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Gérard of Amber ElderMania Journal

Chapter 1 (The story so far):


I am looking through large medical books, trying to chart and cross reference the possible disorders with common symptoms ‘and’ have been (at least hinted at) reported to have been inter-related. i.e. go from one disorder to another, some sort of snowball effect. It doesn't look promising so far. I have a bad feeling that it may be magically related or similar to the effects of the black road. I want to rule out 'natural' causes first. Two-thirds into the book, I feel the itch of a Trump contact. It causes me to completely lose my train of thought on some psychosomatic illnesses that I am trying to follow a lead on. Damn... I massage my aching temples. "Yes, who is it?"


The contact takes a long time to open, and I can sense that whoever's on the other end is struggling to focus. The psychic impression is familiar...


The contact opens, but it's fuzzy and unsteady, fading in and out. It's Odin, and something is most definitely wrong. "Dad?" He's leaning up against a wall, somewhere down in the Amber wharf district, I think; he's got...something...clutched tightly in his other hand, and he blinks woozily at the Trump. "I think...I found...what you're looking for..."


The thing in his other hand (it appears humanoid, more or less) is twitching feebly. The contact wavers; in another second or two, he's going to lose it.


I call out. "Take my hand, son! I'll bring you through!" Fully alert and adrenaline kicking in. I try to mentally strengthen contact as I try to reach through the contact, extending my reach as far as possible.


With my assistance, the contact clears. He hesitates an instant, obviously not wanting to leave the whatever-it-is behind, then throws it over his shoulder and takes my hand, all but falling through. The ‘thing’ vanishes at the border of the card as though the transition wiped it from existence, but I get a good look at it for a second.


Odin manages to sit down under his own power before passing out. He has the look of a person who's been ill for some time--pale and drawn, with dark circles under his eyes. I saw him just this morning, and he looked fine then.


I was in the infirmary at the time, fortunately. I carry him over to a table and lay him down, so I can examine him. I get some equipment out so I can check his pulse, blood pressure, temperature, injuries, etc. providing treatment as seems needed.


All vital signs are within acceptable parameters, if at the lower end of such, particularly the blood pressure. There doesn't appear to be a mark on him, apart from a minor discoloration of the skin at the point where his neck meets his right shoulder--a spot that appears slightly paler than the surrounding dermis, though it's returning to normal as I watch. A series of tests reveals no sign of any infection, but he's anemic and dehydrated, and his white count is down to less than a third of its normal level. It's the same series of unexplained symptoms you've been seeing in a lot of the kids who are being brought in, only worse. An IV to replace the fluid he's apparently lost, is the only treatment that seems indicated immediately, until I know more.


I was concerned from the second I saw the ‘thing’ Odin held, that Odin may have been exposed to 'something' that caused the illnesses - and that by pulling him through, I exposed myself as well. I 'knew' that risk, but Odin is my son and there was no time to get a contamination suit ready first. I tend to act first and think later, when family is involved.


I doubt that I will forget what that ‘thing’ looked like. It was pretty ugly. Humanoid, and dressed in the tattered remains of clothing, but the skin was a dead gray color ordinarily seen in dead bodies several days old (or more,) and it was wizened and shriveled as though massively dehydrated. Its gaping mouth appeared devoid of teeth, and its eyes were so sunken they resembled a skull's sockets. It had only scattered wisps of hair, and the nose was partially collapsed. If I hadn't seen the thing moving--and seen it vanish as it did--I might have taken it for a corpse. The thing about it that spooked me the most, though, was that there was a nagging sense of familiarity about the thing's features, as though I'd seen it somewhere before.


I know that the possibility exists that we both are exposed to some illness, and I may need to take steps to contain it. The infirmary should now be quarantined, until we are both checked out. As I care for him, I ask Odin what happened.


He takes his time coming around, and the first thing he does when he wakes up is to ask for water. He downs almost a quart before his thirst is slaked, and then explains what transpired:


"I was heading back to Mother's place, just to check that everything was secure; since the family's all up here. As I passed an alleyway, I saw what looked like a prowler scrambling up a wall into somebody's window. So I went to investigate.” He looks around troubled. "This--thing...hey, where'd it go?"


