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Scout Carter's Journal

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Scout Carter's Journal - Part 1

Case File X257

Report by Detective Scout Carter

Personal Note: I'm not sure why I'm writing this. Nobody will see it, and the LAPD wouldn't be interested in what I've found here. But this isn't just a habit, it's also a way of focusing my thoughts, helping me figure out what I've seen. But that's almost a waste itself. What's going on here doesn't follow any patterns I remember from even my worst cases. Maybe these are the answers I was looking for. Maybe they're just more questions. I don't know. Maybe I will once I'm done. I usually don't get that lucky, though.

It started April 27th, mid-morning. I'd just finished wrapping up the Ormanti cult case, I was about to file their strange little fetish stone in Evidence. In all my years with the LAPD Special Investigations Division, I'd never seen anything like how they'd guarded this piece of rock. A little under six inches, nearly round, smoothed and varnished (the blood had just wiped off it), etched with some sort of odd semi-spiral line work, as complex as any Celtic knot work I've ever seen, but less easy to identify. Just like the stone itself, which didn't match anything I'd ever seen. Labs I'd sent a scratching from the bottom came back with contradictory reports. I was still sure this was the key, the reason for everything Ormanti and his deluded followers had done, but that wasn't the accepted reasons. Put the blame on Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, easier for a jury to understand. The stone would go into storage, never see the light of a courtroom or find a museum expert who could identify it. I was certain mine would be the only report to even mention it.

I'd been over this and over it, all night. Something about the line work, something that might explain their obsessive protection of it. Anyway, it was early morning and I'd given up. This wasn't going to be identified, it wasn't going to be explained. I should be used to that by now. I picked the stone up and reached for an evidence box.

That was when Captain Timmers came in.

"Carter. We've been trying to call you for an hour. What the hell's going on?"

"My phone's turned off. I needed to concentrate." I didn't want him to know for sure on what, so I'd slipped the stone into my pocket. Safer there. I'd turn it in later.

"Well quit concentrating and watch this tape. SWAT's already mobilizing, this nut seems right up your alley."

Timmers was a rough boss for a criminal psychologist like yours truly. He liked to think everyone who broke convention was a nut, thought that explained everything. I tried to humor him, but what I'd found over the last few years hadn't explained much at all. It certainly hadn't explained me.

But I took the tape, switched on my monitor and hit play. I didn't have to watch long. Footage was from a security camera, off-side remote monitor I'd guess since SWAT was just moving in. The central figure in this little drama was an average-sized, dark man with quite an attitude. He was using a sword, fairly well from the look of things. The room was a bloody mess. But what caught my eye was the cat. A black cat, seemed a bit larger than average in the images. The cat was clearly cooperating in his rampage. It should have been impossible, but I remembered right away that black cats were frequently central to legends concerning magic. That didn't mean anything concrete, but it implied an explanation for the man's unusual stamina. Or, perhaps, there was something else...

"Tell SWAT I'm coming. They shouldn't move in until I'm there."

I grabbed my coat, checked my pistol, and headed to my car. I knew SWAT didn't have the patience to wait, so I forgot a few traffic laws. Siren has to be good for something, since I don't do traffic patrol.

As I drove, I split my concentration between staying on the road (normally not difficult, but city streets aren't built for high speed) and considering the possibilities. I was, I knew, stronger, faster and (I won't be artificially humble) smarter than most anyone I've heard of. I've kept this secret because I don't trust it. I don't know the whys of this, of course. I was raised in an orphanage, no records exist to my parentage. And during my work with the Department, I've uncovered several possible explanations. Aliens I try to discount; it's too difficult to verify, and science can only be strained so far. Magic isn't an impossibility, though I never found any that was reliably reproducible. But the most worrisome possibility was the Adam and Eve project, a little bit of governmental eugenics trying to create the perfect Man and Woman. They were stronger, smarter, everything. Also crazier. Dangerously so. As far as I know, only one was alive. Unless I was one. I'd never noticed any signs of psychosis, but I'm not sure I could accurately detect such in myself. And I'd never seen even a picture of an Adam, so I didn't know if I looked like the type.

Through the blood and wounds and bad video resolution, our dangerous John Doe was about the right general facial structure and body type to be a relative. That had me frightened, more than I like to admit.

