At times I wonder if I do not love Amber too much for my own good.
When Prince Jacob (that strange, aloof member of the Royal Family about which most know so little) approached me with the possibility of putting myself back in the good graces of the Throne, I have to admit that any suspicion I might rightly have felt was far overwhelmed by the burning sense of hope; there are many bright and wonderful kingdoms in the vast expanses of Creation -- certainly, I am even born of one -- but Amber, that Jewel above all Jewels, burned more brightly simply because I knew I could not have it, that I had been banished. Thus, even realizing that it may mean my doom to involve myself in the machinations of the those who rule that golden realm, I agreed to help the Prince.
Would that I had more sense.
Come to that, would that I had been born blind that I would not have seen what I have seen this day.
My role was that of a sacrificial lamb, staked out to speak with a thing like an elder god, the likes of which I cannot easily describe. A great and terrible creature it was, bestial in form and the size of a great castle, swarmed about by insectoid hunters the size of wagons that shown with the gleam of greasy blood. There was some peculiarly abominable quality about them which made their destruction seem almost a duty, though I knew it was far beyond my own abilities to do so. For a moment, I believed that the entire horrific entourage would wash over and destroy me (or, worse, absorb me into their hellish mass).
Something very like fright had overcome my person and I would have fled were I not held in place by the iron will of the Prince, who intended I speak with the creature. Though I knew it could not be the case, in my heart I called him coward, that he would not stand before the Thing himself. I see his plan, however -- while he might have been able to retain something of his honor in the face of such a degrading horror, he would have too been precious a prize not to devour -- I was the perfect ambassador to this Nightmare: too insignificant to destroy, with just enough of the Voice of Authority to hear out. Using me was a brilliant stratagem, and I hated him for it.
The being from outside time and sanity flapped toward me in a shocking, impossible way on membraneous wings, the odor arising from its body quite intolerable, its eyes as it looked down on me filled with a darkness almost solid in its material -- so dark it was almost a presence rather than an absence of light, obscuring brighter sources within that screamed of aeons of captivity and pain.
My thoughts and speech wandered from anything approaching coherence when it paused above me. I felt my body slump down into unconsciousness, only to be driven back to its feet by the will of the Prince, though it was not my rightful faculties that looked out again upon the scene.
It is, I should note, only reconstruction of flashes of memory and inferral that allows me to recount the following.
I was insensible within the shell of my own body -- I had no remembrance of my indentity or my past, though somehow I thought it were a poor thing to allow the creature to know. My eyes gazed strangely at the thing before me, and my facial muscles seemed altogether unfamiliar.
Even my speech seemed awkward and foreign, my vocal organs clumsy and groping, my diction curiously ill-at-ease in my mouth, as if I spoke some strangely accented derivative of Thari that I had learned solely from books. The pronunciation was alien, while the idiom seemed to include both scraps of curious archaism and expressions of a wholly incomprehensible nature.
What I spoke of to the beast I cannot recount. I know only that when the ordeal finally ended, the creature moved on in its ineffable route and I yet lived, if living you could call it. The Prince came to me and took me by unknowable paths through a hundred worlds, dulling the horrors of what I had seen with crude alchoholic concoctions -- rude but effective in their chemical composition.
We came at last to the great golden city of Amber that I love too much and my heart’s ache eased. The Prince assured me that I was once more welcome within the Realm, that he would speak on my behalf. I nodded absently as I looked over the city and he departed. It was a great kindness to be in the place that was my one true home once again.
Yet even as I looked over visual cacophony laid out before me, I remembered the stone-like solidity of the darkness within that creature’s eyes -- a darkness that now seemed to lie behind each shadow.
I wondered if I would ever see the world truly again.
I wondered if I was seeing the world truly for the first time.
The attack on Zhartra puts things in a new kind of light -- the kind of light where you’re laying on one of them doctor tables where they cut you up after you die.
It’s pretty near obvious that whoever’s working on the Binders have a big plan -- you don’t do the things they’re doing unless you planned, and probably planned for years.
Thirteen’s vampire girl is taken care off. It was a puzzle to work out what to do with binding her, but I’m fair certain she’ll do herself an others a damn sight less harm now. Hell, she might even be useful.
After we got Zhartra squared away about as well as we could in Lynxia (and I realized that I actually couldn’t let her die, even if I’d wanted to), I lit out for the Shadow where Zhartra had been shot to try and track the bastard down. (Turns out the Brotherhood had originally sent Zhartra some info that might have led her out that way (and I have to wonder if their ‘informant’ remembers giving them the info, or if the real one was actually out of town at the time).)
There’s a bunch of ruins there and a place where someone’s Bound up some bit of Unpleasantness From Beyond. I couldn’t track the bastard more than a few Shadows before he finds a Junction of Ways and the trail’s gone, but everything about what happened screams ‘vampire’, maybe with another Initiate to help him get away. Vampires with an eye towards the Big Picture makes me think ‘Helgram’.
‘Helgram’ makes me think about my guns.
Also makes me think about checking on the Courts, so I give Griv a call with the new trump to see if it works. It does -- calling him while he’s sneaking into House Chanicut for a little skullduggery just about gets him killed and I’m obliged to pull him clear, but he’s got no good info for me. Helgram’s on top of the heap right now. Imagine my surprise.
I sent Griv off the way he came and head out to check on Katanathoa the Toad to see if he's still sitting where he ought to be and if he's got any hooded acolytes sneaking around wiping his ass for him. We have outselves a little Chautanqua and the warty bastard tells me, as regards this great bloody conspiracy that’s going on, "someone was moved."
Right. Someone was moved. Right. I've got no blasted clue what the blue hells he's talking about. Right.
When I get back out of Kata-toad's cave, Tori’s trumping me like a woodpecker working on an old rotten log (an image that works out accurate in a couple different ways). Turns out I’ve been out of communication for three blasted days, during which Unknown Parties set loose the Beast on the Pole at just about the right time to mess up the Regent. Both of them.
Random... Dad had a saying for times like these. Damned if I can remember it.
Sure as hell I ain't the smartest man's ever lived, but I'm starting to feel like the kind of stupid that'll get ya killed.
Benedict seemed to have taken note of the way the Queen Grams did things and decided that the family needed to give myself and Rinaldo official support for our new job. Seemed like a fair thing to do, seeing as how the job was basically “don’t let anything unnatural eat people that don’t deserve it” and most of my cousins and kin would like to think that applies to them.
Most times they’d even been right.
He didn’t cotton to my idea to Bind Bleys until he he started behaving properly, though. It wasn’t, I don’t reckon, that it was a bad idea for anyone, even Bleys, but with everyone looking on the first thing that’d come to their mind would be “how long before someone decides I need some taming?”
He’s probably right -- wouldn’t want to give folks warning.
I mentioned that we really ought to have a sit-down with everyone and lay out a few ground rules for times when they stumble across one of the impromptu prisons that someone’s set up for some elderkin or other -- the main one being “don’t feed the damn animals” -- he was already planning for something like that, so I got myself added to the agenda and set off to do some book learning in Lynxia where it wouldn’t waste anyone’s time but my own.
I couldn’t keep my nose jammed in Delwin’s journal’s all the time, though, so I spent some time sparring and wrestling with a few folks when the words started to swim away from me.
Eventually, I got a call from Flora to let me know that she was calling up the meeting and that she was acting Regent for the moment -- seems Benedict had gotten wind of harm done to Dara (his daughter, I’ve already gathered) and gathered up Gerard to teach a few folks some manners. That’s an etiquette course I’d give a good deal to watch and pay double to say out of.
I wasn’t sure Flora knew much about the bits I’d planned on saying at the meeting, so I filled her in a bit and stepped through.
I found out at the meeting that Benedict and Gerard had taken Badger, Martin, and Thirteen’s mother (Mirelle) with em. I had a bit of a twinge hearing that about Martin, but it was more guilt for not seeing him since our night on the town than of worry -- he certainly seemed like he knew how to take care of himself and at any rate worrying about someone traveling with Gerard and Benedict doesn’t show much aptitude for using your time wisely. Surprised me that the other two had taken along one of their sisters with em on something like that, since most of the womenfolk from that generation didn't seem worth much, but this lady, she sounds alright. Might have to introduce myself and see if there ain't at least some part of that gene pool that didn't come out alright.
Flora also mentioned that Diego had hauled Bleys the crazy back from where ever the hell he’d been, which I’d already known, and that there were spies creeping around in the Mirrorrealm, which I hadn’t. She reminded everyone to get familiar with fighting over on that side of things (something I’d yet to do) and mentioned that she was working on Trumps the worked over there -- seemed you need to know how both Trump and the mirrors work before you can get the one to work with the other, and she meets the requirements. (It don’t surprise me much that Flora dove right into a power based on mirrors, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Diego seemed a might bit peeved over Trumps working over in the Mirrorrealm, but he don’t seem happy breathing unless he’s got something ruffling his feathers, so I just ignored the whole thing -- seems to be the best way to deal with him in most cases and certainly hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
I said my standing up piece about telling the Family to Leave Bound Creatures the Hell Alone and glared a Tori a few times so she got the point.
Afterwards I headed back to Lynxia (which Diego had said had quite a few mirror spies around and had, naturally, then been put in charge of dealing with them). Before I got back to the books I grabbed all my gear and had someone take me to the other side of the Looking Glass for a little poking around. None of the damn gunpowder worked. He swung some sharp things at folks to get the feel of the place and messed with my springbolts. Zariel didn’t care for the place at all, but at least I know he can handle it for short stretches. When I finished that up I goes back to the books. The way I read it, Dworkin and Delwin both had a habit of bleeding themselves and making diamonds and whatnot out of them -- especially Bindings and weapons, so I know my natural inclinations ought to suit this right down to the ground.
Just to get the last bit squared away before things get complicated again, I headed out to Sand’s place and gathered up her notes as well (some of them were missing as well, and I didn’t have near the same luck as I had at Delwin’s with remaking the things. On the other hand, it looks like Sand had done some real interesting things with projectiles and blood-diamond bullets.
That got me thinking about a little bullet trick that might give me a few more options with my guns.
Real intriguing, but there always seems to be about three good ideas for every one idea's worth of time that I've got.
I continued to search for hints in the recovered book the sylph had recreated for me at Delwin's keep. There three critters that look noteworthy in the things I’ve gone through so far --
The Hounds: There were 8 of the damned things so I had to call Alessandra (Sand) up for help. Again, no sign of their alleged time-travelling ability. Haven't used the tetsubo for a long time. Good thing I put the carbochon blood-diamonds on it. I and Sand reinforced and powered up a giant oak and herded/tricked the Hounds into it. Spent a couple of days at Shingu Spa with sis after and caught up on what she's been up to.
Zhothaqquah: Old Toad got loose enough to gather another cult via the telepathy that makes his progenitor's line so fucking dangerous. Reinforced Its dolomite throne -- It hadn't quite worked Its way off the thing -- and re-bound It to the stone. The spalls on Zh's chest from the rocket launcher he'd used last time had healed up.
Lrii: Hate that name. The mega-salamandros had burned half a subcontinent by the time I got there. News slowed by the first Brotherhood types on the scene ending up as small clouds of ash. I forced it into the middle of the waste and into a granite plateau, bound into the rock, the middle of which is now a magma lake. Fairly straightforward, pure Pattern and Binding.
As I’m reading I hear a thump outside and one of the Remans comes rushing to tell me what I can already see out of the window: there's a massive stone... cat (bout the size of two elephants) just outside the keep. The way I figured it, there was a good chance I couldn’t take it in a fair fight and there wasn’t a good way to make it an unfair fight with no warning, so I decided to go along with its offer to parlay and rode out to meet. The thing introduced itself as Helel, one of the things that was bound back in Dworkin’s time, round about when he made the pattern. Helel’s apologetic over that ‘mix up’ and want to show his good intentions by letting me know about some abyssal critters that are on the move through nearby lands... some sort of hoojums that crawl down your throat and eat your soul, then walk around in your body. Reproductive as hell, apparently.
Oh, and bye the bye he mentions that Toriana was the one that let him go just lately. I think to make my job easier the first thing to do would be binding some of my own kin.
At any rate, he says he can lead me to this critters as a sign of good faith and I ride off with him. We chat a spell and I bring him up to speed on recent news as best I can. He’s had a lot of time to think in the last couple thousand years and has a lot to say.
We commandeered a castle that looked down over the road the things were coming towards us on. They were in peasant bodies... there were about 60 infected mixed in with about 600 normal mundanes, so some sorting was in order. Helel also said he thought there were more moving along behind them at night in their real bodies (that don’t deal with Sunlight too well, then he lit out.
