Notes: This game was a futuristic throne war in
which Benedict ruled Amber. Corwin, who sided with Chaos during a
great war, took control of his Pattern and, if I remember
correctly, made a Chaos/Corwin's Pattern land called Scar.
Benedict is married to Llewella. Benedict, Llewella, Dworkin,
Dworkin's wife, and the servants are the only NPC's in the game.
Also, the grammer, spelling, etc.... are off on this because it was never finally edited due to the game ending.
It was a dark and stormy night.......literally. Rain beat against the castle walls, wind rushed through the ramparts in spirited gales; lightning illuminated the pale stone of castle Amber; every gust of wind carried the sound of the inevitable thunder.........
I slept right through it. The thick walls blocked out the sounds of the storm and there were no windows to impose the sound of beating rain upon my slumber.
It was a peaceful slumber, probably the last peaceful slumber I'll have for a long while. I was dreaming of nice, pleasant things. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and such. That's when the banging started......
I shot up in bed, dazedly wondering if lightening had struck the castle and I was hearing thunder, but, as it turned out, things were much worse.
It was a servant, I never did figure out who, banging on the door and calling out in a horrified voice, "My princess wake up! It's the King!"
Dad? At this time at night!? What the hell did he want!?
After a brief while I learned that I needed to go down to the infirmary. Oh, goody. My favorite place to visit after hours.
I almost didn't go.
Lighting some lamps and staring in the mirror I suppressed a gasp. I looked horrible. It had been a long, tiring day and I had taken a shower and gone right to bed. My wet hair, which was shoulder length and red, had dried in odd clumps and I spent time furiously brushing my auburn locks into something which made me look at least half way human.
After that I dug around the floor of my closet until I located some random items that were wrinkled, but not dirty or bloodstained or anything else too unsightly.
"Cheyanne," I muttered to myself as I dressed, "you have got to get your laundry done."
I surveyed myself briefly in the mirror. My signature combination of red and purple adorned me and as I left the bedroom I snagged my amethyst pendant from the dresser and fastened it about my neck.
I took one lamp with me and blew out the others, pausing on my way out the door to put on my red, leather jacket which I had left on the couch. I also fastened my sword belt......in this family you don't go anywhere without it, especially if your planning on cruising the castle it's self.
The hall was brightly lit and I blew out the lamp, leaving it stranded on a coffee table on my way down to the infirmary.
There were various voices inside, all of whom I recognized, and several guards and servants were crowed outside the door to the infirmary, all wearing matching looks of distress.
Walking in there and seeing my father, Benedict, King of Amber, lying unconscious, bloody wounds covering the visible portions of his body came as a shock.
I wasn't expecting it, that's all.
When the servant came and cried "It's the King!" I figured Dad had wanted us down there because something had happened to Ash or Maxim or Jezabel or someone, anyone other than him. As it was, the King of Amber lay dying.
A bunch of my kin, including my Aunt/step-mother Llewella, were crowded in the observation deck, occasionally peering through the open door at Dad. A physician was looking him over, binding wounds and such, and Jezabel, dainty Jezabel with her incredibly lithe build and black hair, was hooked up to an IV feeding blood to our father. Maxim was kneeling at his bedside, looking forlorn.
I stood silent, watching, taking everything in for several moments, then, in an emotionless voice, "So sorry I'm late, but since I am could someone fill me in on the direct details?" I strained to keep all emotion from my face as well, for I was afraid I might be sick if I didn't.
Haakon looked up at and smiled indulgently. "I'm taking a stab in the dark, here, so to speak," he said, batting his eyelashes at me, "but I'd venture that father has gotten himself injured. Quite likely he won't survive the night....though, that's just a guess. I'd ask Aunty Llewella exactly how long the poison takes to work." Poison? Haakon paused then and blinked. "Oh, wait, I already did. She just chose to ignore me." He shrugged and turned back to his observation of father, the physician, and Jezabel.
Haakon is slim and blond, with grey eyes and a sort of rambling, unenthusiastic personality. In all honesty I was surprised to see him at all. He holds a deep animosity toward all of us, especially father and, it seems, his full brother Maximilian(we all just call him Maxim), which has to do with politics more than anything else. On top of that he never seems to be around, and when he is he always seems to be sleeping or roaming the castle during the ungodly hours of the night. I suppose you could politely call him "someone in need of motivation".
Llewella shot him a confused look, shuffling out a trump card, a small frown marring her delicate face. "What are you talking about Haakon?" she asked.
"Oh, nothing as usual, I'm afraid. Just rambling on in that odd manor of mine." He stood, stretched, and yawned loudly. He cocked his head toward the physician's room and addressed all of us: "For those of you who have ever wondered at my late night wanderings, there's your answer - never a dull moment to be had at the witching hour."
Too true, brother. Too true.
I made a quick list of who was present among my siblings: Jezabel, Morgan, Baldwyn, Heteroch, Maxim, Lanna, and Haakon. Offhandedly I wondered where Andre was. He seems like the type who enjoys hanging around the infirmary, though he could pass as a morgue attendant any day......
As if on cue Andre entered , his dark features hidden beneath an even darker, hooded cloak.
Andre's older than all of us, save my father and Llewella, and always dresses as though he's going to a funeral. As the story goes, he and his mother, Dara, were political outcasts after the coup that killed Merlin all those centuries ago. He keeps to himself and, aside from Dad whom he greatly admires, has no close bonds with any of us.
He's cold and more than a little odd at times, but all and all he's not that bad. He just has an..........interesting fashion sense.
He nodded to us and hurried over to Llewella, bowing deeply.
"Greetings," he said. "I have understandings in poisons and I understand that this is what we're dealing with here."
"Heteroch told me you might provide some information about this one," he continued.
Been talking to Heteroch has he.........
Llewella looked up at him, green locks falling over her eyes. She hurried to brush them aside. "I doubt you know anything about it. When it struck Random, so long ago, Chaos was our friend, and Merlin ruled. They knew nothing then either."
They do say that history is prone to repeating it's self.
"It is called Shadow Venom," she continued. "It feeds off Pattern energy. That's all we know."
"I regret to say you're right," Andre the talking cloak said, turning away from Llewella to gaze at my fathers bloody form.
A few seconds later Ash, unsmiling as usual, came through a trump contact via Llewella.
He released her hand and looked around the room. "What happened?"
I kept my mouth shut. I can't stand speaking with Ash. He's bitter and condescending, morose and ascorbic. He has no sense of humor and seems to thoroughly despise each and every one of us. Lucky for us, he's not at home often and when he is he avoids family dinners and state functions like the plague.
He looked as he always does; clean shaven, with his long, straight black hair tied behind his head and his thin form clothed in brown and black.
I bristled when he spoke, knowing that it was going to take a lot of self control to keep from blurting out the rude comments that came to mind as soon as he engaged anyone in conversation.
In response to his question Haakon sighed loudly, and said, "Here's a wild idea. How about we assembled everyone at one time, rather than in sporadic leaps. It would cut down on unnecessary verbiage to say the least......." One thing that can be said about Haakon - he has a great vocabulary.
Ash looked disgusted. "Unnecessary? Nice to see you're past the mourning, Haakon. You people waste my time." And you waste ours, Ash......
He turned his back to all of us and strode into the infirmary where the physician seemed to be slicing open one of the wounds.
Once he was there, however, he played the nice guy and offered to spell Jezabel, who nodded wearily and moved off into a chair in the corner of the infirmary while the doctor hooked Ash up to the IV.
Maxim pulled something out of his pocket then and, still kneeling at fathers bedside, began concentrating on it.
I didn't see what happened with him next, because Haakon barked in surprise and I turned toward him only to watch as the rainbow shimmer of trump drew him away. I half considered pulling out my trump deck and giving him a call, just to see what had happened, but then I remembered that my trump deck was sitting on the dresser top back in my room. I grabbed my necklace, but not my trumps. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Sighing in resignation I decided that Llewella, playing as trump warden of the evening, would probably see to things.
