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Scions of War

Steed's Tale - "Scions of War"
Journal of Prince Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Rob Justice during Ambercon VI - 1995
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr.
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.

Top Ranking of group:
- Psyche: (40) Ariel
Strength: (25) Michaella
Endurance: (25) Jillian
Warfare: (100) Dexter

The Black Dragon of Eternia - Played by George W. Watts
Dexter is the son of Benedict. He is 20 years old. His skills in warfare are extraordinary - frighteningly so. He is clearly, without a doubt, unquestionably, the best among my siblings. He has never been beaten by anyone I know of, nor can I think of anyone who could possibly better him, except for maybe Corwin, Bleys, or his father. Perhaps his greatest weakness is his lack of experience and youth - it is perhaps the best way to keep him in check. Yet, his abilities have proven to more than compensate for his age limitation.
He has been treated with a certain degree of respect among the Amber court and many elders, as he seems to always be willing to serve them. And serve them he does. Some have even speculated that his devotion and paladin ideals have made him a pawn to his aunts and uncles, as well as himself. It is obvious that he models strongly after his father, to the degree of mimicking many of Benedict's behaviors. His actions have portrayed him to be a bold and trustworthy individual - an honorable young man, firmly committed to martial ethics. He is the brother of Tasha, Michaella, and Jillian, all daughters of Benedict.
Dexter's ability to manipulate the Pattern is not utilized with any obvious sense of 'traditional' control. He seems to continually be wrestling with this power.
He is Benedict's prodigy, and from my perspective, he blindly obeys his father's every command.
Flora has told me. "Be especially nice to dear Dexter. He can be a very helpful young man."

Tasherameracis from the House Hendrake - Played by Duane Spencer
Tasha is the eldest daughter of Benedict. Her age is unknown, except that she has been around longer than any other known sibling. She is known to have connections with the Courts of Chaos and has walked the Logrus. She is a shape shifter who takes great pride in her ability. She has been rumored to have had extensive training in the Courts of Chaos. She is often found in local bars and taverns in Amber city (i.e. Bloody Andy's).
Tasha's role has been that of a liaison between the Courts of Chaos and Amber. Her diplomatic influence is largely unknown. It is not hard to see that her relationship with her father is not what it could be - it is obvious that much of this friction stems from her not devoting herself enough to the arts of warfare, as Lord Benedict seems to implicitly expect this commitment from all of his children.
Tasha's personality is inconsistent and can be daunting. Her emotional states seem to shift as randomly as the wind changes. Yet, if a situation call for appropriateness, she seems as if she is capable of controlling her personal presentation. When she is in control, she comes across as mostly being a person with strong paternal instincts. It would be accurate to call her a motherly type of person. Nevertheless, most of her thoughts seem to be caught up in her own impulsivity, emotions, and personal instincts.
Flora has told me. "I'd watch myself around Tasha. Her behavior is grotesque, and she has refused, or is simply incapable of upholding the stature appropriate to a Lady of royalty. Not to mention, she has been hit in the head one too many times to maintain any semblance of reason. I do not approve of you associating with her. Her unpredictable behavior may get you killed."

Played by Rachael Holmberg
Ariel is the daughter of Bleys. She has not been known to have yet walked the Pattern of Amber. Her dress is compatible with Shadow Earth's classical late eighteenth century (Mozart era). She dresses in clothes that are tight, rigid, and stylistically sexually neutral. Her overall appearance is androgynous. Her behavior indicates that she values beauty, etiquette, and esthetics, and is one who continually strives to develop harmony in most situations. She makes extra efforts to present herself in a flawless manner, and often does a splendid job. Her overall presence is notably photogenic - it is obvious that she has put much effort into developing her personal appearance, formality, and etiquette.
Some have accused Ariel of being too much of a perfectionist; as a result, it has been rumored that her 'unrealistic' goals have caused her unhappiness. In previous interactions, I have come to understand that Ariel is vulnerable to other people's personal criticism, particularly in Amber.
Ariel presents herself with much confidence and seems to be very proud of her intellectual capabilities. It is the case, more often than not, that she can be perceived as having an edge on any, or all, information in a particular situation.
Flora has told me. "I do worry about this poor dear. She is quite confused about her, ah - sexuality." She covered her mouth momentarily as if it was some kind of mortal shame. "She's certainly self-conscious. But don't let her let you think she knows more about something than you! She likes to play games, this one. Just be aware, dearest."

Played by Lisa Leutheuser
Jillian is a daughter of Benedict. She is half Japanese. Her devotion to a code of Samurai-like warrior (Budo) ethics is profound, and is projected largely in her personal disposition. Yet, her devotion to her father (and authority), seems to be the reason for her existence, and the deepest part of her persona. All know, under no uncertain terms, that topics involving her father will provoke her in some manner. Her trust is something which not many have earned.
She talks very little and seems to be a troubled individual. She is reserved, sullen, and can be brutally sarcastic in common conversation. She is a very internalistic person; therefore, it has been difficult to get to know her as a person. Her thoughts seem to be preoccupied on things of a higher order, as if she is seeking something of an almost transcendental nature.
In a gentler light, away from her sullen and somber disposition, Jillian takes pride in her natural abilities and is often found working out and training diligently.
In the past, her loyalty to Amber, family, and friends has been unquestionably reliable. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to conclude, as some have speculated in the past, that her loyalty is also her greatest weakness. Her fear of being used through her loyalty would not be an irrational conclusion. Her loyalty to Amber has acted as a substitute to much of her independence - but maybe this is what she wants.
She is very intense, and nearly nothing about her is relaxed.
Flora has told me. "This one can be trusted. Her warrior code of ethics have been instilled in her to where she can be manipulated by them, but only if necessary. Appeal to her sense of honor. Just be careful about what you say around her. Make sure you give her respect, and she can cooperate quite well."

The Goblin King - Played by Paul Vlamis
Mordu is the son of Eric. He has walked the Pattern of Amber. In comparison to my fellow siblings, he is well-practiced in warfare. He was known to have a workable relationship with his, now deceased, father. Eric was attentive to making sure Mordu was properly educated and instructed in a variety of skills. Mordu is a reserved man and very attentive to etiquette. He usually does not initiate conversations, but when approached he can be quite charming. He has been seen, on occasion, exchanging pleasant formalities with Lord Caine. Both of them seem to get along quite well.
Mordu was an angry man in his youth (he is currently 40 years old). During this time he mysteriously disappeared. In later years he returned, just as mysteriously, yet seemed not to be the troubled young man of his youth. His disdain in his early years is a topic which has not been discussed. Mordu is slow to show emotion, but if someone earns his trust he can be quite valiant and supportive. It seems clear that Mordu is a man who understands and respects the value of knowledge.
Flora has told me. "This one is the one to be most wary of. He is not what he appears. He is somehow in league with Caine. This one will kill you in a moments notice, if it serves him. He takes after Caine all too well - all too well that I have noticed his designs. They share some kind of 'male kindred spirit bond' (she shakes her head as if the whole idea is ridiculous). And stay clear of his damn sword!"

Queen Mother of Londinium - Played by Shelly Lisman
Michaella is the daughter of Benedict. She has walked the Pattern of Amber. She has devoted much of her time toward the study of warfare, which she has developed a well-practiced skill. Her ability is less than that of Mordu and myself, but still much better than Tasha and Ariel. Even though Michaella has fought to endure in the art of war, it is obvious that her sister, Jillian, is of a greater level of skill.
Michaella comes across as being gruff and spoiled and is easily argumentative. She seems to always have something she needs to prove (that remains a mystery), and is often determined to have things her own way. Maintaining 'control' is a very important part of her life. She appears shallow and preoccupied with many of her own internal issues, which she tries to hide but often falls short.
She seems to have a cordial relationship with many of the elders, and seems particularly fond of Ge`rard.
Flora has told me. "This one is another troubled case that our family is good at doing. We need to thank Benedict's attentiveness to love and compassion, for her current state of affairs. She is a child who has been sadly neglected. She harbors severe jealousy toward anyone who would get in the way of her desire to have a relationship with her father. If you want to have a useful companion, I suggest you indirectly allude to the fact that you can somehow help. One thing for certain, she is jealous of her sisters, especially Jillian, for always shadowing her attempts to get closer to Benedict. She once tried to assassinate her brother in a fit of jealous rage. It's good to know these things when you work with one who sometimes needs a bit of an incentive, or nudge. Don't be afraid to pull this one's strings. As long as you don't let her grab you (because of her strength), you have nothing to fear."