I grasp his shoulder. “Relax, son. The ‘thing’ vanished, going through the Trump, like it was wiped it from existence by the Trump. Continue, please.”


"Rats! That's weird. Anyway, I looked into the window, and the thing was creeping across the floor, heading toward a bed up against the far wall. I was going to shout a warning to the sleeper, but it crawled into a patch of moonlight coming in the window, and that was when I realized it wasn't human. I hesitated--I was kind of freaked out--and it suddenly sprang up off the floor, landing right on top of the bed.”


He pauses. "There was a little girl in the bed, maybe eight or nine, and she thrashed around a little and whimpered, but she didn't wake up. I was already halfway in the window before it saw me; I'm not sure what it planned to do to the girl, but I guess it changed its mind, because it leaped off of her right across the room and knocked me back outside. I don't think the little girl woke up even then.”


Another pause. "We tussled for a minute or two. It was stronger than it looked, a ‘lot’ stronger; I had expected it to crumple like paper, but no such luck. I still had the upper hand, though, until it made this god awful hissing sound and then bit me. At least," he adds, frowning and reaching up to feel that spot at the base of his neck, "I ‘thought’ it bit me. It clamped on pretty good. Didn't hurt, though; I just started feeling dizzy all of a sudden, and sick to my stomach. I managed to tear it off me and bash its head on a garbage can several times, and that seemed to discourage it pretty effectively. But everything had gone fuzzy and I couldn't keep my balance, so I figured I had better call you."


“You did the right thing, son. Just stay still for awhile, until I can check you out further. Pity that the Trump portal wasted the thing. But, that can’t be helped. Chalk it up to experience and it may be a way to deal with them later.”


Since we have been handling similar cases like this in the past and no one has become infected, it ‘appears’ that the illnesses must be transmitted through the bites of this ‘thing’. I check my own vital signs, while Odin is resting to see if I have experienced any symptoms.


A full containment quarantine is accomplished with a minimum of difficulty, since Odin's the only patient in here right now. Given that I am perfectly healthy, there is no need for me to be quarantined. However, If I am showing ‘any’ symptoms, we will both need to be quarantined.


My assumption, full quarantine until I check myself out:


The medical staff and Random must be alerted to the situation and steps must be taken to keep it contained 'here' and prevent further exposure. The town guard must also be alerted to this threat. It is ‘now’ more important than anything they have been working on. There must be more than one of these ‘things’ to have affected so many people. One ‘must’ be captured - alive - to study; if they are alive at all. If Random won’t assign anyone, I’ll do it myself. The disappearances may be related to the appearance of these ‘things’.


I lock the door to the infirmary and shout to the guards in the hall my instructions. “Contact Joe and the medical staff. Send them here, but do not allow them to enter, unless ‘I’ clear it. Send someone for Random. If he’s in bed, tell him that I ask his presence - and no Trumps! Got it? Now move!” A sound of retreating footsteps is all I hear.


I don’t want to be in Trump contact with someone, until I can verify that I am not a carrier of something. I don’t know if an illness can travel through Trump contact, better safe than sorry. First, I check the results of my tests and check Odin again, to see if there is improvement.


My test results come back clean. Odin's are beginning to improve; the only possible complication I can foresee, barring other unforeseen changes, is that he might pick up an infection while his defenses are down. A thought occurs to me then. Children tend to be vulnerable to infections under the best of circumstances; they haven't been exposed, as adults have, to a variety of pathogens, and their immune systems are immature in any case. And their sanitary habits tend to be questionable, to say the least, especially in the very young. Thinking back over the list of common symptoms, I realize that what I've been seeing isn't the presence of an unexplained pathogen, it's the absence of crucial disease-fighting elements in the children’s' systems, with no apparent causative factor. What if it isn't a disease I’m dealing with, but a depressed resistance to disease in general?


Which begs the questions, why would the bloodless bite of a wizened creature like the one Odin captured, create such a depressed immunity? And why only the children?


And ‘where’ have I seen something like this horror before? Some horror out of Shadow. It looked like something out of a horror movie that I would expect to see in Shadow Earth. The thing could well have been cooked up by Industrial Lights and Magic, but that isn't what's bugging me. It's not the creature's overall appearance that struck me, so much as something in the structure of its face that reminded me of a specific person...