I turned back toward the infirmary in time to see Ash jump up, ripping his IV out as he did so, glare at Maxim and yell, "Unicorn! You stupid bastard! You're playing games while Benedict is dying!" Ash, I honestly didn't know you cared.
Maxim didn't pay much attention to him, remaining focused on Father's face.
"You think I'm playing games do you?" he said, his voice very quite which was unlike his usual loud, boorish manner. "I suppose you also think that that ridicules blood transfusion or these idiot doctors are going to accomplish something? If so, you're the fool," I drew a deep breath. It's not a good idea to go around calling Ash a fool, he has power, "these doctors can't even begin to comprehend the forces in play here." And you can? I thought silently. Maxim's interests lie in women, wine, and art. He doesn't have any ambition and can be incredibly charming, or the nastiest of us all. Of course, that doesn't exclude him from knowing a thing a two about magic and the forces behind it all, but still, I'm not sure he knows enough to "comprehend" what's going on. I sure wish I did.
"Now stop your childish grandstanding - put that inflated ego of yours aside for once and try to do something useful, like finding out what happened to Haakon, and let me do my work while there's still a chance to save the King's life!"
For the first time Maxim looked up from our fathers face and his normally smiling green eyes fixed on Ash's gaunt features. "And Ash," he continued in that dreadfully quite voice, "that's twice you've insulted me. I'm willing to excuse it on account of the unusual situation, but don't do it again."
A look of wild fury passed like a shadow over Ash's face, but the sun soon came out and chased away the darkness for the familiar, patronizing mask returned in seconds and he smiled a thin, and in my opinion particularly devilish, smile.
Maxim glanced briefly at Jezabel, then turned his attentions back to Ash.
"If you're thinking of playing your hand so soon go right ahead - but if you think as well that I haven't prepared some tricks especially for you....well, you'll die quite mistaken." Maxim turned his attention back to Dad and gave him his full concentration.
I wouldn't have said that. What happens if Ash suddenly and mysteriously turns up dead? Enough of us heard Maxim's threat that it would make him a prime suspect. And if anyone wanted frame Maxim, well, they would be killing two birds with one stone. Ash is out of the picture, I for one wouldn't be crying much if he suddenly turned up dead, and Maxim would be under suspicion or, in the worst case scenario, someone cries vendetta and kills Maxim. I'm not sure any of us would go to the trouble of killing Maxim for murdering Ash though. Maxim is so much more pleasant than Ash.........
Heteroch came up about ten feet behind Maxim and asked, "Just exactly what ARE you doing?" He's saving the King's life. I do believe we've been through this already.
Baldwyn spoke up for the first time since I'd entered the scene.
"I'm afraid I must agree with Maxim," he said. "Llewella has said that Benedict will die, for there is no known cure for the poison. So anything Maxim can do help should be applauded." He paused, then, "Unless of course you would prefer it if Father died?" His blue eyes, shifted to silver, an aspect of his personality which always gives me the creeps.
Baldwyn is a complicated character. His eyes are normally ice blue, but they phase over into silver whenever he's concentrating. He has long, black hair which is pulled back with an intricate ring of silver and sports a thin beard which covers his upper lip and chin. He's an accomplished artist who has a personality that is damn hard to figure out. Sometimes he's coldly logical and other times it's obvious that he's acting based on his emotions. Just the same, I'm sure Maxim appreciated the back-up; after all, he was trying to concentrate.
"Stop it," Jezabel said, giving our brothers an angry look. "This is not the time for your little infightings."
Heteroch smiled. "Exactly," he said, one-hundred percent sure of himself. "Now if Maxim would explain himself, maybe we could help. Or maybe even tell him if we've already tried it and it didn't work..."
That was when things came crashing down.
A rattling filled Benedict's throat. A moment later there was a sort of a sigh, and he stopped breathing all together.
Llewella moaned, "No," and rushed to his side to take his pulse. She then called the doctor over to administer CPR.
I turned my head away from the scene as the doctor began the treatment, instead watching my siblings face.
Baldwyn watched, his expression calm, though a signal tear snaked it's way down his face. He slowly shook his head, his grief apparent.
Jezabel got up from her place and back rushed to Llewella's side. It was obvious that she was trying not to cry.
Ash kneeled beside our father, taking his hand.
I busied myself with studying everyone else, trying to keep my own emotions from showing.
Someone, I don't remember who, said that Benedict was dead.
Ash pulled something from our late fathers discarded clothing and pocketed it.
Morgan, oblivious to the rest of us, pulled a red rose from somewhere and laid it on his chest.
Lanna, my fraternal twin, muttered "Fuck" head in hand, wavy brown locks spilling over her wrist.
I didn't say anything, just stood there, probably paler than usual and starred at his lifeless body.
There was certainly no love lost between Dad and I. He cheated on my mother, then divorced her and married another women, with whom he had already sired two children.
For most of my adult life(which is pretty long considering I've been around a few centuries) I hated him for that.
More than once I had thought about killing him, though I knew I never would succeed. I made sure that everyone knew that my loyalties lay with Amber, not Benedict.
More than once I had contemplated what would happen on the day of his death, but never did I ever believe that I would be alive to see the day when Benedict the First, mighty King of Amber, would fall. He was a legend. He was the only thing standing between Amber and it's obliteration by the forces from Scar. Hell, he was as legendary as the damn Unicorn herself and.....and.......and now he was dead.
No, I don't think I'll miss him as a person, but his influence is something I will miss. I will miss the legendary warrior who kept the realm safe in it's time of greatest need. I will miss the man who would have, at any given moment, laid down his life for Amber. (As the case may be, he may have)
Father, I may not have liked you, but I certainly respected you and your actions involving the welfare of Amber herself. Your death will bring many problems to the realm, both internal and external to be sure.......
While I thought and contemplated the life of my late father, I listened with half an ear to the conversation.
Llewella raised the subject of the succession. Morgan was the eldest, but the subject of her temperament was brought up and discussed briefly, and loudly, by Morgan, Llewella, and Lanna. It was also mentioned that Lanna and I would be next in line, though Andre's claim was comparable and possibly stronger.
At some point I think Lanna tried to contact Haakon, but didn't get through.
Ash made a comment about Dad's mind being ravaged recently and *indirectly* accused Maxim of it.
A couple of high ranking guardsmen came in and began to discuss things with Lanna, Baldwyn, and Jezabel and they all began talking military stuff. A brief argument ensured over the fact that Heteroch had ordered the troops to move or something like that.
I drifted into the conversation when Lanna addressed me directly about the navy.
Heteroch made a nasty comment about the fact that HE controlled slightly over half the navy and that HIS officers had orders should anything befall the King. It was the way he said it that riled me.
I resisted the urge to make a rude remark about him already having things planned in case something happened to Dad, but I controlled my red headed temper and returned his smile with a bitter one of my own.
"Still," I said crisply, contemplating how he'd look in a body bag, "perhaps it would be best if we made sure they followed those orders."
He didn't respond to that and I turned away from the conversation as it turned back to military tactics of the castle guard.
Classic phrases such as "Amber has never been taken by force, and while I stand to defend her she never will" were thrown around as I turned away and someone mentioned something about Amber being betrayed by one of us.
I watched as Maxim left, making a pretty speech as he did so, while smoking a cigarette. Filthy habit that, especially in the infirmary.
I'm not saying that I'm guilt free. I drink all the time. Wines and hard liquors to be exact, but smoking, never.
Talk of the succession came up again and Baldwyn suggested Andre as Regent, though he told Morgan that he would be happy to support her if he thought she could keep from playing practical jokes. If Morgan took any offense from the comment, she didn't say anything, probably because she must have asking herself the same question.
Lanna responded with, "Absolutely, Baldwyn, and another point. Father is dead only minutes and already accusations are flying around. I see the duty of a regent as examining all the facts and listening to everyone's opinions and coming to a reasoned descension as to exactly what occurred here. One opinion, one official line. Similarly in future disputes. Again, with a figurehead we can require that everyone swears an oath of fealty, with some hope of making it watertight. Without that we will fight amongst ourselves before the enemy gets here. All any traitor needs to do is seed enough doubt against others. We must trust each other in order to work together, and trust lies in an oath and a responsible, trustworthy authority." Well, it's a nice thought though we'll never pull it off. We DON'T trust each other and, to an extent, most of us DON'T like each other. Amber may be the perfect realm, but we are far from perfect people.