By the time I arrived, the radio had already told me they were moving in. SWAT was a team of macho assholes, mostly. If this was anything like the tape, they'd be killed, all too quickly. I skidded to a stop, jumped out of my car just as the firing started. I watched as someone threw a tear gas canister back out the window on an upper floor. Someone with burns they wouldn't forget soon on their hands, for certain. Someone who probably didn't care. Even trying that stunt suggested my fears were justified.

"Shit. Listen, don't send anyone else in. Stay on watch and don't even think about moving in. Anyone come out that door that isn't me, then you move. Got me?"

I didn't wait for a response or even check to see who was in command. Now, I was. Hell with them. I went for a fire escape, climbed up and sneaked a peek in.

Carnal house, advanced course. Shots were quiet now, as the SWAT boys were done throwing their lives away. The target moved, too damn fast to imagine. I ducked low, barely under a shotgun blast. Swords weren't his only option any more. Probably lifted the firepower from some late SWAT officer along with the gas mask he was wearing. He'd thrown one onto the cat as well. Weird.

I noticed, just then, that the stone was vibrating in my pocket. I hadn't really recalled putting it there, but it was. And humming like a son of a bitch. Strange. I touched it and it softened somewhat. Like it was calming down. Deal with that later.

I gave him enough silence to think I was gone, then leapt in through the blast's aftermath. Convenient, that. I didn't remember being that lucky before. As I swung my weight to one arm, I noticed my shoulder was sore. A glance that way confirmed a graze. Minor, nothing to stop me. Left shoulder anyway, and I shoot right handed.

Through the room, trying not to breathe because you never get used to the smell of mass death and gunpowder, then swiping a no-longer needed gasmask to cut through the lingering mist, mostly already low to the floor. A glance out the door and I knew bloody he-man and cat were already headed downstairs, toward the entrance. If he thought he could rough it out, even through the cloud of gas his earlier stunt had left, he had a damn high opinion of himself. I followed carefully, trying to not be seen, because I worried he might be right.

The stone started buzzing just as the shotgun he was casually hefting over one shoulder slid flat and made a pretty rude sound. I took the buzzing as a warning, though, and was flat when the gift he was offering arrived. This wasn't looking good at all for the boy the Sisters named Scout Carter.

I rolled. I already had my pistol in hand, so I took a shot. It was hard to see with the gas, but I'm a good shot, damn good. I didn't want him dead, because he might offer too many answers, so I took a leg out from under him. That worked. He went down.

For about five seconds.

Barely long enough for a good "Freeze, LAPD!" and he'd popped another lead shower my way. Another miss, too damn near. He was good, but the gas and the mask made it hard to see and I hope his wounds were slowing him down. Looking back and being honest, I hope they weren't, because if that's how fast he is hurt, I don't want to face him fresh.

Anyway, it was about then that he vanished. Him and the cat, just took a step and gone. Damn strange. At first, I thought maybe I'd gotten a bigger gulp of gas than I thought, but tear gas isn't a hallucinogen. And this was way too real. I stepped to where he and the cat had vanished, and the rock started humming again. Different this time, almost directional, somehow. I pulled it from my pocket, held it over the spot where he'd vanished. It pulled me along his path, lightly but distinctly.

A woman in blue came through the gas beside me. Gutsy, that. I didn't shoot her, but it was close.

"Detective Carter. You have a name, Officer?"

"Kesä," she said. Her accent was a little odd, I couldn't quite place it. And while she hadn't corrected me, something told me she wasn't LAPD or any other law enforcement I was aware of. But something else told me she wasn't dangerous, at least not immediately. The stone? No, I didn't trust it to mean anything just yet.

But when she reached for it, I pulled it back, then stood, pocketing my gun and holding the stone in my left hand.

"I'm not going to claim I know what's happening, but you've just been elected as backup."

I grabbed her hand and took a step the way it directed.

The mist got thicker. Much thicker. And changed color. It wasn't tear gas anymore, I knew that. I pulled off the mask, let it hang against my chest.

"If you have a hint to what's happening, drop it now."

She didn't say anything.

And I heard a horse approaching. That's right, a horse. With a buggy. Last I remembered, I'd been in a war zone that had previously been a moderately secured building in LA. The beaten cart that broke through the mist wasn't from any part of LA I remember, and the cabby's accent was pure Cockney.

He eyed us both suspiciously, especially the shotgun I'd picked up, just in case.