Long story short: abyssal critters are disturbing as hell, but they die just fine. I called up 13 and Fineas and we cored out the peasant stock, moved to the cave the others were hiding in, and just used their hideout as their prison. Problem solved. Creepy as hell, but problem solved.
After seeing me use the Binding, Thirteen got the idea that I might be able to do something with a wayward servant of his. Seems he’s got a little vampiress that’s useful enough, but too dangerous and reckless by half.
Yeah, can’t figure how that’d make em think of me.
Anyway, he’s hoping I can lay a geas on her in some fashion to keep her in line without just chopping off her head. We’ll see. Might be a good test at any rate.
I finally had two seconds to rub together and got to work on an idea I'd been poking at for a few weeks now. It's irked me mightily that I have to use perfectly good cartridges when I get to a new Shadow, just figuring out what powder type will work where. I mean to say, waste aside, it's noisey as all hell.
So I made me some matches using samples of the various powder. I could probably have got by with a pocket full of primer caps but the matches are a sight more subtle when I'm trying to figure out the rules of a place and they sort out quite a bit easier, since most of the powders are different colors.
Also, the smell of gunpowder as you light up is a comfort.
Least ways, it is to me.
Once I got that bit of work wrapped up and jawed with Zhartra a bit more, I called up my boys and got a clearer picture of what all'd been going on in the world. My last call was to Griv, as I figured he'd be a stretch to get hold of, but it didn't play out that way -- turns out he was on my side of the Dancing Mountains already, trying to get somewhere where he could give me a call and let me know what was going on, since it'd been awhile since we'd had a proper talk.
Initiative, that's what they call it -- wish to hell more of my boys had that.
At any rate, I got a better picture of what was going on with the Houses in Chaos and how much any of them were weakened in their civil wars, paying special mind to Hendrake as I've still got a yen to visit a little righteous pain on them for what they did with Martin.
While I was talking with Griv I got an idea about how to fix our Trump problems over the Dancing Mountains and just like that got a call from Toriana. Speak of the Devil and all that, I suppose. She and Thirteen were working on something in Shadow Purgatory (I almost wrote down "Thirteen's Shadow Purgatory", which I suppose isn't half wrong), and wanted to take a moment to talk over Delwin and Sand's mutual murder investigations. As I was planning to see to that myself in short order and knowing that Tori had been out the way of our Aunt and Uncle's homes, I figured it'd be a good plan to meet up, if only to get her Trumps of the places.
How did I know she'd made trumps of the places? Well, some things you just know.
And color me surprised that those two are working on anything but each other's mutual embarassment. Things do have a way of changing when you're not looking.
Before I headed over to join them, I moved around a few of my boys to more useful locations and got Rivan back where he could actually do some good -- Tori's got a damnable bad habit of leaving him behind when she goes haring off. When I got there I picked up Tori's trumps of Delwin's, Sand's and Zhartra's and talked to her about an idea I had to Bind Trump energy in tighter to a card, maybe strengthening it enough to get through the Dancing Mountain's interference -- at least better'n usual. I thought we might try the idea out with Griv, since he was in the area already, and she agreed to the plan.
Gunpowder matches and Bound Trumps. Surely I've been something of an idea-well lately.
While we worked on the Griv trump, Tori and I chatted and she let slip that she also had a trump of one of the bound-up Things Man Was Not Meant to Know (or Make Trumps Of), so I had that off of her right quick. I haven't been at this job for too many days, even hours, so for right now I'm just putting a stop to anything that sounds like a blamed foolish idea. That qualified.
In between my bits of help with the Binding, I worked on a sheath that'd damp down the mystic noise coming off Fineas' daddy's sword. Werewindle sure seems like something else that no one should be walking around with as it's a nasty, unnatural bit of work, but it doesn't really fall under my new job description so I let it go and hoped to hell he knew what he was doing.
Fineas had asked Tori to work on the security for the Keep of Four Worlds that his mother controls and as it's also an access point to the place the Binding Power calls home, I decided to volunteer some assistance (wished I hadn't afterwards -- Jasra's a disagreeable skirt and no mistaking -- only thing I'd volunteer to do in that neighborhood now is stick her in a nice padded room). We did up some protective wards and locked the place down tighter'n a parson's smile then went our seperate ways; me to investigate Delwin's old home and Tori to help out Thirteen and Fineas with some destruction.
Sure seems like that last sentence is turned around, but that's the way it happened.
Delwin's place had been gone over pretty hard. I got the idiot guards out of the way and set to work on his study, but while the man kept journals, some of em were missing; specifically the last year's worth of the monthly journals and a bound journal that summed up things from several hundred years past. Looking em over, I noticed that the handwriting changed every so often and eventually figured out that dear old Uncle had been using sylphs to do his dictation -- I've run into the odd sorcerer here and there that's done the same.
That gave me an idea.
I bled a bit into a cup, pulled out my very best conjury tricks and really laid into a summoning ceremony with the Binding power, trying to pull up the elementals that had written those books in the first place. I didn't get anything on the more recent books (looked like someone purged all the spirits out of the house, and that one pry got caught up in it), but after a bit of work and some help from Zariel I managed to corral the older spirit -- lucky the thing was still around to be found, but I figure that what with working for an Amberite and being Bound it must have been a little more durable than most -- still a good thing I was using the same power to find it again, cuz I'm for damn sure it helped.
Once I had it, I got it to recreate the Book it'd written.
Truly, I am a fountain of ideas these days.
Meanwhile, I pushed the rest of the books through to Micah in the Castle and told him to get proper book shelves set up for them and the notes Zhartra had given us -- boy looked plum tickled to get a chance to go about requisitioning things. Once the main bits were moved out, I got rid of the useless guards and brought in a century of my Reman boys to hold the fort. Literally, I suppose.
The new/old journal mentioned three major creatures that had been bound up during the time period covered -- those pry bear some investigation, but I'm gonna do this up right and pay my respects at Sand's before I go down that path. I've got an idea how to narrow the search down a bit.
When I was... well, young, I suppose, though I’ve never counted years the same way as most of the folk around me -- young enough to still have been working in Mama J’s kitchen, so too young to shave -- people started disappearing.
Not too many and not too fast, but folk knew it was happening after awhile; it became clear. There was never no sign of what up and took ‘em but it was always clear something had -- we knew they hadn’t moved off (although surely enough people did, and with good reason) because their places were always left just the way they’d been, sometimes with things left half-done -- Josef’s house burnt clean down when he disappeared with his forge fire going full out.
I was pretty much like everyone else, trying to ignore it, until the little girl that helped her mother clean the guestrooms upstairs disappeared. She weren't nothing to me but another face and less than half the age that I looked at the time, but having it happen to someone there at Mama J's made it personal -- put it up in my face. It rankled.
I got up my nerve then -- stole a knife out the kitchen and Mama J’s shotgun and headed out into the hills around town.
The big decisions never seem so at the time.
The Queen Grams and I chinned for awhile about working the binding power and the sort of ties that came along with such a thing. It didn’t make no nevermind to me since most of what I had to agree to do I was already doing for my own self.
Rinaldo, I gather, agreed to the duty that comes along with the power as a way of staving off the moon-brain that comes along with use of the Black Well that his mother laid on him. He seems like a decent enough sort but I have to wonder about that -- a person motivated to do a thing by a threat to his life (granted, a self-inflicted threat) is generally less inclined to maintain that commitment when the threat goes away (this is the sort of thing I’m something of an expert on) -- it doesn’t seem like opting out at a later date is really much of an option in this case, but it’s possible he might mean it with all his heart now, in a way that simply won’t exist as the years go by.
For myself, I reckon that if I was going to tire of hunting down the dark things that go bump in the night it would have happened long before now.
Having assured Zhartra of my motivations, I went along with her to her mountain keep where Rinaldo was already waiting. Once there, she let us know there were really two things that needed doing; one was to design a proper oath to swear when we took the power, while the other was to do some book learning on the creatures we’d be taking the charge of. Problem was, most every thing on the second subject was written in Old Thari and since my personal education was somewhat lacking in the classics, I know Old Thari about as well as I do knitting, so there were three things that needed doing.
Rinaldo and I generated personal headaches for the next couple days, splitting our attention between books, mystic oaths (something I’m fairly well-versed on), and sparring with each other. That last bit was my idea, if you can to call it that -- by the end of the first afternoon I pretty well wanted to hit something and decided that I ought to look productive while I was doing it. The second time Zhartra joined in and took our measure.
Rinaldo’s fair dangerous in a fight and I do alright myself, so she only made us look outclassed, not ridiculous. The rest of the week went by in a blur of old handwritten books, new handwritten parchments (my oaths), the sound of people playing at killing each other, and the too-rare moments spent on a good soak.
Zhartra told us it was time to get on with it before we’d studied half what we’d need, but when you’re fixing to replace people already missing for months there isn’t much time to be had for studies and note-taking. She took us to a place as looked unremarkable to my eyes, though my skin told me a different story.
One after the other we recited our papers and made our promises and the Thing came down upon us like a great chain; wrapped us up and pulled itself inside and it was done.
Hours had passed. Or days. Minutes. There was no sun in that world to judge time so there was no way to tell. Zhartra, who’d brought us in by one of the Wells, told me to take us out, which I had to do by first Allowing our Pattern to reach to me -- the first steps toward using the new Power, I gather. My head is full of thoughts I don’t recognize -- strings my brain is using to tie this new Thing into a shape I can recognize and use.
I can’t decide if everything is different or just a clearer version of what already was.
I’m not much for putting a shine on my boots and hobnobbing with the elite, but when needed, I’m told I clean up fairly well.
Truth be told, I can lay most of that on Random. Every so often when we were banging our way around Texorami, he’d get it in his head to take in an opera or some such nonsense, and he’d talk me into going along. I suspect he wasn’t doing it so much for the culture (though that was alright) as for the practice I’d get in acting like civilized folk when the situation called for it.
I get the impression he had at least two reasons for a lot of the things he did.
But, back to the duding up and the reason for same; Tori and Fineas and I (mostly Fineas) had helped out the Tir Gryphons well enough during their coup that they invited us and the rest of the family out to the crowning of one of their own (Marcus) as King and the wedding to follow. As I understood it, they had themselves the start of quite a Court going on there, so I took along one of my guys to leave behind and keep an eye on things after I was long gone. Antoine always had a head for intrigue and the like, so I thought he’d get on just fine.
Since this was a high-class function, I only took my very best weapons. I’d picked up a nice heavy gladius, made special by my Reman troops, but I thought it was a bit much for this, so I settled for the two revolvers in shoulder holsters, a few throwing knives here and there, and the good bowie knife. After all, we weren’t going to war.
Once we were set, I hopped over to the old cave where Tori and Fineas and I had set up our first plans to storm the Tir, took survey of the place as well as I could from there, then contacted Rinaldo and had him pull me the rest of the way through. Precautions can look a little like paranoia to people that haven’t been shot at much, I suppose, and Antoine was looking at me a little askance, but that’s all right; as long as I’m still around to be looked at funny, then I’m doing something right.
Rinaldo made me proper introductions with Veala and Marcus, neither of whom made me feel overdressed in the weapons department.
A few minutes into the wedding proceedings I realized (looking over at Fin and Thirteen) that in all my preparations I’d forgotten a lady for my arm -- seems as though that’s the sort of thing you do at these sorts of parties. On the other hand the only two besides myself who didn’t bring a proper date were Tori (came in with Benedict) and Diego (who brought some sort of harem). In that light, I probably erred on the side of caution.
The Basilisk's contingent showed up late and unexpectedly, asking to hang out and ‘keep things safe’. By looking at those assembled (Benedict, Zhartra, and way down the list people like myself), you’d think we were safe enough to begin with, but if they wanted to watch the goings-on and take credit for it going off smoothly, that was their lookout. I didn’t think anyone was going to pay it much heed in either case.
The coronation and wedding went off smooth. We all tried to make nice in front of the strangers -- I even managed a few civil words with Flora -- wasted breath I’ll never get back, but she was nice enough to look at.
Now while everyone was jawing at one another, someone runs in with a box recovered from one of the Jesby airships (I gather there wasn’t much left of any of the ships larger than pieces like this). The box wasn’t remarkable as such, but the contents more than made up for it -- Sand and Delwin’s heads stared out at us, alongside some papers and other gee-gaws.
This... this bore some thinking about. The obvious culprit was Jesby, but it smelled like a frame up; too pat. Zhartra hied off not long after we got to talking about investigating the deaths, so I had a trump off Tori and called up to chat. She didn’t seem to be in the mood (Sand and Delwin were in a sense, her people, I gather, and had taken off with Rinaldo to attune this power that was suddenly very vacant two of its guardians.), but I bit down and kept talking, figuring she’d either start to listen or kill me pretty quick -- our kind doesn’t tend to take too long deciding things like that.
