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Scout Carter's Journal

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Scout Carter's Journal - Part 5

Case File X257-9

Report by Detective Scout Carter

The Doctor invited us all to raid his stores for anything we needed. I found a couple of pistols, one for conventional rounds, one for the few special Amber rounds Corwin had given me. I didn't know if either would work in Chaos, so I also found a sword and a quiver of arrows to go with Suehprom's bow. Just as a test, I thanked him for the good work making it and, without missing a beat, he said I was welcome. An interesting response, given that he should remember the act involved. Like I said, he isn't much of an actor..

The TARDIS view-screen was uncooperative in Chaos. The Doctor took that in stride, and I'd determined to accept his opinion on that sort of phenomena. At least until I had a better from which to object.

"This is as good a place to start as any," Oberon told us, which was not met with too much complaint. Unlike his next statement "I will stay here and make sure certain powers do not interfere." Lots of people weren't happy with that, but I wasn't among them. Less time around His Majesty was less chances to rouse his famous temper. Corwin didn't seem all that upset either. He's another one I've found it reasonable to accept opinions from in the absence of other data.

So out we went, into the wild, vile depths of Chaos.

Or, more properly, into a peaceful green field with flowers blooming and birds in a clear blue sky.

"Nice place," I observed. "Doesn't live up to the tourist brochures at all."

Steed led the way, guided (I hoped) by a natural link to his body and the Jewel it carried. I was just wishing that stone was still working, because it was handy to track things. No luck. Creed, Deirdre (back to the armor and ax look) and I took up places behind him. Just why I was there, I wasn't sure. But the others seemed happier with me there, so they must think I actually know how to use swords by now. I hope they aren't that easy to fool about everything.

Well, to keep things short, I quickly learned that Chaos did live up to its initial hype despite the peaceful green field welcome mat. It seems that Shadow is quite thin here and it's simply a matter of walking to the right place to slip from one to another. Another that can be quite entirely different. Steed led us past castles made of piled skulls, hells straight out of painter's excesses and other places I'm happier not bringing back to my memory. There were nicer places as well, but few and far between. If this is the sort of place Creed and Suehprom call home, I can understand why they're so anti-social and/or unpredictable.

Along the way, I decided to check out the stone again. Just to be sure it was still out. The crack was definitely glowing now, but still didn't seem threatening. There wasn't time to be more curious now just then, though.

We finally came to what Steed insisted was the right Shadow. A rather frightening place with a red sky full of bat-winged things. They called to one another like angry seagulls, but I tried not to listen to carefully to just what they were calling. In front of is was a huge garden, large enough that it drifted off into different Shadows in every direction (in Chaos, Shadows are like that... makes it hard to think of them as 'universes' like I had been doing, but I'm trying to learn to be flexible on this sort of concept as time passes). Some of the flowers were familiar, many were not. But they were laid out neatly, obviously with some design. A path of reddish fungus seemed to head off in the direction Steed wanted to go. The gardener had rolled out the red carpet for us.

It was around then that Corwin called me aside. He said he was starting to suspect we weren't really on a mission for Oberon. "He's too nice," he observed.

"Wouldn't ever want to meet the real thing, then."

"You're family. He probably wouldn't kill you."


His plan was to slip away, try to find out what our supposed Oberon was really up to. He needed me to delay things. Not so much that we didn't find the Jewel, but he was in no rush to hand it over to an uncertain keeper. I had to agree, even though I had only the barest hints what that Jewel was so important for. He headed off, and I went back to rejoin the others.

No one asked me where Corwin had gone. I thought that was strangely trusting of them. I hope I would have at least managed to be curious if he had vanished without telling me why.

We came to a gate then, a tallish construction of wrought iron. Except that it was rainbow-colored and shifted hues as we watched it. Kind of disquieting to look at, actually. Creed took the initiative and tried to jump the gate, only to smash into an invisible wall above it. It looked like it should have hurt, but he shrugged it off.

The Doctor tried to pick the lock, and while we were waiting to see how that went, I thought I heard a voice.


That's all it said (at least that's what I think it said), and it was very quiet. No one else seemed to have heard a thing. So I let it go. Not worth raising suspicion over just yet.

