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Scout Carter's Journal

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Scout Carter's Journal - Part 3

Case File X257-5

Report by Detective Scout Carter

"Hmmm... This is bizarre."

I hadn't known him all that long, but I knew when the Doctor said something like that, he was quite likely to be right. And I was sure things were equally likely to not be very quiet as we figured out how bizarre it was. We were on our way back to Time Beach, and the screens showed we were there. But the Doctor insisted we were really somewhere else. He said something about "negative coordinates" that he seemed to believe explained everything (a lot he knows), then muttered a bit and played with the control panel.

Suehprom proved to be the one with initiative this time. He stuck his head out the TARDIS door and took a look around. A moment later, he reported that we were on the limb of a huge tree. I asked how far up, he shrugged his shoulders. "Can't see the forest for the trees. It's a long way down."

I asked the Doctor if he really thought there was a problem. He said there's always a problem when he arrives, which I guess means I've made a bad choice in travel companions. Call me boring, but I like quiet days now and then.

I decided to join in the scouting party, and found the limb reasonably easy to walk along. This tree was huge, as were those around us. Their branches were grown into a tangle, making navigation easy, if not all that useful. If there was ground below, it was too far away to see.

We debated our next step. Suehprom and Morganth seemed to want to go up, to see what they could find past the tops of the tree. Corwin, Blazer and I preferred heading down, hopefully to find solid ground and a way through the forest. After all, what would you see above except, most likely, the tops of more trees?

So we split up.

The local fauna started coming back as we made our gradual way down the tree. Apparently our arrival had startled the bugs and birds, but they didn't take long to get used to us. I hoped none of them had a taste for flesh, but we did avoid any sign of larger creatures. Corwin seemed good at this sort of thing as he had proven to be at many others. Of course, he's had a lot of time to practice.

Blazer, meanwhile, was using magic to float from level to level, saving himself a lot of work and sweat. Of course, it isn't often one gets to play Tartan in a place where the trees dwarf the redwoods, so I didn't envy him missing the chance. But I did glance back just in time to see him vanish in a familiar rainbow effect. I looked toward Corwin.

"Trumps work here," he said. "Pattern, too." The latter didn't say much to me personally, except remind me again of the family power. The one Random had assured me I had a claim on, somehow. If I got back to Amber (and wasn't spending all my time there in the infirmary), I would have to see what I can do about claiming that...

"The trunks are getting wider. I'd guess twenty minutes more to the ground. If it is ground." I don't know how he estimated that, but he certainly knew more about woods than I did.

"I hope it's ground," I said. "It's hard to walk on water."

"Done that once," he said, without any hint that it was a joke. I hope it was, though.

Suddenly, the altar-stone in my pocket started mumbling again. I'd started to recognize the difference between a warning-mumble and a directing-mumble. This was warning. And I heard branches breaking above us to give me a hint to direction. Corwin was already moving clear, so I joined him.

A huge pink and purple ball of yarn, snagged with uncountable branches and leaves, thundered past us, loose bits streaming in its wake. Strange. Probably not a natural phenomena. If it was, Charlie Forte would have loved this world.

"Whose do you thing that was?" I asked Corwin.

"Too big to be Suehprom. I'd warned Morganth about magic in strange Shadows..."

We were about to continue the climb when Corwin noticed I didn't appear armed. I had my pistol, but we didn't know if it would work. I'd lost the black sword at our last stop. He offered me a dagger and I took it. Then we continued down.

I suddenly felt the first hints of a Trump call. Not wanting to disappear like Blazer had done, I stopped in place and concentrated on holding it off. Corwin noticed, put a hand on my shoulder. The call was gone pretty quickly after that.

There was a faint rumbling from above. Not like thunder or anything else I recognized. "Hope they didn't just drop something else."

"We should move over a couple trees." Corwin was always quick to see the right thing to do.

It wasn't long after that when we reached the bottom. The ground was muddy and treacherous, so it almost looked like our trek down was wasted. We couldn't get far in this bog. But Corwin said we'd find what we needed behind the next tree, and indeed we did. A small plant with leaves large and firm enough to serve as improvised "swamp shoes". Interesting. I guess that's part of the array of tricks the Pattern lets him work with reality.