Tori’d given me a sketch of a fellah she thought was involved in the deaths, and I asked Grandma about that and more. Granny Z didn’t know much about it: ‘her’ people were more from the Chaos side of things -- Delwin and Sand had been Dworkin’s choice for this ‘binding’ job.
“Alright,” I said, “I go have a chat with Dworkin then.”
This seemed to give her some pause -- either because she hadn’t thought of it or she’d assumed I was smarter: Dworkin hasn’t been right in the head since... well, never, as far as anyone remembers, but it’s gotten worse since Oberon started riding side-saddle in his brain.
“He might kill you,” she said.
“Hell, he might have been the one killed Delwin and Sand, knowing his state of mind too, so I guess I better go visit with him.” I shrugged. "I've done it before."
She thought this new idea over for a bit, again she seemed torn between ‘Jacob might have something’ and ‘Jacob might have something that’s catching.’
“Very well,” she finally says, “I’m coming with you.”
Now that, I wasn’t expecting.
We found Dworkin on a beach somewhere in the middle of nowhere watching girl’s wearing nothing and playing volleyball -- immortal lechery is wasted on the young, apparently.
We waited til the game was over (Dworkin’s request) and had ourselves a talk, which is to say I talked and Zhartra stood where she could chop of Dworkin’s head if he went loco. Dworkin didn’t think it was Jesby -- his guess was that it was either something that my two kin had bound up that had gotten out (seemed too subtle), servants of something they’d bound that wanted out, or some other group that just wanted to raise some hell by releasing the Abyssal things they’d caught over the years.
After, Zhartra and I talked.
“So those two worked on this side of things, catching critters out of the Abyss and binding them away.”
“It’s likely that whoever did for them had some sort of tie into this power of yours.”
She nodded again.
“And you’ve got one neophyte replacement for the two people you used to have.”
My turn to nod. Hunting things down and keeping them out of any place they could do harm. Sounded like what I did already, just on a bigger scale. Plus, whoever did for Sand and Delwin would probably come after their replacements next.
I nodded again. “Alright, sign me up.”
Strange times call for strange measures; surely nothing gets much stranger than the things I’ve done to push the Jesby’s out of Johrom.
To begin with, I trumped Jelerak for some advice.
Now, the last time he and I saw eye to eye, it was over the sights of a gun, so I wasn’t expected much in the way of a warm welcome; the wizard didn’t disappoint, but he’s no-nonsense and didn’t mind my getting to the point. The deal I proposed was simple: his insight into the hoo-ju that the Jesbys were cooking up in Johrom in exchange for some doo-dads I didn’t have any use for anymore. He didn’t seem much interested until I threw in a chance to watch Tori and myself reap the whirlwind – that got his attention.
I made arrangements to describe the Jesby layout as best we could when he arrived in Johrom but it turned out to be unnecessary – he had some sort of witching-glass that let him scry the place out on his own – useful toy, that.
After hemming and hawing for a bit, he announced that, as I’d already guessed, the city was mined to the gills with incendiaries and they’d geared their Black Road Opening spell to pull energy off a lot of fiery deaths. This worked out for us as far as it went; we’d already planned to drown the damn island and all the rat-bastards that had empty-headed notion to side with the Jesby’s to begin with. The problem, which I’d missed and Jelerak was smirking about, was that the Jesby could re-write the damn thing to handle drowning death before the wave ever hit.
I simplified the problem: with only one thing to worry about, the Jesby’s could handle themselves. The easiest solution was to give em more than one thing to worry about.
It started with the Jewel of Amber, which Gerard had given us under the condition that Benedict come along to safeguard it. (This is the sort of ‘oh no not the Briar Patch’ condition on a deal that I like to have.) Using it and several of Tori’s coins, I pulled up the Mother of all Elemental Bindings – with a couple dozen massive xorn to help out with one part of the plan and the same number of electrically-apt air sprites for another, we were set to go.
We (which is to say myself, Toriana, Benedict, Flora and Jelerak-as-observer) took a zeppelin out over the ocean – in this, Toriana is the muscle and I’m just providing a little steering here and there – with the xorn kicking in, we precipitate an undersea quake big enough to get our tidal wave rolling. In the meantime, we’ve ordered the Johrom forces to hit the Jesby perimeter with everything they have so as to keep their troops occupied. Jelerak takes a peek at the city and the Jesby begin modifying their ritual to take advantage of the impending death-by-water.
They were very good at what they were doing. Perfect.
About half-way through their work, Flora releases a complicated little spell that simulated a Trump Gate opening on the far side of the island – it doesn’t stand up to too much inspection, but it does draw a couple off the Logrus masters off their tasks to check it out. Those remaining have to really push to get their spell rewritten – they make it with only a minute or two to spare before we drown the island.
That’s when the air sprites start cooking off the incendiary bombs that they’d helpfully stored all over the city. With the spell rewritten, it didn’t do them anything but harm, and between that and the Johrom pushing in, half their forces were dead by the time the wave hit. I think we got three of every four before the remainder managed to limp away… I’d say if they keep up their plan to attack the Tir now, they’re too stubborn to live anyway.
Everything basically worked as we planned, which immediately made me suspicious, so I stayed at the site of the battle for a day or two more to make sure everything was as good as it was likely to get. Normally I’m all for a good fight, but this one left me feeling a little cold – it was a solid plan and it fired off just right, but there isn’t much satisfaction in this Hand Of God sort of thing.
After, I checked out how my boys were doing with Santi and made some plans to pick out a few more watchers in the near future. I’ve some plans that’ll require some extra eyes and ears.
Fineas called me later to let me know that the Jesby had shown up at the Tir anyway. I didn’t need to hear the rest – way I figured it, I already knew how it had panned out.
The way I felt, death by poison would have probably been a hell of a lot more painless than the hangover, so in the end I opted to take Flora’s cure-all pill on the theory that if it didn’t make me stronger, it might at least kill me.
After it kicked in I headed to Johrom to get a proper briefing from Ahzvan while Flora got herself put together. According to the scouts, there’s a lot of communication traffic in the area held by Jesby, and most of it is moving back towards their home island. Some people came in via Logrus and it sounds like their might have been some sort of internal fuss going on. I had Itzamna stealth up Zariel and got Tori to pop in and teleport him over into that area so he could scout around a bit.
Zariel’s off and in the air without a hitch. While I waited on our rendezvous time I go over some maps of the area we’re talking about and get an idea of what’s going on. Zariel says the Jesby seem to be readying for a major move -- all their big ships are stripping off their guns and regearing for troop movement -- the ships they have on their perimeters wouldn’t stop a bluebottle fly. According to Zariel they’ve got some kind of major summoning circle in the center of the main town, ringed with lots of fire and necromancy symbology, and they’re planting bombs around town.
Right about then Flora gets a call from a spy in that town who needs extraction -- while she’s pulling him through someone latches onto him with a Logrus tendril (never a good thing in my experience) and something odd happens with the trump -- some kind of actual doorway opens up in the air, not like a trump gate at all, and suddenly we could all see through to the other side.
And shoot through, I should also mention; that was really the important part. I fired over Flora’s shoulder, capped a couple of their guys and tried to get the Logrus master to put his head down for a bit while she hauled out her man. When everything was said and done all our people were on the right side of the hole and vice versa. The hole closed up in a snap and Flora went into some kind of convulsion; like I said, Logrus is never really a good thing.
Her spy lets out that the Jesby fellahs are gonna kill everyone in the capitol to open up a road that’ll lead to their new target -- they’ve apparently decided that Johrom’s a little too tough to chew on and they want a piece of the Gryphons over in in Tir Tarngir instead.
I have to admit that at this point I was torn -- the Jesby’s were leaving, which is what I wanted (sure, sacrificing a city to do it, but it was folks that nobody else really seemed to like much anyway), and now I find out they’re going after the Gryphons to boot -- well I tell you that’s the sort of weasel-on-weasel fight you gotta wish both sides could lose. I figured to give em a little kick in the britches to see them on their way and wish em luck under my breath.
Before I got things rolling that direction, though, I gave Fineas a call to see if there was any way we could turn this situation to advantage. (It just makes sense -- if I want to know about spells and the like, I call Toriana; if I need to see how to turn a situation around my way... well, we’re all experts at something, I suppose.)
I must be living right, because that was just the call to make. Fineas pulled me on through all urgent-like and lets me know he’s been working an alliance deal with the Pattern-users in the Gryphon camp: which is to say us coming in on their side when they decide to oust their Chaos kin and ally themselves with us... problem with the plan is that it’d be real tar in the gears if the Jesby showed up at full-strength and ready to go, so I’m asked kindly if I can figure out a way to hinder their exit.
That’s the kind of information that can put a different light on things. Problem is, with more light you can usually see better, but all that really does is show you how hard the road’s gonna be.
So, the plan changes, and I need to gum up their all-fired powerful road-making spell, make it harder for them to leave in a group, and cause them some losses if possible.
The causing losses part I can handle m’self, but when it comes to gumming up a spell, I know I need to trump Toriana.
Like I said, we’re all experts at something.
I don’t remember much about last night.
That’s not exactly accurate: I remember the facts clearly enough, but I don’t quite recall the ‘logic’ steps that got us from one event to the next.
To begin with Martin and I decided we needed to get out of the castle and have a decent dinner. We settled on a good place in the city, and while the food was decent enough, it lacked in the way of interest. The only thing notable that happened was Dara’s arrival. She and Martin seemed a bit at odds for a bit, but came to an understanding after some time.
We were none of us the sort of people to sit in that sort of place for long, so eventually talk turned away from Vialle and Dad and the politics of Amber and Rebma and on to where we could find a livelier business establishment. Dara suggested Bloody Pete’s and invited herself along. The place was good enough, but most folk seemed to know we were royals, which put a damper on things until about the sixth or seventh (or eighth or somethingth) drink, when we decided to wander through dangerous back alleys as a means of upping our chances for excitement.
As I said, I don’t recall the particulars as to why we decided this was a good idea.
During the ensuring mugging/brawl, talk of Chinaway’s skull came up -- specifically, Dara and Martin wanted badly to do something to it. What exactly was unclear, but that something needed to happen to it was inarguable (not that I was inclined to anyway). Fortified with a plan, we stumble-strode up to the Castle and set Zariel the task of finding the thing while we went through the family stores and armory.
Zariel eventually reported that the skull was in Gerard’s study, which was (luckily) unoccupied but (less luckily) locked up tighter than Gwyneth’s garters. Thinking a window would be open, I ordered Zariel to carry the skull outside, then bring it down to us, not thinking that he might have to (a) break a window to do so or (b) generate surprisingly high winds inside Gerard's office while lifting the great heavy thing -- I think the problems that arose later might have been lessened if Chinaway hadn’t been such a simian-browed thug in appearance.
At any rate, we acquired the skull and set about figuring out what exactly needed to happen to it -- thanks to some meddling from Badger, we decided on a combination humidor/ashtray/cutter/lighter modification that would go admirably in the castle’s trophy room -- we also ordered Badger to take care of the particulars, since he was so keen to muck around with it.
The guards found us in the Yellow Room the next morning (which by this point was only a few hours later) and escorted us up to Gerard’s office where we were given the simple Royal Directive of “clean this up” and a Royal Pointing at the hundreds scrolls and loose papers Zariel’s departure had scattered. Little more was said about it, and the job went quickly enough, although I did slow things down here and there by stopping to scan an interesting page -- I’ll have to figure out how to bring up some of the information on those pages to Gerard without reminding him about how I would have had to have read them in the first place.
I don’t remember much of the celebration party as followed after our missions against Jesby -- that’s pry the result of either radiation poisoning or too much drinking -- I haven’t experienced the former enough to compare it to the later, so I’ll just have to guess and blame the booze.
I seem to remember dancing though, which doesn’t really happen when I drink, so maybe it was the radiation.
Next morning Fineas was busy, so I decided to get a move on without him and see if I could locate the Shadow where I’d found those fine Reman troops and not-so-fine Persians. Hellriding with a hangover is... well, I don’t recommend it.
I got to the Shadow easy enough, found some local clothes (actually, I made a point of ‘finding’ them in my saddlebags, which is a good trick -- if your head doesn’t split open from the sheer effort of it. I stumbled into town on a new/old horse, all beat up and road-burned, claiming to be the last surviving member of the same Reman outfit that I’d rescued from destruction the last time I was here. My story was pretty solid, since I damn well knew that the whole group wasn’t anywhere to be found in these parts, plus I knew the names of most of the officers by now, right down to some of their more memorable habits.
Everything was working fine until someone trumped me, so I started retching and stumbled out of the officer’s mess to take the call in a private room.