Deirdre was the first to tire of the Doctor's effort with the lock. She told him to stand aside and split the iron lock into pieces with one downswing of that ax she carried. The gate swung open easily then.

We were greeted inside by a tornado of flowers. They spun about for a moment, then formed up into a giant rose-shape. Much like a Rose Bowl float, a rose made of hundreds of smaller flowers. But moving, closing back into a bud, then re-opening to show that it now contained a pretty young woman. Black hair, blue eyes. Maybe in her 20s, if even that. She wore a gown of flowers and didn't look entirely real.

"You have entered the real of Lady Dara," she said without quite moving her lips properly. "If you have permission, proceed. If not, proceeding would be quite hazardous." 

The bud closed back up then and didn't re-open. Ahead, there was nothing but a wall of hedges, open to either side. A hedge-maze, then. Wonderful.

"So, does anyone actually know the 'Lady Dara'? Well enough that she won't take offense?"

Steed said he knew a little. Dara was Merlin's mother, a dangerous woman with a lot of connections in Chaos. None of which answered my immediate question.

"So... Right handed maze or left handed maze? You know her well enough to guess?"

"Why not just use the ax?" Creed asked, as he'd been trying to probe the open space above the maze with his sword and had come back with the tip missing. Good thing he didn't try to jump again.

Deirdre took his advice and hacked at the hedge, but it re-grew faster than she could cut it. "Hydra effect. Interesting."

The Doctor drew out a ball of twine so we could backtrack. Probably a good call. Even following a simple right-handed or left-handed path didn't mean we'd be sure to find our way back just by reversing it. I had to remember that familiar geometry didn't apply here.

"If this lady's trouble, I'll lead us right to where she is," Creed said and set off along the left-hand path. I had to agree with him, though I didn't like the implications.

After a long bit of left turns, we found ourselves right back where we started. Not exactly possible, but that's Chaos for you. We tried all right, and got the same result. So now we tried an oscillating pattern. Left, then right, then left. Before long, we'd managed to find the center. I'd love to see a diagram of this place sometime.

"Hold your horses there, I'm coming." The voice sounded tough, but the view wasn't. It was a minotaur all right, but one who'd seen better days. He lounged about in a lawn chair with a half-finished six-pack of what looked to be cheep beer and a few bags of corn chips. "So, what's your business with the Lady Dara?"

Creed took the role of spokesman. I don't recall being offered a vote on it, but he wouldn't have been my choice, I assure you. "We want to talk to her about a missing item."

"I can give you a Trump of her secretary. Hey, don't I know you?"

He'd turned to me, and at that moment, I thought he might be right. But denied it.

"No, I'm sure of it. Didn't look like this, of course. You remember the boy, cut up some 17 year old gal? Wait, lemme jog your memory..."

He started to shift. And then he was quite familiar. I remembered the case, all right. But I didn't want to. It was one of too many dark, bloody memories, even if it was a little more bearable now that it had a full explanation. Still, I can't say I was upset when Creed picked a fight with the demon-minotaur and chopped his head off with one clean stroke. Good riddance to bad rubbish, to quote the cliché.

Deirdre had the Trump it had offered us and was talking to whoever or whatever acted as Dara's secretary.

"We need an appointment with Lady Dara. Now would be nice."

She seemed to have all the subtlety one would expect of someone who used an ax as a weapon, which is to say not much. The Doctor took over after she got frustrated and fairly quickly found acceptable terms with the secretary. He took us all through with the Trump, which left us out at a mock-up of an office straight out of home. I say mock-up because the office was no more than a backdrop behind the secretary's desk with a door to one side and all the other walls just offering nice views of a very deep-looking pit. The Abyss, someone named it. With an emphasis on the definite article I didn't think was a mistake. If I'd learned my cosmology right, this was almost the complete opposite end of reality (whatever that meant) from Amber, the great Nothing that sat opposite the great Everything. Prime real estate for Chaos-types, I'd bet. This Dara was important, then.