Wait, I've got it. The old panhandler who used to stand on the corner a block down from Bloody Andy's and beg for spare change. I'd seen him a thousand times if I'd seen him once; he'd been working that same corner for years, and despite his decrepitude and unsavory appearance, always tipped his cap politely and grinned a friendly, mostly toothless grin as I went by.


"Used to" is the operative phrase here. He's on the missing list...


A few moments later, there's a sharp knock at the door. "Prince Ge’rard?" It sounds like Joe.


Since there appears to be no risk of contagion, only depressed immunity. "Joe!" I go to the door and open it. "Odin is stable now. I want to prevent the chance for infection. Get help and sanitize the infirmary, make sure everything is sterile. Then set up a separate quarantine room, find a room near the laboratory; I don't want to take a chance at cross contamination. Check Odin’s vital signs every half hour and put it on the chart. He is to stay in the infirmary. I will explain later, any questions?"


"Two; actually, three." Joe, a Shadow dweller living and working in a place like Castle Amber, often has cause to look frazzled; but right now he looks more than usually out of sorts. As he dashes to set things up as per my instructions, he continues, "First, how do I keep Odin here if he decides he wants to leave..." (It's a valid question; that's happened before, and another intern wound up with a couple of broken ribs when Odin, delirious from pneumonia-induced fever, took exception to being restrained.)


"Joe, tell Odin I want his help in this; but I need him to 'stay put' till I get back (soon, I hope). If he has any questions, have him Trump me 'first' before doing anything rash. There is no way short of sedating him to keep him there, and there is no way to know what affect 'that' will have on his system. As much as it pains me, I will follow the honor system here. Thanks, Joe."


"Will do... second, I thought the old King was dead; why's he eating lunch down in the kitchen? And third, wasn't Rilga your Lady mother's name?"


That stopped me short. "Oberon in the kitchen? By the Unicorn! Yes, Rilga was my mother; why do you ask?"


"That's what I thought..." he carries an armload of equipment past you, never pausing in his duty as he delivers the next surprise: "She was there, too. Or that's how the King addressed the lady, anyway. She said something to him about freeing her son or finishing him, and--" he swallows nervously, "and then she vanished. Not like a Trump call. Shejust sort of evaporated..."


“Thanks, Joe. I should be back soon.”


I dash for Random's quarters to intercept him.


"Random, I've just seen one of the missing towns people, a panhandler. He has become a creature who bites children and causes a depressed immunity in them. It's not a disease, but an attack. Odin captured him and was bitten. The creature seems to have been destroyed, while transported through Trump contact. They also appear to be quite strong, stronger than most people. Odin is stable, but guarded for now."


I give him a minute to absorb this. He pauses, looking very distracted, running one hand through his hair in that gesture of exasperation I know so well...


I continue. "There is a link, somehow, between the missing indigents and the illnesses. I have only seen one of them, but there 'must' be others, to generate the sheer numbers of illnesses and disappearances in town." I pause. "The town guard has been kept too busy to investigate the disappearances. We 'must' capture one of those creatures, alive, so we can find out what happened to them; and what about them, that is causing the illnesses." I frown, knowing he won’t like this.


"What do you suggest, Random?"


"Oh-boy..." he starts moving again and I follow beside him, (a half step behind, protocol and all...) as he continues rapidly in a low tone, "Look, Ge’rard, I just got some news that, to put it delicately, ‘really blows’. According to sources, the Serpent of Chaos has awakened, and the influence of Chaos ‘everywhere’ is about to skyrocket. These creatures of yours are probably the tip of the iceberg. I just heard from Merlin that the High Priest of the Serpent was assassinated a couple of hours ago, their time. Somebody's started renovating the old House of Barimen, claiming to be dad's long-lost half-brother. One of the Rim Lords has abandoned his Seat on the Council. Lady Clarissa is on the warpath. And, with their usual incomparable timing, the balance of the family is going to Chaos for that reception; they may be walking into a hornet's nest..."


I grumble, in agreement of his observations. It sounds like we are in for some rough times - again.