"You Red Pentacle?" he asked my newfound partner.

I admire her spunk. She didn't lose a beat, just nodded. Good girl.

"Come on, then." He pointed toward the back.

We rode for a while, until we reached a place I would have been glad to have never seen outside a book. The trenches were pure World War One, deep and firm and obviously well lived in. That's where he let us go, pointing down one trench. When he was gone, I reached into my pocket to find the stone again. It also directed down the same trench. Majority rules.

"You know anything about field medicine, Officer?"

I was willing to play along, and I hoped she could manage the act. Her answer was noncommittal.

But when we arrived, I knew medicine was the last worry we had. A guard didn't take kindly to us, but it was a hospital and they needed doctors and, no surprise, the mysterious Kesä did seem to know some medicine. But what they were doing here wasn't medicine at all, it was magic. I call it that because they did, and because I believe them. They were pulling bullets out of my recent playmate, one at a time. They were up to a dozen when I stepped close and snagged his pet, the oversized black cat. Something was strange about that animal and I...

I set her down gently, and petted her softly. A voice in my head asked what I wanted, I said I wanted to talk to her friend. It's hard to remember the exact words, because except for my mouth, my body didn't seem to be mine. Still, I'm sure I tried to explain that I just had a few questions to ask and wouldn't personally hurt him. I didn't comment about what would happen back in LA. Cops don't like cop killers much, but I had a personal stake, I thought, and so didn't let that rule me.

We were getting well on with our conversation when her friend started to move again, seemed ready to go for one of his borrowed guns. A grenade flew in from somewhere and reflex managed to overcome whatever had me, so I snatched the cat and rolled for cover. Wasn't needed. The blast somehow spent itself only on battering the mysterious and recently de-bulleted psycho. Something drew me closer, but seemed distracted, maybe worried. I took the chance and made a quick, left-handed chop to our friend's neck. I knew he was tough; I hit hard.

Meanwhile, my other hand was still petting the cat.

After party-boy folded up, I looked for who had brought him the party favors. The woman was beautiful, which was saying a lot. I haven't commented about Kesä, but when I think about it, she's no slouch. This woman was a few giant leaps beyond, though. And, somehow, she had an aura of class about her despite the surroundings. I held the cat, still petting it absently, and looked at her.

She identified herself as Flora, and didn't really offer anything more like a family name. Then she said we should come with her, bring Sleeping Beauty. I wasn't in any position to decide, but if I'd had a vote, I would have gone. This was getting too damn interesting to let go now.

She pulled out an oversized playing card, maybe some sort of Tarot or Zener card. Then she started talking to it. I had second thoughts, but I was a minority partner in my movements just then. Damn it.

A few steps later, and we were somewhere else. Somewhere as different as night and day. This was an incredibly ornate room, big by any standards and fancy. The decorations were a blend of times and styles, but a perfect blend. They complemented rather than contradicting. There was a skill to doing that, I guess our hostess has that skill.

She said something to the cat, like how rude it was to make my arm so tired. It was tired, but I didn't mind until I set the cat down and let her go. Then I realized how long it had been. It aches now, as I write this down, and I've had a good bath in the meantime. The cat, though, brushed against my leg and waved her tail arrogantly. :You started it: came to my head. I guess I had, in a way, though I wish to whatever heaven this place played host to I know just what I'd started.

I was told to wash up, then join the others for desert, as we'd arrived too late for dinner. Last I knew it was mid-morning, but I didn't complain. Beside, our hostess had said something that caught my attention, the same way the video had.

She said we just might represent lost family.

Somehow, for the first time in my life, I'm not sure I want to know if she's right.

Case File X257-2

Report by Detective Scout Carter

It's been another busy day. Or perhaps the same busy day. My body's clock doesn't quite agree with the sun's behavior, but I'm starting to understand the reasons why. They almost make sense. But I'm going to miss being able to trust my watch.

Right now, I'm sitting by a fire, literally worlds away from where I wrote my last little report. I have a lot of explaining to do. I'll start now.

After my bath (and finding clothes almost identical to mine waiting for me when I was done... Whatever else this place could claim, it had a great domestic staff. I felt uncomfortable about the whole deal, standard American reaction. This sort of comfort though let me know I could get over it.), I headed to the room they'd identified as an infirmary, to check on my mystery man. I found him being cared for by a surprisingly large man, someone who actually looked the strength both our little mystery and I claimed, which likely meant he actually exercised considerably more. But, despite the at best renaissance look of the castle, the infirmary and this man's techniques were very modern, if lacking in obvious electronics.