"I see no reason why a fixed term regency should not be decided with all speed," she continued. "Something like a year and a day perhaps?" In that time we shall all have killed each other over microscopic problems, like what appetizers should be served on the day of the funeral.......
In my mind I sighed. How were we ever going to cope with this?
Heteroch looked exasperated. "Don't you see what I saying? Presumably our enemies are not acting randomly. They have a plan, and if we put up a figurehead, that will just give them someone else to kill. And I'd rather not put Andre or Morgan or anyone else for that matter in that sort of danger needlessly. Killing father was presumably meant to weaken us. That's why we can thank the unicorn father had the foresight to give us all responsibilities so that we can act without a king to eliminate this threat. If we can focus our energies on this, we *might* be able to win this fight."
Heteroch likes to make short speeches. It seems to be a part of his nature.
"Do we have to worry about this right now?" Well, I hate to break it to you little brother, but we should being worrying about it. We really, really should. He continued with, "And we have other things to worry about. We don't even know where everyone is. Has anyone seen Sigurd lately? If we move immediately to crown a new king, we'll be crowing a new target for our enemies." I have a brilliant idea! Let's crown Ash, then they can bump him off! Then we can crown you and we won't have to deal with you any more either! "If we work together, our command structure will be less vulnerable to attack. Speaking of which, has any one made sure we aren't being watched even now? Do we really want the word about what's happened here to get out?"
Llewella stood up. "Well, right then. Doctors, if you would prepare an autopsy, and prep him for burial. I believe we all have arrangements to make." It's time to get drunk so we can push these thoughts from our minds, then we can pass out, giving us the illusion of sleep! It's a brilliant plan!
She nodded to the rest of us collectively, saying, "This is not my kingdom, although all of you are kinsmen. It is, therefore, not my place to chose a successor. I pray that you all can do so peacefully and wisely. I am going back to Rebma for now. If any of you would call me if something arises, or at the time of his funeral?" There were nods and a couple of murmured replies of "yes" and "of course" and other comments in that field.
With that she withdrew a trump, and turned to Morgan. "I will see you later, my daughter." Then in a rainbow glow she was gone, returning to the land of squid and porpoise, if you'll forgive the expression.
Suddenly, as several of us were preparing to leave the room, there was a muffled shout from Ash's ring(don't ask, just don't ask), then silence.
I ignored it(Ash is weird, that's all there is to it) and paid attention to the conversation between the great military leaders of the Castle Guard. It was rather interesting, at times laughable, and a hell of a lot of speculation was involved. Mostly they discussed how much damage Scar could do if they managed to get even a small force inside our lines undetected, then they began to discuss how they would capture Amber if they were the enemy.
Put yourself in your partners(or in this case enemies) place....... One of the principles of Akido unless I'm vastly mistaken.
A rather unnerving point was made about the fact that Jezabel, Lanna, Baldwyn, Heteroch, and I controlled all of Amber's military might, wether it be by land or sea, a fact that the enemy was sure to know. Therefore, it was probable that we were all targets. The thought did not sit well with me.
Heteroch then made a noble statement that he wouldn't want to appoint a regent to make himself less of a target. Personally, I wish someone would knock him off. Then I get control of the entire navy and I don't have to follow HIS orders any more.
He then went on to suggest that we combine the generals and admirals into one group responsible for the safety of Amber. It was a nice thought, but I know about as much on how the castle guard is run as Lanna does on the navy. We would probably create more problems than we would solve.
Jezabel asked Lanna if she had ever gotten through to Haakon and my twin replied with, "No, it's blocked beyond my ability to penetrate. Not that that is saying much. Maybe someone with more muscle should try."
I kept my mouth shut. I'm not exactly a slouch when it comes to the psyche department, but I'm not all that great either; not when compared to most of my kin anyway.
At some point Andre vanished and returned. No one paid much attention.
Jezabel then asked if anyone wanted to go and search for Sigurd. He is Corwin's son from an "ambassadorial" trade made with Scar before I was born. Our brother Dain was sent, and never heard from again. There's still some suspicion surrounding Sigurd, but most of it came from Dad and Llewella. Aside from Andre, none of us were around when the trade took place, so Dain is just a shadowed figure of history, though there are trumps of him around.
She then went on to say we needed to find out who killed our father, there was a basic, unspoken assent to that one, then she went on to ask if anyone knew where Kjandon was.
Personally, I hope that he's dead and roasting in Hell by now. Kjandon isn't known for being a nice guy - in fact his life was forfeited by Dad after dear brother Kjandon raped, then tortured to death the virgin daughter of a Golden Circle ambassador. Dad nearly beat him to death, then disappeared into shadow with him a few centuries back. No one's heard from him since, thank the Unicorn.
There was a general, not to mention short lived, lapse in conversation, the subject of our missing and, in some cases, hopefully dead kin was not brought up again when suddenly, the door to the infirmary was thrown open and someone who looked a hell of a lot like Kjandon burst in, several shouts following him.
He stood before us, arms in the air. "I'm unarmed," he said. "Is the King still alive?"
He looked around briefly, then, upon spotting Dad's body on the operating table, he made a run for it.
"He is dead," someone said, I was too busy watching this person to notice who. "But that can wait since we are under attack. Our first priority is to defend Amber, and then we can avenge fathers death." How do we know this supposed brother didn't kill him? Well, we don't, not really. Still, can it really be Kjandon after all these years, or is it someone shifted to his form to play a cruel and possibly, for them, deadly joke?
"The King is dead," Lanna said, loosening her sword, Werewindle, in it's scabbard. "You come minutes too late." Possibly a little distracted she said to us, "Morgan, Andre, Cheyanne, what are your thoughts on the matter?"
No one else said anything about the Kjandon situation. I think we were all too stunned to respond.
While Kjandon stood there, looking between our father and the rest of us, Jezabel got a weird look on her face, then muttered something and pulled Haakon, covered in dirt and blood, through a trump contact. There did not, however, appear to be any wounds on him, though his clothes were torn.
"Is it bad out there?" she asked.
Haakon just stood there, looking amused as we all stood, gaping and glaring at Kjandon. He seemed startled by Jezabel's question and blinked several times, looking over his clothing.
"Hm?" He chuckled softly, seeming as though he was noting his condition for the first time. "Now whatever in the world might have given you that impression, I wonder?" Jezabel didn't respond, turning her full attention to Kjandon.
"What the hell do you want here, Kjandon?"
I straightened my shoulders, regaining my lost composure, and moved my hand toward my sword in an obvious motion, letting it rest casually on the hilt.
"My question exactly," I muttered darkly.
I noted out of the corner of my eye that Baldwyn wasn't doing anything; just standing there with a neutral, non-readable expression on his face. He and Kjandon are full siblings when you get technical about it.
For the first time I noticed that Ash was no longer with us. I didn't see him leave.......
"I came to speak with father one last time before he died," Kjandon explained. If he had, and Dad had been conscious, I think he would expended his last bits of strength to kill Kjandon and honor the life forfeit command. Of course, that's just my opinion and it didn't seem to be the right thing to say since he was acting apologetic and truly, well, I suppose you could say remourseful........sort of.
"I am sorry that I arrived too late. I will remain for the funeral and hopefully before then one of you shall explain to me how this happened." If any of them know they're not telling me. All I know is that Dad showed up, unconscious, on his horse poisoned and bleeding. Not much of a story, especially when you consider all the factors.
He bowed his head and walked toward the foot of our late fathers bed. He then sat, cross legged on the floor and sang a morbid, haunting melody in an unrecognizable tongue.
I was slightly disappointed. The moment for killing him seemed to have passed. Oh, well. Baldwyn might kill me for it if it I did, though I'm not sure.
"I guess I have a few questions at this point," Kjandon said to no one in particular. "The first one being, could someone fill me in on how our father died? And second, does someone here have a trump with which I could contact Brother Andre?"