The stone was pointing pretty clearly in one direction and not warning at all, so that was likely the best way to go. I mean, we didn't have anything else to give us an initial direction, so any one was just as good as another.

That was when we heard Suehprom's voice echoing down from above. "Come back!" He must've had a bullhorn or something. Anyway, the walk and climb back wasn't appealing so I dug out the Trump the Doctor had made for us. It took a while to get an answer, but Corwin helped and there we were.

"So what's happened?"

"Lots of things. Watch out for the infinite yarn, by the way."

We'd noticed it, I told him. Then he told us about Morganth having vanished. And we told him Blazer had as well. He agreed to come along with us, but since we didn't quite trust Trumps with as hard to keep as the contact was, we just made enough noise to allow him to locate us. He'd grown himself some climbing claws so his speed was considerably batter than ours. We'd only made a little more progress, sloshing along on leaf-shoes, when he caught up with us. Corwin asked why he'd wanted us back, he said it was to warn us of the yarn and Morganth's disappearance. He said Trump hadn't worked, only getting him some off mumbling. I thought that was interesting, especially since the sounds he described were, basically, those I heard from the stone. File that one for later.

Corwin pulled out a Trump of the Doctor, made sure everything was still all right there. He said it was, so we went on our way. A way that led us, after a good bit more sloshing, to a castle that looked to be made of mirrors. It was centered in a near-opening (that is, a clearing in the tree trunks but the sky was still mostly hidden by higher branches). "Fancy place," I said. "Their polishing bill must be ridiculous."

We approached the castle. Suehprom offered use of his bullhorn (he must have borrowed it from the Doctor, who seems to have a few of everything in the TARDIS), but Corwin said he rarely bothered announcing himself. Probably made sense.

The stone warned us as we approached, and when I passed word to the others, Corwin said "I'm thinking moat monster. Under the bog."

I drew my pistol. "This work here?"

"Try it if you're desperate."

Big help he was. Or, to be honest, that's being over-critical. He was a lot of help, he just didn't know everything. How could he know if the gun would work without trying it? And I wasn't in for wasting a round.

Corwin turned to us with a smile. "I think they made a tactical error." He walked to a nearby tree (one of the less towering examples of the sort), then, and slashed his sword through its trunk. A quick push and it fell to rest crossing the suspicious area of the bog. That'll save us a lot of worry. We crossed it, then up a convenient branch into a window. Doors aren't nearly as safe when you aren't announced, I guess.

The castle was stone inside, but still decorated with a lot of mirrors. This seemed to worry Suehprom, but he didn't let on exactly why. Someone here was lacking in a broad architectural vision. I said as much.

"No traps," said Corwin, being quite practical, "So far. Must be doing something right."

At his advice, we headed down, under the assumption that the only two places of interest in a castle are the highest tower and the Grand Hall. The hall was closer. But just as we got there, a voice greeted us. Male, rich tones, not immediately threatening...

"Come in, Brother."

Suehprom looked at Corwin right away. Good thing, because I had nothing to add. "Recognize him?"

"Not for a lot of time. Everyone it could be is dead."

That sounded bad. And, as if to counterpoint this, the stone started screaming warning.

"Something's wrong," I whispered to the other. Corwin nodded.

"Why don't you come out here instead?"

I was already backing away, toward the stairs. The stone was screaming like a siren.

A man stepped out of the hall. He was apparently unarmed but wore a lot of rings. I remembered Sweeney and was suddenly not at all comforted by his apparent lack of weapons.

"Hello. I don't believe we've met." I couldn't believe Suehprom was so calm. But, then, he couldn't hear the stone's bellowed warning.

"I am Delwin."

And then the castle shattered.

Along with everything else.

I came to expecting to be in Castle Amber's infirmary. It had, after all, become my home-away-from-home.

Instead, I found myself somewhere far more familiar, except usually seen from the other side of the tiny window in the door. And usually without the somewhat restrictive and tight fit of a straight jacket. This I wasn't ready for. Did it mean...

There was a man barking somewhere. Looking out the window, I saw he was just down the hall. And an orderly was approaching my room. I got myself back onto my bed before he looked in.

"Scott? Time for your group session. You need help up?"

Scott? Not quite... But I was willing to play along. And to let him help.