She also had a six-armed giant beetle as a bouncer who seemed to want us to drop off our weapons in a big pile or join a stack of decaying corpses in another. In each hand, he held a weapon, from familiar swords to some strange-looking thing that looked like a mesh bag with a thick rim attached to a long chain. I had no idea what that might do, but I didn't want to find out. Apparently Deirdre wasn't impressed, though, because even as most of us were preparing to comply with the beetle's request, she split the big bug in two head to toe with one ax stroke. Corwin's kind of woman, I can tell.

The Doctor wrote something in the appointment book, then gestured toward the door. We unanimously decided to take Deirdre's permission and keep our weapons. With the door opened, we could see a corridor that seemed to stretch on forever. Great. Another obstacle. This Dara woman really did like her privacy.

And dramatic entrances like her floral welcome-mat. This time, she grew up out of the marble floor, taking form and color as she did so. She didn't even get a chance to open her mouth before Creed decided to play spokesman again. I wonder if we'll be able to housebreak him before we go to opposite sides?

"So, where is it?"

"'Where is' what?" Dara asked with complete innocence that I'm fairly certain she hadn't deserved. "Your brain? About three feet below your head, by my guess."

Creed walked on past her then, leaving the rest of us to try to recover Dara's good graces. We'd almost managed that (the Doctor is quite a good negotiator in a pinch) when Creed came back, walking up behind Dara, dropping a hand on her shoulder before laying several quick jabs into her.

Negotiation no longer an option, everyone except Kesä, Blazer and, of course, Creed wove a way around the fighting pair and on along the corridor. No more than a couple hundred yards down, Morganth stooped and said he'd noticed something. A "directional warp".

"Perhaps we should walk through backwards, then," the Doctor offered.

"I think maybe we should just let Morganth get rid of it," I suggested, forgetting my earlier resolution to led the Doctor keep the initiative when things got mighty weird. Unfortunately, he demurred and Morganth got to dispelling. I suppose the warp vanished, but it also took with it something that was holding back a flood of molten rock. Dara really likes her privacy.

I turned and started to run, but then I saw the Doctor jump to the relative safety of the ornate roof of the corridor. Clever. If the lava doesn't fill the hallway bottom to top, that is. But I'd made a mistake not following his advice earlier, so I corrected that by mimicking him. As did Suehprom. And in a few seconds, we were all sure we'd done the wrong thing. The lava wasn't anything like limited, and it was climbing toward us quickly.

"Scout, are these Trumps fireproof?" the Doctor asked me.

"Wouldn't know," I said, trying to get a better grip with one hand so I could use the other to keep my coat from dragging in the lava. Maybe that saved me a second or two. Turns out I had very few to spare. Suehprom was behind me, already shifting form a bit, which didn't seem to help him hold on. A slip and he fell. No help from that quarter, which was no surprise. "You have anything clever yet?"

"I'm working on it," the Doctor said, and I found myself believing him. Even as I watched him hold himself up with one arm and shuffle through Trumps with his free hand. What was he going to do, try to Trump the lava away?

Meanwhile, the heat was starting to get to me. That and the impending certainty of flash-fried death. "Doctor..."

"This should work," he called to me even as he let out his scarf, a small hand attached to it clinging to the roof and scuttling crab-like toward me. "I could use your help, though."

"Nice trick," I said as I tried to focus on the immediate rather than the impending.

"Very handy, yes. Now concentrate on Dara."

Dara? He was a bit overreaching, I think. Why not just get rid of this stuff or call for a rescue? Oh, well, it's his Trumps. And last time I'd questioned his plan we'd ended up... Well, right here. I went along.

Nothing happened. Not for far too long, long enough that the Doctor decided to give up. Looked like this was the end for both of us. Not quite the comfortable-bed-at-a-venerable-age close I'd hoped for. And just when I started to smell my coat start to burn, I felt a Trump call. Hope renewed, I accepted.

It was Steed. He probably had something to say, but I stepped on any socialization. "Pull us through, dammit! Now!" And he did. Good man, Steed. Not that he pulled us too far, since he was just back up the hall, watching the wall of lava roll toward him on one side and Steed and Kesä fight with Dara and someone else I didn't recognize on the other. I let myself be distracted with the act of beating out my coat on the floor. That wouldn't just brush clean, I bet. Now where am I going to carry the rock, crack and all? I pulled it out of the coat pocket, its glow had become a pulsing light now, the crack had widened. And I didn't have time to consider what that meant. Morganth was working magic again, and the lava wall suddenly vaporized, turning the hallway into a Turkish bath, with steam a lot hotter than any of us probably liked. I know I thought it was quite uncomfortable.