Andre had showed up again, though no one trumped him in...I think. He's like that.
Heteroch looked at us all, Kjandon's sudden return and Andre's disappearances and reappearances put on the back burner.
"Well, I guess someone should try and find Sigurd." He pulled out a trump and studied it. After a minute or so he put it away, apparently unable to reach our cousin.
Jezabel seemed visibly relaxed, as though Kjandon's explanation of wanting to speak with father had eased any doubts in her mind.
She headed for the door.
"We have several things to do. We have to prepare a funeral for the King." Oh, what fun! Andre, I do believe this job fits your dress code nicely. "Heteroch, as Master of the Courts I think it's your job to inform our allies in the Golden Circle. For the funeral I think it should take place in 3 days, in the meanwhile we should assign a deathwatch for our father, after the autopsy. That is of course only a suggestion. Baldwyn, Lanna, I will contact you in a while."
Haakon walked over to our late father's bed and stood there in silence, an unreadable expression on his face. I felt a momentary pang of sadness; he hadn't been here when Dad died. Even though I didn't......hadn't liked Dad much I was glad I had been here for his final moments, even though he never came to. One thing I noticed, however, is that I didn't feel the same sympathy when it came to Kjandon's plight.
I glanced over at Kjandon, who was watching us. I noted that Morgan and Lanna were talking quietly amongst themselves.
Upon hearing Jezabel's remark about a funeral Haakon said, "Someone should probably clean up the body first, hm?" Brrrr......that's why we have servants around here. "All of that nasty, oozing black stuff won't be terribly good for the morale of our allies, I'd imagine." He seemed to attempt a smile, an attempt, I might add, which failed. "If anyone should need me, the Unicorn knows why, I'll be in my bed chambers." His tone was bland, even for him and I noticed that he hadn't used any of his comprehensive vocabulary.
He then followed Jezabel and her subcommander out the door.
Conversation was dull for the next few minutes.
Baldwyn left, though I didn't see him go.
What I wouldn't give for a drink of good, strong whisky right about now......
Kjandon suddenly spoke up, giving us all the evil eye. "I can not believe this. Our father is dead and one of you makes a joke about it," I must have missed that, "another speaks only of revenge, and a third quickly tries to take his place by shouting orders." Well, somebody needs to be in charge. Otherwise we may destroy ourselves before Scar does.
"This is a great time of loss for all of us," he continued, still looking as though he was giving a lecture to a group of school children. "This man," he pointed at Dad's empty shell, "was our father. Our blood. Can you ignore this? Did he raise you all to be cold, heartless fiends? I must admit, that even for me it is important to know how this came to be, but everything has it's time and place. Our father lies dead here. Please, let us remained civilized in his presence." He muttered something in another language then.
No one said anything, though wether it was because of shame or annoyance, I don't know.
"Brother Andre," he said, and I resisted the urge to remind him that Andre was a cousin, a very distant cousin, and not a brother, "as my eldest living sibling, I must ask you to prepare me for the funeral. Will you aid me brother?"
I don't remember what happened next, but Kjandon and Andre left. I still felt sick. He was really dead.........
Haakon left shortly after that, soon followed by Lanna and Morgan.
That left Heteroch and I, not saying a word to each other, watching silently as the autopsy began, though Heteroch didn't seem to be paying much attention.
A few minutes later Andre entered and the three of us stood, or sat as the case may be, watching the autopsy and not speaking to one another. Not that I had much to say to either of them anyway.
The doctors worked a while, several hours to be exact, then the head doctor turned to us while his assistants began sewing Dad up.
"The physical trauma from the poison was not quite advanced enough to kill him. Something put some incredible stress on him, and it gave him a stroke. I can't see any direct cause of a stroke though." I thought of Maxim and the trump. Ash had said something about his mind being ravished and that probably wouldn't leave any physical evidence. Could Maxim really be allied with our enemies? It seemed unlikely, though one can never tell. I made a silent note to watch myself around him, see if he lets any clues slip or anything. Maybe, if I can bring myself to do it, I'll ask Ash about it later.
The doctor went over to the sink and began washing up. "I will prepare him for burial. When will the funeral be, do you think, my Lords and Lady?"
I gave a tired sigh. "I'd suppose as soon a spossible, but giving the current events consideration, they may preside over his funeral." I shook my head. I was beginning to ramble. I smiled bitterly and continued with, "I'm so rattled I'm not making sense even to myself." Great come back line, Cheyanne. That really makes you sound competent.
I waved a hand idly at the physicians and Dad's still form.
"I think that I'm going to go back to my room and see if I can get some more of that sleep I was awoken from." I turned toward my family, what was present of it anyway. "If anyone decides upon funeral arrangements tell me........later."
I left then, but I'll be damned that I didn't make it two steps out the door before Heteroch joined me.
"So, sister, are you joining our siblings in the library?"
I gave my best smile, but I knew it must have looked a little tired.
"I thought about that, but decided to catch some Z's instead. I'll have to get the details from someone later." Later, the best time to do everything.
He nodded a business like manner and said, "Very well then. I will see you later." Yeah, unless someone kills me too.
He turned away then, leaving me to my thoughts and progress.
I hadn't been lying when I had said I was tired, but I hadn't told them all my plans. I'm not exactly an "accomplished" sorceress, but I do know a few tricks - you need them in this family.
My sitting room is large and has thick, plush carpeting of a rose color. The furniture is made of a dark brown wood, the ornate ivory handles of drawers trimmed with thin bands of gold and painted pink roses. The sofa and three chairs, which surround a coffee table, have an assortment of white and rose colored cushions. All of the other tables and desks are off against the walls and all of the drawers contain keyholes, the key under a flap of carpet in the corner where the west and south walls meet. A vase of red roses, enchanted to never wilt, sat at the center of the coffee table and wine cabinet lay off to one side, though it contains smaller bottles of vodka and whisky and other more potent items than Zinfandel's and Red's. Several paintings hung on the walls, all depicting woodland scenes and all done by the same artist.
Sorting through the junk under my bed, I located a box and withdrew thirteen candles and holders. I placed them at odd locations about my sitting room, then blew out the lamp.
There is really no need to use candles in spell casting, but I like the atmosphere they provide.
I took a deep breath, savouring the scents of smoke and melting wax, then began the spell casting.......
I finished, exhausted, with six mini fireball spells hung on my amethyst.
I got some sleep after that, extinguishing the candles first, then fell asleep on the couch. I awoke, the barest tuggings beginning on my mind.
"Yes?" I asked, opening my mind to the trump call.
It was Haakon. He was underwater, a painting of a soldier astride a sea horse behind him. He was obviously in Rebma, dressed in his traditional lavender and black clothing, trump case and his Pattern blade, FaeRunil belted at his waist. He had shaved since I had last seen him.
"Greetings sister. I trust I'm not disturbing you greatly?"
I smiled. I can't explain it, but I really do like Haakon.
"No, not at all. I was simply reviewing tonights.......dreadful incidents."
He raised an eyebrow and I noted the fact that his clothes weren't as disgusting as they had been back in the infirmary.
"Incidents? Plural, is it? My, my, but I fear that I night have been missing out. Do tell, sister dear, do tell."
My smiled thinned as I remembered the procedures of the autopsy.
"I stayed for the autopsy," I said carefully, "and learned that the poison wasn't the direct cause of Father's death. Something put incredible stress on him and he died of a stroke, but the doctors couldn't figure out exactly how it was caused." I shrugged, carefully omitting my fears about Maxim. Even if they don't like each other much, Haakon still is his full brother and might take some offense if I were to accuse Maxim of having a part Father's death. "It could be nothing, really, but I found it a bit unnerving."
Haakon pursed his lips thoughtfully. "That is rather disturbing. I wonder if perhaps M....." M? Maxim? Morgan? Or someone else entirely? M is a popular letter for names down in Rebma, though why Haakon's there I can't imagine. He shook his head and smiled ruefully. "Never mind, probably not related to events. At any rate, it has nothing to do with why I trumped you. I don't suppose you're at the Palace at the moment?"
"As a matter of fact I am. My room. You wish to come through?" I extended a hand in his direction.