"I am at your disposal, Random. Any orders?"


"Tell you what - I hereby invest you with the authority to commandeer whatever city guardsmen you think you need to take care of this problem. Get 'em on it, get Fi or Bleys to help if there's Trump involved--oh, and make sure it was really ‘destroyed’; the last thing we need is a blasted bogeyman running loose in the castle. If you can get through to Benedict, let him know what's happening. He's been around, he may have seen something like this before, and he'll probably be able to recommend an effective strategy. If you're lucky, he'll finish up his business and come home to take over for you." He's taking the steps to the next floor down two at a time. "I'll be in the Yellow Rooms. Keep me appraised; we'll allocate any further resources that may prove necessary, when they prove necessary."


As he retreats, I call out. "Thanks, Random. I will get right on it. One thing more... Joe, my intern, just told me that he saw Oberon in the kitchen. Can it be true? I planned to check it out after talking with you."


The answer floats back up the stairway from below. "Dad, huh? You just do that. If he's really around, I need to have a word or three with him. Maybe I'll hit it lucky and find out he came by planning to re-take the throne..."


I begin my walk to the Great Hall to the kitchen. I have to see for myself if Oberon is here and see if mother appears again. Whatever can she have meant about freeing her son or finishing him? I feel a chill at that. I will arrange for some food to be delivered to the infirmary for Odin, Joe, and myself. Then I will spend some time in Trump contacts. Unicorn, protect us...


I get to the kitchen without incident, and find the place empty except for Martin, who is sitting at one of the tables, poking without appetite at a plate of food that looks like it's been sitting out a while, and the cook, who's whistling cheerfully to himself in the preparation area. The cook takes my order for the infirmary bunch and busies himself about getting it filled. Martin looks up, seeming uneasy about something, nods perfunctorily, and goes back to worrying his food...


I walk over to the table, trying a smile on for size; only getting part-way there.


"Hello, Martin. It has been a strange day, may I join you?"


I sit down, across the table.


"I've been told that I have a good bed-side manner; that goes for tables too. Is something troubling you, nephew?"


He looks up again, mirroring your expression, and stops even pretending to pay attention to his meal. "What do you mean, Joe didn't tell you? The dude ran out of here like he'd seen a-- like a bat out of hell. I figured he'd have it all over the castle by now."


"He mentioned seeing Oberon in the kitchen, with a woman he called Rilga. She vanished into thin air. He was freaked out, but didn't seemed panicked. I came down to check his story. Did anyone else see anything?"


“I saw her talking to Oberon. Blasted unsettling business. All I heard her say was, ‘Free my son or finish him!’ then they vanished.” His voice trailed.


My soul froze for an instant. “Thanks, Martin.” I rested my hand on his shoulder giving it a slight grip and released it. “Thanks. I could use a drink, but there’s no time. I will be in the infirmary.” He nods. I gather the food and drinks and make my way back to the infirmary.


I made it back to the infirmary and saw Fiona. She came to me for a pregnancy test. I gave the food to Odin and told him to eat. Fiona and I went to a private room. The result of the test was positive. She didn't reveal the identity of the father and she asked for patient confidentiality. Conception was two weeks ago.


“Congratulations, sister. I would like to schedule regular examinations at your leisure. Just standard physicals, I like to keep mother and child healthy." I'm happy to know there will be more children in Amber. I put on a serious look. "Fi, I need your advice on a professional matter. Do you have some time?"


“Of course Ge’rard, I have time. How may I be of assistance?”


"Fiona, I'm not sure where to begin. You may be aware that I have been working on the problem of illnesses among the children of Amber. There was also a problem in town of disappearing indigents." I pause to prepare my thoughts.


"My son, Odin, discovered the answer to both problems this morning. He captured a creature, that's all I can call it, it once was a panhandler in town; one I've seen countless times. He has become a creature who bites children and causes a depressed immunity in them. It looked like death warmed over. The illness is not a contagious disease, but an attack."


"As I said, Odin captured him but he was bitten. I pulled him through a Trump contact, and he had a firm grasp on the creature. It appeared that the creature seems to have been destroyed, while being transported through Trump contact. It also appeared to be quite strong, stronger than most people. Odin is stable, but guarded for now. None of the children are safe from this threat."