Avatarship - Scion of the Unicorn

I have had a long series of dreams where I was in the Grove of the Unicorn. I knew a perfect peace in these dreams, a bliss where I felt completely aware of my surroundings. During the last dream, the Unicorn came to a small stream and drank. After drinking, she looked up and made eye contact with me. I continued to feel a serenity, yet I felt myself merging with the her. becoming as one with her. After a time, I felt as if there was no difference between us.
I instantly became aware that all Patterns of the children are interconnected, and that I can, in fact raise their own individual Pattern. (I must remember this!) I can see the subtle differences of the Pattern of the mind. The mental frequency of family members are unique. With this awareness, I can identify the person by their mental Pattern. (I should be able to tell the difference between a family member and an impostor, like a clone. Note: Examine the mental pattern of the group.)
All Patterns of the mind and those drawn, are interconnected. I become aware of two hidden Patterns, one which is hidden within the mind of Ariel (As yet, she is not aware of this. Note: I may be able to raise it!) and the other is hidden in a deep part of the Forest Arden which I know would take much effort to find. I know, through the Unicorn's awareness, that all of these Patterns are intimately interconnected.
I am acutely aware that if I were to walk all of these Patterns, (i.e. Amber Pattern, Rebma Pattern, Tir-na Nog'th Pattern, Arden Pattern, and the hidden Pattern with Ariel's mind) then I would somehow be allowed to open an enormous doorway of power, a power that is the true essence of Pattern. While I know that all of these Patterns are intimately interconnected to be ONE, I am not sure how to open the doorway if I obtain them all. I do know for sure, that I would become a Primal Being much like the blessed Unicorn; and many things more.
She has brought to my attention, a disturbance of Pattern energy. It is evolving. She directs me that it MUST reach full form. I must prevent anyone from attempting to stop it from taking place. She wants my word of honor that I will uphold this goal while I am in this state of Oneness with her. I acknowledge this pledge. I am then shown the face of the man that I must protect from harm or from being captured; the man who must fulfill his destiny.
I separate from the Oneness with the Unicorn, but not entirely. I now feel a direct connection, as if I could bring Her awareness into my awareness; with some concentration. After the separation, she steps back and tilts her head forward and offers the opportunity to touch her horn.
As I touch her horn, I see or more like feel, what I know of the universe when I last joined with the Unicorn. The horn is an element which is an important part of this scheme. Yet, I feel as if there is a part of the universe where there is rampant Pattern energy. The horn needs to penetrate this Universe. I feel as if I could find this place if I had to. The horn must not kill, but penetrate the source of this Pattern energy which needs to be attuned with the rest of the Unicorn's universe. I know that if this were to occur, my Awareness would increase tremendously, as well as the Unicorn's influence.
There is a flash, and a feeling of urgency stings through my body. I leave my dream of the Grove. An image of Michaella, the daughter of Benedict, is strong in my mind. Somehow, I know that without Michaella, this connection that the Unicorn seeks will not be possible. The image fades from my mind.
As I awaken, I know that I must keep tabs with Michaella and Ariel. I can see that I may soon be instrumental in awakening the hidden Pattern within Ariel and I must attune myself within it. I must also learn what Michaella has to do with the Unicorn horn.


Episode A2-1 - Gathering the Scions of War

In which Steed gets his orders
... and Random is distraught.

I am in the European gardens near Castle Amber, considering the dream and what is about to happen. I soak up the beauty of the garden which is a replica of Stonehenge, or is Stonehenge a replica of it. Nonetheless, it has a colorful garden surrounding the massive stones. It is a quiet place to watch the activity around Castle Amber.
I see people around the variety of gardens. Time passes until I hear the horns at the castle; the horns are our summons to come to court. I make my way back to the castle. The guards are doubled to give added security to the castle while we are in court.
Near the Great Hall, I corner Dexter. "Cousin, a word with you please."
"Certainly, Steed. We have a few minutes before we are expected."
We find a quiet corner. "Dexter, we are going to a family meeting. I believe that something will be discussed that will affect all of us. We may be asked to kill someone. I may be calling upon you, more than others. I have killed many men upon the orders of the King and have done so without question. You know my background. We need to learn more about the situation first and keep an open mind. This may require us to keep someone alive, while others will try to kill him. It is imperative to keep him alive."
"Who is he?"
"I've never met the gentleman. I'm under the impression that the gentleman's name is Lord Esterhazy. I also think that some may be sent to kill him."
"I can't reveal my sources yet. I need to get more facts, first. However, you will be the first to know, then you can make your decision. That is all I ask. In my business, investigating the facts are crucial to any decision making. There are forces at work that run at conflicting purposes, be alert. Thanks for listening."
"Very well, I will consider your words."
We head on to the Throne room. Once we are there, I see that they have brought in jade green marble seats, raised to surround the throne of King Random along the outer wall. I see my siblings, we arrive around the same time. None of the elders are there yet. There is an obvious absence of guards as well.
Once we are all there, the doors are closed. Curtains are closed in front of the marble chairs, surrounding us. Soon, the curtains are opened and the elders are all seated. There is no sign of Random and the siblings are expected to stand during court. This is standard procedures, we are not on equal footing with the elders; so, we lack seats of honor. It is also a way to lord over us, their supreme authority.
It has an incredible affect upon some of my siblings. Those that are self conscious, become very nervous and fidgety. Those that feel persecuted, become extremely paranoid and defensive. I try not to let it have any affect on me. It is a mere annoyance, nothing more. I attend to gather information, get my orders, gather more information, and carry out the assigned mission. Once the mission is over, I return to enjoy life to the fullest.
The elders stand and Random comes in from a side door. He walks to the throne and stands there facing us. Random takes his seat and the elders follow suit. He addresses us. "I am not going to waste your time, I'll get right to the point. The reason I called all of you here; it is just a routine mission - there is no disaster." Random looks deeply troubled, there is fatigue in his voice and mannerisms.
"What I need all of you to do is simply cooperate." He looks at us one at a time, measuring our expressions. He is wearing his full royal attire; but on him, it looks like a world wearing burden. "There is a man out in Shadow. His name is Lord Prince Nicholas Esterhazy. A long time ago, this man had his world destroyed by a Shadow storm. He managed to recolonize his own people into a different Shadow altogether. This captured our attention. We went to talk to him, and we found him to be a man of great potential. We also found that he was also using energies of the Pattern to move through worlds. He is not of the blood of Amber, he is not related to us at all. Instead of being 'from' Shadow, he 'is' a Shadow that is becoming more real. Much more real. We saw a use in him, so we decided to make him an offer. We promised to protect his world from future Shadow storms, and we let him continue his experiments with the Pattern. Which he did, as long as we were privy to his experiments and his findings. We were curious how anyone 'not' of the blood of Amber, could manipulate the energies of the Pattern. He has also become a patron in his world."
"He became a diplomat, an alchemist, and became very useful to us. Although recently, his world was destroyed by another Shadow storm. Contrary to the fact that we promised to protect his world from them. Now, he is blaming Amber for this. He is saying we didn't uphold our part of the arrangement. I tried to speak with him, but I know he blames Amber. He has killed two of my ambassadors that I sent to him. He sent them back on horseback, ripped to pieces! He has become a barbarian!"
"What happened is that he was conducting his own experiments and he blew up his own world! Now, he is trying to lay the blame on us. He has thrown up his defenses in Shadow and is causing all kinds of havoc. He has raised a lot of energy out there. Energy which could potentially become a threat in a number of years. So, I want you to go get him and bring him back. It's not a big assignment. Just grab him and bring him to me. Are there any questions?"
Tasha raises her hand and formally steps forward a pace. "Bringing him back, I understand. I assume you want him alive?"
"I do. Very perceptive of you, Tasha."
"Do you want him alive or barely alive?"
"What are you implying, Tasha?"
"If he resists and we are attacked. Should we remove those dangers from us?"
"I understand what you are saying. Esterhazy is not a strategist at all. I'm sending the six of you! I'm expecting you can get him without injury to him or yourselves. I hope that you would, please. He is pretty incompetent, regarding strategy."
He looks at Benedict, who stands up and gestures toward Dexter. "My son, Dexter will take five thousand men into Shadow, as well as my daughter Jillian's five thousand men. There will be a total of ten thousand men to support you in this mission. Jillian will lead the attack."
"Attack?" Dexter notices the turn of the mission, as well as the others.
"Yes. An attack on his forces." Benedict says sternly.
"An attack on his forces? I thought his world was destroyed." I hear myself say.
Random continues. "It was, he was able to protect his army. Those he saw as suitable. Their weaponry and army is not as advanced as Amber. He has no guns, no electronic weaponry. His army is equivalent to our ten thousand men."
Tasha asks. "Does that mean he has fifty thousand men?"
"Roughly equivalent to our ten thousand men."
Dexter speaks up. "What about magical weapons?" He is trying to anticipate other possibilities.
"That may be the case. Although, it should be easy for you to overcome them. That is, if you cooperate."
I have kept silent for too long. "The primary objective 'is' to bring him back alive."
"That 'is' the primary objective, Steed."
I grin, making my point. "Very well, my lord. When should we prepare to leave?"
Random takes his seat, slowly. "At dawn. You are to guide the forces into Shadow. Dexter and Jillian will coordinate their armies. You will 'all' be in command of these forces. Although, you must respect the chain of command." He leans back in his chair. "Look, I'm really angry at Esterhazy. He has slapped us in the face. He has killed two people that I have known for a long time. Two people who were my teachers in diplomacy and my friends. I just want you to bring him here; that is all."
He massages his temples for a moment. "Work 'together', that is all I am asking."
His tone changes. "If you should fail at this, I will punish you! There will be no reward if you succeed. Because this is routine. Any other questions?"
I play the devil's advocate. I have had long sessions with Random prior to other missions. He likes to hear ideas that others may have overlooked. "Just out of curiosity. Hypothetically, how do we 'know' he destroyed his own world? Is it possible that someone else; someone who wanted Esterhazy's research for themselves, summoned a Shadow storm and destroyed his world? Someone who may have killed the ambassadors and pointed the blame at him? Is that hypothetically possible?"
"We would never, ever, break our word!"
"I am not saying that. There may be an outside party involved in this." He is not as open to suggestions, as he has been.
"We have made 'adjustments' to protect his world. Fiona oversaw those adjustments. It's impossible - impossible. Plus, he won't even communicate with us. Communications are blocked. What 'else' can that mean?"
"If there 'is' some impossible third party involved. He may be afraid that they may come after him next, as well as Amber." I don't buy this impossible argument. With unscrupulous Amberites and Chaosians, there is no such word.
"He came to us for protection." His voice fades off.
"Indeed, my lord."
His voice raises again. "He better be afraid!" He leans forward and is angry. "That's why I want his ass dragged here! Because I want to interrogate him. I will get 'Caine' to interrogate him!" He falls back and calms down. "He will see our dungeons."
"One last question." It's Michaella. "Is there anything about his abilities that we should know to prepare for? You said he wasn't good at strategy. Does he have any 'special' talents?" Very good, my young cousin.
Random has someone hand us our written orders, including directions on how to get there via Hellride through Shadow. He also shows us a Trump of Esterhazy, he is definitely the person in my dream. "He knows how to manipulate the Pattern, he is a shape shifter, and an alchemist. Nothing that should be too difficult." He gestures dismissively. "That is all." He stands and leaves, followed by the elders.