He smiled pleasantly. "My dear sister, that has to be the best offer I've had all day." He took my hand and I drew him through the trump. He promptly began to drip on my carpet.
"Perhaps we could engage in a bit of theoretical discussion, as well, if you are up to it?"
"Of course. Please, take a seat." How to bring up the business of Maxim......
"Thank you for the transportation once more, sister. You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to get a ride. Shall we sit?" I wondered vaguely who wasn't answering, but then realized that everyone had probably gone to bed, trying to catch a little shut eye in the wee hours of the morning.
He began to sit, then suddenly looked up.
"What a rare treat! Someone actually appears as if they want to talk to me!"
He smiled sweetly at me and said, "Just a moment if you will. Incoming call."
He seemed to be concentrating then, what I like to call "the trump look" coming over his face. He nodded occasionally and through in several "hmmm"s and "I see"s.
After what seemed an unbearable amount of time he turned to me. "It appears a family meeting is being called. Ash would like to take us the library straightaway, if it isn't terribly inconvenient." He offered me a hand. "Care to accompany me - forgive my condition, but I fear brother dear won't allow me the luxury of a chance to get out of these wet things."
I excepted his hand and plastered a smile on my face. "Let us leave. We will have to have our conversation later - I insist upon it." Yes, yes I do. Who is "M"? Anyway, I know that Haakon, at least, will listen to my theory about Maxim without getting too angry or warning his brother, I hope.
My other problem with leaving like this was I knew that Haakon probably wouldn't "remember" mentioning M later. Damn.
Ash, Jezabel, and Baldwyn were already in the library. A cheery fire was burning in the hearth.
Haakon promptly began to drip on the library floor and I have a feeling that Ash would have taken the moment to say something nasty to him had he not been fidgeting with the trumps........
Damn. I left my trumps upstairs. Again.
Haakon gave everyone a lazy smile, then turned to me and said, "Shall we sit by the fire? I for one could use a little drying off."
I smiled at everyone present(when it comes down to it that was Jezabel and Baldwyn. Ash was too busy playing with a trump) and nodded to them, then followed Haakon to the fireplace, taking a seat in one of the armchairs.
Lanna arrived a few seconds later, took a quick look around the room, then joined us by the fire. "Hi," she said, looking in my general direction, "how are things in Rebma?"
I glanced at Haakon. "I wouldn't know. We were about to talk about that when Ash called. Anything interesting happening in the realm beneath the waves?"
Haakon looked up from warming his hands by the fire. "Hm? Oh, Rebma." He shrugged. "Nothing terribly exciting, I'm sure. I was merely making a social call, so I'm afraid I didn't have much of an opportunity for sightseeing." He smiled at Lanna. "Good evening to you, sister. You're looking well. Keeping out of trouble, I trust?" He winked conspiratorially at her, fake I'm sure, though I did make careful note of it.
He nodded his head toward Ash, commenting, "Quite a rare treat, this. Our estranged brother showing such concern over the family's well being. And what a display of compassion earlier, at our dear departed Father's side." He brushed a hand across his eyes. "Touching isn't it?" I tried not to laugh.
I opened my mouth to make a witty comment, but stopped as Ash brought Kjandon through. Without thinking I moved my hand toward my sword.
He was tense, looking as though he expected an ambush. When there wasn't one, he visibly relaxed, though he still looked ready for action.
Nodding toward Ash he smiled faintly, probably trying to contemplate why we hadn't killed him yet.
He walked to a corner of the room, then things got weird.
He gasped in pain, his body scissoring beneath him and he dropped to the ground, writhing in pain.
From somewhere near him came a voice, a soft, feminine voice. "Now, now, Kjandon. You really didn't think I'd be THAT easy to get rid of, did you? Now be a good boy and stop playing these silly games........"
Lanna drew a dagger from somewhere and hurried over to where Kjandon lay. Neither Haakon or I moved a muscle to help, guess that shows our feelings to our dear brother.
Baldwyn started to go to Kjandon's aid, but stopped when he saw Lanna had gone to him.
That got Ash's attention. He broke whatever trump contact he was initiating and drew upon the forces of the Pattern.
"Mancer!" he cried. "Locate all power being used in this room right now!"
The moment he said that several surprised gasps came from outside the library, the sound of a women shouting in anger could be heard. Things were getting really weird.
Dworkin(Yes, Dworkin!) rushed into the library. Nobody moved.
"Now there's a sight you don't see everyday," Haakon muttered to himself.
Dworkin winked at us and began pulling at an invisible ring in the middle of the room. He then opened a seemingless trap door.
A rather homely women who was old and wrinkled, not to mention rather unpleasant looking and very pregnant rushed through the doorway, a broom in one hand and a pitcher of what appeared to be wine in the other.
"You ungrateful wretch of a husband! You worthless misbegotten excuse for a father! I'll teach you to go romping off all over the universe and leaving your poor old wife alone!" she screamed, flinging the pitcher at his head.
Dworkin ducked. "Dear, be resonable!" he stuttered. "It wasn't like you were having your baby yet......" He yelped as the women came at him with the broom, swinging it like a club. Dworkin charged down a darkened staircase and the women, still cursing Dworkin's uselessness as a man, father, husband, etc..... charged down after him. You couldn't pay me to follow them.
Nothing happened for perhaps half a minute.
Jezabel took the lull in events to rush to Kjandon's side. She touched his hand, then cried out, body scissoring in pain.
"It's just one damned thing after another," Lanna said.
"Too true," I agreed watching as Ash moved over to Kjandon. He tried to take a ring from his hand, but it didn't seem to want to come off.
"I don't suppose that ring is going to tell us anything about what just happen?" I asked. Ash ignored me. I wasn't surprised.
A voice came from the ring, the same voice that had spoken to Kjandon earlier.
"Stop that Ash," it said. "I have a noble purpose here, one your father himself bequeathed to me. And, seeing as how my own freedom is contingent upon it, it is one I will not fail at." It paused, then, "Kjandon, please don't try such foolishness again."
"Artifact!" Ash spit the word out like a curse. "State your propose. Now. Or be destroyed."
There was a brief silence, then, "Kjandon has the answers you seek. He is the key. And don't bother trying to destroy me. There are only three ways I can be unmade, and you have not the means for two of them. And you would be a fool to try the third. Besides, Ash; I have a wonderful and glorious, if potenially insurmopuntable, goal. Should I succeed, then it will be a glorious day for all." Insurmountable? Even Haakon doesn't say that.......
Ash flushed, not a good sign, and after a few moments of staring intently at the ring he abruptly walked away from Kjandon, who was still out cold, and sat down, a dour look on his face, steepling his hands in such manner that he reminded me of his trump. His trump which was still upstairs on my dresser.
Haakon called out, "If you are quite through fiddling about with Kjandon over there, Ash, perhaps you'd like to tell us what this is about? Or haven't you finished your trump calls yet?"
Ash ignored him.
Kjandon came to and took a look at Jezabel.
"FINE FUCK! You win Jane, you win," he said. "Everyone gets the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me Brand. No doubt I'll be killed for this, but I suppose, at least, then I'll rejoin my father, and be rid of you."
Someone interjected with "You have a ring named Jane?", but Kjandon ignored them.
"It is touching to see such concern from my relatives. It's just too bad that I was indeed the villain I was made out to be. Scar intends to invade. Sigurd is with them, as was I until I received news of my fathers death to be. I had allied with them in the hopes that I would be responsible for my fathers death eventually. I was not, nor were they. But they will take advantage of this opportunity to invade Amber one final time. I have no more reason to be allied with them, and as such, am not. And with the pausing of my father, I no longer feel that killing him was what I actually wanted."
We all underwent a series of emotions for that one. The strongest being anger and suspicion, though interest and fear were mixed in here and there.
"Now," he continued, "wether it is desired or not, I shall be my fathers son. And I shall act in the best interest of Amber, as my duty requires. That is unless you are all about to gang up and kill me, in which case I'd be forced to jump out the window." He smiled then, and rose from the floor, folding his arms across his chest.
