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Dressed To Kill

Steed's Tale - "Dressed To Kill" - Chapter 06

Journal of Prince "Major" Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Rain Donaldson
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr. in 1997-1998.
Steed's history was written in 1994.

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

Episode A4-6 - The Quick, Quick, Slow Shadow (AKA Happy Fathers' Day)

In which Steed has a gem of an idea
... and everyone gets a surprise visit.

Fiona used her Spikard to take us to a very slow time Shadow, one where time flows in years compared to hours in Amber. Within three days, we should catch up to our original time line; but early enough to prevent the impending catastrophe of the TARDIS exploding in the Trump void. The place Fiona chose is completely uninhabitable. She provides comfortable rest chambers out of caves and natural surroundings, just a step above primitive camping. There is no indigenous life except for primitive plant life. Fiona arranged that there are enough supplies for us to survive here.
The Doctor asked Fiona to have us stop a few hundred Amber days 'before' the coronation. He wants to make a few arrangements. This implies that he can reach the TARDIS and correct any problems, before it is thrown into the Abyss; to prevent it from exploding. At least, I hope that the plan is relatively simple and the Doctor can prevent another Armageddon.
After the surroundings were organized, I suggested we get something to eat and those interested can catch up on sleep. It may be our last chance for rest, when we get there. I could use the clichés, time is of the essence - or - time flies (since we are in a slow time shadow). But, I won't. We help ourselves to some of the rations that Fiona provided.
Corwin wanders off to take a nap. Kat assumes her feline form and locates a comfortable place for a catnap, away from the group. The Doctor finds a place to work on some diagrams, this intrigues Luke. Luke, Blazer, and Suehprom have a discussion with the Doctor, trying to learn what he is doing. My curiosity is not aroused, I have other plans. Fiona wanders off for some errands, checking her Shadow out. Scout and Anna check out the caves. Emma is looking a bit tired. That accounts for everyone here.
I encourage Emma to get some sleep, she doesn't argue with me. She has a few words with Fiona first, then retires. I would join her, but I am unable to sleep; when something is on my mind, I tend to obsess about it. Emma probably senses this, we've worked together for so long.
I then took the liberty of checking Luke's Trumps. I wanted to 'borrow' them, he may mention something when he notices they are missing. I like to think of it as insurance, something he understands all too well.
I was surprised to see how complete his deck was. Most are done by a different hand than any I've seen before. If Luke is a Trump artist, and I would guess that he is, then this is his work. All Trumps of the elders are here. The Trumps done in this other hand intrigue me - Dalt and Merlin. There are Trumps of various places, that I don't recognize and 'don't' examine too closely. There are several of people I don't recognize. He even has one of me, done in this hand. Not a bad likeness.
I decide to have a private chat with Fiona. I learn that I interrupted her activities, apparently checking the barriers of this Shadow, making sure no one enters or leaves it. We find a place to sit so we can comfortably discuss this in more detail.
"Fi, I would like to eavesdrop from our Shadow to see the 'events' of a particular time. This is the best opportunity to learn of the past." She looks at me with amusement. "Don't look at me like you don't have similar curiosities. Curiosity is one of our family's strongest character traits. It's about the search for knowledge and knowledge is power, if you'll excuse the cliché."
Fiona studies me closely. "What event do you wish to see?"
The words exchanged between Emma and Mother come to mind. Emma said that she didn't think that it would be the end of the world, if I learned about my father. Mother said that she wouldn't bet on it. That has puzzled me, I can't believe the universe is so fragile that it can't handle a piece of information. I'm fairly certain that I could handle it.
"You know that Flora has never publicly or privately acknowledged or named my father. I want to learn who he is, nothing more. I was born, 1922 Shadow Earth time; 2369 Amber time. It may be necessary to track Flora through Shadow, well in advance, because it is possible she left Shadow Earth during that time period." Damn, this is irritating. I don't want to involve others. "I do not want to interfere, I just want to know. I do not even plan to contact him. It is very likely that he doesn't know he has a son. I need to know why it was necessary not to let me or anyone else know about him." After a pause. "Fiona, you are the first family member I have ever discussed this with."
Fiona gives me an evil and understanding grin. "I - appreciate that, John." She considers her tact. "Yes, I have known of your 'situation' for quite sometime. I understood why you never asked any of us if we knew. You knew that would obligate you to us, and you value your independence too much. Your request was not unexpected, and you are right. Knowledge 'is' power and this is the ideal time to satisfy idle curiosities. You didn't give me the Spikard expecting a future favor, that is not how you operate. This trip through time has changed things. You wish to take advantage of our unique - position. Perhaps, I should feel obligated; but that is not how I operate." She pauses to consider.
She answers cryptically. "Regarding observing Flora from this Shadow. We could do that, but - it may alter events. That is why I hesitate in doing it for similar curiosities of mine."
We began discussing possible options.
The time differential makes it difficult to monitor the other Shadow, like watching a film at very high speed. It would require altering this Shadow's time rate, to speed this Shadow up to match our time line, well within Fiona's ability.
There is more...The act of monitoring it from our Shadow 'may' affect things, because we are Pattern users and can even subconsciously alter events. This danger can be greatly reduced by having a non-Pattern user observe events - possibly Emma; but not to eliminate the danger.
This can still be unreliable if Flora moves around a lot, possibly to other Shadows during that time. We could leave the Shadow and observe things directly. The risk is higher, because we could alter things by our presence; the thing we dare not do.
Fiona indicated that maybe I am asking the wrong question or approaching it from the wrong perspective. She indicated that she doesn't know who my father is, but there may be others who do. Now for the bad news... She says. "Eric would know." It was he who kept her on Shadow Earth to monitor Corwin. It is a strong probability that Eric has monitored Flora or has 'directed' events. That would mean that he may have been involved in the events that led to my existence.
Damn him, if he already hasn't messed with my life enough. At least I have had the good fortune not to have to deal with him much. There are very few people that I strongly dislike. I put Eric somewhere above Brand, in the category of people that I am glad to see no longer among the living. At least until this last time line blunder, now another Eric is in our time line.