He went to two more rooms, retrieving two women, both also jacketed like I was. One was Kesä, the other... Blazer? Last time I'd looked, he'd been significantly less feminine. The orderlies called Kesä "KC" and Blazer "Linda." I was starting to have some doubts, except that I remembered how hospitals like this really work. This was a lot more like a high-quality Hollywood version than the real thing. The guards weren't nearly careful enough around people dangerous enough to be jacketed, for one.

When we got to the group room (which was equally stereotypical... maybe whoever arranged this didn't remember that I used to do this from the doctor's side), Kat and Suehprom were waiting, in normal hospital clothes. Only they were "Catherine" and "Michael." And Creed was rolled in on a "Silence of the Lambs" style hand-truck. If I had any doubts, that did away with them. You didn't put people that dangerous in Group.

"Say, what happened to... Cory?" Suehprom... Michael seemed to have gotten into the act.

One of the orderlies answered him "Carl? He was moved out after the lobotomy. Remember?" Put that down as another slip. "Lobotomies" are not something you remind patients about as you're starting Group. Not if you want any kind of cooperation.

Anyway, it was about then that the doctor arrived. Not the Doctor as in our recent traveling companion, but the doctor as in the one who'd be leading this little play at Group Therapy. She was dressed in street clothes, fairly stylish, had blonde hair and was quite pretty, in a carefully professional way. She was better at acting her part than this place had been and quickly reminded me of several teacher's I'd had. The better ones.

"Good afternoon," she began. "Are we ready for the session?"

"What was your name again?" Blazer/Linda asked.

"I don't remember amnesia on your chart, Linda... I'm Doctor Sandra Dream."

No bells there. I didn't recognize her at all, but I'm still meeting all the people who might do something like this. Like that Delwin man we'd gotten a glimpse of before the big bang...

Doctor Dream tried to start the Group, but didn't do all that well. Kat/Catherine wasn't cooperative, Blazer/Linda said she was happy to have killed her husband (note... I do need to find a better class of friend), Creed made some rumblings about how he'd never be let go. Creed was the same here, though Dr. Dream called him "Victor Creed". They chatted about honesty and not killing people. Kesä/KC was castigated for trying to escape, Suehprom/Michael reported he'd gotten a good night's sleep and then she turned to me.

She asked if I'd had any UFO or monster problems recently. She even made a point to remind me that Victor Creed was just an ordinary sociopathic killer not a monster cyborg. Guess I had an even flakier reputation here than with the LAPD. Or someone had read Timmers's accounts of my cases. He always was an asshole. I didn't say anything, just nodded. Like everyone else, playing along struck me as a good plan. Or I hoped everyone else was just playing along. I knew this was a crock, but maybe they weren't quite as exposed to abnormal psychology as I was...

Dr. Dream decided to move into some more traditional topics then. She said she wanted to develop trust so she was going to have us all share a secret. Sounds nice and feel-good, doesn't it? If I'd done it, it would have been to get an additional clue toward what whichever patient I actually cared about had done. Dream didn't seem to have a serious goal, but she played her cards close...

Blazer/Linda told us she was really a man. Big secret there.

Kesä/KC said she once tried to make freckle juice. Ho, boy, what a waste of time this was...

Creed said he hadn't done all the horrible things we thought he had. Just who he thought he was kidding, I don't know.

Kat/Catherine said she'd once dared a friend to eat fried worms. Kesä and Kat have more in common than spelling quirks and odd taste in friends.

Suehprom/Michael said he'd had a dream that Creed had blown up the universe. I wonder how he'd worked that out, because I hadn't seen a clue...

Turns out he might have been close to right, though, because Creed spoke up right away. He insisted he hadn't blown up the universe, he'd blown up the TARDIS and it had blown up the universe. If I was acting as a doctor, I'd call it a classic dislocation. As it was, I suspected he was telling the truth and, as usual, refusing to take anything like responsibility for his actions. I was dead certain now that he had been raised a Prince of Chaos. I could imagine no other way to get quite that spoiled.

Dr. Dream picked up on "the Doctor" and asked "Victor" if he still believed there was a Doctor Who person.

"Not any more," he said.

Creed, Suehprom/Michael and Blazer/Linda all admitted to sharing the same dream. This wasn't going to help us look any more sane if Dr. Dream wasn't in on the scam. I decided it was time to test a more serious tact.