The ring sighed in pleasure.
"Well, Kjandon," the ring called Jane said, "it is good to hear you tell the truth. Although we still have plenty of work to do on you, this is a potentially promising first step."
Kjandon looked down and Jezabel, his smile fading. "Oh, and Jane, what the fuck did you just do to Jezabel you bitch, no doubt she was trying to help."
Jane said, "There is no need to use that kind of language, Kjandon. And, all I did was ward her off. She suffered no serious or permanent damage, just got shaken."
Jezabel rose unsteadily to her feet. She did not look amused by the whole fiasco.
"Oh, I feel good," she said, then walked over to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a glass of something, drinking it half empty.
"Sit down Kjandon," Ash said. "If we wanted you dead, you wouldn't have been able to make that speech. There will be no violence here. At least not today. Believe me when I say that you have more words than mine on that." I certainly didn't agree to anything involving Kjandon's life.
The sound of light applause came from Haakon, who was staring at Kjandon. "Bravo, dear brother. That was quite a touching speech. Near moved to tears I am." He shook his head sadly. "Alas, that your sudden sense of duty seems to come too late." Turning back to the fire he called over his shoulder, "I am curious, though, about one thing. Was it you who poisoned dear old Dad, or Sigurd?"
I drew a sharp breath. Even I, despite my feelings for our recently returned brother, wouldn't charge him with murder and high treason right here in front of everybody. Then again, it was probably safer for Haakon to do here, where Kjandon couldn't kill him.
Jezabel was still leaning against the alcohol cabinet with her drink. "Kjandon you seem to be good source of information about Scar. So why do you not tell us a little bit about it. About their troops, their armor, their weapons, their attack plans. How many children Corwin, Osric and Finndo have and who their children are, et cetera."
Kjandon sat down and looked at Jezabel. "Are you all right, I am sorry that concern over my sorry ass, caused you pain."
Then he looked at Haakon. "I can understand your mistrust brother, up until the moment I arrived here and saw my fathers dead body I was one of Amber's greatest threats, one of their own who had turned against them. No doubt I could not have taken you all out by myself, but considering my welcome here, it would not have been too difficult to get Osric Finndo and Sigurd in here with me. The four of us could easily have taken out some young uns more worried about who gets the throne than over the enemies at their gate.
"The truth of the matter is that neither me nor Sigurd were responsible for the death of father. Finndo was quite clear in telling me that while Scar was not responsible for the death, they would take advantage of the weakness.
"The deal was that in exchange of training and continued loyalty I would be allowed to kill my father. As it stands both sides reneged. I am no longer loyal to them, and I was not the one who killed my father.
"You can expect that the attack this time will be similar to the one last time. But with subtle differences. Those differences are the key. They wish to lull you into a false sense of security by having the attacks be similar to the other ones. Don't fall for it. As for troop composition, undead troops, demonic troop commanders, some pattern blade wielders, some with magic. You have to understand that war is not my thing, mayhem is. I was never particularly involved in the strategy sessions. Oh yeah, and children, Sigurd is the only one I know of, they kept their private lives private. Perhaps they knew me to be a rat, knew that my loyalties would return who knows. In that case you could expect that everything I have told you is false. Or better yet, I could still be allied with them and feeding you all kinds of false information. Jane'll probably back me up, but she could be part of the trap, placed their by Osric to make me more convincing. Of course, I am telling the truth so you have nothing to fear." He smiled.
"Oh," it came almost as an after thought and was directed at Ash, "and if you haven't trumped Sigurd yet, I would not bother, as you already know, he's not one of us, and for whatever reason he plots our demise with them. Does anyone have a smoke?"
"So many people seeking our demise," I mused, smiling. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a half used book of matches from my candle lighting earlier. I tossed them to Kjandon. "I only have matches, but if anyone has anything feel free to use them and keep them; if not, then you can keep them anyway."
"Either way," I said, smiling almost, but not quite, maliciously, "consider them a welcome home present."
"That sounds like a 'do not trust me', Kjandon, and I thought the quote was 'trust me in all things'." Jezabel smiled at him pleasantly . "I guess after what you have said our enemies are hoping that we are doing the job for them and they can take the winner. Sounds like the old tactic: Let the enemy destroy themself and then take the rest with brute force. But that would be easy. When Ash has gathered all the family members and we made sure no unwanted parts is listening we could start our counsel. There is one thing which bothers me: if it is true that Scar is not responsible for the death of our Father, then there is a third party with unknown interests."
Kjandon said something about the fact that he thought it was one of us and not to forget Chaos, because it had been a while and they were/could be a wild card in the game. Then he inquired about a smoke again.
Fernanda trumped in, a fact which surprised all of us.
She had once had long, brown hair, though now it was short and so blond it appeared to be of spun gold. She wore a cold smile and her eyes which once held cheer contained no emotion. She wore a satin shirt of white and her pants were of dark crimson and laced with a black braided belt. Her shoes were shiny.
She stood tall, five eleven, her chin slightly titled which gave her a look of arrogance. She briefly regarded all of us, then turned to Ash.
"I thank you for inviting me to this family meeting," she said, her once cheerful voice containing more than a hint of frigidity, though she spoke in soft tones. "It was very kind of you to remember me in this formal gathering." She gave him a nod, then continued. "I do have one question though: By what right do you invite me here to discuss Amber's future?"
Glancing at Haakon I watched him smile and take out a full pack of cigarettes, lighting one.
"Sorry," he said to Kjandon. "Last one." I smiled at that, turning away as he unbuckled his sword belt and hung it on the back of the chair.
Jezabel, looking surprised, took a step forward. Then to Fernanda, "Greetings sister, it has been a long time. This seems to be the day for family reunion, when we are lucky, Dain and Uthyr will turn up too." She smiled and seemed truly happy. I have nothing against Fernanda, but Jezabel was glad to see Kjandon of all people!
"If I am right, Kjandon," she continued, still looking at Fernanda, "somewhere in the alcohol cabinet are some cigars, I think in the second drawer on the right. Emergency rations for the smokeaddicts." Not me. Nope, I take the drink, though at the moment I'm afraid to be anything but sober.......
Fernanda crossed the space between her and Jezabel and removed a slim silver cigarette case, from which she produced a long, thin cigarette and offered it to Jezabel.
"Not as thick and cumbersome as a cigar, more graceful and refined. Will this appease your craving?"
Jezabel regarded it for a moment, hesitated, then sighed.
"Thank you for the offer Fernanda, but at the moment I'm trying to stop smoking." She then went on to tell of Father's "unfortunate" death and finished off her drink. She then directed a question and Ash that was phrased: "I guess, Ash, you did not reach Uthyr, so the question is, do we want to inform him of the situation by other means?"
I decided to break into the conversation just then, mainly because the details on Dad's death had only been half correct.
"Before we begin on the fascinating topic of magical communication and other such stuff I'd like to clear the record. According to the autopsy the poison wasn't what killed Dad. I'm sure it was factor, but he met his unlimited demise in the form of a stroke, though cause was found for it was not found," I said, being careful not to mention my suspicion of Maxim and the trump. "'Great stress' I believe is what the doctor said, but the poison had not progressed enough to do him in. Of course, whatever did cause the stroke certainly did a good job of it, so whoever administered the poison shouldn't be too unhappy........unless of course they had a fixciation with killing him themselves and felt that that wasn't good enough. Then they will probably come after us."
"Then again, they may be coming after us already or, and this is a darker notion, one of us could have poisoned him the first place. Who knows?" I shrugged and fingered my necklace, prepared to throw a fireball at anyone who should question me. I guess I'm just a tad bit suspicious as of late.
Fernanda gazed at me and asked, "Where is his body?" She made her way toward the fire place and looked into the fire for a moment, then turned back to me. "I assume it's in the Castle somewhere. Yes?"
Something funny came to mind, but I decided not to say since Fernanda was, well, giving me a look which meant "no funny business."
I blinked, slightly shocked by actually speaking with her. She disappeared a long time ago. Absently, I twirled my necklace chain about one finger and met her gaze.