Fiona tells me that it gets better. During the conflict before Corwin regained his memory, the elders formed triumvirates. Eric chose Caine and Julian. Caine is presumed dead, by Luke's hand. I wouldn't trust any information from Caine, even if it was a way to save his own life.
Julian, another excellent choice. On the bright side, he may trade the information; if I would repair Forest Arden with Scout's help and the Jewel of Judgment. That may get Scout back onto his 'tolerate' list.
I thought of Ge`rard. He was on agreeable terms with nearly everyone, as long as Amber was preserved. The one relative that 'trust' can be remotely attached, and I genuinely like him. If he knew of my father, he would have told me. To be fair, I never asked him. Maybe he is waiting to be asked, assuming I don't want to know. Maybe, Flora asked him not to tell me. It was Ge`rard and Mother who first instructed me on assailing the Pattern. I think they were very close, and they watched over me. Would he refuse to tell me at Flora's request? If he doesn't know, I am back to square one. Fiona or Corwin could contact him from this Shadow and ask him about it, since he wouldn't know me 'then'. This could change history and possibly endanger Ge`rard; neither I want to do.
Another person who may know would be Llewella, Queen of Rebma. I could contact her and see if there is something she is willing to trade in exchange for the information. After all these years, I refused to ask any of them; I am not willing to do it now. There must be another way, with minimal risk or obligation to anyone but me.
I could walk the Pattern and ask it to send me to my father or to the Shadow he resides in. Could it or would it be able to? Doing something like that is dangerous. If he is dead or captured, will I end up in a dangerous place? I could Hell ride through Shadow to search for him. I have tried that in the past, but was unable to find him, apparently Pattern was blocked at that time or he actually 'is' dead. I believe that is likely.
Let's see the choices: 1) Observing that may cause changes. 2) Asking Julian, that arrogant twit on a demon horse. 3) Asking Ge`rard or Llewella. 4) Using the Pattern for transport, dangerous. 5) Hellriding, which was previously unsuccessful. Excellent options, Steed. There must be another.
Another thought occurred to me, when I thought of repairing Arden. I must be desperate to even think it, but I am trying to think of all possible options. The Jewel of Judgment!
It was able to generate a Pattern Ghost of me. Is it possible to generate a Ghost of any who are attuned to it? If so, could it be compelled to create one of...Eric? Would it have his memories? I take a step back. Would I be willing to bleed for a Ghost of Eric, to gain information from him? Ironic. Possible? Fiona and Kat could hold him in check to keep him from leaving. How much of Eric's personality and memory would there be in a Ghost?
Let's take this a step further, Steed. If that is possible, that means the information is within the Jewel itself. Can it be that simple? If I couldn't compel it myself. Scout and Corwin could join me. Would they be curious enough to try it?
I keep looking for options. Is there another way? I seem to have run out of options. I think that I have pushed my plan to 'almost' Suehprom proportions, it is definitely no coup de` maitre.
"Thanks, Fiona. Your counsel, as always, is illuminating and instructive. My options were limiting because I do not wish to change events and I do not wish to involve others. I will have to try a different approach." I kiss her offered hand, avoiding her ring and depart her company.
I gave it a great deal of thought, I slept on it. On what may have been the second day I decided it was time. I looked for Scout, located his cave chamber. There is still another unanswered question, and I decided I wanted to know the answer. My plan also requires his assistance. I find him talking to Anna.
"I say, Scout old boy, do you have a moment?"
"Yeah?" He was startled and dropped his cup, spilling his drink. The lad is on edge about something, aren't we all?
I see Anna, relaxing and studying me. As his body guard, she is probably suspicious of me. More so, since I am related to Scout. "Hello, Anna. I - regret - the events that brought you here against your will." If anyone is collecting 'mea culpa'.
She nods and stays silent, appraising me. How much like Emma, she is.
"Scout, I realize you have been busy on some mission; probably from Random. I am often sent on them, so I won't pry. I tried to contact you earlier, to see if you needed any help. Emma and I had some free time then. If you do, let me know; we will be available. If not, I understand; after all, we are 'family'. It is understandable, yet regrettable that you have no reason to trust me. From my perspective, I am the most trustworthy of any in Amber. The reason I am here, is that I went to see Fiona. I asked her for a favor and I thought of you."
Scout. "I don't see the connection."
I pause. "Do you know who your Amber parent is, mother or father? No, don't answer that. It is your business; I am not on a 'need to know' list. Since you have just arrived to Amber recently, I didn't know if you found out yet. You will tell us, 'if and when' you are ready. The point is, I asked Fiona to 'observe' Flora from this Shadow; to see who my father was. The methods we discussed are tricky and possibly dangerous. To observe 'without' affecting history is - risky."
I brush off my bowler, apparently it picked up some dust somewhere. "I decided that it was not worth the risk and we were discussing other options as well. One in particular that may be intriguing. It involves the Jewel."
I pause to give Scout a moment to take that in, as his slightly narrowed eyes signaled either confusion or suspicion. Or, more likely, both. "It may be the only opportunity for either of us to 'know' for sure. The information may be hidden or removed by any of us with Pattern, quite easily. Information from the elders are only as accurate as they want them to be, not totally reliable. Shadows can be altered, documents and memories of Shadow dwellers are unreliable. Nothing in our time line can be trusted for facts. I have tried for over fifty years, there is 'no' way to know with absolute certainty. The Unicorn knows that the Pattern can't solve every problem, you may have learned that already."
"If I am wrong in my assumption and you are not searching for 'information', then forget my words. But remember that I will be available, if you need help. That Jewel you wear 'must' be protected at all costs. Anna is here because Random knows that, if I am any judge of my uncle. Emma and I are part of that protection, whether Random mentioned it or not. Whether you 'accept' it or not."
I give them my warmest smile. "I almost forgot, do you still have the Trump of my room in Castle Amber?"
He nods.