I pause again, my voice catches. "There is a link, somehow, between the missing indigents and the illnesses. I have only seen one of them, but there 'must' be others, to generate the sheer numbers of illnesses and disappearances in town, I have no idea what caused this change in the panhandler and how many are in the same condition."


"The town guard has been kept too busy to investigate the disappearances. Random seems to think that this problem is just the tip of the iceberg; combined with the problems in Chaos. I agree.


Random has authorized me to commandeer whatever city guardsmen I may need to take care of the problem. I will contact Benedict soon to seek his advice as well."


"Random suggested that I talk to you or Bleys regarding the Trump involvement. To see if there is a way to verify that this creature is really 'destroyed'; he is concerned that the creature may be running loose in the castle. Could you let me know if you can think of anything we can do to verify this? I'm sure it's not necessary for me to ask you to 'please' be careful. I don't know what these creatures are fully capable of. Getting bitten by one may have serious consequences."


"I plan to go into town soon, to try to capture one of them. It will be needed to examine one of them to see how we can treat the affected children. I appreciate any advise you have, Fi."


Fi left to see what she could find out. Shortly, she let me know what she found out. “As to the question of whether the creature was destroyed by the trump contact itself, the answer is no. It did appear momentarily within the castle, but is no longer. Whether the creature has survived, I am still trying to determine.”


“Thanks, Fi.” I returned to checking on Odin, trying to decide my next move. Perhaps, talk with Benedict next. No. I need some specialized help first.


Odin was doing well, but getting restless. I convinced him to stay put, he will be needed soon enough. I withdrew a Trump of my other son, Thaine. I concentrated on it. The contact seemed blocked at first, then began to open, but his thoughts were elsewhere. Thaine was in an alleyway, near the street I pulled Odin from. I feel a cool breeze through the contact. His scythe is drawn and he is subduing one of those horrors. “Thaine! You found one! Bring it to the infirmary, son.” I call out.


“I’ll bring it in the long way, I’ll be there soon.” We break contact.


Later, Thaine walks in with his hand upraised. “Ugly thing, isn’t it?”


I don’t see anything. “It appears to be invisible.”


“Really?” He peels off his mask and looks at it. Then he moves his hand through it. He puts his mask back on. “Invisible ‘and’ intangible. I don’t know how you are going to examine it.”


I have no idea either. “We need some magical help. One of the red-heads.”


Thaine seems to fold the creature up, puts it in his pouch, and pulls it tight.


I pull out Fiona’s Trump, she should know what we learned. I concentrate upon it for a few minutes with no luck. I replace it and pull out Bleys’ Trump. I concentrate upon it for a few moments, until I reach him; but just barely. I feel Bleys boosting the contact from his side. Contact is established but it is faint. No wonder, he is in Thelbane; on the other side of the world.


He is surprised to hear from me, so I quickly explain the situation to him. The illnesses of the children and the existence of the creatures were no surprise to him, he was aware of why I stayed behind. He would check with me upon his return to Amber and suggests that I keep the creature contained. He further suggests that I use Odin to develop antibodies (a vaccine) for other children. We continue our discussion as long as the Trump contact holds out, discussing further details. Finally, he wishes me luck and I wish him a good time in Thelbane; we both probably need it.


I explain the situation to Joe, Odin, and Thaine. Odin is not happy about it but is dedicated enough to comply. For hours, we perform many extraction’s and tests, until we agree that further work is fruitless without the help of sophisticated technology. We take a much needed break, especially for Odin. I open a bottle of Bayle’s Best, that I brought up from the Great Hall with the food, and pour myself a glass. I rest in the high back desk chair and sample the wine. It was sweeter than I prefer, but it felt wonderful going down. I needed something stronger, but I couldn’t afford to yet.


After I finished the glass, I felt the familiar summons of a Trump contact. Fiona? No, it was my only daughter, Mirima. She is leaning on a large tree and appears to be nervous. The tree appears to be Ygg, the midpoint between Amber and Chaos. “Hi, sweetheart. What’s on your mind?”


“Hi, daddy. Guess who appeared at the reception?” She is maintaining an air of dignity and self control.