The man identified himself as Ge`rard, noted the patient's condition and mine. I said I was fine and he was in a lot better shape than most of the people he'd left behind. Ge`rard shrugged and asked if any of the dead 'deserved it'. I wasn't sure how one answers that sort of question, so I let if fall. He obliged me, and noted how resilient our mutual acquaintance's system was. He said he'd almost had to use the 'special sedatives' they kept for someone named 'Corwin.' I didn't push for details, but I noticed which cabinet he nodded toward. That came in handy later.

Three more men walked in. Two I recognized from earlier, one middle-aged and medium height in formal eveningwear with an umbrella I'd bet my life contained a good length of steel (easy bet, since most people around here seemed to wear swords openly) and the other wearing some sort of long cloak, black with red trim. I didn't mention names before... The first was called "Steed" and the second "Suehprom". I didn't recognize the nationality of the later, but that wasn't my immediate priority and, as I discovered later, I didn't have much of a chance anyway. The third man was quite different. For one, he was dressed more in keeping with the surroundings, not modern formal or historical ceremonial, but more like an Elizabethan dandy. It fit him, really. But the others treated him with considerable respect, and it quickly became clear this man was the head honcho. 'King Random' they called him. Apparently the big man acting as doctor was a brother, though I didn't see much resemblance.

We didn't have much of a chance to be introduced before one of those ever-present people in livery entered, bowed, and said he had an important message. Someone named 'Prince Julian' was reporting an approaching envoy from 'Chaos' concerning a kidnapping. Apparently a kidnapping committed by someone in this castle.

Now, I was still almost totally in the dark about this place, but kidnapping is something I've dealt with, and I said as much. So the King sent me along with Steed and Suehprom to deal with things. Sounded simple enough.

I should have known nothing was going to be simple on this day.

Steed led us to stables, offered horses. I hadn't ridden a horse since I was a kid at a summer outing, so I asked what was wrong with cars around here. And I was told they didn't work, like a lot of other things. Maybe that explained the lack of high tech gadgets in the infirmary. I hoped it didn't mean my pistol was just weight in its holster, but I wasn't hopeful. Anyway, I accepted a horse and figured out the basics before too long. And, after a day of the alternative, I've got an even higher opinion of the revolution Henry Ford gave us.

I got a look at the castle as we rode away, down the side of a considerable hill the locals probably grace with the label 'mountain' like they do back East. The place was huge, and strangely familiar. I'd never seen a castle except in pictures. This place looked somehow like all of them. Which makes sense with what Steed tried to explain to me during the ride.

First, they asked me questions. They were host, I was guest, so I answered. They asked about where I was from, who I was. I told them about LA and my job. Somehow, the both seemed familiar with the idea and even the specifics of the city. Steed asked something about if this was LA on "Shadow Earth" or just something close to it. I didn't know the answer to that, and I'm not sure I do yet. But at least now I know what the question means. At the time, I couldn't even claim that.

Steed said we were headed into something that might be complicated. Apparently, this Amber place wasn't entirely at peace with Chaos. He warned that this might require some very subtle dealings. After my day, I thought I'd appreciate some subtlety, and said so. He smiled slightly.

And then he started explaining things.

As I understand it (and this is just a summary as he went pretty quick and there was a lot to take in), there's one place that's Real, and that's Amber, the castle we'd just left and the area around it. The forest at the bottom of the 'mountain' was called Arden, and that was where we were supposed to find this delegation. The forest looked huge, though, so I had no idea how we'd manage. But I'm getting off the point. Amber, it seems, is Real because of something called the Pattern. I got the idea that it's some mystical creation etched in the basement of the castle. (I thought of the strange stone in my coat pocket immediately, and made a mental note to compare the designs if I got a chance.) Somehow, walking along this Pattern gave those who could survive it (he claimed this was something only people of the royal family could do, which cut my immediate desire to check this thing out, at least until my parentage was certain) power to leave Amber and find 'shadows'. Everything else, he said, was Shadow, imitations of bits and pieces of Amber, distorted as they got further from the source. Strange stuff. My world, apparently, was a familiar Shadow for him. (This explained the familiar sense I had of the castle, I guess... But it opened a lot more questions.) Suehprom added a comment about some 'nearby' Shadows that are apparently allied to Amber, something called the 'Golden Circle.' Apparently politics worked pretty much the same way in Amber as in Shadows, which was comforting and disturbing at the same time. Anyway, Steed went on to explain how those who had the Pattern's power could 'hellride' through Shadow, finding anyplace they wanted by just concentrating on certain features until they became true. Sounded like quite a trick, but he warned that it wasn't actually as easy as it sounded.