"If you don't think you will need it, I could definitely use it." It seems that I haven't slept there in ages... since I first met this group actually. I miss the familiarity of the place. He gets out his deck, sorts through it, pulls my Trump out and hands it to me. I put it in my inside jacket pocket. "Thanks, I hope it was of some use."
I snap my fingers. "That reminds me, I still have Luke's Trump deck. He shouldn't need it until we get home. Our decks are in Shadow Earth and we didn't have time to get another from the Library. With Werewindle gone as protection, Fiona can keep a tight rein on him. If he behaves, I will return it to him. I never asked Luke, but I would be surprised if Luke isn't attuned to the Jewel, since Coral retained possession of it. There is no reason to assume he hasn't taken advantage of the opportunity. He may have followed you here, through the Jewel."
I drop my smile. "Scout, if he has the chance, he 'will' make a break to change something - important. Consider this, what would happen if he prevented the attack on Coral? What events have occurred 'since' the removal of the Jewel? As fond as I am of Coral and Luke, it may not be prudent to prevent the attack. However, if it was me; I would do it and damn the consequences. And be damned anyone who got in my way."
His eyes narrow in understanding. Possibly feeling the same way or becoming more suspicious of me?
My smile returns. "As I said earlier, it is just a matter of - perspective. Just something else to ponder." I tap my bowler in place. "Interested in hearing my plan?"
"What do you have in mind?"
"It may have a few holes in it, but my plan is not as 'elaborate' as one of Suehprom's. Follow me on this. According to Fiona, Eric should know who my father was." Point one. Holding up my fingers, one at a time, for emphasis. "As you know, the Jewel created a Pattern Ghost of me to help on its recovery." Point two. "That follows that it is able to create Ghosts of anyone attuned to it, like yourself. Specifically, Eric." Point three. "How much of 'his' memory would reside inside the Ghost, would depend on 'when' he attuned himself to it." Point four. "I'm betting that the attunement was around the time of the Patternfall War; not years before we were born." Point five. "Let's take that a step further if the Jewel works that way. If the memories are available for a Ghost, where are the memories stored? The Jewel itself must somehow hold the information." I spread my hands. "Therefore, I would like the opportunity to summon those memories directly from the Jewel, if it can be done."
"I think I'm with you, so far. You do know I can't let you have the Jewel, right?"
"Absolutely. I don't want it, retain control of it." Perhaps I said that too quickly. "I will just look into the Jewel and seek for the information, while you hold it and monitor my actions. I may need your help anyway. Anna can hold a knife to my throat, if that will make you more comfortable. If I waver from inquiry, she can 'stop' me." I grin and tilt my head, exposing my cleanly shaven neck. "You can even hold my bowler, brolly, and Trumps as insurance for my cooperation."
I continue. "Any inquiries you may have, if applicable, we can access them as well. Corwin may help us, if we need more people who are attuned. Fiona is the only other person aware of my inquires, I think it should stay that way. None of the others should know what we learn, until we know if the information should be shared."
I smile and clap my hands, rubbing them together; quite satisfied with my pitch. "Well cousin, that's the plan. We can work out the details as we go; after all, we haven't tried this before. Shall we start? No time like the present." I try to encourage enthusiasm, I think that even Luke would have been pleased with my sales pitch.
Anna looks dubious and skeptical. At least I got Scout's attention.
"Sounds like a possibility. If this thing really is self-contained and if it lets us get to what its holding." Scout didn't look entirely convinced of either possibility, or perhaps the suspicious nature that affects most members of the family much of the time was starting to infect him as well. "But I don't like the idea of inviting this thing to make more of those Ghosts. The Ghost version of you was nice enough, in a blood-thirsty way. Eric didn't strike me as the kind to ask first when he wanted a transfusion. I'd rather not have to saddle Anna with guarding the both of us against that."
"Unless..." He reached into his pocket, drew out something small. There was a slight glimmer of red, but it was certainly too small to be the Jewel. "Anna, you can use this stone to get an early warning. If it buzzes, something's about to hit the fan and you can act accordingly. Sound solid?" He looked from her to me, then back.
We wait for her opinion, after all she is responsible for guarding the Jewel. She nods in agreement; then she examines Scout's jewel closely, as though it is the first time she has held it.
What a handy device. "Splendid, any advance warning gives us an edge. For what it's worth, I 'share' your concern about a Ghost Eric, and I hope that won't be necessary. If it is, we may have to stop and recruit Fiona or Corwin." Looking at Anna, smiling. "I am confident that we are in good hands."
"I still would like to keep the others out of this, if we can."
"Agreed." It's early evening of the second day. "Ready?" We begin.
We find a comfortable place to sit, facing each other. He holds the Jewel by the chain dangling it in front of me. Anna stands between us and to the side, we form a triangle. She has the stone in one hand and a knife in the other.
I smile at her. "Whatever happens, Scout and the Jewel take priority over me." Once I enter the Jewel, I will be oblivious to what happens outside the Jewel. I make myself comfortable and gaze into the Jewel, trying to pass my awareness into it. I've been there before, it seems like ages ago. It is harder than before. I remember that I need to be in direct physical contact to enter it. "It will be necessary for me to touch it."
Scout nods, Anna shrugs.
I slowly reach out with my forefinger and lightly touch the ruby, the Jewel of our family. Keep your thoughts to yourself. I bring up my Jewel Pattern awareness. I feel the familiar touch of the Jewel through my special awareness, a surge of power flows into me.
I concentrate on the facets of the stone, looking at the dimensional traceries of the Pattern within the Jewel. The Jewel begins pulsing in time with my heart beat. In my periphery vision, the stone begins pulsing in Anna's hand, to match the Jewel. I go into a trance state and I will myself inside the Jewel, my body seems to fall away from me or me from it. Falling...falling...there...
I experience a de`ja vu standing within the Jewel, looking around the glowing and pulsing red surroundings. Very reminiscent to being in a photographic dark room that contains a vast bizarre jungle gym.