Turns out it’s Fineas himself, but there’s been some new stir back in Amber -- Corwin and his kids have been found (by Toriana, natch) and the kid’s have dropped into to meet everyone. My presence is necessary, so I make a call to Tanitheel, brief her, and have her shapeshift into me until I get back -- should be pretty damn easy, since I’m officially passed out in an officer’s quarters, sleeping and drinking broth.
I get cleaned up and cover my road rash in some frippery that Nelson found for me. What I wasn’t expecting in this meeting was for Martin to show up -- last I heard he was still in the Courts of Chaos and no one bothered to tell me otherwise, but after all it’s only my damned BROTHER so why would anyone mention it? Anyrate he seems alright, though he mentioned that Hendrake had kept him captive by forcing him into the shape of a big lizard for the last four years. I looked sympathetic while making some plans in my head on how to start killing Hendrakes without anyone finding out too quick -- that house is going to choke on the Ties that Bind I’m thinking.
I got him one of my Trumps so he can get ahold of me for whatever reason and put Nelson at his disposal, since he knows the city and I sure as hell ain’t using him for much right now. I want to take him out Texorami way and compare notes for a few days -- he didn’t really get much time with Dad, so I think I might be able to tell him a little more than he already knows, maybe. I think we both need to chat with Vialle.
Vialle-Dad’s-wife, not Vialle-Corwin’s-daughter, that is. I gather the second takes after the first in relative spookiness and gitchery, though. That should be an interesting time.
Benedict seems alright after his stay with the Queen Grams and gave us a few interesting thoughts on how the rat-bastard Gryphons got into Avalon’s gunpowder supply... someone’ll surely decide it’s one more reason to vaporize the bastards. Can’t say I’d argue.
Finally, I had a chance to chat with Morwyn -- she’s surely not my favorite person, nor I her’s I suspect -- she’s polite enough in a snowball sort of way, though. mostly I was curious as to how she found out about how I dealt with the Persian traitors within hours of it happening. I don’t keep my Reman boys where people could have really talked to them at all, and sure as hell they don’t speak the language and weren’t socializing with anyone else, so it was a might peculiar and suspicious. Morwyn tells me she was briefed just a couple of hours before the bit with Flora’s daughter that put us on the outs with each other, but didn't know where the info came from, then she made some calls. Turns out that the Rebman agent in Hunac that reported things to her... didn't. Well, he did -- that’s who people got the report from, but the guy she talked with just now doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about, which means the guy with the information back then was a plant or clone or some such. He's being checked over for altered memories. Morwyn’s pissed off about the whole thing since it makes their spy network look a bit hapless.
Me, I want to know who thought I was important enough to follow (I hadn’t been in Amber that long), how the hell they did it, and why they thought that the perfect thing to do with the information was tell Rebma. In the end it hasn’t caused Amber much in the way of harm (hell, the fact that it’s kept Moire at arm’s length is an upside in my book), but it’s caused me all manner of grief, which makes me wonder who’s got a mad-on for giving me migraines.
It’s not as though I don’t have enough troubles as it is.
The Johrom situation was almost relaxing. Jesby had better technology that they were powering from various points on the continent. The only thing to do was destroy those points of power. Simple.
Of course with the background count as high as it was around those power sources I’ll probably never have normal-looking kids, but starting a family of my own is hardly on my mind when the family I have to deal with already is so powerfully messed up.
We made the plan, we did the plan, and almost everything went right. Johrom lost some people, but the overall benefit is going to be pushing Jesby the hell out of town, so I didn’t see too many long faces afterwards.
Seems like Gerard’s open to the idea of my taking a visit with the Queen Grams. Might be a useful way to learn a little more about the Courts -- information that isn’t filtered through the eyes of a whore and a invalid at any rate -- but we’ll see. If I’m out that way I might get a chance to see my half-brother as well -- last I heard he was still under lock and key out Hendrake’s way. Might want to ask Grams if shooting him out of there would hurt the peace process. The way she acts, there’s about even chances she’ll either kill me for thinking the thought or offer to help me out. One more crazy/dangerous woman in the family hardly makes me bat an eye.
With Johrom looking better, I’ll have to see about shoring up defenses and laying the groundwork to keep our Gryphon cousins the hell away from our backyard in the future -- given enough time I think they’ll be a bit too dead to do us much harm, but that’ll take time to do it up proper. Fin came by and asked where I’d first laid hold of my Reman troops, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s thinking along the same lines.
[My 'Quinn' journal.]
After talking with Azvhan and company about the situation in Johrom, it’s fairly obvious that we could finish up this little shindig with Jesby with a few solid weeks of blowing things up. Given the way my kin (and me, if I’m gonna be honest) enjoy that sort of thing, it’s a fair mystery why we don’t have people lining up to take care of this problem -- sounds like the most fun a person could have ‘working’.
Spent a few days scouting things out and sending Zariel out here and there. Nights were spent otherwise. I was getting something like a plan together in my head when Fineas called me with the latest monkey wrench. Seem the so-called Queen of Air and Darkness -- she that captured Benedict during the war and apparently our great-something-grandmother -- has taken an interest in us and wants to find out more about us. She says she doing it for Benedict but the last I heard he could see just fine with his own eyes, so there’s pry some reason he’s not allowed out of the house.
Fineas says this Zharthra wants to chat with all of us. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that until what came later.
While I was digesting the latest heaping helping of family complication, Fineas called again, this time with something more urgent -- Gryphon troops after the mines where we got the gunpowder that works in Amber and, surprise surprise, the Tir -- no real mystery what we need to do or what they’re after.
After the fight in Shandora, my troops have been starting to get the point that they need to be ready most any time. They did alright this time -- Kelamon was brining the Remans through and Tori already had the Oscray moving -- the slopebrows have figured out that she’s someone they’re better off listening to, which proves they have a survival instinct. We focus on the mines and the Gryphon’s try to make a getaway.
That doesn’t go so well for them. I think in the end they made off with a couple backpacks full of raw material. We killed a couple of theirs (one of which was one of Flora’s kids) and captured a few more (caught another one there). The most notable thing about the whole fight is that this Zharthra came in and helped with the fight and stayed to talk with everyone afterward. I watched her for awhile and I have to admit that she’s real careful about not leaving herself vulnerable, even when she’s just chatting.
Gerard starts up a family discussion about what to do with these chaosite prisoners and we all try to ignore Diego frothing at the mouth long enough to vote for keeping them alive and untortured in the future -- they’re more useful that way is my thinking.
Fineas asked the Queen about working as a Chaos/Amber diplomat, but she turned it around in such a way as to make her home into some sort of ambassador-in-training school for both sides of the conflict. We’re talking about sending representatives to handle this, but for my money it seems like one of the family should be involved in this. I talked to Gerard about it afterward, pointing out how it would let me keep an eye on a number of things that need watching, and he’s thinking about it.
Til then, there’s things to blow up in Johrom.
It was a restful thing, sitting around their dead cousin and talking about family -- almost like a wake, Jacob thinks -- but there were things to do.
By the time Jacob steps through onto the sand, Fineas has mostly finished burying the body.
It’s not inconspicuous. Since Fineas generally achieves exactly what he sets out to accomplish, Jacob can only assume that hiding the body wasn’t the point so much as disposing of it. He also decides, in the whiskey-bleared succinctness that amounts to his current logic processes, that it is none of his business.
Stepping around the hand that juts out of ground and dropping his duffel, Jacob looks out over the sunset-painted beach, rotating the neck of a bottle between the fingers of his other hand. “Looks like another complication has cropped up,” he says after several seconds. When he isn’t angry about something, Jacob takes his own time with speech; to a cynic it might appear that he is first calculating the odds that whatever he is about to say would get him struck or shot -- not the calculations of a paranoiac, simply a little wool-gathering by someone who currently had the time to do the math.
Fineas thinks that isn’t the case; Jacob doesn’t consider (or likely care) whether his words will start a brawl, he simply wants to pare the final product down to the smallest possible package. In Jacob’s world, something too large to carry in a saddlebag isn’t worth having. Planting his shovel into a patch of sand that he knows doesn’t have any part of the body under it, he takes a seat on a driftwood log. “How bad is it, and who does it affect?” he asks, knowing the Jacob appreciates it when the questions he’s posed allow him short answers.
Jacob sits down across the body from him and hands over the bottle halfway into the explanation. Fineas doesn’t feel the whiskey go down for the most part and doesn’t feel particularly drunk by the time the bottle and Jacob are finished. Oberon, part of him, living as a poltergeist in their crazy great-grandfather’s head is sobering news in more than one way, apparently.
After a bit more talk, they call Thirteen and have him come through. He brings an entourage that he sends off down the beach, and Dara, whom he doesn’t. The four of them continue to talk, handing around more bottles as the sun dives into the nameless ocean behind them. They build a campfire next to the dead man under the sand and talk about their family well into the dark hours.
By midnight the bottles are empty and they have a plan. Fineas finishes up with the shovel and joins them. Jacob is looking back at the smooth mound and the blackened circle next to it.
“Who was he?” he says, his eyes flat and incurious.
“One of Corwin’s,” Fineas answers, not looking back. Strangely compelled to further explanation, he adds, “he needed to die.”
Two small vertical creases appear between Jacob’s sun-lightened eyebrows and his eyes move to Fineas' own. “Of course he did.” His gives his head the smallest of bemused shakes and with that they leave the beach.
After helping Griv’s folks with the broken pattern, I hied the trinket back to Amber and starting moving ships along to Shandora.
Once I got to Shadora picked up some powder and sicced Zariel on the local elementals to get 'em organized for recon, then got hold of Tori to pitch in on the Logrus- and magick-futzin’ duties that I'd taken on. Fin hadn’t asked her about helping out but the way I figure it two heads working together are a lot less likely to get blown off than one.
Found out during the divvying up of troops that people are goin’ to some lengths to keep Flora and me seperated. I appreciate the effort, but I don’t much like that it’s because people think I don’t like her. Granted, I don’t trust her and I don’t think she’s worth much, but I don’t really care enough about her to dislike her. Relative to what I’ve heard about the rest of her generation I reckon she’s about normal -- I suppose I just don’t have much use for most of them. She defends herself by saying everyone else was a shitheel too -- just ain’t any way to carry yourself.
That said, I feel a hell of a lot cozier when I can keep my eye on people. Makes me wonder if I shouldn’t head out Johrom way next and ‘join the effort.’
The problem with my job for the fight was that no one was messing around with their sorceries and hoojum much, so I got hold of my horsemen and decided to try a little flanking manuver with a nice big trump gate out behind some of the enemy cavalry. That got us some attention, but Tori and I kept the interference to a minimum until the horses got through and started wreaking havoc. Tori was exchanging love letters with some wizard across the way and seemed to have it in hand, so I lit out to see what other harm I could do.
I got the oscray scrambled and brought them through on another flank. No logrus that time, but a couple slugs came my way and someone took a shot at Zariel when I sent him around to take a look at things.
Touchy sumbitches: I’ve got me a big ol’ gate open with troops pouring through and they take a shot a little ol’ air elemental (alright a big damn air elemental, but nowhere near the shine coming off that gate). Second time in eight days I’ve underestimated a chaos lord. Not a good habit to get into.
Now somewhere in the shouting and communications something I say gives Tori an idea. Seems that by this point one of the Chaos Lords is after her with a certain measure of passion and all the damn Hendrakes are using coins to boost whatever they’re working on, so when he opens a powered up teleport, she cooks the coin and leaves him stark naked in a field of fluttering butterflies.
Magic run amok is a sight to behold, and butterflies don’t do much in the way of stopping cannonballs.
Turns out of the fellah was the main Hendrake commander. Too bad for him, but good for us -- the rest of the ‘drakes run after he dies. I didn’t get much in the way of satisfaction this time ‘round but I’m still walking on both legs so I can’t rightly complain.
I sent the oscray back with gear and glitteries -- raiding the dead beastmen turned into a quick way to get some decent firearms for them to train on before I get them some guns a bit faster than muzzle-loaders. The horsemen are off to Carnival for some carousing. A bunch of them got caught in the Chinaway backwash and need some sorting out, but I’m trying to make em comfortable til then.
After I got the boys taken care off I took Tananda off for a sail. I’m spending a hell of a lot of time out on the water for someone that likes his powder to stay dry, but I suppose it’s in the blood.
Lesse: Tori says a couple more of our damned uncles are still alive. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry. As I see it Benedict and Corwin are doing us a favor by staying away -- better useless and gone than useless and underfoot -- but it might be worth thinking about just shooting Bleys: sounds like the bastard’s gone crazy and picked up powerful unhealthy knack for godhood to boot.
Course that's assuming a shooting would kill him, which I doubt.