Episode A2-2 - Planning session 

In which Steed walks the Pattern 
... and the others make plans.

We look around, regarding each other in the empty throne room. Jillian suggests that we go to the sitting room to discuss our plans. We leave the throne room and walk to the sitting room, to find a quiet area with plenty of tables and comfortable chairs. I tell a staff member of Michael's to let him know where we are and to send drinks and food. He knows our individual tastes and will have the food brought to us.
I give the young lady the following message for Michael. "Best regards from Steed. Group session in sitting room, usual snacks appreciated. Preparing for early morning road trip, unknown duration; need Lucian." She repeats it and moves on with a wry smile. Charming.
It will pass along much information to him. First, all my siblings will need to be wakened early, packed, and readied for a long journey. Second, our horses will need to be readied for travel; so, the stable master will need to be notified. The stable master will need to contact the others if there are any last minute arrangements. I have several horses and Lucian will be my choice for the mission. He is one Andelusian, who is tireless and battle ready. Third, it also lets him know that we will be absent for an unknown period of time and Michael can petition Random for details in planning domestic arrangements. Random will keep him up to date on requirements. Michael may all ready be aware of the situation. Fourth, he will be aware that we will be in the sitting room. We will need usual food and drinks, followed by minimal disturbances. If we need anything else, we can use the bell pull.
Once we are in the sitting room, we wait for the food to be delivered and close the door. Jillian asks if someone can make sure the room is secure from eavesdropping.
Tasha offers her services. "I will do my best." She brings out some magical equipment from a vestment pocket to prepare magical wards. Some spoken incantations, some lines and symbols are drawn on the floor, and some incense is burnt. She declares that we are relatively safe.
Michaella breaks out a fan and is feigning offense from the incense, slightly coughing.
Jillian begins. "Why do I get the feeling that this is not a walk in, walk out mission?"
Michaella continues. "Why is Random threatening to punish us? Father maybe, but Random?"
Jillian shakes her head in agreement. "We need to establish signals, so that we can identify each other."
She got my attention. "An excellent idea. A simple sign and counter sign, to confirm both identities." We work out a simple code that will blend in with normal conversation, yet not seem too out of the ordinary; like some outrageous spy codes. We agree upon a simple gesture and phrase.
I continue; after all, we are in my specialty. "If someone fails the sign counter sign. Alert the others to help subdue the individual quickly and carefully. Keep in mind that these others may take on the exact appearance of ourselves. Be 'very' careful."
Tasha offers. "Keep in mind that a shape shifter can change it's mind as well as it's body. Those with Pattern may be able to detect a doppleganger." We may be dealing with shape shifters as well as clones."
Michaella doesn't understand the need for the troops, she would prefer to sneak in and out with a minimal force. Normally I agree, but Esterhazy is someone who can manipulate the Pattern. Some of us may not survive, and I would prefer not to risk other siblings. As it is, I have a bad feeling that we will lose the vast majority of the ten thousand soldiers in battle. Possibly all of them. My gut reaction is that Random and Benedict are sending these soldiers as cannon fodder; not to overwhelm Esterhazy's forces. Jillian is right, this is 'not' a simple mission.
The door to the sitting room opens and uncle Random walks in, dressed in his casual orange and brown colors. We start to rise. "Please, stay seated. I have just stopped by to answer any questions you may still have in a more 'informal' atmosphere." He takes a seat and pours himself a drink, holds out the glass. "To Amber!" We follow suit. He notices Tasha's wards and smiles. He provides more detail and answers other questions. Little more of importance is learned, except one little tidbit. We heard earlier, that communication is blocked. Trumps are blocked going into Esterhazy's Shadow, but one can use Trumps from within his Shadow. That is good news, at least we can contact others once we are there.
After we run out of questions, Random retires to his quarters. His appearance was a mixed blessing. He was able to answer some additional questions, but his presence prevented us from speaking freely. We will try to recapture that without Random present.
Dexter decides to leave our little get together to retire to his quarters. The others would like further discussion. Dexter has his strategy worked out but is unwilling to share it with us yet.
I pour another glass of champagne. Tasha and Michaella help themselves to the Absolut Vodka. Mordu feels that the strategy is clear. We sweep in with the armies, killing everyone and bringing back 'one' survivor. 'Weekenders!' If you kill everyone in sight, how do you differentiate the 'one' to keep alive? How do you tell ten thousand soldiers, if you see 'this' person, don't kill him?
Michaella is struggling with the morality of killing 'any' of them. They are all pawns in this. The discussions run their course and we are left without further topics.
"I strongly urge that Esterhazy must be taken alive. There is something I need to do tonight, and it is unfortunate that there is no full moon." It would be ideal if I could walk the Pattern at Tir-na Nog'th, I have been waiting for the opportunity to visit there. But it will not happen tonight.
The door is opened and one of Mordu's men is waiting for orders. They leave to make plans.
Lucky me, I remain with the women: Jillian, Ariel, Tasha, and Michaella. I discuss my plan to walk the Pattern tonight. I am hoping to gain further insight to our situation, to improve my control over the Pattern, to improve my Pattern abilities, and to verify that the Pattern is unaffected by the current situation. Jillian and Tasha declines, but the others would like to join me. I have walked the Pattern many times in the past, I should be able to detect any serious changes in the Pattern. My concern is this; since Esterhazy is manipulating Pattern energies and the elders are seriously concerned about his motives, it is wise to make sure that the Pattern is unaffected.
It has a tendency to exhaust anyone who assails it, it also provides greater power and control over its use. I will take my chances of being tired for the first part of tomorrow's journey, to have greater control over it in Esterhazy's Shadow. Especially if Esterhazy is somehow able to exert influence over the Pattern, it is paramount that I am is able to have better control over it.
I explain my concern to the ladies and stress that I wish to take no chances while we are there. We wrap up our discussion and Tasha removes the magical wards.
Ariel, Michaella, and myself walk down the hall to the Pattern room. We open the massive oaken door that leads to the spiral staircase. We take lanterns from the guard and we walk down a stone spiral staircase that seems to go on forever. Halfway down, the lighting fades and another guard trades lanterns with us. We continue down the rest of the stairs. After a seemly endless time on the staircase, we reach the bottom of the stairs. There is a large open area and a blue glow can be seen ahead. It is the family artifact, a source of incredible power, and a force that holds the universe together. It is the Pattern of Amber. For those 'not' of Amberite blood, it is fatal to touch it. It is exhausting to walk it, so it is also fatal to walk it while exhausted. Some Amberites decide not to walk the Pattern, others only walk it once.
I've walked it many times and walked other Patterns as well. To me, it is a draining Herculean task. Each time I walk it, I develop more control over its power and increase my ability to adapt its power to other uses. It is not something I do lightly. People have died attempting it, so I only attempt it while in perfect condition. I would have preferred to have a day of rest afterwards, but it can't be helped. I will have to rest during some of our journey to Esterhazy's Shadow.
I walk over to the Pattern. It appears to be as it always has. Huge and silently formidable. It is about the size of a football field and I can feel the power emanating from it.
Michaella, who is an adept of the Pattern wonders if this is really necessary. She 'knows' what I am planning to do. She slightly shivers; partly from the cool air and partly because she remembers her experiences from walking the Pattern. It tends to have a lifelong affect on the adepts. I remember clearly my first time and how it directed my life and destiny. I am sure that Ariel desires the power one gains from it; but for some unknown reason, she has not attempted it yet. Michaella is concerned that I will be over tired for the journey tomorrow. I assure her that it is necessary, not just a macho display for the benefit of the ladies.
The lanterns are positioned around them. Michaella sits on the floor, over a folded up jacket. Ariel does the same. I ask the ladies to contact Flora is something happens to me. As I said, I am examining the Pattern for problems. If I find one, it may be a fatal one. I tip my bowler to the ladies, put on my best smile, and offer a slight bow. I turn and step on the Pattern.
Peripherally, I see Ariel with a sketch pad and is drawing the Pattern. If her ability is Trumps, she may be attempting to draw a Trump of it. I am afraid that she will be disappointed, I have never heard of a Trump of 'any' Pattern. Believe me, I have checked. I do plenty of research in my line of work and once I spent weeks pouring through hundreds of dusty tomes in Amber's library. There is no reference to any way to do so. Apparently there is a conflict between the Powers in some situations. Trumps cannot be drawn of the Pattern or Logrus. It is dangerous to bring up the Logrus in front of the Pattern and vice versa. There are many 'rules' regarding the Powers. Using a Trump 'close to' or 'in' the Pattern or Logrus is unpredictable, mostly dangerous. Definitely, violation of these 'rules' are 'not' a good thing.
Blue sparks move up my legs as I take my first few steps. One more thing; once you step onto the Pattern, don't stop moving. It is 'also' fatal. It will get more difficult with each step with a few reprieves, and I have no intention of stopping.
One of the effects of walking the Pattern is a constant flash back of lifelong memories. I relive previous times on the Pattern, significant events, and 'very' personal events. The subconscious provides memories that try to stop you from continuing. It is like the Pattern records our memories and replays them. Maybe it is storing our total selves within it. At least that is the feeling I get from it, but I don't understand why. There are four veils where the body feels like it is broken down into its component parts and rebuilt. It is then, when I notice the most resistance and the most battles with the subconscious. I feel like a being of pure will, with a single purpose: keep moving.
After what seems like an eternity, I finally reach the center. I feel exhausted, everything seems as it should. Apparently, there are no serious or obvious flaws in the Pattern. I tell the ladies that I will go to the Great hall and bring them up with a Trump. I address the Pattern. "Send me to the Great Hall of Castle Amber, please." I vanish and reappear by a table with beverages and snacks; set up for late night family visitors. "Bless you, Pattern."
I withdraw a Trump of Ariel and concentrate upon it. She opens contact. "First floor, ladies?" I pull them through.
I get a tall glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee. We sit for a moment. "Thank you both for accompanying me. Everything seems quite normal with the Pattern, there was no obvious tampering. This is good. Although I am tired, I feel - improved." We need to prepare a few things for tomorrow's journey, so they decide to retire for the night. I thank them again, and wish them sweet dreams.