"I wanted to be a cop," I said.

"Until you were abducted by aliens," Kat/Catherine added, spoiling the mood. That was going to make learning anything tougher.

Dr. Dream decided on a confrontational response to my offer, told me about how I had acted like a cop, how I'd shot a woman I though was alien possessed. Sounded like the Martindale case, but it had been the woman who'd been convinced she was alien possessed. I hadn't believed her for a minute.

Having circled the room with "share a secret", Dr. Dream decided to try a new party game. Now we were all going to say something we were sorry for. This therapy method wasn't impressing me one bit.

Blazer/Linda was angry she got asked first, then decided she was sorry she "hadn't killed the bastard sooner." There's how you make friends and influence people.

Kat/Catherine was sorry "for taking the pills last week." The good doctor had mentioned her suicide attempt earlier, but I think the method was just a guess on her part. Well played, Kat, even if your joke earlier had ruined my attempt to get some clues.

Creed was sorry for killing his step-brother, but only because that got him kicked out of the house. Somehow, I'm still not sure that wasn't the first 100% true thing I'd heard him say.

And me? I was about to answer when "Victor" cut me off. "He's sorry he ever followed me through Shadow." Dr. Dream didn't react, which either meant she'd heard the Amber/Shadow story before or was trying not to let on it was true. No cards shown there.

"No... I'm sorry I didn't study harder. Shouldn't have let myself get distracted..." There. I'd introduce the fact that I had studied psychology without being explicit. Another chance and I'd press things a little further, see what I could find out...

Suehprom/Michael was still into jokes. He said he was sorry for meeting Creed and would be scarred for life.

Kesä/KC was sorry she'd kicked over an anthill when she was a kid, but that it had made her a more pacifistic person so she was really sorry she hadn't smacked the boys she'd found pulling wings off flies. Charming girl. Offensive pacifism. Still, if I ever have to pick one of Creed's apparent allies to try to talk sense with, it'd probably be her.

The doctor closed the session then, told us we'd talk again next week. Creed made a fuss about the guards, complained of mistreatment. His "victim" act was really getting on my nerves.

Anyway, it was time for us all to go outside, get some air. So we did, fairly well guarded (Creed was still on the cart). That's where we saw the signs for the Amber Hills Mental Hospital of Providence, Massachusetts. Last time I checked, Providence was in Rhode Island... And I wasn't any crazier than my geography lessons.

We all walked around a bit (except Creed, of course). Kat/Catherine climbed a tree, which upset the guards. Kesä/KC and Suehprom/Michael started doing some exercises. I talked with Doctor Dream. I brought up my training, said I knew what she was looking for, so how could she know I wasn't faking it? She didn't have an answer, which was a good sign. Real doctors never do, because there isn't a good answer. "Sane" is anything but a well-defined term.

That was when the window started to shimmer and the tentacle appeared. I didn't react, but I cut off my chat with the fair doctor to chat with Suehprom/Michael. I knew he'd been with me when we met Delwin, but didn't have any idea what had happened since. He told me a little about Delwin (a lost older brother of the Amber royal family, presumed dead for some time), but nothing helpful. During that time, Kat, Kesä and Blazer all noticed the tentacle and raised a stink. About the same time, the tentacle surprised me by snatching Doctor Dream. She surprised me even more by pulling a dagger she'd had secreted on her person by way of reaction. If I'd been entertaining any doubts as to my sanity, they were banished now.

The guards and orderlies had become totally immobile, which meant it was time to check out of Amber Hills, Suehprom and I headed for Dr. Dream. "You need help, Doctor?" he asked. She still had sufficient calm to simply answer the obvious "Yes." I like her and I hope she had a good explanation for putting us through this. We'll have to ask once we're away from here.

I started trying to pull at my jacket, rip the cloth without dislocating my shoulders. Creed was already freeing himself from the cart and attacking the paralyzed guards. So very much like Creed.

Suehprom and I got to Doctor Dream and he gave her his Trumps, then called me closer to help. I got to hear her parting words before the tentacle pulled us through the window that was its origin.

"I hope we meet again. I have so much to tell you, son." For a moment, I'd hoped she was talking to me. But she wasn't. Suehprom met her gaze for a heartbeat and I was freed from any Oedipal guilt trips.