They’ve got legends floating around that the family’s descended from a Unicorn. From what I’ve seen I think it’s a hell of a lot more likely that great-grandaddy took a poke at a cockroach.
More from Jacob's Journal
Got the name of the Manticore I killed. Dangerous, so says the knee. Got out of sight before dropping -- kept the family’s image intact this time.
Gerard said I can use the trinket to help Griv’s folks survive broken pattern. Cinched it. Signed out a chunk of coin while I was in the castle.
Life’s easier when Fin’s running a fight -- fellah knows where he needs to be.
Told Griv about running the b.p. He’s got about 20 folks. Should take about two days.
Tori can surprise you sometimes. In a good way.
Griv's people are done. One dead. Tired.
Adelai found two container ships. Dropped in with some legionnaires. Short work. Knee’s sore but works. Pushed on to Shandora and Fin’s fight.
No one to command, plenty to kill. Should be a good day.
More notes from Jacob's worn and abused diary.
Adelai knows where to get food for Fins’ troops. He’ll handle it. Three days.
Gerard wants me to tune a power crystal. Not the Jewel, but something like. Put him off for now -- mostly useful ‘round Amber, which I ain't. Had some recording of Benedict losing to Court Enemy #1. Demon bitch. Too fast.
Diego’s shindig turned out about like you’d expect. Knee'll be a few days healing.
Holed up in T with Nelson. Got Zamna to help with the patching. Adelai'll handle the food. I’ll pay for it. Lit out for Tori’s place. Sent Nelson back to cat with Kel.
Gerard said to just take money from the castle for Fin’s food. Must be more than enough.
A few notes scribbled in Jacob's Saddlebags:
Sent traitors’ horses through to BB/Arden. Might put them into breeding set up.
Santi agreed to train the boys for fighting. Had him trail along a bit while I looked for more of his heavy-worlders. Found a lost Indian tribe. Sent through to land of milk & honey. Sent Santi to Arden w/ instructions. Redirected horses to tribe. Should be decent horsemen.
Went looking for larger tribe. Located five-tribes grouping a few months short of trouble with settlers. Warned them. Aren’t ready to move yet. Expected. Come back in a few weeks and check. Should come eventually.
Felt something out Chaos way. Got Tori who says the king is dead. Called Griv -- ditto story -- wants a democracy in Chaos. Didn’t make the easy joke. Got Griv a real trump of me, with cautions.
Can maybe call off some recruitment. Hopefully haven’t put things in too far with the tribes.
Missed Rinaldo’s investiture. Looks like I’ll make Diego’s. Damn sure I got the planning backwards there.
Fineas is making a play in Shandora to put Hendrake on the outs. Has troops, needs food. Think I can arrange something with Dad’s friend Adelai (in T).
Tori in Texorami -- there’s a mix-up. Got a trump of the place and one for her spa-palace, so one for two.
There’s times when you don’t even have to shoot a person to get them to do what you’d like.
The first day I got into town, twelve of the local gang had died.
It hadn’t all been me. Once I set on my path and the locals got the idea that I wasn’t the sort to be easily gunned down on the street, they got a bit of gumption and helped out. On their own they probably wouldn’t have been able to begin, but I’m good for a few things and a kick-start is one of them. It was a big day for them, followed by a night of celebrations, but it came clear the next morning that things had gone to their head.
"We’re gonta gi’ up after the lot of em and put em all down, sir... that’s the plan."
I watched the town’s spokesman smile. Too eager. His rheumy eyes were bright and his lips half-parted in anticipation, a dark toothless gash in his yellowed-grey beard. I knew what we’d done the day before, and I knew the warlord that the group of toughs had represented. Beatin’ one was a damn sight different than beatin’ the other. I shook my head.
"Nothin’ like it, grandad. You’ve got what you fought for, so take it and make some use of it. The fight’s mine past this point, and it’ll take time."
"You’rn? We’ve suffered powerful at the hands a’ those we kilt!"
I nodded, then jerked my chin at the row of pine boxes learning against the barn across the street. "You’ve had your payment of those that wronged you. Keep the fight going and you’ll fare worse than you did before.
"But we can... us’n you can --"
"You do what you like." I finished my drink and stood. "I’ll be gone."
He pulled up short and gave me a beady eye. "Whyssat? You pullin’ out on us?" He squinted. "You afeared a’ these?"
Time was when I’d have killed a man for saying such things, but even back then all I heard was ignorance. "You do what you like, old man." I said as I started walking. "I’ll be gone."
They’d left it be and lived their lives. When the time was right, me and mine took care of the warlord.
And I hadn’t even had to shoot the old man.
It never occurred to me that such lessons would be much use to me in my new arrangement but people tend to surprise you. It never seems to matter how much power a man has -- a bit more than he’s used to can still get him drunk.
We’d snuck into Tir’s outpost to gather up a hostage for questioning -- mix in a little too much enthusiasm and suddenly we’ve decided to take the city by force. It worked out alright but it came clear that the best thing to do was pull out post haste. Everyone agreed, then one overexcited voice with a taste for new power and suddenly we were going to try to hold out.
To hear it told by others, the idea was a fighting withdrawal. To hear it told by Diego, we’d have three thousand more troops coming into the city before any started to leave. Didn’t sound like a withdrawal; sounded like a good way for a little bit of enthusiasm to turn a retreat into an attack, putting us square in the middle of a fight we’d all decided we didn’t want. Maybe I was being pessimistic, or maybe I was just going by what had already happened twice.
I could have stayed and argued it out. It was a decent plan. It stood a chance of doing a lot of damage -- just enough to make a person think "maybe we can win this."
And it hinged on four thousand of my troops.
So I pulled them out and left the fight to others. Without me, they’d do fine -- probably kill a few of the enemy leaders, which is all they had cause to hope for in any case -- without me and mine, they’d have to play it careful and they’d have to be realistic. Which is all that I wanted and I didn’t have to fight about it.
Didn’t even have to kill anybody. I’ve had my fill of blood for awhile, so it felt good to do something without it.
After moving my troops out (and I need to remember to take the lot of them down to Carnival), I hied off to Amber and had a few words with Gerard. The last time we spoke he let me know I could either take some time off to relax or take some time off to let one of my legs heal. I got the point. I had my mind set to roust around in Texorami, where I’d first met my father (before I knew he was that) and a place he’d used as a stomping ground on more than a few occasions before and since. I got permission to dig through dad’s personals and did exactly that for the next few hours. Things outside the storage room were busy -- I gathered from what was shouted back and forth that most of my kin would be involved in the retreat from Tir. I wished them well and made sure that Rivan was on his toes and ready to shout for aid if Tori needed it.
After digging through and finding only a stack of IOU’s for and from friends of Dad’s back in Texorami and a picture of him and me that I don’t remember being taken, I went to Arden, made arrangements for my horses, and set out for one of the few places of stability from my early days.
Texorami was pretty much as I remembered it, except that I was sober -- I let out some rooms and set out taking care of that problem while I sent runners to reserve a boat for me and contact a few of the names on the IOU’s. Once the afternoon heat had worn down a bit, I set out to acquire the things listed in the "owed" column and went to meet the harbor master, the first fellah on the list.
Things went about as I’d intended. He knew most of the men I had names for and said he’d take care of calling them together. I gave him a few days to handle it and went down to the boat that was waiting in my name. I spent the night aboard before sailing out in the morning.
It’s never been in my habit to sail to a place where I could just as well ride, but recent events had made me reevaluate my habits. It didn’t pay to be unprepared. I worked on steering the thing about and handling rigging, Zariel worked on pushing the whole thing -- I think that by the end of the day we were both fairly tired. I dropped anchor in a deep cove and did some free diving (something else I felt I was maybe a bit on the weak side of), then made myself a meal and watched the waves for awhile, thinking about Amber’s allies and enemies and who really deserved to be in which column. I kept my weapons to hand just in case I got a call from Tir, but no call came and I took that as a good sign since I didn’t feel like thinking about the ways things could have gone wrong.
While the sun sank, Zariel and I went down to the cove’s beach and worked on a few things that I’d had in mind for him lately. It’ll take some time, but worthwhile things usually do.
I didn’t get a full night’s sleep, as a few local thugs someone had hired to find out about my ‘wind machine’ stole aboard in the wee hours. I sent them off with a message for their boss and crawled back into my bunk about a half-hour later and realized a few minutes later that I was smiling -- sometimes simple problems can be a blessing. The next morning we headed back towards town using the normal winds.
Texorami’s a good place for winds -- Zariel was healing up fairly well.
That evening was my meeting with Dad’s old friends, which went better and worse than I’d hoped. They’d gotten old, these wildcats of his, and turned in early for the night. I was still restless though, and through one of the least-reputable of Dad’s disreputables, I found out where a man could wage a battle or two without too many people getting hurt.
Texorami’s also a good place for finding a fight.
I worked out a little tension in the bare-knuckle ring and ran into a fellow that interested me for reasons that had nothing to do with my vacation -- tough, strong, and quick enough to get my attention before I put him down. I bought him a drink afterwards and we agreed to meet up in the morning for a talk.
Santi turned out to be a bar owner in town with a good head on his shoulders. I let him know that I was looking for someone to toughen up a small group of men I had working for me and he seemed amenable provided the price was right -- I made sure it was. He claimed to be no kind of soldier, but I asked about his home and the nature of his upbringing and got a good idea of the place, making plans to suss the place out for troops.
It seems that by my nature I’ll never have a long vacation.
We all set out the next morning for a ride I intended to end by finding more troops. After some consideration, I found a likely group of tribal folk lost in snow-filled mountains who were more than willing enough to hear what I had to say. I liked the warrior’s nature and demeanor and their shaman seemed a sharp sort, but to get a few hundred men I had to bring along their entire tribe -- I’d not have had it any other way, but it meant I’d need several tribes to get a useful number of warriors. Also, I found that I wanted to be doing the right thing by them -- no more stories to trick the hapless -- they’d know what I was taking them out of and leading them into. After all that, I figured I still had a good idea.
I sent the tribe ahead to a place I knew in Arden and called Billy-bo in the Arden camp, telling him to leave off on my first plans for the horses I’d taken from the Persians -- I had a new use for them.
Sometimes a man has to sit still for awhile to move forward.
It seems passing unlikely I'm going to get any rest if things continue in this vein.
So our alleged cousin lit out from the Gryphon's outpost by tumbling down through a cloud of mist and shifting through Shadow away from our slings and arrows. A right fine trick, but not one in which I'd envy her the landing.
Not that I'd need to envy her, since the general vote seemed to indicate that I should go after her. (The quiet concensus from several of them was, in fact, that she should come back in as small a bag as necessary, and although I hadn't considered that sort of thing as a possibility, I could see the point and made a resolution to see the thing through to it's end.)
I prepared quickly without hurrying and forgetting something and drew Zariel to my side to lessen the pain of landing if things didn't go well. Any smart person in this situation would have tried to find water to land in, or at least a pillow factory, but I didn't have that luxury -- I had to go whence fled the quary, which meant I had to rely on her good sense instead of mine.
Generally, I don't care for those sorts of situations.
I didn't have much to worry about in this case, although I landed in a cove a little too close to steep cliffs. The water was clear and I thought I could see where she was hiding herself away in the deeper part of the lagoon, using air elementals to generate a sort of cloud of bubbles. I pulled myself onto shore and behind cover, then had Zariel dry my guns while I considered the situation.
By nature, I don't care for water-bourne fights, and given my druthers it seemed I should just wait her out, but I didn't want her swimming out to see in the form of some furry dophin or some such, so I called on Morwyn who, being my cousin, a fair commander of men, and the only Rebman I had a trump of that could command the Tritons, seemed just the person for this sort of thing.
All I asked for was the use of a Triton or two, since they seemed fairly skilled in things martial, but the girl was in the midst of a court function and begged a reason to excuse herself. I had strong misgivings on the subject, but I had to have some sympathy on the subject -- in her shoes I'd have been looking for the same out.
Sympathy is not something that's ever served me particularly well, I should point out.
So the girl came through with two of her Tritons and I explained the situation clearly enough -- I wanted to let her think that the girl was part of the house that had done harm to "our aunt" and let her think Llewella, since that was more likely to get good-sized tears out of her, but she had the sense to ask, and I couldn't see the point in lying about it, so I let her know the girl was kin to Flora's captors.
That she was possibly Flora's kin, I did not mention. Thinking back on it, I don't believe it would have helped or hurt the situation any worse, either way.
The tritons, being in their element, made short work of the girl and drug her back onto the shore while Morwyn swam alongside, but as soon as my cousin got into the shallows, she pulled a trump and before I could say Beauregard, Flora was there in the water as well. To even things up now that Morwyn had suddenly made me outnumbered again, I called in Diego, whose shapeshifting I thought might be handy.