My first impressions is to scan the area for any other inhabitants. My last time here was less than pleasurable. I hope I 'don't' encounter another Ty'iga. I sense Scout resisting the pull of the Jewel, his consciousness is being interfered with. Something is trying to break his concentration, I hope he will be able to deal with the distraction.
I focus my thoughts on my goal, access to Eric's memories, nothing more. For moments, nothing happens. I 'feel' that I need to walk the Pattern to access the information from the center of the Pattern; it appears to be the logical thing to do. I prepare myself for the task, it is mentally stressful but something I anticipated.
I take a few steps to the edge of the Pattern and mentally take a deep breath. Anyone who waltzes up to the Pattern and treats it like a walk in the park, deserves to go up in flames. Others may 'think' that's how I behave, that is what I 'want' them to think. Outwardly I give that appearance; however, every time I must mentally prepare myself for the challenge of my life. Never, I repeat 'never' treat the Pattern as a walk in the park. Any Pattern! Unless, the park is on the edge of a severe hurricane or deeply buried in hardened gelatin; well, you get the picture.
I raise my foot to step on the Pattern; someone taps me on the shoulder and speaks in Thari, in a voice I recognize from the past. "Stop. That won't be necessary."
I turn to face him. "Eric? What are you doing here?" I didn't know what to expect here. I look upon the face of the man who I have long blamed for my exile on Shadow Earth. Handsome by any standards: black wavy hair and beard, blue eyes, and a smile that disarms. In the reddish glow of the Jewel, his hair nearly matches my own dark auburn hair. Minus the beard, there is an unmistakable family resemblance. My uncle, the former King of Amber, dressed in his colors: black and red. Black leather jacket, leggings, plain cloak, and high boots - all trimmed in red. Red sword belt, his blade a long silvery sabre. A ruby clasp fastened to the cloak.
"You came looking for me."
"Of course. Do you know where we are?" Curious, I never realized that he used a sabre as well, my choice of weapon.
He examines his surroundings. "Yes. We are within the Jewel. I do not know how this came to be, but I do not think 'that' is as important as 'why'."
"Yes. I came seeking an answer to a question. A question that you may have the answer to." How to phrase this? "You monitored Flora while she was exiled to Shadow Earth observing Corwin."
"True. That did not sound like a question. You seem nervous."
"I seek the answer to something that has been withheld my entire life. Do you know who was with Flora around the time of my birth?"
"Do you want a list?"
I shrugged off the statement, if it was intended to goad me. "Very well, do you know who my father was?" I take a deep mental breath.
"I know who your father 'is'."
"Is that information you are willing to divulge to me?"
"I was under the impression that you didn't want to know."
"No. Flora refused to tell me or even tell me why. I had long given up asking any other family member. I just recently decided it was time to ask the one person who I thought would know."
"So, you don't think that Flora had a good reason for keeping it from you?"
"I imagine she had a good reason. I suppose if I knew the reason... it would satisfy my curiosity."
"She believed as I did, that you would be happier not knowing. She really did care for you. She loved you like a son."
Bloody hell! I experience the same sinking feeling that I got when Emma told me about the Cineverse Shadow Earth, like the ground giving way beneath me. His words indicate that Flora is 'not' my mother. My father, an Amberite? Who? Eric?
Knowing how others use information for their own gains. "Does anyone else know?"
"Some secrets are hard to keep."
I have a great deal of trouble forming the direct question. I thought it would be easy, but not with Eric. He notices my difficulty.
"Steed, it is best if you return to Flora. It was her that raised you, the only mother you've known or need to know."
"I understand. Yet, my father is of Amber." A statement of fact.
"You are a child of Amber, yes. Otherwise you would not survive the Pattern."
I remember Emma's words - 'It wouldn't be the end of the world if Steed found out about his father.' Flora replied - 'I wouldn't bet on it.' "I withdraw my question, I thought the answer would resolve things. My concern is for the safety of Amber. If the answer jeopardizes that, I would rather not know."
"I don't think the information is applicable to the safety of Amber. From the beginning, the main concern was your happiness. Sometimes it is better not to know. I would have preferred not to have known my father."
"I've never met Oberon." Although I've seen his image many times and Eric impersonated him in the TARDIS.
"He was a brute really. I always tried to make him like me, to...respect me. His favorite was always Corwin. Believe me, you would be better off without a father." Implying that my father would have been the same.
"Eric, it has been years since we actually talked; some years after I took the Pattern for the first time. I appreciate your candor. After you sought to take the throne, there were no further discussions and I was sent back to Shadow Earth, barriers to Amber were raised. I could go anywhere except Amber. I was allowed to return only to fulfill my obligation to a tour of duty in the Amber Army. I made Major before I was encouraged to leave. I thought I was being punished for some slight to the crown, not knowing why. I also thought that I was kept there for my protection by Flora. For a long time I blamed you for my exile, even hated you for it. But, no longer."
"It 'was' my fault. You were kept there for your own safety. We both only sought your protection and your happiness."
"All these years, I often thought that my father didn't even know of my existence."
"We thought you would be happier not knowing."
"I see that now. Regardless, things have worked out fairly well. For that I thank you and I regret that I have wronged you... and misjudged you. I suppose we all have regrets, even my father."
"Only a fool or a coward does not. Your father is neither."
"Regardless, I think I am rather proud of the father I never had and all he accomplished. I hope he is pleased with his son, I could have served him well."
"Thank you, Jonathan."
"Thank you. I'll leave you in peace in this realm, Eric - King of Amber." ...father?
"Farewell, Steed." We clasp hands and part.
If this was no illusion or delusion, Flora is my 'adopted' mother; the only one I ever knew. The only one that matters...now. My father, Eric? Probably, he was in on my protection. No reason why he wouldn't have told me, except to continue the illusion for my happiness. Dead now, in defense of Amber.