Episode A2-3 - Discussion with Mother

In which Steed uncovers a malcontent
... and Mother uncovers a plot.

I leave the Great Hall after I finish the wonderful strawberry shortcake, coffee, and orange juice. I take a shortcut to the stairs through the kitchen. As I approach the swinging doors, I hear shouting and angry voices. Not wishing to disturb a conversation, and hearing the name 'Flora' mentioned; old habits take over. I flatten against the wall behind the door to eavesdrop.
"Please keep your voice down! It won't do you any good to get upset about it. Just do your job and stop talking crazy."
"I'm not talking crazy! She treats us like slaves! We are the best in culinary arts and she treats us like slaves. Lady Flora despises us!"
"She just expects perfection from us. Even more so than Lord Michael does. He allows us more artistic expression. The Royal family has specific tastes and some do not like deviation from specific recipes. It is 'their' expectations! Don't take it personally."
"but she insulted us! She called us peasants with no talent and compared us to those who prepare 'fast food'; whatever that means. But, she said it with such disgust. We are not peasants, we are artists. I can't work under these conditions. I could just poison her!"
"Stop it, you fool! Before you get in trouble! There are no jobs better than Castle Amber! Do you want to go back to Bloody Bill's? Worse yet, some place in Shadow? They would kill or exile you for saying that."
"I don't care anymore, I can't take this."
I bring up the Pattern and alter the probabilities of events, causing some pans to fall off the walls and shelves. It causes quite a racket. I wait a few seconds and step in. They have their backs to me, looking at the mess. They both look startled and unnerved.
"Good evening, gentlemen. What is all the racket? Oh dear, the pans have fallen, what a mess. Can I be of help? It is the least I can do for preparing such a wonderful strawberry shortcake."
They turn. "Lord Steed!" The one who was angry about mother. I remember his name is Aaron, he was hired from Bloody Bill's because of his skill with seafood. He tends to experiment too much with other dishes. He looks as though he saw a ghost, his own.
The other one, Vance steps forward. "Lord Steed, how nice to see you again, sir. Thank you for the offer. I am pleased you enjoyed dessert. We were startled by the noise from the pans. We will clean it us, sir. Thanks again."
"Very well, Vance. Are you all right Aaron? You look rather pale. You should take a break. The staff has been working very hard with everything that's going on. If you would like, I could put in a good word for you both with Michael. Anything I can do to help, it would be my pleasure." I lay it on thicker, and it makes him more nervous. Some times I enjoy this too much.
Aaron's jaw drops. "Er, thank you no, sir. The pans just rattled me. Please don't put yourself out, sir. I will be fine, thank you. We will clean up the mess." He is shaking visibly.
"Very well, gentlemen. Good evening." I smile and tip my bowler. I walk to the far doors by the stairs. Once I leave, I wait a while to see what is said next.
The conversation picks up again. "Vance, do you think he heard me?"
"I don't know. He probably would have killed you if he did. Threatening his mother, what the hell were you thinking?
"I don't know how a nice bloke like him could be the son of that tyrant. Maybe I should ask Lord Michael for a transfer."
"Good idea. Until then, I think you better get your head on straight before someone takes it off."
"Right Vance, and thanks mate."
"Think nothing of it, Aaron, Now, let's get this mess cleaned up."
I smile to myself. To think you've been caught at something can be sobering. I head for my room.
In my room, I organize my clothing for the trip. I decide to wear my riding attire with high boots. I prepare a roll for the saddle with a change of clothing and other items. When everything is ready, I sit down to read a bit before retiring. The staff will wake us early enough to get cleaned up for the long horseback ride through Shadow. As I open the book, I get a Trump contact. All right, I open to the contact. "Good evening, mother."
:Steed, all right how did you 'know' it was me?:
"I just sat down to read a bit. No one else Trumps me the moment I am relaxing. I can almost 'cause' them. Just kidding, mother. What can I do for you?"
:I will let that pass as your style of levity. I wanted to talk with you before you left. Can you come through?:
"Certainly." I put the book down and step through to her room. I give her a hug and kiss her forehead. "Mother, you have my undivided attention." I go to a tray with a chilled bottle of Champagne and pour us glasses. We go to her sitting room and make ourselves comfortable.
"Steed, dearest. There is much that Random didn't say about your mission. Lord Esterhazy is a reasonable man, who can be talked with. He is a genius, who has a profound capacity for reason. He would never have killed those ambassadors. Before you take any action, you must talk with him and find out his stance. He can provide helpful information."
She pauses for a moment. "Steed, you must be careful. Some children may plan to kill him. You must bring him to Amber alive. There are those who plan to destroy his secrets. Use Dexter to help you get where you need to go. He is probably the only one who you could rely upon to properly complete this mission."
I reassure her, "I plan to learn all I can, before I take 'any' action. I will do what I can, mother."
She continues, "Esterhazy is a clever man who has caught the attention of many of the elders. He knows Amber is coming for him. He does not want to kill Amber's children, yet he will do everything he can to prevent his capture. He is a skilled shape shifter who has done a forbidden thing, he has created clones of all of you. He will use these clones against you. You must learn how to overcome them."
I pay attention as she continues, "Your Pattern abilities will be extraordinarily high on his Shadow. You will be able to perform acts you have only dreamed of. Rely on the Tir-na Nog'th Pattern as a tool to alter your clones, that will seek all of you individually. Once you see this clone, you must raise this Pattern and touch it with your hand or mind; projecting the reality of Tir-na Nog'th upon it. This will result in it changing its dimension, its reality, and will be only a ghost in your reality. Use this well to achieve your goals of bringing Esterhazy home unharmed." Unfortunately, I haven't walked the Pattern at Tir-na Nog'th, and I was unable to tonight. I tell her so.
"Very well, you will think of another approach. As you have said before, there should always be alternate plans." She kisses me on the forehead and looks at me affectionately just for a moment, and then changes her tone again. "In the end, all will have to face the King's judgment. Protect yourself, keep your agendas clear, but covert from the Crown. Random will be cruel to all those he thinks has betrayed him in any way. Dearest, you may want to keep an eye on Benedict's daughter, Jillian. She is most likely trying to kill Esterhazy."
"Thank you, mother. As always, I value your counsel and your blessings." I get up to leave. "The morning will be here soon, and I am tired after walking the Pattern. I was hoping it was a full moon, I was intending to visit Tir-na Nog'th. I will still go there at the first opportunity."
Before I step out the door. "Oh, my the way; you may want to eat out for awhile."
Her mood darkens. "What do you mean?"
"It is probably nothing. The staff looks exhausted. The quality of the food may suffer. You know how hectic things have been lately with the preparations for the mission. I think people are getting tired and edgy."
"Certainly you don't mean me!" Definitely an edge.
"Most assuredly, no. I just thought you should be aware that despite Michael's best efforts, quality 'can' slip. If that 'is' a concern, you could use your overwhelming charm to show your appreciation for their excellent work. I 'know' that they value your opinion, I have heard it first hand."
"They do? Well, I suppose it couldn't hurt. I will give it some thought. I have been rather critical of some of them lately."
"I wasn't aware of that." I smile broadly. "Goodnight, my dear. Sweet dreams."
"Good night, dearest."
I head back to my room. I transfer all my personal items to the riding suit, put on my bed clothing and go to bed. I fall asleep almost instantly.