For the few instants it lasted, that is. Almost as quickly as it arose, it started to condense into a cooler mist, then drip from everything as a rain, then vanish altogether. I was about to congratulate Morganth on a well done magical rescue when I saw we had another arrival. He looked a lot like the man Kesä had been fighting, but better dressed and far less injured. He wrapped up what I now recognized as some sort of magical gesture, then looked over the crowd in the corridor.

"Steed," he said, apparently recognizing him, "Is one of these chaps with you Creed?"

Steed demurred from answering clearly, but Blazer jumped in and pointed the right man out before the newcomer started making guesses. I had a feeling we'd just met another of Creed's enemies, but old or new I wasn't sure just yet.

"Merlin... So, you want to kill me, too?" Creed was, as ever, cocky as could be imagined. He looked like he'd found quite a fight in Dara, but I knew from experience that he was always ready for more.

"No. I'm here to challenge you to a duel. I think you know the cause."

Given what I now know about Chaos, I can't say the distinction Merlin had just made was all that significant. But at the moment, it seemed at least a momentary gap in the fighting. Merlin, Creed, Steed and the Doctor talked things over for a while, apparently trying to explain to Merlin just what we were doing. They introduced him to Deirdre, which seemed to impress him. But we didn't quite have time to explain everything, so Merlin suggested taking Steed's memories directly. Steed agreed, and one spell later Merlin seemed much more interested in helping us.

Meanwhile, Morganth was working on getting Suehprom back. A Trump call and he drew out a large, ugly demon who answered to the name. Ugly, but I have to guess pretty much fireproof.

And now I was starting to worry. We were close to the Jewel, that much I was sure of. But Corwin hadn't contacted me, nor had I seen any easy way to set up some delays getting the prize back to Oberon. Which meant I needed to improvise something, soon...

Merlin took everyone except Creed through a Trump to a point on the edge of the huge pit the call the Abyss. Darkness and emptiness swirled below like something a bad SF movie would have used to show us a black hole. This was the ultimate such thing, though. In it, there was nothing at all. It wasn't quite a reassuring sight.

Steed told us the Jewel was almost certainly out there. Merlin agreed and started some sort of summoning that pulled a chunk of rock loose from the edge. It floated there, and Merlin invited us to board for the trip. The Doctor delayed things slightly by pulling a bottle of champagne from his coat and christening the rock "The Gemseeker".

Creed appeared, thanks to a Trump call from Kesä. His first action was to put a sword to Merlin's throat then, after a bit of chilly discussion, decide to stay behind. Still, he'd inspired me. The infighting Creed's temper caused were the most consistent delay we'd had yet, so if I wanted to build up a future delay, I just needed to pick a fight. With someone I couldn't really hurt and wouldn't have any problem justifying my action toward.

And that meant Suehprom. Since his return, he'd stayed demonic (probably a more comfortable form in these environs), wings and all. And his normal running sarcasm was still in full flower, right along with continued suggestions of how we could try a few complications to confuse us even more. He also seemed set on bothering Merlin who, even though I'd just met him, seemed to have enough of Corwin in him for me to bet that he wasn't a good enemy to make.

So I shoved Suehprom off the rock. We'd already floated out over the Abyss, but he had wings, so he just flew on beside us, still mouthing off. "Scram, kid. Let the adults take care of this." I even tossed my sword at him, not trying to hit and fully expecting him to dodge. He did, and ducked out of sight below the rock. That seemed to work well.

And no one seemed too upset with me, which was what I'd hoped for. The Doctor even offered me a knapsack to carry the altar stone in since my coat was an abandoned ruin now.

I can't say as I understand how Creed can explode like that at people time and again. I was already feeling guilty, even though I knew it was for a good cause.

Isn't that what we always say? It's "for a good cause"?

I wonder, and not for the first time, if anyone else really believed that.