Another Eric is loose from the other time line now, not the 'true' Eric. He sits in a dungeon cell in Chaos after attacking Merlin during his coronation. It is not like the Eric I knew to have been foiled so easily by Merlin, but Creed's was the unknown factor that changed events. Was Eric just trying to kill Merlin as a vendetta against Corwin, or was there something else he had planned? One thing that troubled me about the whole thing. Was Eric trying for the throne of Chaos and what would Eric do if he took it? My guess would be as a stepping stone to re-take the throne of Amber from Random. It is just as well that the plot was stopped, we do not need another was between Amber and Chaos. Too many lives were lost, too high a cost for a crown.
I take my leave of the Jewel and the Ghost of the man who was once King of Amber and likely my father. I concentrate upon leaving the Jewel and returning to my body. After a considerable effort, shouldering the torment of a lifetime of should/would/could have been, I feel myself return. Which reality would have been preferred? All in all, I feel quite good about things. Truth or illusion, no one will know; including myself. I will return to my mother, my realm, and my duties.
I open my eyes and see Scout, Anna, and Random. What is Random doing here? My Pattern awareness is still active, I see with Anna, a larger Anna shaped energy mass, with that strange Pattern-like energy component I saw when Anna was brought to Galifrey via Fiona's Spikard.
"Scout, how did Random get here?"
"This isn't Random, he is one of those Jewel things."
"Ah... a Ghost." A Pattern Ghost, created by one of the Patterns, probably the Jewel of Judgment. "No sense in scanning him with the Pattern for verification." I did it anyway. It was Pattern Ghost 'like', but with subtle differences.
"Good idea. We are causing enough trouble as it is." Scout relaxes his arm, after holding the Jewel in place for me. "Did you get your answer?"
I shrug. "The theory works as I thought. Like talking to a Ghost. However, my answer was just as insubstantial. Thanks for the opportunity and testing a theory, it wasn't a total loss. Did I miss anything?" Also, how are we causing enough problems?
"Yeah, a little mess with Kat. It is all worked out now."
"Good, nothing else?" Scout and I are playing it close to the vest. I suppose we both must have something to keep secret.
"Just talking to Random. Should we see how the others are doing?"
"Certainly, Scout. By the way, the Jewel would be easier to carry if you wore it."
"I would rather not." He pockets it.
"Thanks again, for the use of the Jewel."
"You're welcome." I hear Scout and Random say simultaneously. I get the impression that I missed a lot.
"We're worried that we may have a Corwin and ..." He never got to finish the sentence.
Blazer ran into the room, like the Devil himself was after him. He looks around furtively. "How did Random get here?"
Scout repeats his explanation. "It's a Jewel thing."
"Oh." Like that explained everything. "Brand keeps wanting to talk to me." He looks around again, like he expects Brand to jump out of a piece of furniture.
Scout. "He does that."
I wonder what's going on here? "Are you saying Brand is here in this Shadow? That he actually got through?"
Blazer looks around. "I've been running from him."
Scout shrugs. "He's here, yes. Did Brand play with the Jewel too? Someday, someone will have to fill me in on the story."
I volunteer. "I understood that he never became attuned to it." Random nods in agreement.
Blazer. "I don't want to know."
Scout. "Blazer, why does he want to talk with you?"
"I don't know. I really didn't want to listen."
Scout. "Did you talk to Luke?"
"Yeah, he is with him. Why?"
Scout. "Blazer, you may want to talk with Luke."
I don't fully understand what is going on here. How Random, Brand, and an energy creature entered the blocked Shadow. Random must have been generated by the Jewel, but what about the others? I have the impression that I lack a small piece of information, which will make this all clear. But what? "We should find Luke and Brand, now!" Only stating the painfully obvious. We were just through this, before we entered this Shadow.
Scout. "It's better than leaving them alone together, yeah."
I get Blazer's full attention. "Take us to them, quickly!"
Blazer. "I can tell you where they went."
Scout. "There's six of us, you will be safe. I don't think he wants to hurt you."
How does Scout know this? I push my case with Blazer. "You can stay behind us, if you would feel safer. Take us there."
Random gets his attention. "Blazer, you are still in 'my' Navy, you are still 'my' subject, and you are 'my' nephew. It's an order."
I pat his shoulder. "You heard the king, cousin. Royal decrees and all." No point in telling him that I out rank him too. He already acts like he is at the bottom of the universal pecking order. "We don't have a lot of time to waste."
Blazer. "Very well."
"Good lad, we will be with you." We cover him on all sides as we search for Brand and Luke; father and son. Together: Random and Scout, Anna and an energy being, and lastly myself. I will unravel this yet. With or without their help.
We follow Blazer to an asphalt four lane highway which 'shouldn't' be in this Shadow.
Scout looks around confused. "This wasn't here before, was it?"
I touch the road and nearby gravel with my boot tip, checking to see if it is solid or an illusion. "Not to my knowledge. This was supposed to be an uninhabited no-tech Shadow."
Blazer offers. "This has changed a lot. At least Brand is not here."
"We better talk with Brand and Luke soon. Would a Trump work here? It's pretty well shielded, but he got through earlier to me."
Brand was in touch with Scout? "When was that?" I try to sound unconcerned.
"While you were in the Jewel, don't worry about it."
Scout has a strange idea about what we shouldn't worry about. That must be what affected Scout's concentration when I was in the Jewel. How close was Brand to gaining control of the Jewel.
Blazer acts like he was just used for alligator trolling. "You were talking on a Trump with Brand?"
"Not much choice. It was either answer the Trump or lose concentration on the Jewel."
"Did he say anything important? Brand doesn't strike me as the type to make social calls." I grin.
"Only that I needed to take care of the Jewel, which I already knew. He wasn't much help or a threat."
"I see." He's still hiding something. From the others, me, or all of us? "Does anyone have a Trump of Brand?"
Scout checks his pocket. "I've got a full set here somewhere."
I just realized that I have Luke's set, Luke's and Brand's Trumps are there. I will keep them in mind for later.
We walk along the road and in the distance we see a large cat, a black panther. It has something pinned to the road. Prey?
Scout. "I thought this was an uninhabited Shadow, Steed. Looks like a large cat." He draws a sword. "Should we check it out?"