"Unless it was moved it is still in the infirmary, more likely than not going through some form of preservation since we've had all night and still haven't gotten around to deciding on the funeral." As soon as the words came out of my mouth I wished I hadn't said them.
Fernanda looked disgusted and raised a fuss about us not arranging for Dad to be buried. Haakon told it that it was because none of us gave a damn, and she looked as though she might pick him up and throw him into the fire right then and there. Ash took offense and had to be calmed down and Jezabel managed to win over the situation with some comment about the fact that he was King and we needed to make certain preparations, such as assuring Amber's safety.
Then Kjandon said something poetic about Dad being buried once "his kingdom was safe from without and within" and lit a cigar which he had found in the alcohol cabinet. Inhaling burning rubber........ maybe we'll get lucky and he'll choke and die.
He turned to Ash then and said(for the uptennth time) something about not calling Sigurd.
Ash called Dain instead, which proved to be a big mistake. Even bigger than my comment on Daddy and funeral arrangements.
Let me tell you something about Dain. He's old, older than all of us save possibly Andre. He was gone before I was born. Nothing more than a whisper in the history books and a picture on a never used trump card. A trump card who I've looked at so few times I can't even remember what he looks like.
While Ash was studding the card Haakon stood, tossing his cigarette into the fire, he stood and flung his sword belt over his shoulder.
"I seem to recall being in the midst of reading when I was interrupted by Father's untimely entrance this morning." He headed toward the bookcases in the corner of the room. "Can I get anyone anything while I'm up?" he asked. There were takers, for his tone of voice implied that he would rather go, say, swim with hungry sharks than bring any of us a book from the other side of the room.
Heteroch entered then, unfortunately, in my personal *impartial* opinion, not dead, though covered in blood and grim much as Haakon had been earlier. He was glowering, but his expression changed drastically when he saw Fernanda. They exchanged pleasantries and Haakon watched his arrival with distaste. Another point in his favor! He then disapeared behind a book shelf as Heteroch left, promising to come back after he, Heteroch, had a change of clothes.
Haakon emerged from the shelves a few moments later, a small volume of something or the other in one hand. As took his seat again he muttered something about "there being little of interest back there."
As soon as Heteroch closed the door, Maxim appeared via a trump and felt sick to my stomach. I like Maxim, I really do, but recent suspicions are causing me to be edgy around him.
"Hail, hail, the gangs all here," he said, then started to say something else, but broke off upon seeing Fernanda. That's the great thing about that bunch. Three illegitimate children, going in the order of Fernanda, Maxim, and Haakon. Their mother certainly hung around a while, though I won't add any nasty comments about her.
"Well, well," he said, crossing the room to his sister. "Fernanda! You're all grown up! And looking quite stunning I might add." He took one of her hands and kissed it. "You've deprived us of your presence for too long, sister." He looked up from her hand and in to her eyes, as if searching for something.
She smiled pleasantly. "Brother, it has been some time." She raised a hand and patted him gently on the cheek. "I take it you missed me big brother?"
"Why of course!" Maxim winked at her. "This calls for a drink." He went over to the sideboard and located a bottle of champagne. He poured three glasses and handed one to Haakon and one to Fernanda, who still seemed a little miffed about Haakon's "none of us give a damn" comment.
They toasted each other, though Haakon seemed througholy uninterested in the whole affair and hardly ever looked up from his book.
Suddenly Ash spoke, reaching a hand towards us though he still studied the trump. "Take my hand," he said. "Someone strong."
Before anyone had a chance to react, however, Ash shouted, which caused all of us to jump, then hurled Dain's trump away from him. The air was heavy with the psychic forces he was hurling at the trump, trying desperately to close the connection. He screamed mentally, causing more than one of the psychic greats to cringe.
Dain's trump slammed into the far wall, but a faint shimmer about the size of the card remained imprinted against the air it's self. Weird.
Then tentacles black as night came through, moving with the ease and grace of a serpent. There were only a few at first, then a few more and a few more. Then tiny, clawed hands began to claw at the silvery outline, forcing it open little by little.
This turn of events was enough to convince Haakon to look up from his book. "These family meetings never seem to go as planned, eh, Ash?" he asked drolly, loosening his sword in it's scabbard.
Ash, who was lying dazedly on the floor, did not reply.
He then struggled to his feet and nodded vacantly.
"Gods," he whispered. "They're from....him. From under his skin. Dain isn't.....Dain anymore." It had to be truly amazing for it to put Ash at a loss for words.
Maxim moved then and I watched him, following every movement. No one seemed to notice my observation.
He moved across the room, staying well out of the way of the tentacles, and somehow retrieved the fallen trump without getting slimed. Now that in it's self was suspicious, but when he next sat down and sipped his drink, acting as though this was a day at the carnival, well, my suspicions reached and all time high!
Lanna stood and drew Werewindle, and in a flowing motion sliced the surface of the portal. She then reversed her grip and stabbed directly into it.
I got up then and wordlessly moved forward, drawing my own weapon and stopping somewhere to the left of her, in case she should need some assistance.
The trump gate began to fluctuate and the psychic energies seems to increase. I glanced toward Ash and saw that he and Fernanda both were focusing on the gate, obviously trying to shut it down.
It began to shrink, then to distort as though it was clapsing on it self. When Lanna stabbed into the center of the thing things got ugly.
The was a scream and lightning exploded from the gate and ran the length of Werewindle. There was a sudden thunder clap and the gate crashed upon it's self, the little arms being sucked back in to the hole, the tentacles being chopped off. They fell writhing, to the ground and began to form small piles of blackish goo that steamed.
The word "ew" came to mind.
"Uhh," Kjandon broke in, "if this is gonna be a regular thing from now on, you know, tentacles popping through trump gates and all, I think it is high time I'm allowed to carry a weapon in these halls. So, does anyone have any idea where I can get myself a sword?" Kjandon, brother, if tentacles flying out of trump gates become a usual occurrence, you can have my sword because I'm leaving!
"Well," Haakon said, ignoring Kjandon and settling back into his chair, "that was certainly exciting. Now, shall you tell us what you've brought us here for, Ash, or haven't you quite finished your floor show?" Ash ignored Haakon, which is nothing new.
Maxim, new trump somewhere in his pocket, walked over to Ash and began to speak with him in low tones.
Lanna gave me a nod and studied her blade, then sheathed it, massaging her sword hand mildly.
Ash took a deep breath and turned to us. "Excellent. Your efforts are.....thank you."
Fernanda nodded, her face flushed. "I believe they were called for."
"Ash," Lanna said, "in view of the fact that I may have just driven a sword into him, what did you find out about Dain? I should really like to know."
Ash walked over to the bar and poured himself a glass of water. "Yes. Well, suffice it to say that it appears that Dain will be a problem." Oh, how perceptive. "He is mad, powerful and not entirely human, from the appearance of the tentacles and worms writhing under his skin. He may to be extinguished. I'd say we've made a mutual enemy, Lanna."
I love the way he said "extinguished" rather than "killed." It makes Dain seem like a giant cigarette or something.
Haakon chuckled. "Mad, powerful, and not entirely human- quite the diagnosis there, brother. That could very well describe most of us assembled in this room." He took a sip of his champagne and toasted Lanna's quick action. "Bravo, sister. Quick, decisive thinking. You do our father proud." He snorted softly into the glass.
Surprisingly, Ash smiled. "Indeed, quite true. Best to forget him then, eh?"
No one responded, but Ash had our attention walked over to where Maxim and Heteroch, whom I had not seen enter, were standing.
Without an introduction he began:
"I have called you all here to announce the security arrangements for Amber, and to ask you to endorse them.
"Point One: Benedict is dead. It was only fear of him that kept his mad brothers in Scar away so long. Without him, an attack by Scar is inevitable.
"Point Two: Divided and squabbling over the Succession, we stand no chance of holding off Scar. We must be united or die.
"Point Three: There is not enough time to decide the Succession before Amber is swept away. Personally, I don't give a damn who sits on the Throne, and would be amused to watch you all kill each other over it, but that will have to wait for another day.
"Point Four: We need an interim leader: a Regent and War-Leader. Only one person here fits the bill: Heteroch." I resisted the urge to gag.