And suddenly, it was dark.

And then I was in a house. A familiar house. The stone hummed danger from my pocket, my pistol was in my hand quickly. Because I knew this place. Quadruple murder, I was first on the scene. Once I went upstairs and saw the bodies, I'd head back down and be ambushed. A replay of that didn't interest me, so I turned just before he came up behind me, fired.

I hit him twice but, as happens far too often, he decided not to let that slow him down much. He charged me, but I dodged, sending him tumbling down the stairs. But he was on his feet as I closed, threatening me with a length of phone cord used as a garrote. I found I had Corwin's dagger in my pocket, which made quick work of his weapon. Not wanting to face hysterical strength up close and personal, I threw the blade at him. Hit, but he just turned and ran off.

I followed, only to have him return the favor. I blocked instinctively, took the blade through my hand. Knowing that if I didn't ignore the pain for a moment, I'd never have another chance, I pulled the blade free, threw it at him again, more forcefully this time. He tried to imitate me and the dagger pierced his hand. And his forehead.

I found something to wrap my hand, then searched my pockets for my Trumps. I tried to reach Suehprom and failed. So who next? Corwin seemed like a good idea. There was a contact...

"Been so long," he said. He sounded bad. I couldn't specify how, but tired, hurt...

"Pull me through."

So I did. And he looked worse than I'd expected. He was thin. Unwashed. His hair was long, his beard untrimmed. And his eyes... It looked like someone had driven a red-hot poker into his face twice. Turns out, someone had.

"I did it," he said and even though I was holding him upright he seemed overjoyed. "I prevented Patternfall. Killed Brand."

He seemed to assume I knew what that meant. I didn't. "So what does that do?"

"Things have changed. Eric didn't die. I came back sooner." He explained more. It wasn't a full story, just bits. He'd appeared back in his own past, just as I had except a couple hundred years back. He used the chance to return to Amber early (he didn't explain why he was gone) and kill Brand, a brother who apparently had some less than friendly plans for the family. He was locked up for fratricide rather than hailed as a hero and, eventually, when a brother who didn't quite like him took over, he was blinded. As he said it "Was blinded anyway. Hate that. Things are going different this time, though."

"I can imagine. But the only problem I had was fewer bullets." We can both not quite explain things, and we're both polite enough to not badger one another for explanations.

"I'd kill for a Big Mac," he said.

"I've got some cash. You won't need to."

I took him to a not-so-nice Chinese place where they know me and don't ask questions(right now, I would have trouble explaining the hole in my hand, let alone the emaciated blind man). After all, if you're going to kill for food, it should be something worth the effort.


Case File X257-6

Report by Detective Scout Carter

So Corwin and I ate Chinese. He ate quite a bit, actually, and probably hid nearly as much about his person before we left. I guess "all you can eat" buffets aren't used to men who've spent a few years in a cell without much by way of food, because we got more than our share of unusual looks. And a quick pair of sunglasses picked up on the street had done wonders for Corwin's appearance, hiding those eyes. Of course, his hair and beard were still shouting "homeless bum", and my slightly bloodstained trenchcoat and roughly-bandaged hand didn't help matters... But we ate in relative peace, with him finding time to fill me in on the events both in the original and the changed timelines between mouthfuls. All about his attempts for the throne of Amber and Eric's failure to hold it, except now he wasn't failing and Corwin was blind sooner than expected. Then we returned to my apartment.

Corwin decided on a shower and I helped him to the bathroom. Then I spent time checking my messages, which consisted of Timmers telling me about the body of the killer I'd just dealt with (as if I hadn't known he was there), about the paperwork he had waiting for me, about how I was fired but still had to do the paperwork, about how one more case had shown up then I'd clear out my desk and finally about the Ormanti case, which was just starting for him. I checked my pocket and the stone was already there. I thought it might be interesting to see if the cultists had a second one, but decided against it. After all, Corwin certainly had some plans, though he wasn't about to share them with me.

We decided to call on either Random of Flora, the former because Corwin seemed willing to offer him at least a little trust (though from what he said, Random must have changed a lot between now and when I met him) and the former because, according to Corwin, she also lived on Earth. In New York. Interesting...

