to be healing itself. Given time, it will return to its former glory. Regarding the town, I learned nothing."
"I see. Get in touch with Quinn and then Trump me."
"I have a problem, my Trumps were destroyed by the Pattern."
"Very well." He pulls out his Trump deck and gives me one of Quinn's, Jute's, and himself. "Later." He leaves.
I get a loose fitting white jacket and pocket a few items; most importantly, the medication. I leave my bowler, brolly, and carnation at the desk. I sit down in an easy chair and concentrate upon Quinn's Trump. It takes moments before it becomes cool to the touch. I don't know why, but it doesn't feel like a normal Trump contact. It is as though it doesn't seem to function. I redouble my effort, forcing my will on it to work. The Trump shatters in my hand and the fragments scatter like broken glass in a rainbow explosion. Flashes of color hit me like waves, as I sink into the Trump contact.

Episode A0-4 - Out of the Frying Pan

In which Steed puts aside style
... and then loses substance.

Mentally and physically, I feel the forces pulling me into the Trump, but to where? Features are blurred in a kaleidoscopic effect of lights and colors. It feels like a high speed escalator ride. I get a mental image that I am entering the Trump itself. I look at the Trump I held. It is there, but it has changed. It is a pasteboard card with a pencil sketch of Quinn. There is no Trump energy left in the card. Now, I get the feeling of a huge shadow over me. Something solid approaches, contact imminent.
I collide with something, hard. I roll and try to get to my feet. I am attacked by what I collided into, someone wielding a dagger. I block the attacks and try to identify the attacker. "Jute! It's me, Steed!"
Jute stops as his blade approaches my throat. "Steed? What happened to you and where are we?" He lowers his blade.
"Cousin, this has not been a good day. Quinn and I went to Tir-na Nog'th. I walked the Pattern there and was burned in the Final Veil. The Pattern sent me back to Castle Amber and I was treated there. Random wanted me to contact Quinn. I was pulled here when I Trumped him, wherever 'here' is."
"Wherever we are, we are powerless. I can't use the Pattern, magic, or even shape shift. I am scared."
"I will try then." I try to bring up the Pattern. I can visualize it, but it doesn't activate. By the Unicorn, I'm Pattern blind! "Bloody hell. We've been cut off from Amber and the Pattern."
Jute throws his Trumps on the ground. "These are worthless here."
I examine our confines and suggest that Jute keeps the Trumps, in case they may work later. We seem to be in a long tunnel. One of the ends become more visible and moves in our direction, then stops.
The world becomes a twisting, undulating thing. At the event horizon, I see a black hole tearing at the fabric of the reality of this Shadow. From it, I feel it draining and pulling at me; tearing at my body and soul. I instinctively bring up the Pattern in my mind as a defense. Instead, it does nothing and parts of the image is ripped away. Also, small parts of my body are torn away, I am only an outline of myself. I double over in pain as this occurs. The connectivity I felt with the Pattern is gone or at least is incomplete. I hear screams, my own and Jute's. The ground rushes at me.
That which is my birthright has been taken from me. Pain and emptiness hits me in waves. If I meet the bastard who is responsible for this, I will joyfully rip his heart out.
When clear thought is possible again, I ask Jute if he tried all his Trumps. He has. All the Trumps look like an outline of the person on the Trump. The images are incomplete and non functional. I try a Trump of Random, I only succeed in giving myself a headache. A rumble of the walls gets our attention and the floor drops off at an angle. We slide down another passageway into an area with an open sky. The sky above flashes with near infinite hues and colors. The ground itself flashes dancing rainbow colors. Jute covers his eyes.
Moving in our direction is a tree shaped figure. The tree shaped figure is a swirling mass of colors, with branches reaching out like tentacles. It radiates an aura of hate and pain, as it approaches us. If we avoid it, we head for the black hole. The creature seems to be the lesser threat.
Before we decide to run anywhere, Random appears, falling hard. He sees us as he gets up, dusting himself off. "Where the hell are we?"
"We have no idea, I was pulled here when I tried to Trump Quinn."
"What the hell is that?"
"It is a black hole that seems to be ripping away at us and the Pattern within us. We are Pattern blind here."
"No, that!" Pointing at the six meter tall tree shaped creature.
It is very close. "What are you doing here?" It shouts angrily.
I respond. "We were brought here when we used Trumps."
"You used Trumps?" It shouts accusingly.
Random answers. "We use Trumps frequently. This is a new phenomenon. Quite frankly, I don't like it here."
The black hole chooses that moment to tear at us again. More pieces are ripped off, including the entity. It howls with pain and frustration, I share its view.
Benedict falls in to join us, he recovers quite well from his fall.
All of us look like outlines of ourselves, with no color.
The entity observes us with cold loathing. So far, it is Random, Benedict, Jute, and myself. How can we get out of here before we are joined by the entire house of Amber?
I ask. "What is causing this? How can we stop it?"
The entity responds. "Like you do not know." It snarls.
"No, I don't know. Can't you see it is affecting us like it does you?"
It reaches out with a colorful tendril and catches my wrist, with a speed I didn't think was possible. It tightens and says. "We hate you!" It takes the Trumps I had of Jute, Quinn, and Random.
Where it touches, I feel intense cold. The wrapping insulates the worst of it. The area that was burned before from the heat, is now frost bitten from the cold. I pull away and massage my wrist to regain circulation.
"There is no way out! We have been here for eons! If there was a way out, we would leave this place of torment. This is all that there is for us, and for you too now. Unless you know the way out." It howls as one who has been tormented beyond words.