Case File X257-10

Report by Detective Scout Carter

I didn't really pay much attention to things for a while. We were sailing on smoothly enough for a rock hovering over the Abyss (and it does need that capital letter... Believe me, you'll agree if you ever see it. And whoever it is reading this, I sincerely hope you don't, for your sake.) The sound of chanting broke through my recriminations, and Merlin, who seems unnaturally comfortable around this sort of thing, said he guessed that meant we were getting close.

"Yes... That looks like the Ty'iga," Steed observed. He has good eyes, I guess. They were still pretty far away from my angle... A couple hundred flying rocks, most of which seemed occupied by a handful of figures. Lots of different kinds of figures, some not even vaguely human. They formed a roughly spherical field around a counter point we could only get glimpses off through gaps.

"Basically calling forth the end of the world," Kat commented. I had to guess she figured that out by understanding the language of the chant. "No fun..." I agreed with her last observation, but didn't feel the need to express support.

Steed decided now was a good time to make everyone see how bad the situation was. "We need to get to the center, I think." Right. Like we could just sneak past that cloud of guards to the very center. Merlin, though, too it in stride. "Ever play billiards? Hang on tight!"

The Doctor offered everyone a hand-hold on a thick bungee cord he'd somehow attached to the rock. Somehow, it didn't make me feel any vast degree of security. Especially not as we started to accelerate, heading straight toward a conveniently nearby rock...

And then Morganth waved a hand, spoke a guttural word, and we were encased in a magical shield, a protection against the impact. Except this protection failed to duplicate our momentum (don't ask me to explain physics in Chaos, because I have enough trouble with physics on Earth), so we bounced around inside it until Kat barked out a word that lifted the effect. We shot out at something like good motorcycle speed, heading right into the cloud of rocks. My attention was taken up trying not to be where the next impact would happen as we caromed wildly through the thick outer shell and finally came to rest in the somewhat more sparsely populated inner parts of the giant sphere of rocks.

Merlin glared at Morganth, the effort it had taken to stop us obvious in his features. "Never do that aga..."

"Stop them!" It was Steed's voice, but he was as surprised to hear it as the rest of us. "They must not delay us!"

"Doctor, I think I could use that sword you offered me earlier." I had a sudden sense that I'd need it.

"Fresh out, old chap. I have a flying guillotine." He offered me the bag and chain device I'd seen the beetle-guard toy with earlier. I saw now that it had razor-sharp blades in the rim. Blades which irised closed with a sharp tug on the chain. Totally unlovely, clearly a weapon more designed for shock value than effectiveness. But it was all I had at the moment. "Guess I'll learn," I said and took it, giving it a test swing. It wasn't quite as heavy as it looked.

And then something clamped down on my mind. Something cold and strong, trying to... I don't know what, but it didn't feel right. I didn't know what to do, but I reached into my knapsack, the one the Doctor had given me to carry my things. I suppose I was trying to find my trumps, but I brushed my hand against the Ormanti stone. And the pressure was quite suddenly gone. Confused, I pulled the rock out. Some sort of coating was starting to flake off of it and it seemed to glow quite distinctly. I heard approaching yells and decided I could deal with this mystery later.

I started swinging the chain in a long circle, giving myself some breathing room. The others picked their own place to defend, most of them well away from me. The Doctor pitched something from his pocket and there were bursts of fire and light. Fireworks. I doubted they'd do anything more than scatter the initial charge, and I was right. But into that gap leapt Deirdre, the Doctor and Kat, leaping from rock to rock . Merlin, Gabriel, Steed and I formed a rough defense line. Behind us, Kesä and Morganth worked on something I hoped I wouldn't mind having behind me. Blazer had vanished somewhere along the line and Suehprom hadn't seen fit to keep up with us. Which at least meant I didn't have to worry about having my apology ready right away.