A smarter man woulld have changed routes at this point, but I don't lack for either foolishness or resolve, so I pulled my irons and told the Tritons to put the girl down on the sand, intending to conduct the trial and execution as planned, with only a few more unfortunate witnesses. So be it.
Morwyn had other plans (obviously, having already hung my own plans up to dry when she trumped in my thrice-damned aunt and possible mother-to-the-accused), but she really bought herself and me some complications when she stood up between me and the girl. In the next few seconds, I found I had a barrel pointed at the Crown Princess of Rebma and another at my Aunt, and I wasn't sure how the situation had gotten to that point.
I really need a rest.
Morwyn's eyes got cold at that point and I thought she was going to make a play, but she left with her men, for which I was powerful grateful.
I did my best to make the execution quick. Diego hied the body off somewhere. Flora watched the whole thing. That didn't bode well.
I got off back to Toriana and got a low-down on the situation... she's already managed to have a set-to with Rinaldo, so mark off another cousin she won't be calling on instead of me.
I got back to Fineas and explained the hyena-pack cluster-fuck that the mission had turned into. He talked about lying low, which I could understand, but frankly I wanted only to make sure that Gerard understood what I'd done before Flora got her hooks into him about the whole thing.
Somewhere in there I remembered that my aunt was a trump artist and the room got a little colder.
Toriana trumped me a bit later while I considered my words for Gerard, informing me that Moire was mightly overwrought at the way I'd handled her daughter and considered me uninvited from Rebma.
That's a bit like telling a fish he's not allowed to go snow-skiing, but I managed to look abashed. She offered to run interference with me with Gerard, and considering that the big man was her father, I thought having her around my save me a wrung neck, so I agreed.
We went to the Regent to talk. I don't recall most of what I said (although I do remember being much more impressed with Tori's way with words than I'd expected -- it seems the girl only wants a little motivation before she gets into her diplomatics), but in the end, I think I made two things clear to the commander: I was in this war because it was my family, not because of what I could get out of it, and I don't trust Flora farther than I can carry a tune.
In return, I learned that Gerard's a hell of a cynic about his kin's motivations, and that Moire is a manipulative, mind-reading whore with nothing in the way of good breeding but a fine tiara.
I think I might take a constitutional and get clear of my kin-folk for a day or two, since I've managed to make a long-time enemy of my aunt and get banished from Rebma all in a few minutes.
Gerard said I was taking after my father almost too well, but I didn't have time to ask him what he meant.
We laid more questions on the local air sprites and got as good a picture as possible of the current situation. It looks as though Flora’s brats are more than willing to work with their Gryphon kin, and that the bastards have taken the Pattern and figured out what to do with it. Also, they’ve tied down the magickal currents in the area and put them to use -- we’ve sighted at least two air-ships that they use to get from the city up to the moon that we can see up above us -- strange to see the thing so close, but stranger still to see lakes and forests on it. According to Zariel’s new friends, there’s hundreds of cities up there, and this place is more of an outpost. Tori’s fairly certain that the real pull of the Pattern she feels is from up above us as well.
Just more and more good news. I think I might bust from it all.
So we set about to have Zariel sneak into the city under cover of a good-sized blow from off the coast that looked to have stripped the hide clean off a man. He got in all right, and we used a trump to move through to him -- Tori had done one up of him previously (took her awhile to get the likeness down, what with him being as he is). Diego joined us for this bit, and after we secured the abandoned building Zariel had found, set out to wander the town in a form that seemed to match the local beastmen troops. I’ve seen their like before and he matched them well-enough. Hopefully he has the good sense to get out of that sort of shape before the shooting starts. We’ll see -- I half think that the only reason he’s along for this bit of business is for us to see how well he holds up when things get warm.
I’m something of a pessimist by nature and I didn’t see it as likely that Diego would come up with the magic password to get us into the local general’s bedchamber. To that end, I sent Zariel scouting the sewer tunnel roundabout the main palace to find us a decent way in. Mages are a touchy lot, and tend to skimp a bit on proper security when it comes to walking in their own backwash, if you take my meaning.
Zariel found a good way in, blocked only by a surly undine, so once we’d confirmed that Diego wasn’t going to hit a good vein, I lit out that direction with Fineas and Toriana (who didn’t seem to mind the idea of a sewer entrance nearly as much as I’d expected). I struck a bargain with the undine in the typical way to keep him on my side of things for the next couple hours, and we slipped by into the palace itself.
The next bit was tedious. With Zariel, a little caution, and a trump or two we managed to get right near the heart of things in the palace before anyone took much note of us; it took over an hour. By that point, it was clear they knew something was going on but not what, so Fineas slipped in a bit further and Toriana and I set back the other direction trying to draw as much attention as possible.
It should be noted that, between the both of us, Toriana and I can cause a fair ruckus.
Now the next part gets a bit hazy, but by the time I’d hopped back to our hideout building, Gerard was there. My first instinct was to assume that Tori had called for him out of ignorance, but it turned out that it was Diego that thought it was a good idea to put our regent in mortal danger for no good reason. He may have a head for test-tube, but it’s clear the boy had no good sense.
I meant to say something, but right about then some of our Gryphon enemy appeared in an upper floor of our hidey hole and I ran out of time for conversation. I was up the stairs just behind Zariel and Gerard was behind me when someone up the stairs threw off a spell that knocked Zariel sixteen ways at once and nearly left me flat. That git of Flora’s with the bow took a shot at me as well, and I got off the stairs in a hurry before she could get a clean line on me or the regent. A few seconds later, they reconsidered their attack and vanished. I turned around to try to convince Gerard and everyone else that we needed to be gone from this place while Diego argued for a full out frontal assault. Gerard of course listened to the newcomer with no sense. They’re perfect for each other.
I did at least get Gerard to go back to Amber -- there might have been some swearing involved.
Bad enough that the thing had to be done, but I thought it could at least be done right, so I sent Toriana through to Derkon and my reman troops and we set up a trump gate big enough to flood the palace. Thirteen and I were the first one’s through and Fineas didn’t look surprised when we popped into the same palace hall we’d just left -- I didn’t expect him to.
Let me keep it short: Reman’s can clear hallways with a passion when they set their minds to it. The palace was ours in an hour, and Tori and I reset the trump gate to open troops out into the front courtyard where I could dispense them better while Fineas and Thirteen went hunting for our cousin with the bow. She got away by jumping from a tower and shifting Shadow as she fell through a cloud of mist.
I was fairly impressed with that trick until I got the notion that most everyone I called cousin seemed to think that I was the perfect one to go on after her.
I managed to calm down enough to keep from burning down a city with several thousand innocents trapped inside. It doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment when you see it written out that way, but at the time it was the best I could manage.
Toriana and I (and, to be fair, several dozen local mages), rendered the inhabitants of the city unconscious and bound up the rebels.
The problem, which I think is important to make mention of, is not that the troops didn’t want to listen to me anymore -- I don’t consider myself much of a general in the first place to be honest, and secretly I suppose I’d agree with them. The problem is that a trust was broken, not between myself and the men, but between the people of Hunac and me -- my troops were brought into this world under the assumption that they were there to protect and defend. That they turned on an entire city to use as hostages made a liar and oath-breaker out of me. I’ve rarely been in that situation before and only once in my not-insignificant lifespan has it been because of the actions of someone acting in my stead.
I will perform questionable acts, but I’ve found I want a reason for it.
So it was fairly clear that the troops had to suffer. Talking things over with Fineas (and there are few harder things I’ve done than admitting that my own troops have rebelled against me, especially to the other fellow that’s gathering up armies), it became clear that it would be a help to the greater cause if they were also made an example of, rather than just sent off to an anonymous death in Shadow (which was my first idea).
I settled on impalings, someplace where the deaths of a couple three or four thousands would be of no real use to the Hendrake necromancers in the region. Several hundred of the officers were cast upon the mercies of the local courts -- I kept their particular mounts, which were quite fine, but gifted the four thousand about to become ownerless to the city that had been made hostage, as a gesture of contrition. I may do more for them at some later date, but for now, the gear and horseflesh of their oppressors will have to do.
Thinking more on the executions and some of the things I’d seen that bastard Jelerac accomplished while fighting with Toriana and me, I discussed (with Derkon) putting the deaths of these forty-five hundred men to some use -- no reason they couldn’t continue to serve our cause as Fineas had commented.
So their souls we kept, as many as we could, captured in spirit jars each about the size of a pony keg. I have designs in mind that will allow us to make use of them as weapons.
It was long work. The sun rose and fell twice before we were done. I have a vague impression that Toriana contacted me at some point during it all, but no clear recollections. Afterwards, I took the last the spirit jars to the home city of the not-men that dwelt within it and released them to sow a tale of terror about the woes of disloyalty. Following that, I trumped to Johrom, locked myself in a room, and slept.
I’d hoped exhaustion would make dreams unlikely or at least forgetable. I wasn’t lucky in that regard -- the hours passed slow and I woke often. I was almost glad when Toriana called me and said I was needed again. I hadn’t had enough rest by half, but it would have to do. Better than sleeping, at any rate.
Toriana had found the location of the lost Tir pattern, apparently, and hoped to accomplish something in our favor there. Fineas she had already pulled through along with some of his troops, so I gathered up a commensurate number of mounts from my small herd and horsed the lot of them.
The place was heavy with air elementals; I counted that for the first blessing I’d had in a fortnight. Zariel spoke to them at some length, which I’ve found shortens up the process of intelligence gathering a bit. We learned enough to know that we needed to learn more, and set onto a plan to gather up a useful captive. It felt good to be working on something like this; it was the first forward momentum I’d made in a week.
I do not want this fight.
The world has changed, what I know has changed, and I have changed to match; become a soldier in the war.
But I’m no soldier. I fight and I kill if the cause is right, but these are not my fights. I don't understand them -- they are beyond me.
I never intended to control worlds. The power required to do it makes me arrogant. I care less about my people. Any people.
I almost wiped out a city of thousands today because I was annoyed; because I simply didn’t feel like going to any extra effort.
If we win this war, what sort of things will have won? Who would I be when it ends: something I would recognize or something I would instinctively kill?
I do not want this fight. I cannot win it and remain myself.
The trick to getting anything done, as far as I've figured out up to this point, is to ask the right people; ask the right person for the right thing (or ask the right question), and you can shave weeks off whatever your working on.
In most cases, and with a few exceptions, the "right person" usually isn't the one you'd expect.
Kelamon's starting to understand that I don't have much time to sit and chat and that I don't call for no good reason. That helps, considering she's the only trump artist we've got that doesn't need a good ass-whuppin' most of the time. I got her to working on a few things for me, while I started sending my boys out to their new tasks. Rivan's job I had to okay with the Regent, but as long as you talk slow, Gerard pretty much nods and goes along with things.
The castle was a mess while I was there -- some sort of assassin poisoned a bunch of folks. I checked on some that I knew the names of and left some gold with Nelson to get to the families of the few that'd passed on, then I set Nelson up to keep an eye on things and spent the rest of the day moving people around... it's getting to the point where what I mostly need is more eyes (just like the old days), and none of the eyes we've got are where I need them, so I have to take care of it my own way.
Suits me just fine.
Along the way, I found out from Thirteen (who's certainly been keeping occupied) that we'd acquired another cousin, apparently tracked down by Flora. The idea that the woman did something useful was almost as much a surprise as Thirteen telling me she could draw trumps, but that bit of info got me thinking about a few things: dear ol' Aunt Flora can draw trumps and managed to hide this trick from her jailers in Chaos for something like fifteen years.
If that's the case, why the hell didn't she just get out of there? She can track down an unknown blood relation through all of Creation in a few days, but in fifteen years she couldn't tie ten hairs together and paint a picture on the floor with her blood and a little eye shadow? Doesn't smell right from where I'm standing. They say she might even have left some kids behind in the Chaos house that held her.
Doesn't exactly simplify things.
Still, the fella she found seems alright. I stopped by his door and made my introductions before heading back out. Just before I finally left, I called Fineas and got caught up.
One thing about Fineas - in the time it takes most folks to get started saying "hello", he and I can tell everything that needs tellin', plan out the next two weeks, and play a game of checkers. He's about the only one around here that reminds me of Random. I don't know if I trust him exactly, but I don't know if that really matters right now.
My last job for the day was getting ahold of a Dom Daniel mage we'd reached an understanding with. I plan to haul Azhul and this fellah into Shadow Johrom where the Jesby are hiding out. The mage, who goes by the name Azvan, is a native of the place, and I figure there's a good chance he can get an idea of what's going on.