"Certainly, you are right, it shouldn't be here. A lot of things shouldn't be here."
Scout. "There aren't any panthers in the family tree, are they?"
I shake my head. "Only family shape shifters, I don't keep track of who takes what forms."
Random. "Dworkin could take that form if he wanted to."
I point my umbrella in the direction of the cat. "Well, let's find out what it is doing here."
Scout mentions. "So far, there are people coming out of the Jewel. I hope it has nothing to do with the panther."
People? He said Random was a Ghost earlier, he never mentioned anyone else. Who did he mean besides Random. How many Ghosts are there in this Shadow? Also, why? What is supporting their life forces? With me, it required an ingestion of Amberite blood (Corwin's). What if all of them had the same need, that could be a problem.
We walk along nearly a hundred meters, now within 20 meters of the cat. It is not eating something, it is licking something. It has a black ball of fur under its forepaws. I see a head, a smaller cat being groomed. It is Kat! The panther is grooming her and she is struggling to get free. I would laugh out loud, but Kat would probably fry our brains.
The larger cat takes notice of us, seeing Scout's bare blade. The cat is definitely male, and behaving like Kat's... sire? He takes a defensive position, protecting Kat from us; still pinning her down. Definitely protecting her; if he wasn't, he would leave her to attack us. She sees us and begins shifting to her human form.
More pieces of the puzzle to fit together.
Scout calls out. "Kat, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine." The large cat looks menacingly at Scout for addressing his child.
He backs up and puts his blade away.
Kat smiles. "Good idea."
Scout. "Did you invite him here?"
"No. I was napping in a nearby tree. He climbed up after me."
"I'm not going to try to figure this out anymore." Scout looks frustrated.
"He looks like he is trying to protect you."
Kat offers. "He is to clean and protect the child."
"Interesting, I suspected as much. Kat, are you aware of any siblings?"
She addresses her father, the cat. Then to us. "It was a small litter of six. The others are with his mate."
The idea of five others like Kat is hardly a comforting thought, including her parents. How many others have seen a parent in this Shadow? I hope the others of her family stay wherever they are. We do not need any more creatures that 'play' with minds.
We are approached by a vehicle that looks like a SAAB with mirrored windows. The car pulls up next to us and the window opens. The Doctor looks out the window, he is accompanied by someone I've never met. A discussion begins; more questions, few answers. He asks us. "How do we get back to our previous location?"
Scout points. "It's back that way." We can see the caves from here.
The Doctor turns to the driver. "Sid, can I see a road map?"
"No road maps, it changes too often."
I look back to the caves again, expecting the walk back. I see Emma walking to us. She has a tallish man in tow, arm in arm. He is wearing a long white lab coat, slightly stained. He sports a slight beard and disheveled hair. Pens and a slide rule stick out of the jacket pocket.
Emma beckons me. I walk to join them. "Hello my dear, who is your friend?"
She smiles. "This is my father, Steed. I don't think you've met him. This is quite strange, since he has been dead for a few years." She turns to him. "Sorry, father."
He smiles and squeezes her hand. "Not to worry, my dear girl."
I shake his hand. "Doctor Knight, I presume?"
He grins. "You can call me that."
"My pleasure, sir. I would like the opportunity to talk, but we have a problem to address. Please excuse me. Feel free to join us, I am not sure what is happening."
Scout sees us. "I have the feeling that this is not entirely an issue with the Jewel."
Doctor. "When did the Jewel enter the equation?"
Scout. "Steed and I were using it. I thought it may be involved."
Doctor. "You both were futzing with it."
I looked at the Doctor with disappointment. "'Futzing' is such a crude term, Doctor. I prefer 'experimenting' or 'utilizing'."
Scout. "He was using it to gather information."
Doctor. "As I said."
Scout. "Well, maybe a little bit."
I ignore the Doctor's accusation. After all, it is my family's tool to 'futz' with. I turn to face Emma and her father. "How did you get here, Doctor Knight?"
He shrugs. "I do not know. I found myself with Emma. She was asleep and I woke her. I'm afraid I gave her quite a start. We talked a bit and she decided we should look for you. Although I don't see the point of all this."
Pieces are fitting into place now, but more questions form. "Welcome to the club, Doctor." I turn to Emma. "Ghosts all around, Emma. Remember my tale about my stint as a Pattern Ghost? Although I don't see how Ghosts can be created of people not of the blood or walked a Pattern. Also, I don't know what is sustaining them. Random and Anna's father don't seem to be weakening, even without Amberite blood for nourishment. I think it is time for me to examine this Shadow through my Pattern awareness." I look around. "Any objections""
Kat speaks up. "That must be it. There are almost double the number of people here, than when we came here; a few short of doubled."
Scout. "That would add up."
Doctor. "They all seem to be related to us."
Our fathers, that's it! Have I somehow triggered something in this Shadow using the Jewel? "Random, any reason I shouldn't use the Pattern? We should know which are Ghosts and what is sustaining them." I am asking him as though he is the genuine article and in charge, force of habit; always defer to the king.
Random. "I don't see how that would hurt the situation."
"Good enough, Uncle." I turn to Emma. "I don't know what to expect. I have questions for your father, I hope I get the chance to ask them. Take advantage of the opportunity, Emma." I wink.
She nods and turns to talk with her father.
Before I focus on the Pattern, Brand and Luke arrive. Blazer moves behind the largest person in our group. Luke calls out. "Oberon is coming."
I wondered when he would arrive, he would be with the elders.
Scout. "We expected his arrival."
The Doctor approaches Brand and they introduce themselves, this can't be good.
Scout points to Blazer. "Brand, is he the one you were looking for? He's the one who inherited all the luck in your family."
My sarcasm detector pegged the needle again. Scout refers to the fact that nearly every time Blazer casts a spell, he gets caught up in the area of effect. The poor lad has done himself much damage. But Blazer is Brand's son? Poor lad, indeed.
Brand. "That is one way to look at things."