Episode A2-4 - Esterhazy's Pattern

In which Steed dreams of a new Pattern
... and then finds another.

My dreams are few but detailed. I face Ariel and we mentally merge, my Pattern senses allow me to merge our nervous systems, so I can scan her like I do self diagnostics on myself. She doesn't know why I insisted upon this, but she agreed because she seeks personal power; and I convinced her that I can do this for her. She learns quickly and her psyche is making it possible to scan me as well. She can tell that I am sincere and worthy of her trust.
The merged scanning continues to a place near the brain. Something is there that is not supposed to be, a foreign object. She senses it as well, she is concerned about it. My Pattern awareness touches it and activates it. It is a spiraling three dimensional Pattern matrix, similar to the Pattern within the Jewel of Judgment. Quite beautiful and equally formidable. Ariel is now aware of the power within her, but she cannot access it until she mentally walks it.
She decides that there is no time like the present and agrees to let me walk it as well. I will follow in case she needs assistance. It is best to have a guide with you for your first Pattern walk; for morale support and advice. It is agreed, Ariel will start; I will give her a few steps lead, then I will follow.
The excitement builds because the opportunity is here to walk a new Pattern. I can feel our merged heartbeats pounding, the pounding is getting louder and insistent. Ariel takes a step; before her foot touches it, I wake up.
Someone is knocking on the door. I see the merest light of dawn through my window. I throw on a smoking jacket over my bed clothes and go to the door. It is one of the lovely serving maids, Angela, bringing a tray for breakfast. I usually just have coffee in the morning, but I am rather hungry. There is fruit and muffins on the tray. I thank her and offer to share, but she smiles and declines. She said that she has other deliveries to make, and is saddened that she has to decline. I tell her she is welcome to visit anytime. She smiles and leaves, lovely girl.
I pour some coffee and drink a pot as I shave, shower, and get dressed. I am still weakened, but alert and ready for the journey. I take along my standard gear. My Carnation, Bowler, and Brolly to go with my riding suit. My extra sabre for the saddle and the saddle bag is packed with a few supplies. In various pockets I have: silver case for my lock pick set, silver case for my Trump deck, silver wind resistant lighter, silver flask for brandy, hand cuffs, silver Swiss Army knife, silver knife from Flora (magical in nature - I learned that it is a way she can keep track of my location and if it is used), silver mechanical pencil, and note pad. I have my Walther P5 in the holster under my jacket, with several clips of 9mm ammo.
Everything is in place; I head down the hall, down the stairs, and into the Great Hall. There is a lot of activity for this early in the morning, but preparations are made for our mission. The stable master is talking to Michael. He nods, smiles, and gives him a friendly slap on the shoulder. They separate and move on to other tasks.
Eventually everyone makes it to the Great Hall. Our things are taken out to the horses which are waiting outside. We begin to file out of the Great Hall and out of the castle. Lucian sees me coming down the steps. He snorts and gets restless; Lucian and I never have casual rides, like I have with Andrea, Andy, and Lucy. With Lucian, it is serious riding and he takes it seriously. He is the best horse I have for Hellriding; he has never spooked, regardless of where we shift. He is trying to pull away from the trainer, who is holding him securely.
"Good morning, old boy!" I pat him on the shoulder. I pull a few sugar cubes from my jacket pocket, which he is nudging. He knows which pocket I keep them in. He greedily munches them. I mount from the right side holding onto the rim of the pommel and reins with my right hand, the rim of the cantle with the left hand, and slip my right foot into the stirrup. Pulling myself up and over the saddle, I slip my left foot into the opposite stirrup. He moves readily as I get settled, anxious indeed. A gentle squeeze of the knees and he steps forward. I smile and nod to the trainer to let him go. "Ready for a Hellride? Good lad, Lucian." We move to the front of the group of soldiers. I look around to see that everyone is getting into position.
We agree that Michaella will be responsible for Shadow shifting for the first few hours, then I will take over when she gets fatigued. Dexter and Jillian organizes their men in a tight formation to make it easier to Shadow shift around all of us and the troops.
Dexter is approached by someone and a discussion ensues. What little I hear, apparently there is a little morale problem with the troops. Dexter gets the attention of the troops and he tries to give them a stirring speech about everyone staying close together. working together as a tightly organized unit, and we will accomplish our mission with glory and honor. We will return together victorious. Very moving. If anyone can keep the soldiers alive, it will be Dexter and Jillian. I see Michaella stifling a snicker. It does seem to work, the soldiers seem affected by his words. I sense that Pattern is being used to affect the soldiers. Nice touch.
Jillian gives a small speech as well. She sounds like the Queen of England, leading the army into battle. "Today, we are on a mission for the Crown of Amber. May 'all' our efforts contribute to the glory of Amber!" More Pattern manipulation, the men are cheering and eager to begin the mission. Between the two of them, they have stirred up a hornet's nest.
Some of the soldiers are mounting their horses, all are shouting. "Hail Lord Dexter! Hail Lady Jillian! Hail the Crown of Amber!" The shouts echo across the open plain.
I hear Michaella. "Oh, please!" I smile at her. She could do the same, probably 'will' be able to do the same; when she is a bit older. I 'know' I could do the same, but that is not my style. It is quite easy to stir up a crowd of soldiers for battle, especially if backed up with Pattern manipulation. Poor chaps never had a chance; at least they will be in good spirits for the mission.
We get into position. I am taking front row. Michaella will shift Shadow first. After a few hours, I will take over: completely rested. Dexter will lead the troops and Jillian will ride up and down to monitor the formation. Michaella will blend in among the troops, around the second or third row. Tasha is staying at the rear of the troops, to keep an eye on them; so, we don't lose any of them during shifting.
"Tally ho, Lucian!" I call out and we move forward. We keep to a tight formation. After we leave Forest Arden, Michaella begins shifting Shadow. The trees shift colors and shapes. The tall grasses shift to short grass with a cobblestone trail. The trail widens and the sky becomes more cloudy.
Time passes and I move position, just behind Dexter. I am becoming stronger, just a while longer. Four hours have passed since we left and the environment continues to shift. Michaella looks fatigued. She is quite a girl, she could have asked someone to take over earlier. She is too stubborn, trying to prove herself. I turn to face her and nod. A look of relief comes over her face. The shifting stops and she rides up to us. "Next!" In a voice that demands respect.
"Yes ma'am!" I tip my hat and smile. I turn Lucian and position him where Michaella was shifting. I visualize the Pattern in my mind. I expand my Pattern awareness to encompass the entire group. I expand it just a bit further to give us a fudge factor, in case some one breaks formation. I don't want to risk losing anyone. I fix the range firmly in my mind, so I can maintain control easier. I then extend my awareness forward to become 'part' of the Shadow we are in. The directions we were given explains the Shadows we are to shift through. I see in my mind the Shadow I want to shift to. It is like mentally morphing our environment. I've done this for so many years, it is almost as easy as strolling through the park.
In this case, it is a little more taxing; because of the size of the area being shifted. My control 'has' improved since my Pattern walk. The hours go by without incident. It has now been ten hours since we left. I have been tiring, but I can go on much longer.
Dexter tells us there are some people up ahead. They are two groups in dark garments; five on the left and five on the right. When they see us, they turn and run off. They are scouts, and they are manipulating Shadow. They were out of range for bows or they would have been shot by Dexter's men. Jillian is riding up to us.
We are discussing strategy. I keep control over shifting, ready for their decision. They are the 'strategists' of the group. We are in a Shadow with a colorful forest. Our next shift, it is like all color is drained. It is the same scenery, but only white, grays, and black. Then it becomes a dusty barren landscape without color. Jillian mentions that this is what is left of an area hit by a Shadow storm.
I can believe it. While I am in tune with the Pattern for shifting; I can feel to my marrow that this entire Shadow has an enormous surge of Pattern energy. Although I was tiring from shifting for six hours, in this place I feel the surge of energy and I feel energized.
It feels like raw power is flowing through my veins. With this Pattern rush, I feel like I can do 'anything'. I look around at my siblings. Those with Pattern look astonished. Tasha looks like she is getting ill. Almost like an allergic reaction to something. I can only guess that her background is more Chaosian than I suspected. I knew that she was a shape shifter, does this mean she is also a Logrus mistress as well?
If that is the case, we have to get her out of her quickly. She is talking to Dexter. "I don't like this place."
His response is. "Don't worry little sister, I have the situation under control." There is more talk, but I don't hear it.
As we move forward, we reach a plateau with paths leading down into a valley. In the open valley is a large castle. Small than Castle Amber, but just as imposing. It is less lavish, with less accouterments. However, there a re cracks along the walls.