Azvan ain't much like the sorts of hand-wavers I'm used to, and that's a compliment. When I got ahold of him, he and a few friends were in the middle of a bar fight with a crowd of unfriendly regulars - I joined in out of sheer relief; it's a hell of a load off to just be outnumbered and cornered in a bar with a bunch of fellas trying to cave your skull in. Nice and simple. Also, if most folks in Johrom are anything like Azvan, I think Jesby's gonna be busy for awhile.
All in all, it was a fine end to a long day, and I didn't miss the castle in the least.
I hired an army of almost-human mercenaries in a country called Mülat. The ‘oscray’ numbered five thousand and looked stronger and tougher than the troops I’d found so far, though pry not as well-trained. The locals didn’t cotton to my bidding techniques, but after I posted the heads of a few failed attackers outside my tent flap they either gave up or couldn’t find any more stupid assassins.
I took the measure of my new troops in a frozen world I knew then marched them through Shadow, not really trying to keep various unfriendly critters out of our way. A few deserted but the remainder ended up with a week in Carnival.
Those that listened to orders in the ice, toughed out the trip, and showed up outside of town at the rendevous point 3 days after we came to Carnival... those were the ones I wanted. I ended up with four thousand.
During that last, Nelson finally contacted me. I brought him and the rest of my people through and sent them to specific places, then contacted Kelamon to get up to date. Things had been going on, but aside from acquiring an "ally" in the form of another damn female relative of dubious loyalty and questionable worth (I gather her name is Dara), nothing much has happened. She apparently commands the hellmaids, which might be useful. It'd pry be quickest to kill her and somehow keep her troops, maybe after acquiring whatever intelligence she has that's useful.
I’d suggest it, but I'm sure my cousins have already paved that road.
Turns out that Helgram pry knows that we know about their tantric magic tricks, so getting ready for that’s not really important now -- they'd be fools to try it, and they aren't that. I called Holrune and regeared the ritual so that we could use the power someplace else -- seems a shame to waste the effort, so we’re going to try to dilute the necromanticly-active zones with the bleed-off energy from the festival. Holrune managed most of it, and I created a few Sympathetic Receptors to route the energy and prevent any sort of counterattack. It went pretty well and I think we’ll try something similar for the second and third access points.
Here's the problem: we might have reached a point where we’ve made Hunac too damn much work for Helgram, and if they don't attack here, we don't know where they will, which is not what we were aiming at.
On the other face, it buys us time if Helgram opts for Fangorn, since the forest refused our offers to help. That’s fine by me: none of the troops I’ve gotten up (fifteen thousand by my count) are gonna set foot there. We can let those idiots fight their own battle and wear Helgram down for us before they die.
Gerard was spirited away from the battlefield while we stayed behind to second guess ourselves. Chaosians had fled or died, leaving behind spies and watchers on the outskirts, but in the larger sense we’d held the field.
Didn’t feel like a win.
Toriana and I chased off a few of the stragglers, and I imposed on her for a trump of Zariel to make my life easier. Afterwards, I retired to Lynxia, Shadow of the Spa and thought over a few options, none of which seemed particularly useful. Eventually, a thought came to me and I sent Zariel off to find Nelson and have him trump me (not having his trump was also proving a pain).
After polling the family, I went back to Hunac to discuss means of attracting the sort of tantric magicks that Helgram would be using to pierce the world-veils. Seems possible to instigate enough debauchery to influence the location of their best break-in point, since locating particular hot spots is impossible; Itzamna filled me in on some Hunac history, and it becomes evident that the whole damn place is a hot spot.
I went for a ride into nearby realms to think things over and play with the Shadows a bit... I’d no particular goal in mind with what I did and I’m not sure anything will come of it. We’ll see.
It occured to me that the magical aspects of what seems necessary in Hunac are right up Toriana’s alley, so I trumped her. She disagreed and was disagreeable to boot. I don’t know what her problem is with actually having something useful to do (instead of rescuing usless ex-whores and amputees from the Chaos Courts), but leaving me to organize a large social gathering and manipulate the mystical energy pertaining thereto makes about as much sense as signing up Tori’s Aunt Llewella for a triathalon -- at that point, the family’s not exactly playing to its strengths.
I tried contacting someone -- really the only person -- with the authority to tell any of us what to do, but rather than accepting an existing plan, the pain-killer-doped regent came up with a new plan on the spot, to be supervised by me and organized by a mage who’s never been to Hunac. How does one go that wrong in a single statement? (Granted, "we're going to engage in an open sea battle and we're relying on you for mystic support" runs a close second. Seems odd that both came from the same person's mouth.)
I thought the image of Llewella in a triathalon was rich irony.
I set the mage Holrune to his tasks and left him to it. Since I can (at least) see where my strengths do and do not lie, I set back into Shadow in search of more troops for the cause.
I was more successful at this than the tasks Gerard had asked of me in the last few days. This didn't really surprise me.
I left Amber for Hunac after the meeting with Gerard’s sister. She was comely enough; I gathered she’d been kept as a brood mare by one of the Houses, so using her as a source of intelligence was probably as useful as questioning an enemy’s pet parakeet.
Didn’t seem worth the argument to point that out.
In Hunac, I contacted the Organization. I’d noticed on our run into Shadora that their pet mages had been able to mask their activity, which seemed useful; I was looking for a tutor in the technique. A young woman named Itzamna was summoned for the purpose, and while waiting I had Kelamon connect me with one of Sir John’s leftenants, whom I questioned about how to go about assisting in Griv’s rebellion. He told me that the crown had several teams that specialized in training rebels to make trouble for regimes of which Amber is not fond. One was available, headed by a fellow named Dax who would instructed to contact me.
I’d been asking questions of the people in charge. It was obviously the people who actually ran things day-to-day that were better suited to answer. Good lesson to learn.
Mage-ling in tow, I trumped through Kelamon to Shadow Sei-bahtl and has her attune her spells to the local dynamic while I instructed Zariel on his role during the upcoming fracas.
I wasn’t looking forward to this fight; it wasn’t the sort of field I preferred, and we weren’t supposed to be using the sort of weapons I knew a damn thing about.
The results were everything I expected.
Theoretically, we won. I was fairly surprised that Itzamna survived, but then again I was fairly surprised that I did. The chaos lords died or ran away, and we lost far too many men and ships to call it much of a victory.
Thirteen told us afterwards (he’d been off somewhere else during the battle) that he’d captured and questioned a Chaos lord. The thing claimed that the next major attack on Hunac would rely on magick completely different than what they’d been using; this meant that our identified ‘weak spots’ were nowhere near where they’d now be coming through.
I managed to contain my enthusiasm for this news.
Back in the castle (second time in two days, for a total of almost 45 minutes, which was a personal record) I spoke with Gerard about Griv’s other problem; he planned to attuned a number of expatriats of the Courts to the power source I’d first shown him. The problem therein lay in the fact that it tended to kill a fairly regular number of those who tried to use it.
Personally, I thought it was a fine culling process, in that it killed those who would have been too weak to use it responsibly anyway. Griv didn’t agree, as he was hungry for allies with some semblance of power.
Gerard allowed that he could use one of Amber’s mystic bangles to keep the power source in line and also that it seemed a good use of his time, provided no one knew who he really was. We made arrangements for myself, the regent, and Toriana to meet with Griv at the Source, where some misdirection would let Gerard do all the real work from inside a deep and shadowy hood.
I didn’t bother telling him that half the critters from the Courts can see into shadowy nooks and crannies better than he could see in broad daylight. Didn’t seem a good way to end the conversation.
While the Regent and his daughter made plans and cleared their busy social calendars, I went back to Hunac and arranged to split the Persians between two of the less dangerous weak-spots in the fabric of that Shadow. The Romans I left where they were, sitting at the temple where Helgram had already tried to push through.
Gerard called us to Shadow Sei-bahtl to suss out useful tactics for the anticipated bloodbath. I couldn’t see where I’d be much as as much more than a well-armed grunt, but I nodded at all the appropriate places and showed several of my kin the technique I’d learned for laying power on bullets.
Everyone in attendance was very happy with a silver-coating technique they’d come up with for their bullets. I suppose it would work fine for normal troops, but coating come off; I decided I’d stick with slugs that were silver through and through.
One of the sea-princesses that Gerard’s made friendly with knew quite a bit about summoning water sprites and the like. I gathered they all did. We exchanged notes on the subject, among other things -- remembering what we were fighting for and all that.
Following that, Griv contacted me with the sketched he’d taken from Nelson and I took the regent and Toriana through.
There wasn’t much to it: Toriana chanted nonsense and waved her arms around (I’d imagine that Griv, who served a Shadow Mage for over 300 years, wasn’t fooled) while Gerard did the real work of keeping people from dying. I gave Griv the non-sketch trump of myself along with appropriate warnings about losing it, and Toriana studied his face for a bit. We shook hands and that was that. He hadn’t know anything about the whereabouts of Gryphon House.
Back in Amber, which questioned one of Gerard’s sisters that Toriana had somehow rescued from Chaos. As the timeline of events is recounted, Thirteen realizes that technically I’m something like Random’s heir and that Random was the last one officially named for the throne...
I ignored him.
I sent Zariel off on errands to the hinterlands, annoyed (and not for the first time) at the difficulties we’ve had with communication between ourselves and our forces. One of the unspoken benefits of working alone is that you usually never have to deal with communication lag.
The Hunac “Organization” is working better than I’d hoped. In all honesty, they’re the one completely competent group I’ve encountered up to this point other than the palace guard in Amber, and in Hunac’s defense, the guard has a much simpler job. The troop relocation, probably something they’ve never had to do en masse, is going smoothly.
Kelamon contacted me in mid afternoon, informing me that I might be contacted by Toriana’s aunt, who was apparently called Gwyneth and also something of a trump artist. Gwyneth did in fact call me not long after, but didn’t have much to say about her kidnapping (which is what I was expecting), even to say thank you (which I certainly wasn’t, since I’ve met her near relatives); she wanted to schedule a ‘sitting’ where she could study me for a painting, but she wasn’t available immediately (prior appointment), and I didn’t want to commit to anything more than a day out. We left that lie, spoke about nothing in particular for several minutes, and I went back to my business.
The next morning Nelson contacted me via the sketch that Toriana had made for that purpose. Griv was in the area and wanted to speak face to scaly face. I did a little of that with him over the trump and arranged for a meeting a place we both knew; he was headed for the place of power I’d first shown him years ago after killing his then-master.
I cut the connection and thought over some of what he’d told me; it was almost all interesting and useful and worth doing something about -- it had been a while since I’d had news like that, so I enjoyed the sensation.
Griv had plans for a rebellion in Chaos, which I was in favor of just for the irony of it. Problem was he didn’t know a damn thing about rebellions and thought I might know someone better versed. I didn’t, but I had a notion that some of my newly minted cousins might. From Fineas and Toriana I learned enough on the subject to keep looking, and asked a favor of Tori regarding trumps before I headed back to Amber, and thence to Fangorn, where I placed a watcher or three.
I don’t care for relying on others. Doing so had me in a foul mood by the time I went back to Amber.
I underestimated how long it would take for me to gather up my watchmen. I'll have to come up with some other way to facilitate that. They've faired well enough, though; I collected seven and sent them to Arden to get their bearings and await orders.
Following that, I moved through the wastelands, trying to find desperate by relatively honorable troops for which a battle against the very forces of hell would sound like a turn of good fortune. Harder than it sounds. A group of desperados patterned after turn of the century Chinese ganglords were the best I could initially find -- I moved them via a trump (an good oil of Arden that Toriana gave to me). After that I settled on foreign legionaire types and found a good force of them -- four hundred or so -- wandering in a desert and desperate for rescue. With a force of gunmen behind me, I sought roman-legion styled troops in similar straight.
Well, I found them -- several thousand of them, in fact -- but they were locked in a battle with a larger (six thousand, by my rede) Persian-type foe.
There's a say about birds and stones. Using a good portion blood, I summoned a local efreet and sought to cow both sides. It wasn't entirely perfect, as I had to work fast and offer the thing another cup of blood, but after a few executions, I got both armies into a listening frame of mind.
I contacted Toriana for help with moving the large groups to seperate locals (one to Arden, the other straight to Hunac). We weren't entirely sure if we had enough power to maintain such a massive gate for the time required, until I remembered the coins I gathered off the Chaos Lord that had kidnapped Tori's aunt. The things are somehow constructed out of pure, solidified magical power, and using up two out of the three proved sufficient to our needs. I keep the last, and Tori held onto her shaving to see if she could replicate the thing.
The Hunac Organization moved the Persians throughout the area to put them into postion for later use. A deal is struck and ships are loaded -- the forces covertly moved to several out of the way marshalling points so they can be kept quiet and trained. I want them to have as little contact with the locals as possible.
I've discovered something about myself. I'm not sure how much I like it.
I've always thought of myself as a loner, by choice, by disposition, and by native ability. I've never been much of a talker.