Oberon, Fiona, and Corwin arrive with Delwin and Suehprom in tow. Delwin and Suehprom? The implications are beginning to make sense. Suehprom admitted earlier that Sand was his mother. Sand and Delwin are siblings. If Delwin is his father, that means... Well, it is a known occurrence in some royal families. I remember when this all began, Suehprom sought my assistance in finding his parents, he had no memory of his background. He now has his answer, I hope he handles it well. I wonder what caused his amnesia in the first place?
The Doctor looks around. "All we need now is a barbecue grill and some steaks." A family picnic, indeed.
Oberon approaches Scout. "I believe 'that' belongs to me." He points to the Jewel he carries.
Scout. "Not at the moment, sir."
Oberon. "Considering my surroundings, I insist."
Scout, backing away assessing a defensive strategy. "I am afraid I have instructions from the Unicorn to do otherwise."
Oberon. "And I'm supposed to believe that?"
Scout. "I don't care what you believe."
Kat moves to his side, the panther moves in front of Kat to protect her.
Oberon. "Don't make me ask again."
Scout. "I don't care how many times you ask."
I have to hand it to Scout, he has brass. Oberon's children are rather apprehensive about what to do. Random moves near Scout. I make my way over to help if I can, but I have other tasks more critical.
Suehprom vanishes. Sid gets out of the car. He is a tall white haired gentleman in his late forties, clean shaven, slightly protuberant nose, and dressed in a business suit. He addresses Oberon, buying us time. "Excuse me, sir. I do not recognize you. I understand it would be bad if you got the gentleman's bauble."
Scout. "For the record, it's not mine. I'm just holding it for the owner. He are 'not' the owner."
Suehprom reappeared next to Scout. Neat trick.
Sid addresses Scout. "Sir, I do not know your name. It would be best if you got behind me."
Scout. "Yeah, sure." He complies and Oberon moves in.
Oberon. "Before you oppose me. You should know that I am Oberon. Lord of Amber, the Pattern, and all that I choose to survey. The Jewel is mine and I 'will' have it!"
Scout. "Actually, the Jewel belongs to the current king of Amber."
Oberon. "It belongs to who I 'say' it belongs to. Pup!"
Scout. "I don't think it works that way."
Oberon draws his sword and advances.
Suehprom whispers in my ear. "I have a way out of here, if you are interested."
"Later... I will keep that in mind."
Sid moves toward Oberon, growing in size; clothes begin to tear.
Oberon. "I've fought and killed shape shifters before, by the hundreds."
Sid gains an incredible amount of mass from somewhere and grows to become a huge dragon. A battle ensues between them. The others watch and position themselves for their moves.
I turn, looking for a place of relative safety while I make myself a bit vulnerable. I concentrate upon the Pattern, following the traceries in my mind. I draw upon the Jewel of Judgment to help me in my endeavor. Scout will be aware of my contact, he may even decide to join my efforts.
I extend my awareness to the extent of this Shadow and notice that the entire Shadow has Pattern traces to it. It seems that the people not originally part of our party also have Pattern traces. There is a striking resemblance to Pattern Ghosts as I determined earlier, but not... quite the same. Like fragmentary Pattern Ghosts, with other mystical energies woven in. I don't recall anything like it.
"How extraordinary." I mutter to myself. I wonder what is maintaining their and the Shadow's existence, since Amberite blood has not been provided? I extend my awareness to see what subtle energies are involved in their continued existence. Minutes pass as I ignore external stimuli that may distract me. I trace minute lines of magical energies that extend to the borders of the Shadow and to the Jewel of Judgment. It seems to be fed from the edge of the Shadow, with a loop through the Jewel, and feeding back to the edge of the Shadow.
The forced loop of energies then spill over the energies to maintain the additional simulacrum and environment we see. I try to determine a place where the connection is or can be broken. I do not have the resources available myself: mentally or power-based. The edge of the Shadow was reinforced by Fiona inside and Sand outside. I will need Fiona to be the catalyst; to divert the energy somewhere outside the loop, not just breaking the connection.
I maintain my awareness peripherally and walk over to my dear Aunt Fiona. Suehprom tags along. "Fi, a moment please."
She seems to be distracted by the confrontation between Oberon and Sid. "Yes, Steed."
"It appears that the people here, outside of our original party, are Pattern Ghost 'like' constructs. They and this Shadow are being sustained by a forced feedback loop between the Jewel and the powers that surround this Shadow. The power seems to be increasing."
I see the Pattern forces that she brings to bear. "I see what you mean."
"Can you use your toy to divert the energies away from the loop to break the connection? It would remove all false images of this Shadow."
"Ah... Bleed off the power to somewhere else. That's how they got past the barriers. Where to route the energy flow?"
It sounded like a rhetorical question, but I tried anyway. "Back into reinforcing the barrier?"
"I don't think the barrier will survive this. I'm not sure the Shadow will, either."
I hear Emma gasp with realization. I am distracted by a shot fired. Scout is discharging a handgun. It sounds like at least a 38 caliber, if this Shadow is near Shadow earth normal. The bullet passes through Sid's wing membrane and into Oberon.
"Fiona, what Shadows are adjacent to the one we occupy? Any populated? Any Shadow Earth variations?"
"No, we are nowhere near Earth, but we don't have the time to make the distinction between the various Shadow's population levels. The Shadows will need to be sacrificed to do this."
I nod, understanding. "Regrettable, but necessary." Before the levels here increase to destructive proportions. The barriers are still in place. This Shadow will depart soon, with or without us... It will take nearby Shadows with it anyway. This will be a way we can get out of here before it happens. The power level continues to increase.
The Doctor calls out. "Sid! A chronological stasis grenade!"
Suehprom asks. "Do you want to get out of here yet?"
"Not yet." I shake my head.
Suehprom. "Shields up!" He vanishes, nice trick, that. I wonder which Shadow he is in when he does that? I should mention it when he gets back.
"Fiona, we should do this soon. When you are ready, start diverting the flow to the adjacent Shadows. And... thanks."
She has a grim look on her face. "Shadows.. there may be a lot of them lost."