Then he said that Shadow, while apparently infinite, eventually got so different from Amber it turned into something else. That was what they called 'Chaos' and it was where the people we were going to meet came from. Apparently they have something called the 'Logrus' that works something like the Pattern, letting them move through Shadow. Which figures in the familiar duality of reality. Then he surprised me with a very strange addition. He handed me a card, a lot like those the woman (Steed had called her 'Flora') had used. These were 'Trumps,' and they looked like Tarot. The one he handed me was him, a little stylized but easily recognizable. These, he said, could be used to both communicate and travel through Shadow. Hold the card, concentrate and a link is formed. Strange, but I didn't second-guess him. I'd seen these things in action, anyway.

By now, we were into the forest and I was trying to decide the best way to kill this horse without Steed being offended (he clearly liked the huge beasts). That was when we saw a quartet of riders approaching. Well, that's being generous, really. There were two riders accompanied by a huge, loping wolf-like creature and cloud of some sort, which eventually resolved itself to be a mass of buzzing insects. The other riders were a small girl with a mass of balloons, all colors and some I can't begin to name, and a figure in robes, probably male but indeterminate at the time. Something about those robes was a lot more serious than Suehprom's version.

We let Steed take the point, since he seemed to know the local score. Suehprom, I'd discovered, was another recent arrival, though apparently he'd known about this whole deal before becoming part of it. The cloud of bugs took point for them, swarming up toward us and, just a few yards away, stopping and forming into something I'd be labeled a kook if I said looked a lot like a face.

Kook, maybe, but the 'lips' moved as a buzzing voice spoke. He asked for us to release 'Prince Creed' who, it seemed, they thought we were holding prisoner. Steed denied Amber had anyone prisoner at the moment, but I already had a guess who they meant and didn't like it. Steed used one of those Trumps to call the king and arrange a reception for the envoy. I decided I had even more respect for their domestic staff if they could be ready for guests like this on a regular basis. Somehow, I thought the bugs would want a room a little different from mine.

We started to ride back (I didn't voice protest, but it would have been damn easy to), and Steed tried to keep up friendly conversation. He offered me a sip from a flask he said was brandy, I politely refused. If I was right and this quartet really was after the man I'd pursued here, I wanted to be 100% when it came down to brass tacks. Steed turned his attention to the bugs, who identified themselves as "ZZZwarm" which, I guess, was 'Swarm' before being buzzed out. He talked a bit about Chaos, which he'd apparently dealt with before, and tried a little name-dropping ('Mandor' was the name, though I don't know who that is yet). That didn't prove to be too bright.

We were almost back to the castle when things broke down. Swarm massed in front of us, and said that neither Suehprom or I "smelled of Amber." Steed, though, he called a "pawn of Swavil" and encased in a mass of insects as, apparently, a hostage. Maybe to trade for Creed? The others formed a circle around us, their intentions pretty clear.

We didn't get a chance to find out what they meant to do next, though, because there was a strange grinding sound and a large, blue telephone booth with the word "POLICE" clearly displayed faded into being right in the middle of us. Three figures came out of it, one an oddly dressed tall man with a large nose and a scarf that dragged almost on the ground; the second another robe-wearer (apparently they aren't just for liturgy any more), this one in oddly shifting colors depending on the light; and the third dressed entirely in beige, which warned me that he lacked in fashion sense, if nothing else.