I offer. "Is there a way to make the Trumps work?"
"Let me see them!" It gathers the Trumps offered. It sorts through them and arranges them on the floor to examine. I can feel their hate as tangible as the walls around us.
Ge'rard falls through to join us. A brief description of the place is given to the new comers. They check their possessions for anything that will work. Jute and I explain what little we know about the black hole and the tree shaped entity.
I continue my inquiry. "Can we use any Trumps and try a group contact? If it works, one of two things should happen. It may pull that person here or we may be able to escape through it. We have to get out of here before the black hole devours us. I don't want to experience another ripping by the black hole."
Jute asks. "Any idea who we should contact?"
I answer. "I think someone with a strong power base, possibly one with a Spikard of power."
Another visitor falls in, rather unceremoniously. It is Flora. I go over to help her up and make sure she is OK. "Mother, are you all right?"
She backs away. "What the hell are you?"
"Steed, my dear. I have had a run of bad luck. The Pattern heated things up for me. This place blocks Pattern, Trumps, and magic; we're Pattern blind here. The tree shaped entity emanates extreme cold and hate. The black hole over there, is stealing away our essence. Brace yourself, it is not pleasant. We were just going to try a group Trump contact. It is either that, or play a round of euchre." 
Mollified, she joins us for a group Trump contact. Nothing seems to work. The picture is just an outline image.
The black hole goes to work again and Flora falls to the ground crying and screaming; clawing at her clothes and flesh. I know how she feels. When it eases up and we recover, I hold her to console her as she sobs.
Approaching from the distance, are over thirty of the tree shaped entities. I can sense their hatred as they get nearer. I call out to the others to let them know that their touch is extremely cold, remembering its icy tendril. What are these creatures? I would guess that they are some sort of demons.
Someone wondered what would happen if a Trump entered the black hole, so we tried it. A Trump was chosen randomly. It was thrown into the black hole. It slowly spins as it enters the hole, then vanishes. The ground shakes, then it is still; no noticeable change occurs. The entities are nearly upon us. They scream of their hatred of us. Julian falls in to join us, he lands hard howling in pain.
Our outlines are becoming more faded, the longer we are here, the worse it gets. Before our outlines were dark, now they are in grays. We continue to lose substance.
The entities have us surrounded, preventing us from leaving the area. "Don't move! Don't talk!" One of them shouts.
Benedict looks for his Trumps, they are missing. He asks. "Where are my Trumps? Where are your Trumps?" We explain that the entity has Jute's trumps and I had none. Benedict goes berserk. "Give them back!" He draws his sword and attacks them. Jute also attacks. Benedict cuts at them, delivering what appears to be fatal blows.
One grabs Jute by the legs and throws him. It burns him from the cold. "I told you, don't move!" Jute lands near three entities that surround him. One lightly touches him and he vanishes. That leaves me with the elders, and we lose more substance; more fading, no color, I am almost transparent.
I focus my will on my mentor, mentally reaching out for her. I don't know if I can reach her from this distance, wherever we are; but I must try. No contact is established.
I suggest we join minds to contact Fiona. If she can be reached, we can warn her and any others not to use Trumps. Then they may be able to find a way to help us. With little else to do, they attempt to mentally join and try to contact her. I am unable to concentrate upon anything, the pain killers are wearing off. It is all I can do to keep from blacking out from the pain. I take a few of the pills I brought along, it will take some time for them to kick in.
I look around and see everyone fade out completely, everything goes black. Details return and I find that we are not where we were.
I look around, the scenery reestablishes itself. It looks like a desert area, almost featureless. I see structures around; pyramids, a sphinx, and some ruins. It looks like we may be in Egypt or some similar Shadow.
We walk toward the Sphinx. Ironic, I am wrapped head to foot in bandages; I must look like I stepped out of a tomb. I understand how Boris Karloff must have felt as the mummy.
The Sphinx is moving toward us as well. How strange. It speaks. "Well, well. What tasty morsels have come to me?"
"What is this place?" I ask and Benedict draws his blade.
The Sphinx sniffs the air. "Yummy. Good blood. Well, you know the rules. I'll ask the questions."
Damn, now I remember. The riddle of the Sphinx. We have to solve it to pass. Otherwise, he considers us lunch.
Benedict steps forward. "Yes, I know the rules." He cuts at the Sphinx and slices it in two. The image and the landscape sparks and changes again.
When it clears, we find ourselves back in the land of the entities. However, we are much closer to the black hole. The scenery fades again and we find ourselves at Amber's gates. This Castle Amber is intact, not the damaged one we were taken from.
All the elders I know are now with me. Before we have a chance to do anything, we go through another draining. Some for the first time. When I recover sufficiently, I walk quickly past the front gate to check to see if we are back to our reality or some mock up. I open the door and enter.
Back to the land of the entities and the black hole. All the lights and colors are swirling and funneling upward and away from us. But to where?
I look at my body, I am almost transparent. I am afraid to bring up the Pattern, the image may be completely gone. Our time is quickly running out.


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R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Revised: January 29, 2009.

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