Merlin's magic created a large yellow school bus that shot forward through the oncoming forms. I could see them now, various bodies from various times and places. Some were vaguely familiar, some were utterly fantastic. All of them looked quite hostile. As I recalled from Steed's story, the Ty'iga were spirit-beings who possessed bodies when they needed them. Delightful... there were innocent people being used as tools against us. A broad-shouldered, squat man in yellow and black tights snarled at me and charged within the guillotine's protective radius. Steel glinted as blades sprung from the backs of his hands. I don't know or care how he did that, and I didn't feel that bad when I used the chain to catch him behind the knees, tumbling off the rock into the infinite nothing broiling below. Kill or be killed, which at least lets you be numb during the act. It doesn't make the memories any easier, though.

Gabriel was wrestling with Superman (honest to God, that's what I saw), got some help from Merlin and Morganth. I was distracted by a big, friendly-faced teenager. I mean really big, as in twenty or more meters. He was dressed in some strange red and blue suit that look vaguely space-suit like. I avoided one squashing hand then leveraged him to follow the firs one who'd come after me. I didn't have time to consider his fate because I suddenly felt a burning pain in my shoulder. From a couple rocks over, I heard the crack and saw a tall, think figure in black lower a long pistol, then raise it again for another shot. Rather than let him try for a better result this time, I lashed out with the flying guillotine, trapping the gun and the shooter's hand in the blade-iris before yanking it closed. As I pulled the mesh bag with its grisly contents back, I knew I'd had enough of this weapon. Still, I could use a pistol that I knew worked here, so I fished it out.

About then, a tan and white collie leapt onto my rock with rage in its eyes. I am not going to forgive whoever was behind this. I mean, Lassie? How was I supposed to... A sick instinct took over and I pulled the pistol out by the barrel, the pale hand still gripping it. "Fetch, girl!" It flew out to the void and the dog followed. This was going to be a bad day.

I'm not going to go into any more detail. Let's just say I did a lot of things I'm not too proud of to a lot of things that looked a lot less like enemies than puppets. And I think it hit most of the others almost as hard. I was glad, in a way, that Creed wasn't here. He would have outright enjoyed this. Except, all of a sudden, there he was. Creed was on the central stone, with a Steed (the real body, but I had to guess the wrong mind) holding the glowing Jewel of Judgment, an armored man in a green cape and a woman in a particularly striking black body-suit. Creed was fighting with the armored man, and it looked surprisingly even until the Doctor drew one of those gauss pistols we'd used on the cyber-world and fired.

An explosion covered the central stone and two forms fell from it. Creed and Steed, both falling into the void. Creed for real and Steed's body, because he held the jewel and the Steed who'd been helping hold our rock was still quite visible, if openly distraught.

"Merlin, how quick can you get this stone..." I started, but was interrupted.

"You don't understand. That's beyond the habitable zone."

He was right, I didn't really understand. But I had little choice, since I couldn't steer or rock and leaping after them, even in this altered-physics world, offered no real chance of catching them and less of doing anything once I managed. Meanwhile, the hordes of Ty'iga-controlled figures started to lose their rage, stumble or collapse to the ground (well, to the surface of whichever stone they were standing on). Apparently, we'd won and the enemy was quitting the field. Hooray for the good guys. Excuse me if I don't care to share in the champagne.

Steed had drawn out a Trump, I didn't get a look at it, and the Doctor was proposing use of the TARDIS, though I can't guess how. He vanished and a moment later his familiar blue box groaned back into view. He stepped out, looking at Steed.

"So, what is the status on the Jewel? Anything?"

"It seems to be... coming toward us. That's what I sense. I think my great-grandmother is returning it." He seemed to believe that made sense.

"Your great-grandmother lives... down there?" I had to ask, but he didn't get the chance to answer.

Because soft hoofbeats began to fill the air around us. Coming from below. A white shimmer, then the Unicorn of Amber (I recognized the image from numerous banners I'd seen in the castle and from the backs of most of the Trumps I'd seen) leapt from the nothing onto the rock. On her back (if this is Steed's great-grandmother, I don't want to meet his great-grandfather), she bore Steed's body. No sign of Creed. The Jewel of Judgment hung around her neck. She looked around our small group (we'd pretty much all gathered onto one rock now, though Kat didn't seem to be around) and stepped toward me.