The tall one looked us over, then asked if we happened to know the whereabouts of one "Detective Scout Carter." I didn't think it was worth hiding, so I slipped down from the horse (damn but that hurt) and stepped (slowly) forward. He seemed pleased, introduced himself as "The Doctor", offered me a piece of candy, and then asked if I knew where he might find Creed. Seems like my guess was confirmed, and our four friends from Chaos didn't fail to notice. First, Swarm let Steed go, which might have only been because he'd found a more immediate enemy. Then, almost as one, they chased the monochromatic man into the phone booth (I'll get to how in a minute), and they didn't seem happy. Neither did the tall man who, it seemed, owned the phone booth. He encouraged everyone inside, and said to bring the horses. After the day I'd had, I didn't feel like pointing out how ridiculous that sounded.

I'm glad I didn't. Inside the door, the 'phone booth' was huge. Vaulted ceiling, Victorian-style woodwork and, in the center of the room, a large, high-tech looking control panel. This was something odd, just another added to a long day. And, unlike mathematics, adding two odd things together didn't make the sum any less odd.

The Doctor talked to a small device that looked like a cross between a toaster oven and a dog. He called it 'K-9' and told it to watch the interior door. Apparently, this was to keep everyone in the room we were in, but a quick nose count said it was too late. The Man in Beige (his name, it seems, was "Sweeney") had already gone past and deeper in. I didn't have time to point this out, because that job was done by the control panel coming to life with an angry grind. The Doctor said something about an Auxiliary Control Room and everyone rushed further in. I took the rear, as I didn't really want to get in Swarm's way after seeing how he'd treated Steed.

By the time I arrived (with the rainbow-robed gent who had identified himself as "Morganth" at my side, the Doctor, Steed and Suehprom having taken another turn somewhere in the twisty hallways), the Auxiliary Control Room (which looked a lot like a more chrome and plastic version of the room we'd entered into) was a melee. Swarm was after Sweeney, who seemed to be doing considerably better than Steed had. Of course, Steed had been caught by surprise. There were several dozen bug bodies quivering on the floor, which I have to guess hurt Swarm to some degree. I decided to try bringing this to an end, drew my pistol and fired one shot, into the air. Nothing. Then I saw Morganth do a little trick with his hands and I heard a shot that hadn't happened. Nice stunt, that, but it didn't slow down our Chaos quartet's attacks on the fashion anti-plate. The canine went for a leg, the girl tossed her balloons forward (and despite the still air, they moved very quickly toward Sweeney) and the robed man started mumbling something, likely a magic spell a bit more direct than Morganth's. Apparently magic worked a lot better here than gunpowder. Believe it or not.

I happened to glance at a screen on one wall just then, and noticed that the view was of Ge`rard, looking curious at the interruption, and the infirmary. When I'd come it, the similar screen in what I guess is the main control room of this weird vehicle (that's what it was, despite appearances) had shown the castle walls, so I surmised we'd just moved a bit more toward everyone's target, my nominal prisoner.

Well, without a gun or any sort of weapon to deal with this sort of thing, I had to simply try to figure out the whys and keep the damage to a minimum. I asked the girl why they were out to get Mr. Bland-Suit, she said he was a "bad man". Guess that teaches me to expect to much. Still, Jenny (that's her name, as I found out later) didn't have much reason to tell me more, at least not then.

Sweeney still seemed to be winning to battle I'd expected to be one-sided in the other direction, but Morganth decided to intervene in a neutral way. Apparently, he meant to freeze everyone in the room except himself and me. Unfortunately, it seems Sweeney wasn't going to play along. A strange glow surrounded a ring on one hand, and he shrugged off the ice like nothing. Jenny and her friends, including Swarm, were not so lucky. And we'd just become the only remaining focus of Sweeney's attention. Not quite something I'd ask for. But I guess we seemed trivial enough to him, because he let loose a stream of blue something that headed right past us, back along the hallway toward the main control room. Or maybe deeper into things, I didn't stop to check just then.

With nothing else to try, I threw my pistol at Sweeney, hoping to break his concentration and stop whatever he was up to; for some reason, I believed Jenny's "bad man" label was appropriate, if simplistic. Didn't do me any good, though, because it simply bounced off something a half-inch around his body. Not a good sign, really... He glanced at me, but didn't bother doing anything.

I looked around quickly for something, found only a coatrack. Solid, good make, with what looked like a Victorian opera cloak hung neatly in place. Neatness wasn't on my mind just then, and I grabbed it, hoping leverage would succeed where a throw had failed. But before I could get turned around and swing my oversized bat, Sweeney folded up and flowed out of the room along his blue energy stream. Which meant I didn't know where he was or what he was up to, which wasn't a good feeling.