He made a phone call. He called her "Evelyn" to whoever answered, but it seems they all have aliases on different Shadows. In fact, if some hints I'd heard were true, this family was the basis for a lot of legends in a lot of places... I didn't want to consider what that meant for me as a member. I've never thought of myself as a legendary anything.

"Hello, Flora. I'm sure you're a sight for sore eyes." Ouch. Seems he was just as bitter as he should be about his imprisonment. "I'm sure you'll report everything to Eric. But my situation is better than it looks." He almost smiled. I don't think I want to see that smile from him all that often. "I'll keep an eye out for you."

Corwin hung up the phone turned back toward me (he seemed to get around pretty good for lacking eyes, and maintained at least the appearance of looking at the person he was talking to). "So..."

"So," I finished for him, "a trip to New York? I think I can scrape things together."

I managed to find him some clothes (mine fit him, but only because he'd lost a good number of pounds recently) and better sunglasses. Then I packed my own things, including putting my pistol in a properly-marked case. I booked tickets by phone, then we taxied to the airport and were off. I had a twinge of worry about how this would affect my finances, then remembered I probably wouldn't be back here very often. And I'm sure I could arrange to return with something that would deal with any debts I'd incurred. Amber makes a nice "long lost rich uncle" to deal with any credit problems.

Somewhere over Utah, Corwin reached out sharply and crushed something in the air near us. He held up a few shattered bits. I didn't recognize anything it might have been, nor did he. But I told him I hadn't gotten a danger warning, at which he snorted something about not trusting toys too much. I'll have to remember that.

That was when the flight attendants came out and started repeating the safety briefing. Which meant something was wrong. Before I could try to discover what, something about the size of a golf ball appeared near us, holding what looked like a Trump. I turned it around, and it was the Doctor's picture. And, very quickly, also his voice.

"Scout? You're in danger. Come through."

I let Corwin in on the warning, and he joined me going through. On the other side, we found ourselves in the TARDIS along with the Doctor, Kat and Kesä. Interesting company he's keeping, given that last time I'd seen these two outside Dr. Dream's group therapy, they were trying to kill the Doctor. And me.

"The future of the universe is gone, Scout." The Doctor really has a gift for summing a problem up quickly. That certainly got my attention. He explained how the destruction of the TARDIS had, somehow, destroyed everything forward of that point in time, sending us all backwards along the time stream. Now, in order to fix things, we had to get everyone who was there together again (something about balancing out some kind of temporal energies... I get the feeling the Doctor is making up words to explain things he understands but language doesn't quite contain). That sounded ugly. The said we'd need Blazer, Suehprom and Swarm. Apparently they'd brought Blazer and Swarm with them when they'd attacked the TARDIS (the former as a prisoner, it sounded like).

I mentioned we'd need Delwin as well if that was the case. Kesä had heard of him, apparently, but not out of the company of someone named Sand. His sister, apparently. More family members. But the name "Sand" stuck to something in my memory. Dr. Dream's first name was "Sandra"... Maybe a coincidence, but hadn't she claimed to be Suehprom's mother? It could explain a few things, but it opened a lot more questions.

I also mentioned I was worried about getting Creed to help, given his uncooperative habits. They said he was already here, going along willingly. I took their word for it, but made a note to watch my back. And keep alert for warnings from the stone.

Between Kesä and the Doctor, they managed to do something for Corwin to restore at least most of his eyesight. I must be getting jaded to all this sort of thing, because re-growing eyes wasn't nearly the shock it should have been.

The TARDIS arrived somewhere, I guess where we were supposed to find Suehprom, because there he was. Except Flora was holding a knife to his throat. The Doctor and Corwin managed to convince her to let him go. But something struck me as odd. Flora seemed surprised to see Corwin here even though he'd called her just a while before, said he'd be coming. Then Suehprom asked me why I hadn't answered his Trump calls, and I said I hadn't gotten any recently. The Doctor helped solve this one, though. He said we were eight years behind when we'd been to pick Corwin and I up. Which explained a strange headache I'd gotten during a drug raid about eight years back... I don't think I like time travel one bit.

Now that Suehprom was here, I brought up Sand/Dr. Dream again. A quick study of family Trump Decks confirmed that they were the same person, which didn't answer much. Suehprom told everyone he'd given her his Trump deck just before we'd been separated by the tentacle. He didn't volunteer a good reason why, but it didn't sound like a dangerous thing to have done, so we let it drop.