"Give this only to your father," a voice echoed in my head as she bent down, the Jewel slipping down, along her horn, to where I could take it. Then she turned and leapt away, without giving me a chance to protest that I didn't know just who she meant. Everyone was looking at me for a long moment, but when I didn't do anything (what did they expect me to do? I don't know anything about toying with the primal powers of the Universe), I guess they got bored and went to other tasks. The Doctor picked up a large black bird I recognized as one of Kat's forms. She looked hurt, maybe badly.

"We have to find a way to get Creed back," Steed observed. I led the chorus of apathy, with no one showing any sense of urgency about that task. But we didn't have time to explain our lack of concern, because suddenly Oberon was among us, stepping out of the TARDIS.

"There's my Jewel," he said as if he were the one who'd just found it. "Bring it to me."

Spotlight time again, Mr. Carter. The overbearing King of the Universe just told you to give him back the crown jewel. So, what do you say? Well, if it happens to you, take my advice. Pick something other than what I said.

"I can't do that."

His expression darkened. "I don't think I heard you correctly. Give me the jewel." His voice offered no doubt as to what he would do if I refused. I didn't have much choice now but stick to my guns.

"I think the Unicorn gave me different advice."

"You think wrong." He started toward us, and for the few seconds that it mattered, I was glad the Doctor had landed the TARDIS on a different, if nearby, rock. Steed tossed me a Trump, which looked like a room in Castle Amber. I was about to give it a try when the Doctor leaned out the TARDIS door. "Eric! Stop right there!"

Eric! It all fit together all of a sudden. Corwin had been right, of course, and there was something familiar about Oberon that I'd always wondered about. I'd thought it was just hints of him in his children. But it had been that treacherous man in the library all along. But at least I new knew what to do.

I dropped the Trump Steed had offered me and drew one of Corwin. I hoped he was still close, because I'd been told Trumps were hard to use from inside Chaos to outside. "Would you like assistance?" Merlin asked.

"Couldn't hurt," and I felt his mind reach to mine, strong and determined. And Corwin was there.

"Yes?" He looked tanned, rested. More than just a little recovered. He'd been doing far more than investigating and watching our backs. If it hadn't been for the other option, I think I would have felt a bit betrayed. But consider the narrow range friends...

"It's Eric." That was all I needed to say. His expression darkened in less than a heartbeat.

"Pull me through."

I did, and he immediately took a position between me and Eric. He'd abandoned the disguise as Oberon now and approached us as I'd seen him in the library. It had to be that alternate-time Eric, just as we had the alternate Deirdre and Gabriel... The first two were dead in the real world, the latter never existed. So he'd snuck along with us somehow...

It didn't take long for me to find the answer there. Kesä maneuvered herself to Eric's side (I hadn't remembered the deal she'd made with him until just that instant, but I should have) , even as Deirdre joined Corwin, Merlin, Steed and I on my end of the rock. I didn't look forward to this stand-off.

"I don't want to have to kill you again, brother," Corwin started the taunting.

"I don't care what you did to the Eric in this universe. The rightful King of Amber will reign!" Eric was livid, but he also looked dangerous. And he didn't back down even though quite outnumbered. Somehow, I doubt his confidence was foolhardy. So I did something desperate.

Snatching up the flying guillotine, I dropped the jewel into the mesh bag and flipped it toward Eric. Naturally, he reached for it. Nice when a plan works, isn't it? If only he'd reached into the bag instead of just catching it. Anyway, I jerked the chain back and he lost his footing. Here, that could be fatal, but he only fell to a lower rock, and was quickly on his feet and headed for us. It gave us a few extra seconds, though.

Steed, Corwin and Merlin all reached to touch the Jewel and I could feel... something. Something powerful. It flowed from the Jewel to each of them, and they stood ready to guard me. Deirdre was at my back, I thought we actually had a chance. Eric rushed forward, Kesä just behind him.

And suddenly, I felt the distracting twinge of a Trump call. Kesä? She didn't seem to be holding one. And I couldn't see the Doctor from where I stood. Damn... I tried to push it away, but that took more of my concentration than was really safe.

Because quite suddenly a woman's hand reached from behind me and grasped the Jewel. If I hadn't had the chain well twisted among my fingers and around me wrist, I would have lost my grip. As it was, I nearly lost my hand.