"So," he continued, "here is what we propose. Heteroch is Regent and in command of the defences of Amber, with others serving as his generals. All vendettas and claims to Succession are tabled until we all agree that the emergency is past.
"There is more. Maximillian and I will serve to ensure that Heteroch lives up to his promise to stand down when called upon to do so. We also serve as balances against each other's aspirations."
Yeah, which one of you killed Dad? You all seem to be in this together, and the fact that you worked this all out without informing us is just a little suspicious.
"Only one," Fernanda said, making her way to the door. "Which way to our Father's body?"
Maxim walked over and began to lecture her on being careful because he died of Pattern venom yatta, yatta, yah.
Haakon ignored her question and set down his half empty glass of champagne.
"I wouldn't presume to speak for anyone else here, since I don't think they would care to have me do so," he smiled, "but I am more than willing to allow Heteroch the chance to die vaingloriously in battle defending Amber, just as our Father before him." He spread his arms wide in a gesture of dismissal. "Of course, I don't expect my opinion would carry much weight wether I except him or not."
"As for the other bit," this was directed at Ash, "about you and Maximillan, again, I will go with the status quo on this, though I find it rather convient that the two of you seem to have worked this plan out amongst yourselves." He shrugged. "Be that as it may, you have my word that I shall be as amenable as I always am." He stood. "Unless there is anything else?" He headed toward the door.
"Yes," Ash said, eyeing him. "We'd like to hear you swear to postpone any claims until the emergency is past."
Haakon smiled indulgently. "Why, dear brother, you do for me far too much credit. As if I had much of a claim to make as it is." He chuckled, then looked levelly at Ash. "Very well, if you must hear it, and I don't imagine you'll be satisfied until you do: I will postpone any claim to the throne until such a time as this matter with Scar has been settled. Now, I will be off. Good night, siblings."
Pausing at the door he turned back to us and smiled. "You mention keeping Father's dream alive, Ash. It occurs to me that there couldn't be a more fitting way than continuing the tradition of backstabbing and betrayal of siblings that he indulged in."
He studied his finger nails for a few moments. "I only mention it, of course, as a matter of pure academic speculation. You all know how to contact me if you need me- provided that you haven't misplaced my trump." He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Not that I'd put it past any of you."
Haakon left then and Ash glowered like a storm cloud, then Jezabel broke in.
"As far as I remember, in times of danger for Amber even our aunts and uncles stood together, Patternfall War if you'll remember. And for my part I think we need every person this time, including you," she said to Ash. "And I do not think that you care little for Amber."
"My dear Jezabel," replied Ash, "I have intended to give the impression that I don't care for Amber, and if it has been taken as such, that is solely the fault of those who attempt to read my actions." He looked seriously about the room, then returned his gaze to Jezabel. "Indeed, I care deeply for Amber, our home. It is certain aspects of it that I could do without."
Then he addressed our family member at the door through which Haakon had exited. "Fernanda. You may have saved me a moment ago. I must tell you that those who refuse to lay aside vendetta will be exiled from Amber. Those who pursue it with force before Amber is secure will be met with deadly force. When the threat from Scar is gone, I assure that Heteroch WILL stand down. Will you pledge to postpone your claim?"
Fernanda gave him a look of distaste. "I don't recall making a claim to begin with," she said crisply. "You forget I didn't even know of Fathers death. Have a little compassion, brother. For without it, one can not rule anything." Ash, King of Amber. Talk about horror stories.......
Ash watched her leave. "She's going to be trouble" was his only comment.
Maxim shrugged. "Perhaps not. Let me talk to her, we got on fairly well before - I think we can reach an understanding."
Baldwyn, who had been so quiet that I had forgotten him, replied, "I'll certainly go along with this; though Heteroch himself has stated that he'd rather not have an appointed Regent. He thinks such a position will be sure to become a target."
"Yes. I would be a target," Heteroch said seriously, "but as both Maximillian and Ash pointed out to me earlier, and to the whole of us now, we are in a precarious position. Organization is an important thing right now, and if Scar is indeed moving on us, we must be on our guard.
"I accept the temporary position. And once the security of Amber is solidified, we can handle the question of the throne." He's so damn sanctimonious.........
"Heteroch, my twin said, "would not be my first choice as ruler of Amber, and the extent of his power base sets paranoid alarm bells ringing. But as a war leader he is probably the best choice. I won't stand in the way, and I will accept his lead. Until the time comes to select Father's heir, and this decision in no way biases that selection."
"Well said sister," I muttered, taking my seat next to the fire again.
"I'm willing to go along with too. Despite everyone's feelings for everyone else we owe something to Amber don't we? It's our home - in our blood. If we start bickering now who knows when it will end? In fact, that's exactly what Osric and Finndo want us to do; we get so wrapped up in our own problems and disagreements that we let things slip, giving them a chance to launch a successful attack. I, personally, would rather die in Amber's defense then squabbling over her throne." A petty speech. I can be sanctimonious too.
"My thought exactly," replied Ash. "As I've often said, I don't give a rat's ass about who sits on the damn throne. I just want to see that Father's life and death have meant something. In fact, when this is all over, I look forward to watching the new generation beat the hell out of each other over a piece of gaudy furniture."
Then, turning to Lanna, "Exactly the point, dear sister. Heteroch will not BE ruler. Just Regent. His powers strictly limited to those necessary for Amber's survival. He knows that Maximillian and I, and all of you, for that matter, shall be watching him as only family can." Great. Maxim and him. I feel safer already.
"And the rest of you?" Ash snapped. "Speak your minds."
"I must admit that I am not happy, but my voice counts for very little in this room," Kjandon said, "I am a traitor. I am a disgrace. It is not that Heteroch is in charge which displeases me. In fact, that Heteroch is in charge pleases me. It is how and by whom this desiscion was made. You two have made enemies today. Remember that, and beware that you are not destroyed in your mad rush for the throne, and once there always cover your backs. I do not care for the throne myself. But there are those in the room who do, and they shall not quickly forget the events of today. So yes, I support Heteroch, in wartime and perhaps still after." I won't, you can bet on that. Then again, personal feelings make for bad politics, no?
Ash nodded. "Good. Listen to me, Kjandon. Listen all of you. This is NOT an attempt to take the throne. I could think of many better ways to do THAT. If we have made enemies here today, so be it. So long as they postpone their revenge until the Emergency has passed. I shall await them thereafter."
Heteroch began a speech to justify his actions, but his voice faded to oblivion in my mind as they started to appear.
The liquid remains of the tentacular pieces became, suddenly, animate and began to rise upwards, solidifying into a couple of dozen little bipedal humanoids as they did so. They were all black with little claws and fangs.
Then they began to rush at each other, crashing in to one another and melting into one, solid form. They reached the size of small children before anyone had a chance to react.
Jezabel took out a long dagger and took a defensive pose, but Maxim, and here's what really got me, just sat back and watched the events unfold. I'm going to have to do some investigating about this man.
As I watched Maxim, I noted that Lanna rose and chopped one of the things in half, then stepped back and made a comment about getting this "stuff" out of Amber, to which Jezabel agreed.
Maxim just stood there, calmly smoking.
Lanna continued to cut, making more and more of the black creatures who were re-merging as fast as my sister was slicing.
Something happened then and Lanna cried out in surprising, which prompted me to take my eyes off Maxim. The little black creatures were eating her legs! There was an explosion and I craned my neck further, then noticed one of the little things tearing a hole in the wall. Not in the wall.......in the fabric of reality........
A person began to materialize on the other side. It was Dain, best I could recall, naked with tentacles and black ooze pulsating around his body, from his body.
He turned to look at us, then to look at someone, or something, behind him.
"This is what I meant, friend. I had thought this business settled, but I guess not," he said, his voice was off somehow. It just wasn't human.
Dain turned then and smiled at us, his gums bleeding a greyish-black liquid. He then said, grinning, "Well, my family is ready to communicate with me again! How joyous!"
He then stepped through the rift, seeming excited. All the while the little black critters chewed on Lanna's legs.........
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