I become motionless but aware that something the Doctor has done has caused this anomaly. My Pattern awareness blocks some of the effects of his stasis grenade. I see Sid moving in on a frozen Oberon. Sid lays a claw along Oberon's neck, nearly decapitating him.
Forcing Pattern awareness, I am able to move but very slowly. Suehprom pops back next to Sid. How long does this effect last? Fiona is also moving slowly, she was actively manipulating Pattern and using her Spikard. Corwin is joining us, moving slowly.
Shortly, thinks return to something resembling normal. I hear Fiona call out. "Now!" Everyone's attention is focused on her as her ring glows with the energies it manipulates.
Everything in the Shadow, excluding our original party, disintegrates away. Various expletives are verbalized and silenced. I have the feeling that we are 'nowhere'. No sensation of falling, but no sensation of being anywhere; like a void. That is all my Pattern registers, a void.
I mentally click my heels together to search for something familiar and stable. Magical energies surround us and we are transported. I recognize the energies as those of Fiona's ring. I hear the familiar 'pop' from the air displacement that occurs when we occupy a place previously unoccupied.
Where? I look around and see that we are in the courtyard of a castle I don't recognize. The Doctor tells us we are in a Shadow which has a time flow one and a half times Amber standard.
Suehprom asks. "When and where are we?"
Fiona speaks up after the powers she invoked settle down. "This is one of my places. I needed someplace I was familiar with on such short notice."
Scout. "I don't know what happened back there."
I shrug. "Well, cousin. I can try to explain it, but I don't know what triggered it." I refuse to acknowledge the possibility that I caused it by using the Jewel. "When I examined the Shadow with the Pattern, I noticed that the people and the changes in the environment were Pattern Ghost 'like' simulacrums. The energies that sustained it were from a forced feedback loop between the Jewel of Judgment and the barrier of the Shadow. I don't know why those things were appearing and why they were father's of everyone." I absolutely refuse to accept it.
Kat. "From someone breaching the barrier?"
Scout. "Or the Jewel thing? And what was it with the paternal thing?"
Doctor. "Subconscious minds dwelling on problems?"
I offer. "Sounds plausible." If it was to be believed, everyone saw their fathers. Possibly what our subconscious wanted us to see. "But not very informative."
Corwin. "It has been my experience... That sometimes when we get through these things, you don't always have an explanation. If you get through in one piece, that's enough."
Doctor. "It was like going through the Corridor of Mirrors."
We discuss minor observations that are of no importance. We agree that it is best not to dwell upon it. Amen. We still have a mission to complete. We walk to the castle and enter.
Scout. "Where do we need to go now?"
Fiona. "I diverted some of the energy to bring us closer to our original time line."
Scout. "How close?"
Fiona. "I'm not certain, I would have to check."
Doctor. "Just a moment." He draws some diagrams for effect. "We have returned roughly to the time we left."
Scout. "I need to contact Random, soon." He gets out a Trump and tries to reach him. "Doctor, we need to reach Random, he will be with your blue phone booth."
Doctor. "What is he doing there?"
Scout. "He needs the Jewel, we need to contact him."
He hands the Trump to the Doctor. No luck.
Kat moves in closer, the two of them try it together. She says. "Touch the Jewel, we may need the extra power."
Scout touches the Jewel with his finger, holding the chain in his hand. He becomes irritated then puts the chain around his neck. He really doesn't like using the Jewel. They try again. Sweat pours down his forehead with the exertion. He takes the chain off his neck and hold the Jewel out to a rainbow portal. He calls out. "Here!" He reaches through and they both disappear. 
I get the impression that Scout wasn't expecting that. He had a surprised look on his face.
The Doctor looks disgusted. "There are simpler ways of doing things. Steed, will you Trump me?"
He hands me a Trump. "Very well." I concentrate upon it, it becomes cool and familiar.
"Good. Now pull me through and stop when I say to."
I reach out, clasp his hand and slowly pull him through.
He is in transit. :Stop.:
I stop pulling. "Now what?"
:Break contact while I am in transition. Now.:
I release him and break contact. He pops back to his original location.
He is upset. "Damn, that should have worked." He gets out two Trumps, Corwin's and mine. He holds them out and concentrates on the area between the Trumps. I feel the stirrings of a Trump contact, but peripherally. No actual contact is made.
Suehprom and Blazer wander off. Fiona, Corwin, Luke, the Doctor, Emma, Anna, and myself stay together to wait for Scout and Kat's return. "Freeze sailor, we've still got work to do." I heard myself saying.
Blazer turns and says. "Don't tell me that 'you' out rank me too."
"If a Major does." Different branch of military, though. Retired Amber Army, not Amber Navy.
"Oh, I guess it does."
"There's no place to go, so you may as well sit tight seaman."
Suehprom. "It would be safer in Chaos."
"If they don't accomplish their task, even Chaos may not survive."
Suehprom. "I somehow don't see Chaos being destroyed."
"Very well, it may be a 'less inhabited' Chaos."
Luke offers his assistance to Fiona.
Suehprom. "Does someone have a way to get to Chaos?"
Never mind... Why does he always think Chaos will be safer than Amber?
Suehprom turns to leave. A voice from outside the room calls out.
"Leaving the party so soon?" It is King Random. in his colors, now wearing the Jewel of Judgment.
Doctor. "Did you see the TARDIS?"
Random. "The blue box?"
Scout. "Then it didn't blow up everything with it. Good."
Random. "Apparently the Jewel held reality together."
Well, that probably means the end of Creed, Kesa, K-9, and Gabriel. But, who knows? They are resourceful enough to escape the TARDIS. Only 'time' will tell.
Scout. "Well, anyone for pizza?"
Random smiles at that. "Don't forget the beer."
Emma touches my wrist. "Chablis?" She smiles, but I feel her sorrow. Finding her father and losing him again.
Doctor. "Mushrooms."
Kat. "Extra cheese."
Scout. "Who delivers to Fiona's castle?"
Who indeed? Who indeed?

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