"I'll take that," Deirdre snarled. And I suddenly remembered I wasn't really safe to trust anyone here. Too late, of course. And I knew for certain that she wasn't the one the Unicorn meant to have the Jewel...

So I opened my mind to the Trump call, hoping it would pull her in as well, or at least slow her down before she ripped my hand off.

It was Random.

"Now would be a good time to pull me through." I didn't add a "your majesty," but I guess I'm just not used to royalty quite yet. And he was forgiving enough and did as I asked.

And I was elsewhere, in front of Random with Deirdre still gripping the Jewel and trying to work her free hand into a choke hold. Random recovered quickly for someone seeing his dead sister attacking someone.

"Let him go."

"Back off, you little shit." She clearly had no respect for royalty either. Or else Random wasn't king in her universe...

"That's King Shit to you," he said and she started to laugh, only to almost choke on the sound as someone else stepped up behind Random. He was tall and thin, with long, limp hair and cold eyes. I think I actually felt her tremble before she let me go. I know my knees buckled a little, and I didn't even know the man's reputation then. I could just see something about him...

"You will kneel and swear fealty to the rightful King of Amber," Random demanded. I'm glad he'd never asked that of me, because I don't know the words. Plus I'm still to much the All-American Boy to give too much respect to kings. But she knew the words and, without letting her expression quite hide how much she didn't like the idea, did as she'd been told.

"Now... the Jewel." I noticed about then that he was already wearing the Jewel. It hung at his breast, glowing slightly as it tends to do. Pulsing with his heartbeat. Which was very odd, because I was also holding the Jewel quite tightly in my hand, rather happy that the chain was no longer being pulled so tightly it cut off all circulation.

"I can't do that," I said. He immediately betrayed a bit of upset at my refusal, so I tagged a "Your Majesty" on in lieu of an explanation. Still, he pressed the question and I had to come up with another dodge. "Tell me who my parents are. Who my father is."

After doing that, I almost kicked myself. He should have seen through it, known I was asking because that was who I would give the Jewel to. But, somehow, he didn't seem to conclude that. I suppose he though I was trying to bargain, to buy a sliver of information with the pen that etched the Universe into being. I put a high value on the truth, but that's a little much, even for me.

"Come with me," he said, and lead the way into his tent. He paused part-way and asked if I wanted someone to look after my shoulder. I'd gotten used to the throbbing by then so I had to think for a second to remember that I'd been shot there not too long ago. I shook my head, thinking we should deal with this first. Give him less time to think and notice my mistake, that was my plan.

"We're just on the edge of the Abyss, if you didn't notice. I borrowed Rebma's reflection of the Jewel to track the original, but by the time we arrived, you were already taking care of things. It looked like a messy situation, so rather than be confused for more enemies, we just watched so we'd be ready if things went wrong."

It's not that I didn't appreciate the explanation, because I did and they'd been rare enough since this whole things started, but once I'd been reminded of it, my shoulder started to insist on its share of my attention. "You said you could tell me who my father..."

"You are a son of Amber, Scout. That much I know." He seemed to think that was telling me something. I'd already managed to get close to proving that on the Pattern, even though it was another past's Pattern. If I wasn't of Amber's blood, I couldn't have made it as far as I did. But I wasn't giving him anything, so I guess I shouldn't have expected much.

"Well, I guess that means I should do what the Unicorn says. She gave me pretty specific instructions for this." He let the Jewel dangle from my hand and noticed it was pulsing right in time with the throb from my shoulder. That didn't seem a positive sign...

"If that means you're going to be carrying that around for a while, you should probably align yourself to it." Random explained two methods, neither of which sounded all that appealing. One was to walk the Pattern then use its power to send me into another Pattern, this one inside the Jewel. The other was to be guided into the "Inner Pattern" by someone already aligned to the Jewel, but he was kind enough to add "someone you trust" to that. I declined his offer, saying I'd rather get my shoulder looked at before trying anything to do with the Pattern.

Which was (I'm sure he knew) a polite way of saying I hadn't decided just who I could trust right then, or at least hadn't decided he belonged on that list.

I'm not looking forward to the day when I won't have such a convenient dodge to that question.

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