That was about the time the Doctor brought Creed in. Corwin and he agreed not to kill each other. "For now" they simultaneously added. I didn't want to be around when that truce was broken.

We discussed plans again. Kat seemed obsessed on returning to a time a few minutes before the explosion and subduing herself. The Doctor explained precision wasn't possible with the 'temporal stress' in the area (whatever that means), but Kat was persistent. I think she's planning something. She also made an effort to convince to Doctor to give her back the Black Dagger. He's no dummy, so he refused. Two strikes against her, so I mentally wrote her up as another person to keep an eye on. And a more pleasant duty than keeping an eye on Creed, to say the least.

We tried for Swarm then, and found him in a strange place. Looking at it through the view-screen made my head hurt. None of the angles were right and gravity looked to be more a suggestion than a law. Kat used some sort of mind-trick to force our buggy friend into the TARDIS. She sat him in a corner and we moved on. I guess not everyone gets to pet until their arm falls off. I'll have to consider myself lucky.

We went after Blazer next, and found ourselves in Castle Amber's throne room. I hadn't seen the throne room before (I'd been too busy memorizing the infirmary), but I recognized the man on the throne from the Trumps. Eric. The Doctor his a button and we were out in a hurry. After a brief discussion, we headed back, this time to Brand's room. It was Corwin's suggestion, probably because he knew Brand was dead and, thus, the room was likely unoccupied. He was right on the last count, at least.

We made a plan, one that involved Corwin and Creed running a distraction while Suehprom, the Doctor and I got Blazer back, using the stone as a guide and Kesä as an emergency bug-out via Trump. The Doctor took Corwin and I to a storeroom and Corwin doctored up a pistol with some odd pink powder instead of gunpowder. He assured me it would work. But said not to use it unless I had to and not to let Creed know it worked. The latter seemed quite wise.

The stone led us to a drawing room, but warned of danger inside. Good call, that. Inside was Eric and a beaten-up Blazer. The Doctor tried to get him released, but couldn't quite explain why (I think he was worried about changing the past any more than necessary). Eric played it cagily, trying to trade Blazer for the TARDIS (he had seen it before we'd panic-buttoned our way out), then knocked the Doctor out when he tried to get physical (I have no idea why he did that). I stepped in to change the odds a bit. I held my pistol, covering Eric.

He laughed. "This is Amber. That won't work." I smiled, raised the barrel and put a bullet into the over-decorated ceiling. He stopped smiling as I covered him again.

Suehprom was still in the hall and tried to act like a guard, telling Eric about an alarm, about Corwin. Eric didn't buy it, except that it let him know Corwin was involved. He asked me how much Corwin was paying, offered me more. I said I didn't work that way, and just wanted Blazer and the Doctor. Eric offered to let me have Blazer in exchange for the Doctor. That we could do, since I was sure we could get the Doctor back with a Trump. But Suehprom decided now was a good time to step in and act like a guard again, holding a crossbow pointed at me.

Eric didn't buy the guard act this time either, and Suehprom quickly turned his crossbow onto the king. I told him to get Blazer and the Doctor, I'd cover Eric, but he refused. I guess Eric has quite a reputation if he frightens people even when he's caught dead to rights. Still, I didn't want to shoot him unless I had to.

Then he vanished. Trump. I didn't have any idea who was on the other end, but I knew we had to hurry. We snatched the Doctor and Blazer and I called for Kesä. Nothing.

"Shit. Run for it."

We carried our two injured friends back to the TARDIS and woke the Doctor while Kat Trumped Corwin and Creed back. Kesä was gone, but the Doctor Trumped her back, asking where she'd been.

"Buying our time," was her only answer and I knew better than to trust that. Eric was a deal maker and I think she'd been made. Damn, I'd hoped I could trust one of that trio this time. All were on the danger list now.

We still had to get Delwin (Morganth, we'd decided, wasn't needed as he'd vanished before the explosion). Except finding him was beyond the TARDIS ability. Corwin suggested we use the Pattern in Tir-na Nog'th, the reflection of Amber in the moonlit sky. A reflection that existed only on clear nights and vanished at dawn or if clouds obscured the moon.

Somehow, it didn't strike me as a vacation paradise.

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