I asked Morganth if everyone here would be all right, he assured me they would. That felt good, because I was coming to think they were the most in-the-right of anyone I'd met that day. I kept the coat rack (with the cloak dropped to the floor) and headed back into the hallways, luckily guided by considerable noise back to the main control room.

When I arrived, I though I wouldn't be needed. Ge`rard had our man Sweeney in a bear hug, which seemed a good thing. Actually, Sweeney was covered by Suehprom's cloak, but I saw him across the room and so guessed the man being squished was who he was. And "was" is the right word, because just as I arrived, Ge`rard's arms broke inward and the cloak fell, completely limp. Nobody and no body inside.

Because Sweeney was now on the screen, in the infirmary and approaching the still snoring Creed.

Ge`rard, Suehprom, Morganth and I made a bee-line for the door, with Ge`rard in lead because no one, especially not me, wanted to be in his way. The big man was fast, but not fast enough. Sweeney had Creed's examination bed (Have I mentioned Creed was, wisely, strapped in with huge leather straps? No? I should have.), and Ge`rard snatched the other end, initiating a friendly match of tug-o-Creed.

In a burst of unsportsmanlike behavior, I used the coatrack like a spear and knocked Sweeney from his feet with a solid hit in the chest. Ge`rard and the table tumbled together. I went for the cabinet Ge`rard had indicated earlier, the one with the special anesthetics. One of those should take Sweeney out. I'd just gotten my hand on what I needed when I heard a slightly familiar voice.


"We haven't had sex yet, have we?"

Ge`rard's reaction throw Creed and the table he was still bound to across the room. Unfortunately, I was across the room and the impact knocked me into the wall. I looked at Creed, who didn't look too happy or too healthy just now. "Oh, you're back. Great timing." I fished for the bottle, but it was shattered. "Believe it or not, Big Guy, we're on your side now. Just keep down."

He didn't have much choice, of course.

Sweeney had picked up the coatrack I'd given him (albeit forcefully) earlier and was using it to defend himself against Suehprom's sword. It looked ridiculous, but Sweeney wasn't losing ground. Creed, who must have been watching this, offered his help. "If one of you amateurs wants to untie me, I'd be glad to take care of this asshole." No one took him up on it.

Steed came out of the phone booth then, with the Doctor and that robot dog in tow. He did something strange, not like the magic I'd seen, but considerably more powerful. And Sweeney was trapped by it, contained as if in a shell. The ring on his hand was glowing like a red-hot poker, and he looked like he wouldn't hold out long. Ge`rard dropped a hand on Steed's shoulder and 'not long' became 'no longer'. I've heard the sound of a body being pulped before, and I didn't need the recap. It wasn't as messy as an industrial press, but that sort of thing is never attractive.

Somehow, the ring survived. Steed picked it up very carefully, stored it away. I would have protested, but I was still a guest and I didn't think LAPD's jurisdiction included this place.

So while the others headed back into the phone booth to clean up (except Ge`rard, Steed and some castle staff, who started cleaning up the infirmary itself), I had a chat with Creed. Except he didn't really know his name was Creed and he didn't remember how he got to LA and he wasn't entirely clear on what he'd done running away from LA. Someone must have messed with this boy's head something fierce. I had a feeling that someone had four legs and black fur, but I wasn't going to offer that explanation just now.

One of Swarm's bugs flew up and tried to crawl into Creed's ear. Any idea that the two were prior acquaintances faded when Creed turned his head and smacked hard into the table, pulping the bug. Curious, I kept the remains in an evidence bag. Could come in handy.

That was when Swarm and the rest of the quartet from Chaos came up of the booth's door. Steed played diplomat for a second (he seems good at that), and told them we did, indeed, have Creed but hadn't identified him until just now. He'd arrived hurt and were helping him to recover from his injuries. A nice, friendly explanation. I hoped they didn't discover I was the cause of some of his injuries, because they didn't seem friendly to Creed's enemies.