“Who, dearest?”


“Grandpa and great-grandpa.” A change of pitch was in her voice, but very slight.


“I see... Martin and Joe told me, that they saw Oberon and your grandmother Rilga in the kitchen today.”


I could feel her resolve starting to break.


“Not to worry, dear. Is the reception over yet?” I try to calm her concerns.


“It’s just beginning, but it may be over soon. Will there be a problem?”


I smile. “It should be all right. Just avoid ground zero.” She laughs at that, good girl. “Thanks for letting me know. Contact me if there are any injuries, enjoy your visit to Thelbane.”


She smiles. “OK, daddy. Bye.”


“Bye, dear.” We break contact.


Joe, Odin, and Thaine only heard my side of the conversation. I tell them that Mirima informed me that Oberon and Dworkin are in Thelbane. Dworkin isn’t a surprise, but Oberon ‘died’ repairing the Pattern. He is officially listed among the deceased. They are as surprised as I was. Joe visibly shudders.


I try to change the subject, to gather ideas about further work. Nothing new is mentioned, that we haven’t covered already. Thaine has a ‘confession’. He mentions, rather sheepishly, that he was present when Odin captured the creature. He saw that Odin had the situation under control, but couldn’t prevent Odin getting bitten by it. He saw the creature get away and followed it through Castle Amber.


He continued tracking the creature until ‘someone’ pulled it away. After the dead-end, he returned to town where he first saw the creature. To his surprise, he saw several of them; confirming my suspicions. He caught one of them as I Trumped him. The rest we already know.


Thaine suggested that we ‘subtly’ notify the town guard and doctors. Towns people should let them know when any of the children report any night terrors. We can organize the supply of antibiotics and medicine we used on Odin and have it ready for the other children. That will handle the ‘symptoms’ of the disorder. If we can only eliminate the ‘cause’.


Joe and I prepare the inventory of the supplies needed, and write down instructions for treatment. Then Thaine, Odin, and I coordinate our strategy. Odin smiles, he ‘finally’ has something to do, besides sit around. Thaine also smiles, amused at Odin. I smile, because my children are here to help me. If only Drake were here, too.


I gather my personal items, including my Trumps. A weapon may be needed, so I take my sword.


As we prepare for the ride into town, I remember what Martin overheard mother said. ‘Free my son or finish him!’ I remember the curse on all of Rilga's kids and grandkids. My blood runs cold and I wonder ‘how’ dad could remove the curse. The bloody thing doesn’t bother me, the Unicorn knows I can handle a tumble or two. However, the nuisance threatens the safety of my children and I won’t have it! The Pattern is dangerous enough, but the cursed stairs makes it doubly so. ‘Finish him?’ I should bloody well hope not. Thanks, mother. I wish things could have turned out differently. Caine, Julian, and I tried to make life better for you. You knew how dad was and you loved him anyway. I suppose it was that way with all his wives. Now Clarissa is on the warpath, the mother of my redheaded siblings: Fiona, Bleys, and that bastard Brand. I wonder what she has in mind? We will find out soon enough.


Thaine, Odin, and I go into town to organize the senior Guardsmen and all available physicians. We appraised them of the situation with strict instructions not to cause a panic. The Guardsmen are to instruct the households to check on the health of the children. If they exhibit the known symptoms, have them contact the physicians to begin treatment. The Guardsmen are to begin a search for the creatures, in pairs. They are not to attack them hand to hand, using only ranged weapons. Whether or not they are successful in killing them, they are to report back with any information on them.


One of the Doctors visits the house where Odin saw the little girl attacked. The Guardsmen and the rest of the Doctors are off to begin their work. Joe is stationed in the infirmary awaiting word from us.


Following my suggestion, Thaine and Odin search as a team. They can take care of each other and should be able to handle things well. I want to investigate something and I want to do this alone. However, knowing my boys, I doubt that they will be far away.


I walk over to Bloody Andy’s. Maybe it is pure sentimentality, but I think that I should check the place where I often saw the panhandler. The poor bastard is a victim of something or someone and I want to find out what is behind it. There may be some spark of intelligence left and he may return there.


To be continued...


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

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