In the valley below, there are four separate troops. It looks like there are approximately 2,500 soldiers in each troop, preventing access to the castle. They are mostly foot soldiers at the ready, we will have to wade through them all to get to the castle.
Off to the side of the castle in the mountains is an active volcano. Along with red lava is an incredible amount of blue Pattern energy erupting from it. Around the castle is a moat, but it is a pool that gives off the blue glow of Pattern energy. The troops are obviously waiting for us and positioned to draw us to a specific area of the valley. Studying the area; we evaluate and discuss possible options and a workable course of action. The level of Pattern energy seems to be growing. The Unicorn instructed me to insure that what is developing must continue to develop.
Ariel seems to be in Trump contact with someone. That reminds me. "Did Random give anyone a Trump of Esterhazy?" Maybe we can get through directly, forcing our way through Trump contact. No answer.
Michaella looks at me. "You seem to take stock in these dreams and the cards. Did I hear Tasha say anything about the Unicorn? Steed, you mentioned in the sitting room, a dream where you were given some information." She is interested in her part regarding this. I can't share too much, until I know who has the Unicorn's horn. "The Unicorn imparted to me that what is happening here should be allowed to develop."
"Really? I don't know much about these things. I thought she was a myth. What is it about the power behind the Unicorn's horn?"
"She is a primal force, joint creator of Amber. She is part of all creation. Connected to all things." I quote part of the beliefs of the Church of Amber, our family's religion, nothing new. "in my mind, she must be obeyed in all things. It is my belief that some event is going to occur and must be left to develop to maturity. The Unicorn will merge with these new Pattern energies and it will be a natural extension of our own order. Esterhazy must be kept alive for that to happen."
"One reason I walked the Pattern before we left, I wanted to see if our Pattern was 'normal'. The emergence of these new Pattern energies is causing the Pattern to evolve. She shares the experience of this evolution and to bring it under control, she has to merge with it." I take a chance, only Ariel can hear us. "The Unicorn's horn must touch this evolving Pattern."
I can sense their comprehension and also their apprehension. They understand my concern and my conflicting loyalties. The King of Amber, the natural High Priest of the Church of the Unicorn; and the Unicorn herself, the center of our Church. She is also the one who appointed Random as King of Amber. She also appointed me as her agent; a thing no one else knows.
They also realize that this means we 'have' to get to Esterhazy but not deliver him to Random 'yet'. There, is where the conflicting loyalties exist. Ariel and Michaella are becoming my allies, however I am uncertain of their support. I need these two. The others will serve their purpose for getting us through.
Dexter and Jillian will find a way to get us through. Tasha and Mordu are the unknown factors. Dexter seems to have Tasha under his wing; with Dexter's loyalty, Tasha may share that loyalty. Tasha still looks a bit off, but is holding up.
I hear a shot fired and Jillian is hit. A man rides off on horseback with a large assault rifle. He is quite bold about it and is very fast. He is out of range in seconds. The rider is Dexter! However, Dexter is next to us and quite angry because he sees his doppleganger, Dexter's clone. He infiltrated our group and drew first blood. He is riding down the path into the valley.
I feel magical energies activated and a bolt of lightning from Tasha flies toward Dexter's clone. Before it hits, he dives from his horse into the pool of Pattern energy.
Medics are attending to Jillian. We have all now experienced a sample of what we are up against. We will either face the clones of ourselves of the others. Dexter is trying to calm down the troops who witnessed one of the leaders shot.
We see down into the distance a man in armor on horseback, with a lance and coat of arms that match Mordu's. He is colorfully dressed. He is taking off and throwing down his gauntlet, offering a challenge to a duel. A rainbow portal opens in front of Mordu. A punch dagger comes through the portal. Mordu sidesteps the lunge. But the dagger shifts upward toward his face. He tries to evade the blade and move to counter attack. He cuts into the portal and severs the arm of the attacker. It falls in front of him. We hear screaming from the portal. Mordu jumps through the portal and disappears. The arm doesn't look real. It looks like blood and bones are not exposed, it looks more like luncheon meat. The punch dagger is on the ground with the arm, it has a liquid on the blade, probably some kind of poison.
I pull out a Trump of myself and have it ready in case I get a Trump contact. I can use it to focus my attention on it. Hopefully, it will block contact. It should work like a feedback loop, backed with Pattern energy.
Ariel goes to Dexter. She got my attention. "Dexter, I have been officially requested to open up negotiations between you and the leader of the empire."
Dexter gives it some thought. "You have been in contact with their leader?"
"Clearly, I am not a military person; this is purely as an ambassadorial function. If you would like to speak with him."
"May I ask how you established contact with him?"
"He just contacted me through Trump."
"He wishes to negotiate?"
"Yes, I don't know what he wishes to negotiate. Maybe he wishes to establish the rules of combat. Maybe he is not interested in fighting."
"I will talk to him. But not by Trump, only face to face."
Tasha took a pike from one of the soldiers and is altering it's nature into a rocket launcher. She fires it at the castle. We see the smoke tracer of the rocket as it arcs through the sky and downwards into the castle. An explosion rocks the valley, flames pour out of some nearby windows.
Dexter is upset with Tasha. "We are to take him alive! I'm ordering you to hold off any attacks."
Ariel is trying to calm the situation. She seems to be losing him. I only hear her side of the conversation. "Why did you kill the ambassadors?" Pause. "Of course, there's no proof of that." Pause. "You didn't send the bodies back? Why didn't you send news back to Amber?" Pause. "Unfortunately, it's still your word against them." Pause. "I understand that you killed them because they were attacking you like madmen and that you didn't return their bodies to Amber. I understand that you don't want to fight us. What do you want?" Pause. "They think you destroyed your own world in a Shadow storm. Could something have gone wrong?" Pause. "If what you say is the truth, I can see why you are so angry. I just want to know the truth."
I get her attention. "The truth is, this man must be protected." The cards on the table. "At all costs."
Ariel turns to look at me. "And what do you base that on?"
Here goes. "From a power higher than the King of Amber." Confused faces. "Who placed him on the throne?" The look of comprehension. "She feels that he must be protected and the Pattern must be protected; as it is."
"Why?" Ariel is skeptical.
"I do not question the Unicorn , any more than Dexter would question Random or Benedict."
"Could the Unicorn have been a shape shifter?"
She is. "If an impostor could inhabit my dreams and match the Unicorn's own Pattern imprint. They are like fingerprints." This will give them something to think about. I have seen and recorded each of theirs as well.
"Very well. If we protect him, you know what that means?"
"I'm afraid I do, only too well." As mother said. 'In the end, all will have to face the King's judgment.' It is ironic, Random has sent me on many solo missions and left many things up to my judgment and discretion. So, maybe he is giving us some unspoken leeway. That will only be valid if we can prove Esterhazy's innocence.
"It looks as though the full truth is; damned if you don't and damned if you do." Ariel, like the rest of us, hates this uncertainty.
I am concerned I may have overplayed my hand. There is still the clones to deal with and what the Pattern energies are evolving into. How will Esterhazy fulfill his destiny? Most importantly, the Unicorn horn must merge with this force.
Ariel reestablishes contact with Esterhazy and will provide two way translation. Tasha touches her shoulder to gain direct contact. "Both sides are extremely nervous. Can we agree to back all troops down? We are ready to go to war here and we don't know why. We should try to find out exactly what happened. If we can prove your case, there is no need for confrontation."
Dexter and I decide to enter directly into the conversation. We lightly touch Ariel and Tasha. Dexter introduces himself and asks more specific questions about what exactly does Esterhazy want to negotiate about.
Esterhazy replies. :I'm in a purely defensive posture and I know nothing about tactics. As I explained, my Shadow was destroyed by Amber.:
Dexter. :It was my understanding that this was your own doing.:
:I assume that is what you were told, to get you to come here to fight me.:
I propose a solution, you come to Amber with me. You have my word of honor that you will not be harmed or killed.:
:I want Amber's word of honor as well. Can you get that?:
:Then I will get in touch with you shortly.:
I stop him from breaking contact. :Lord Esterhazy, I am Steed. I have a question for you before we break contact. These clones, are they your doing?:
:Yes, most certainly.:
:Then, why are they directed at us personally?:
:To keep you away from here. It would be to your disadvantage to stay here. I must be honest with you, I do believe that some of the clones have somewhat a personal vendetta against you.:
:I see.: This is not good, the clones are not under his control. :Lord Esterhazy, it is my intention to keep you safe. Whatever you think, I am not a tool of the Crown of Amber. We are under orders to wade through your army and drag you back to Amber. I would like to prevent the loss of lives of thousands of soldiers on both sides.:
We are locked in direct contact, the others are almost immaterial. :You are not a tool of Amber, are you a tool of the Unicorn?:
:If you view it as such. But I tell you that it is her opinion that you need me. Whether you believe it or not, you need our help.:
:I appreciate your consideration, I apologize for my rudeness earlier. It is this research of mine that is too important to be disturbed.:
:Lord Esterhazy, it would be helpful if you could provide some insight about what happened, so we can convince King Random and the others that your intentions are indeed as you say they are.:
:That is difficult.:
:I understand. It has been my theory that there may be a third party involved. Playing you and Amber against each other. Someone who could make Amber think the evidence points to destruction from within your Shadow. Someone who could make you think that Amber has betrayed your trust and allowed the destruction of your Shadow. In order to prove this, there may be some evidence.:
Whatever outside influence there was, was very good. I couldn't detect it. Hypothetically, if one of your elders were involved in this, they would have been able to successfully do it undetected. I suspect that you are correct, Steed. Someone has neatly framed me and destroyed any evidence with the Shadow storm. Now - now Amber has a reason to come here and take all my power and research. All they had to do was convince you that you had a good reason to come in.: He is becoming unstable, almost paranoid.
:What power are they trying to take away?:
:I was sharing it with them.: No direct answer.
:What power!:
He is speaking softly, like he is talking to himself more than to me. :I was allowed to conduct these experiments. It is almost complete.:
I see he is wearing gloves that he takes off. His eyes roll back and his arms are now exposed. I see blue Pattern lines along his hands and arms. By the Unicorn! I understand what is happening. He is becoming a living Pattern! How is that possible? Especially for one 'not' of the blood of Amber. The Unicorn wants me to protect him so he can complete the transformation. Will he even retain any shred of humanity after his change? I also understand why the Unicorn sent me on this task. We must use the Unicorn's horn, so she can merge with it. Then she can keep it under control and keep it in check and in balance with the other Patterns.
The Pattern lines are extending as I watch. They are spreading along his face. :It feels like I am transcending - it is not long before - I shall 'be' a Pattern.: His voice is quiet and ominous.
I feel the Pattern energy flow through the Trump contact, the amount he gives off is incredible. He continues. :I transcend time, space, dimensions!:
Ariel breaks in. :For what purpose? Why would you want to do this?:
:I am a shape shifter. I have been able to join with the energies of the Pattern. I have been able to 'become' a Pattern in my own image.:
She continues. :Then what do you do?:
I interrupt, she 'needs' to know this. :He becomes a Pattern, with all the power that implies.:
His voice is changing again. :Time, reality, endless Shadows. I cannot explain it in words...:
She is becoming overly concerned. Like a close friend, she knew him! :What will happen to everything else?:
He wails. :I don't know. Amber wants to share the power. One of them wants the power all for themselves! I was willing to share that knowledge, they all knew I would share that knowledge and power. They wanted you and your siblings to share this knowledge. That was not acceptable. One of them wanted it for themselves...:
I break in. :Who is the last elder you talked with?: I am playing a hunch. :Who knew what your experiments were about?:
:I have not spoken with the elders, except Random. You have mentioned something interesting. Since you mentioned it, I am 'very' capable of sharing this knowledge with you. This might be difficult for you to understand or believe; but...: He seems to get a feverish look in his eyes. :I've discovered, things about your Pattern. Working with the Pattern, you are all on a leash!: His voice almost howls. :Oh! The Pattern that you have is but a mere tinkling of the six Patterns of Amber. There are six Patterns of Amber, they have kept two of them hidden. I can give you a Pattern in your own image. A full Pattern, not two dimensional. You can transcend, at least I can give you the ability to. You can help me transcend, we can help each other transcend. The elders don't know. One must suspect.:
:The Unicorn knew, who else would have known? Did that elder invade Esterhazy's Shadow and destroy it from within with a Shadow storm? Did that elder come to Esterhazy disguised as one of the ambassadors, attack Esterhazy, and sent the dead bodies back to complete the treachery? That elder could be one who is a shape shifter and ruthless; who would stop at 'nothing' to gain personal power. Only one name comes to mind, but I dare not even 'think' his name.
The only ones in the contact are Dexter, Ariel, and Tasha. I suppress further thoughts in that area. If I am right and he is here and suspects that I know, I will be killed outright. He is that treacherous and that good. With all this rampant Pattern energy, he could destroy everything in this Shadow to hide all evidence. Any Trump contact with the elders to warn them, would be intercepted as well; because, he is also a master Trump manipulator.
I am quickly convincing myself that he is behind this and we are in serious danger. Even if we are in no danger from Esterhazy, we cannot escape 'him'.
Esterhazy is still rambling. He is losing touch with his humanity and becoming lost in the transformation to a living Pattern. :Ariel, this is true perfection. For those who feel that it is never enough, this is true perfection. This is the way! I know I sound like a mad scientist, but I am not! I have discovered something that works, and it is about to be ripped from me by Amber.:
Ariel finds her voice. :By one particular person of Amber.:
:There may be more than one, but someone certainly wants me dead! Because my secrets will be a threat. There are some who want me captured because they do not know enough. There are others with other motives. I don't know!: He moans and wails from waves of pain, the Pattern energy is coming through in waves. The blue lines are extending further. Dexter breaks contact with us.
I bring up something that got my attention earlier. :Ariel, I know that Esterhazy is seriously tempting you. You should be careful what you wish for. Think very carefully, before you decide on it.:
:I know what I want. If you had the chance to get what you wanted, would you take it?:
:You don't know the price for what Esterhazy is offering. You have a special personal power within you that needs to be developed first. You can reach a power that leads to perfection, possibly without going through the transformation and losing your identity through it. I only ask that I may be a witness to your awareness of that power. I can help you, but we need to be in a safe location. It is difficult to explain. It is just that he is offering you something you may not want.:
Ariel, Tasha, and myself are still in contact with Esterhazy by Trump. He is either unable or unwilling to respond further. I would like nothing more than to awaken Ariel's Pattern. However, we need to get to a place of safety. We are all exposed vulnerable targets once we start. I have to wait for a better opportunity. While we are in contact, what is happening?
Out of my peripheral vision, I see what is happening around us. Dexter was in a Trump contact and is now being shot at through the Trump portal. He is knocked back and falls. I don't know if he is all right. Dexter's medics are checking on him, trying to get him out of his armor.
Jillian was getting better and is caught up in a Trump contact. She pulls through Michaella who is bleeding horribly through a neck wound, carrying a rifle that is still smoking. Someone is trying to attack her from the portal as well.
The soldiers are in a state of confusion and Jillian's medics are checking out Michaella. It doesn't look good, our best in warfare are either severely injured or missing. Ariel, Tasha, and myself are trying to remedy the situation through Esterhazy. I don't hold high expectations in that, with renegade clones; it does seem to be our only course of action. What is this? Dexter is disappearing through a Trump portal? The soldiers fall back from the rainbow effect. Wherever he is, I hope it is safe. I hope he is with Ge`rard, that would be the safest place to be. I also hope the elders learn enough about the situation to be of some help.
It is time to be on the offensive for a change. We break contact with Esterhazy. "I want to try something before something else happens." I use a Trump of myself to see if I can contact my clone. My Pattern awareness is still active and alert. I withdraw Shadowveil and prepare for attack. Out of my peripheral vision, I see Tasha getting pulled through a Trump portal by a clawed hand, and disappears. I don't get the chance to try. I see that Ariel is tied up in a Trump contact, completely absorbed in the contact and reads a letter. A letter?
There is no place for cover. I am wide open. I survey the area carefully, the soldiers are ready to bolt, I can't say I blame them. Lucian is nearby. Paranoia is setting in and taking a firm foothold in my psyche. I move closer to Lucian, I don't want to lose him here. I pull out a Trump of the Unicorn Grove. Maybe the Unicorn can provide assistance. We are definitely losing control of this mission and we may be in over our heads. I concentrate upon it. I get the feeling that this is a safe place and I am welcome to return. I resist the pull of the Grove, I should be 'here' to finish the task. I also feel sorrow from the Grove because I am not there, it is almost transcendental in nature. It pulls at me. I want to reach the Unicorn, not to dally in the Grove.
I weigh my options. Stand here waiting for an attack or search the Grove for the Unicorn. I am not reaching her by Trump. My options: danger - safety, wait - do something, contact the Unicorn for aid - contact others for aid. Who at Amber can be trusted? Who here can be trusted? No way into Esterhazy's castle without going through his army and an unknown number of clones. I need awhile to regroup, to work out a plan.
I grab Lucian's reins and step through. As I step through, I thought I saw a flash of light. I don't see it now. The atmosphere of this place washes over me. Like euphoria, it feels good. Everything I've been through seems to melt away, like distant memories.