Instead, the came over to Creed's bed and bowed. They introduced themselves as the Honor Guard of House Shakar. Smiling Jenny, Swarm, Dog and Necros. Actually, Swarm wasn't talking now... I guess losing so many bugs had rattled him a bit. Jenny was their mouthpiece now, which made things a lot friendlier. They said they were here to take Creed to Chaos. I said he was too hurt, he'd need time to heal. Necros offered to heal him with magic, and Ge`rard simply shrugged. I guess he cared a little less for his patient when he was identified as one of the 'enemy camp'. So I dropped my protest, and Jenny smiled at me (she did that a lot, which I guess explains the name). "I like him. He's smart." I felt so much better at that judgment.

We talked a bit about Creed's memory, which Necros' magic hadn't helped. Suehprom offered the idea that the Pattern was said to restore one's memory when walked, but none of the Chaosians seemed keen on the idea. Probably wise, since Steed had mentioned earlier that people not of the Amber royal family would end up dead if they tried that trick. And since these four announced Creed was somewhere between eighth and first in line for Chaos' throne, his bloodline didn't seem in question.

Mine still was. Very much in question. And since I wanted to find out what had brought Creed to LA, if just for my own curiosity, I volunteered to go along with him. Maybe I'd find something out along the way.

Creed complained that he was hungry, so Smiling Jenny offered him a lollipop. She said it was turkey flavored. Kids in Chaos have strange taste, I guess.

Anyway, I went with the quartet to get Creed cleaned up. While he bathed, they filled us both in on the details of the succession fight. I've got notes, I won't include them here. But it was a mess and I didn't find Creed's claim any better than anyone else's they mentioned. But I did find an answer for why Swarm had been so hostile when Steed mentioned friends in House Swavil; apparently, Swavil's got their own man for the throne, a significant rival named Merlin, and one with closer ties to Amber than most of Chaos. This was starting to feel like the tangled family mess of European aristocracy. Or, I guess, the tangled mess I'd hated in history classes was just a 'shadow' of this. I didn't want to think about that.

Creed got himself dressed and asked for a sword. Necros did something magic-like that made my stomach twist a little, but produced a sword. Nice trick, that. Now that Creed felt fully dressed, we went to dinner. The others were already there.

It all was fairly polite, if a little tense. The Chaos quartet wanted to be gone, but Creed wanted a real meal (I guess the turkey lollipop didn't please his palette) so we waited. And chatted. He asked about the woman who had met us in the trenches, said he didn't make a good impression at the time. I had to agree, but she wasn't around. Steed called her 'mother,' though, so I've got one relationship pinned down. Except that he looked older than her.

Anyway, as dinner got along, Steed tried to describe Amber's nightlife. Apparently, the city around the castle has its best attraction in a sleazy wharf-side restaurant that changes names every time an entrepreneur kills the current owner to take charge. I said someone needed to invent cable TV for this place.

I found a chance to ask about my pistol, and was told it definitely wouldn't work in Amber. Guns don't work there, they said. Then King Random added "Our guns work. Yours don't." I didn't like the sound of that, but wasn't in a position to protest.

After dinner, we started our way to Chaos. On horseback. I was going to hate this in the morning, I could already tell. We were deep in the forest when I asked for a break. We were approached by a tall man in white armor while we rested. He introduced himself as Prince Julian, guardian of Forest Arden. I'd heard him mentioned before, so I knew it was true. He offered us an escort through his forest and it was clearly not for our protection. Can't say I grew to like him much in those few minutes.

Anyway, we spent a few more painful hours on horseback before calling it a night. The forest had changed too quickly to be natural, actually going from summer to spring then to autumn as we rode, so I assumed we were doing something like what Steed had called 'hellriding'. I'm not sure I like it.

"Is there some way to get to Chaos by car?" I asked.

Jenny smiled. "Most of the way. But it's not as fast."

So I suffered.

Once we were encamped, we relaxed a bit. Jenny asked about me, I told her a little. She recognized some. "You're from LA?" she said. "They have neat riots there!" So her taste in lollipops isn't the only thing that's a little strange.

Once they knew I was a cop, they made sure I agreed not to arrest Creed (I'll admit, it was at best a remote possibility I could manage it), then the big man himself spoke up. He wanted to go hunting. I didn't want him running off, so I asked to join in. Necros turned my stomach with a bit more object-creation (or maybe this was that 'Logrus' power Steed had described... I should ask.) and gave us both bows. I'd never used a bow outside summer camp, but I hadn't ridden since then either. Except for a few abrasions on my inner wrist, I didn't do badly.

And Creed and I didn't try to kill one another.

I hoped that was a new trend.

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