Episode A2-5 - In the Unicorn Grove

In which Steed visits the Grove
... and the Unicorn takes a powder.

Once again, I find myself in the Unicorn Grove. I came here hoping to enlist the aid of the Unicorn. Failing that, I hope to review the past events and clarify my thoughts. Doing that may help me form a plan of action. I have already called once and there is no response.
I feel the effects of this place. The feelings of acceptance, welcome, belonging, and deep affection permeate this place and take me like an overwhelming addiction. Ever since I was 12, I have visited this source of counsel and refuge and have succumbed to the overwhelming feelings that cannot be fought. Its effects are deep and profound, like someone experiencing and realizing their being in heaven. Only the need and urgency building within me, helps me to shake its effects. There is much to be done and I dare not stay overlong. I have accomplished much, but at what a cost. Others were injured or killed and I must make sure that I am not taken until I have completed the geas placed upon me by the Unicorn of Amber.
I have long ago given up on letting the death of others affect me, it only distracts me from finishing a task. Only when a job is completed, can I allow myself the luxury of feeling their loss. Usually, it is done in solitude and far from this place of contentment. Such emotions seem to sully this place and I would rather do it with a bottle of Champagne to toast their sacrifice. That is not why I am here and I am not ready yet.
I call out to her again for guidance, knowing there will be no response. It is in my hands, only mine. I can think of no one else I can trust. The elders cannot know and I refuse to enlist their aid. My actions alone can be considered treasonous. That is regrettable.
My methods, although questionable, have brought me success in previous missions. I don't fight fair; I survive. Those who fight fair often fail and die. The mission, in this case a geas, is all that matters. Although I am sworn to serve King Random, my liege and uncle; my allegiance, my loyalties, and my duty is divided at times.
I am the Avatar of a higher authority than mere kingship. She whom I serve, placed my uncle Random on the throne of Amber. She is my great grandmother, the mate of Dworkin, the Unicorn of Amber, the primal force of the Pattern, the symbol of our family lineage, and the focus of our family's religion. All of Amber must honor, love, and respect her in all things; even sacrifice themselves in her defense, a role I take very seriously.
If her orders run contrary to those of King Random, I must disobey his orders or at least attempt to reconcile those differences. Much like getting an order from a General supersedes an order from a lower officer. In the eyes of the lower officer and those serving him, they may view me as a traitor. It would be much simpler if she instructed Random about what must be done, so much simpler.
She has her reasons and I will not question them. Her reasoning and wisdom has always proven true, and I will not debate the finer points of the chain of command with her. I am her loyal soldier following conflicting orders, her loyal servant, her unquestioning agent, her right hand, and her hidden weapon.
Arrogant kinsmen, if they knew our relationship, may look upon me as an unwitting tool. No one knows, and that is our strength. My worst fears are that I may be used as a weapon against her or she may be used as a weapon against Amber. That would mean that I would be used as well. 
Others know that I have received information from her, but no more than I receive information from anyone else. I investigate, gather information, and coordinate action with others to complete missions. If I use her as the source, others are often convinced that I am following the correct course of action. Usually I only mention her when there is no other option.
Concentrating upon my oneness connection with the Unicorn has helped me to gain an understanding about the things that have occurred. The urgency of the situation now overpowers my desire to stay here. I must return to deal with this on my own. I understand the situation more as I reflect upon it here. It has served me, as always, to clarify my thoughts. I know now what must be done. I hope there is time to get back and finish what must be done.
I withdraw my Trump deck from my jacket. Sorting through them, my fingers find the one I want. I feel the cool Trump of the younger daughter of Benedict, Michaella. I concentrate upon it forcing my will upon it. It is crucial that I reach her to find the Unicorn horn, I must use it upon Lord Esterhazy while he is going through his transformation into a living Pattern. I am blocked from her contact. Her injuries may be critical, I hope not. I feel her there, but there is no awareness. Giving up, I place it back in the deck.
Lord Esterhazy knows that I am trying to help him, so that would explain why my clone double has not attacked me. Another possibility is that the Steed clone may be acting independent of Esterhazy, and he may be waiting a better opportunity to attack me. I am taking a chance that my twin is on my side, not planning an attack. I search for a Trump that I have never used before, at least in this manner.
It is like looking into a mirror. It may work to contact my twin. If he is like me, he will fight the contact. I hate responding to Trump calls, it puts you at a disadvantage. You don't know who is calling and it is usually my mother Flora. If it is not her, it is usually not good news. Amberites are notorious for not making Trump calls to exchange pleasantries and give cheerful news.
The Trump is cool to the touch as I concentrate and force my will upon it. There is no blockage and I do not reach anyone, but I get a mental feedback sensation that is quite unique and deserves to be filed away for later reference. That does prove one thing, that clones do not receive the Trump calls of the original. Another item to file away for later reference.
So, my final recourse is to take the direct route to my goal. Looking around the Grove, I see my Andelusian mount grazing on the edge of the Grove. I call, "Lucian! Here!" He raised his head and turns to look my way. He snickers and begins to trot to me. He stops when I am along side of him. As I mount him to leave, I receive the familiar itch of a Trump contact. I fight it until my head is pounding from the pressure of the contact. I open myself to contact, expecting mother but finding the image of a demon or Lord of Chaos.
:Pull me through!: The face is unfamiliar, having spent time as a member of the House of Sewall; it's not from that noble Chaosian house.
I draw my blade to defend myself. I should have already done that. I issue a challenge. "Name yourself and why you have called me, demon!"
The image looks confused for the briefest of seconds, then returns a look of comprehension. It seems to concentrate and the face changes to a more familiar form. It is the strikingly feminine form of Tasherameracis. We give the proper sign and counter sign.
"Tasha, my dear. What can I do for you?" I pull her through and I try to look the proper gentleman, not to give anything away.
"Steed, I didn't know where you went. I came back to the battlefield after my mother released me. I tried your Trump because you were the last person I saw still standing. She looks around to get her bearings and feels the effect of the place. "I thought you had run off to escape, I can't say I blame you. I was tempted myself. Is this the Unicorn Grove? It is quite beautiful. I never thought that I would ever live to see it."
I look at her levelly, "I came looking for a place to gather my thoughts. This place looked as good as any other, and it is probably safer. We must get back and soon. By the way, it would not be a good idea to bring up the Logrus here."
"We will have to Hellride. I should be able to find a shortcut back. You can ride with me on Lucian, until we find a suitable mount for you."
She agrees after trying a few other things, mounting Lucian and we leave. After a suitable distance, I begin shifting Shadow; for the Hellride back to Esterhazy's Shadow, concentrating upon the Unicorn horn as the object of my desire.

To be Continued . . .?

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

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