Seems as though that's not exactly because I can't, however. I've spent the last three days working on nothing but talking. I knew that I was going to have to negotiate, but my expectation was that I would walk in, explain that everyone standing in the room with me was going to die if they didn't get their shit together, and then write down the names of everyone who wanted to do something about it.
Then I got to the meetings, and it was different. I heard words, phrases coming out of my mouth that were more than the basic facts required. It was persuasive.
I was persuasive.
I don't know where it came from. I don't know if I want to find out how it happened, and I'm not sure I'd like the answer if I knew it.
Maybe Toriana's presense helped me rise to the occasion. She's good at that sort of thing -- soft where she needs to be, and hard when it's called for. We double-teamed Hunac together and I think there's quite a few ways the two of us could compliment the other's abilities -- I hear she's a witch, plus it never hurts to have the ear of the ruler's daughter. She's been doing sketches of me for my scouts, so that they can contact me, and I've done what I could for her weapons so that she's not completely helpless if magic turns to sludge in some backwater realm.
We've got the alliance of Hunac's rulers, both covert and overt. It's time to fine troops, so I'm off to real home, the hinterlands, where I'll gather up as many of my watchmen as I can and see if this new Pattern power can help me find some soldiery.
I've never done anything like this before. I suppose most of us haven't. I've been doing things I'm completely comfortable with for so long I'd forgotten what it felt like to scramble for a solution.
After walking this “pattern” and enduring my presentation (along with three other members of the Household) to the masses, I wasn’t really in the mood for a party. Maybe the sort of party that involved a smokey backrooms, whiskey, and poker, but definately not the kind of party where you were expected to be social and put your best face one. I didn’t know if I even had a ‘best face’, but I did know I wasn’t interested in wearing it. The others didn’t seem to have that problem.
Thinking of liquor, smoke, and cards made me think of Texorami, which led me around to Random and his damn letter. I missed him. Missed him more, maybe, because of what I knew about him now, but missed him all the same and for other reasons. He was a good friend, and he’d known me in a time before everything had gotten dark and difficult.
Things broke up in the witching hours and Gerard took us back up to the castle where we somehow ended up in a private study instead of finding out seperate ways to perfectly useful beds. Uncle Regent wanted to chat.
Turned out, his dissertation was on the different armies of Chaos. This was good for me, since it kept me awake. After a bit, though, it became obvious that there were at least a few bits of information that Gerard didn’t have and I did, so I shared. Left with lots of new information to chew on, we found our respective rooms and caught shut-eye.
The next morning, Gerard let me know that we’d be going for a ride into Arden Forest today so that he could go over the basics of using the abilities that came with the Pattern. I picked out the least eye-catching of the striped horses and met (again) my cousin Fineas and Thirteen. Apparently the girl, Gerard’s daughter, wasn’t coming along, or had already gone.
Once away from the city (according to Gerard, getting clear of Kolvir Mountain is a necessity), we started ‘shifting’. I felt pretty familiar with this sort of thing, as I’d been using a similar, weaker power to get around for years now. This didn’t have the same limitations that I was used to, however, and it took awhile to get over the habits of a decade and then some. Time will help.
Our destination was a permanent camp in the forest. The troops stationed there looked competent enough, athough they were better with sniping and scouting than straight-up fights that the castle guards excelled at. Gerard wanted to get some work done with firearms, but after a few minutes I wandered off to something I didn’t know better than my own name. It had been long while since I’d worked with a longbow, so I picked one up and got reacquanted while Fin and Thirteen shot at things with rifles. Towards the end, things started to feel familiar again, and I got two or three arrows into the air between me and the target at the same time. Lousy accuracy on that trick though.
Good idea, giving the troops guns. Also a good idea to give them single-shot rifles -- less wasted ammo that way.
Gerard wanted to test himself against his nephews, or test his nephews, depending on how you saw it. At any rate, the day ended with the three of use fencing and wrestling the regent. The man is shockingly strong. Vast, unending strength. He could kill me with a backhand, I think. After embarassing us for an hour or so, he gave us each an Ephemeris -- sort of a guidebook to the local Shadows -- headed back to Amber, and left us to our own devices and to get acquainted. Fin and I discussed the military situation and ways we could box-off the Chaosites.
Thirteen didn’t say much. I gather he doesn’t, usually. Seems bright enough, so that’s not it. Cagey. Glances over his shoulder a lot, but I’m not sure he really knows that he does it.
Next morning, we all set out in opposite directions. I headed further into the forest, intending to locate this “Hunac” shadow that seemed one of the two most likely places that Hendrake would hit next. The hope was that we could get them organized before that happened. That I could, more to the point.
I got to thinking about this a little more and realized I might probably be the worst possible guy to talk to a group of sorcerer-priests with a Narcissus fixation. I didn’t know how.
Gerard’s daughter knew how. I fished her trump out of my vest and concentrated on it as I rode, waiting for that back-of-the-neck feeling that let me know it was working.
The smokey connection went crystal clear when she answered me. Before I could phrase my request, she yelled something about an attack and requested my help. I say ‘requested’, because she made it seem formal, as though it were significant. I didn’t think about it at the time -- I slipped off the horse, offered her my off-hand, and put a knife in the other.
The place I stepped into was some sort of tenement. Toriana was just outside of a room that smelled of burnt hair, blood, and ozone. I filled my other hand with sharp metal and stepped inside.
Demons. Three. Standing betwixt me and their masters, one of which was saying something loud that I still couldn’t quite hear and making odd gestures with his hand. I didn’t like the look of that, so I threw a sharp thing through his palm to distract him. Worked.
The princess had had guards with her when this happened, which was smart. Two were down and three were up -- I sent the standing ones after the demonlings and focused on their masters. The one with my knife through his hand went out a window in a long leap, the other crawled out of another broken window and went up. Toriana was doing something that required chanting, so I didn’t pay attention to her. The guards seemed to have the demons in check (I put my sword through the neck of one as I moved across the room to make sure they had an advantage), so I went after the jumper.
He was standing in the sqaure below me, looking back at my second floor window.
Stupid. My hands did their trick and the guns were throwing silver at his head. He ran for an alley and I jumped out after him, continuing to shoot so he’d keep his head down and not get any bright ideas. I landed alright and ran for the alley, rolling low into the opening and emptying the other gun.
He wasn’t expecting me to go low. Too bad for him. I waited for the flames to go down and checked the body -- a signet ring told me he was House Basilisk -- hired assassins from the courts. The three thick golden coins in his pouch made my fingers tingle and I decided to have a look at them later.
The other one got away. Turned out Toriana was after her kidnapped aunt, who was some sort trump artist as well, and about to be ‘recruited’ for the cause in terms less-friendly than ours had been.
I explained to Toriana that I was glad I’d managed to keep her skin intact, since I needed her for a few things, especially a trump or two of myself for a plan I was hatching, which things I’d take in repayment for services rendered. She didn’t look thrilled, but it could have been worse.
In the meantime, she’s taking her aunt back to Amber and I borrow her trump of the Arden Camp so I can get back to my damn horse.
By the time I’d found it, I realized I’d forgotten to ask her about Hunac.
The woman, who introduced herself as Tanitheel, was swaying on her feet and looked pretty cut up. Also, she was standing there in the buff and looked very... compelling, but the only shapeshifting creatures I’d met tended to be from the wrong side of creation, and I wasn’t about to lower my weapon.
“I’m not what you think -- we have shapeshifters as well,” she claimed, and dropped names she seemed to think I would recognize. One of those names was Random, which wasn’t a name anyone should think meant anything to me. It did. Also, her blood wasn’t burning, which seemed to be a telltale for the types of monsters I tended to kill. She had a good opening line.
I lowered my weapons, but not my guard, and offered to bandage her wounds. She pulled a gauzy robe out of an ankle pouch I’d somehow managed to miss in my once-over, which wasn’t anything but sloppy on my part.
Neither of us wanted to stay around the area, since the chaos mageling might be back with winged party boys. Tanitheel produced a card like the one I’d been given by Random years ago. The image showed a place, not a person, and I almost thought it looked familiar; when the image grew in my mind and we stepped/sank through/out/into it, I was sure of it. Texorami hadn’t changed, though I’d not been here for years. I didn’t recognize the people that were waiting for us in the sand dunes outside of town near the flat, open bay. Tanitheel exchanged a few words with one who looked almost as tense as I felt and accepted more equipment and another collection of cards.
The picture on the new card she pulled out definitely wasn’t Random.
The hulk standing in front of us was about as thick across the chest as my last horse. Better dressed. Looked uncomfortable with me or the conversation he was preparing to have. He explained that he was one of Random’s brothers, which I didn’t care enough about to argue the obvious physical disparity. I didn’t remember Random mentioning a ‘Gerard’ in one of our drunken nights out, which probably meant Gerard hadn’t pissed him off. That was the easiest assumption.
He handed me a letter addressed in faded ink and sent Tanitheel to a doctor while I read. The letter wasn’t long, but it hit some high points.
Things Random would want his one surviving son to know.
Gerard started talking about this (his) kingdom of Amber, the Courts, their war, and his recruitment of various expat sons and daughters of the kingdom, which number apparently included me. I occurred to me that this request for aid was more a technicality in my case, since I was already working on these sorts of projects on my own, but Gerard’s version of the arrangement involved being identified as some sort of royalty, surviving a rite of passage, and leading armies.
Leading an army would be a new development, but mostly I wasn’t sure what I thought about the idea of a testing rite based off an assumed parentage only a piece of paper verified. I asked for some time and a bath. Gerard made arrangements and I promised not to sneak away under cover of darkness.
Waiting for a servant to pull the bath, I checked my gunpowder.
My outlook got darker.
While I soaked and smoked, a professional robed mutterer came in and collected blood. I wasn’t much interested in this until he mentioned he could probably verify my parentage. Considering my chances of Rite Survival depended on such, I gave him both blood and encouragement.
Afterwards, I snagged a castle page and went looking for my clothes with my gear in a satchel I’d kept with me. Wesley wasn’t in his office, so Cory (the page) and I found the kitchen, ate, replaced my robe with borrowed clothing and went exploring.
Like every other place I’ve been, the working staff knows all the details I wanted. Cory is a sharp kid, and filled me on the other abandoned children of the kingdom. If the kid was right, then there aren’t enough of them, us, whichever it is. He mentioned that one of the new arrivals was Gerard’s daughter, which made it clearer to me what the “Prince Regent” is willing to risk, which made me more comfortable about him if nothing else.
The riding stock in the castle stables were striped eyesores, but looked like excellent horseflesh. I had the kid take me past the practice grounds where the castle guards exercise. I had to hand it to whoever trained the troops -- they used every advantage and didn’t stand on useless points of style. I warmed up a bit with one of the sergeants, who suggested he get a few other men to give me a ‘real challenge’. Personally, I’ve always preferred fights I was sure to win, but I thought getting the guards’ respect might be worth a few bruises.
Again, the guards were well-trained, and I certainly picked up bruises, but got a good idea of how I measured up and learned in passing how the other ‘special’ recruits had as well. Good information to have.
Afterwards, the kid and I went looking for Gerard. He was in the office of some sort of prime minister, a local noble named Feldane. The Prince seemed in a good enough mood when he left, and after I recovered my clothes and gear we headed for the deep dungeons of the castle, wherein I learned my rite of passage would take place. The room I was led to was dominated by the glowing pathway maze of their “Pattern”, which path I was meant to travel, a reverse of the power sources I’d become familiar with Elsewhere.
Let me be brief: it was not easy, I did not enjoy it, and I survived. Flashes of my life went by, especially moments spent with the father I’d only known as a friend.
When I made it to the center, I called across to the Prince Regent for further instructions. He told me I could will myself to whatever location I desired. I thought I detected a slight edge to his voice, so I acted on a hunch and took myself over to him and nodded, trying not to look as tired as I was. He looked pleased, or amused, which made sense a few minutes later when I remembered the long stairway we had to climb to get back to the castle proper.
The rest of the day was a blur of functionaries, meetings, and presentations which culminated in a public ceremony in which I and the others (my relatives, apparently) were introduced to the public. We introduced ourselves in cursory fashion and exchanged a few words, testing the waters but keeping to ourselves. I’ve no clear idea what to expect from this crew.
We’re facing a war with forces we don’t know enough about, weakened by a previous war which we’d lost (against this same force).
Gerard is an optimist.
Things had been pretty much normal on the Border: demons on the prowl, tribes of snake-masai hybrids out to expand some territory, and a few nasty dust storms. Griv had come by a few months ago and told me that the Courts were going to be getting more active, but I had seen much of that in what I thought of as ‘my’ territories.
Until one of the tribes sought me out, looking for help.
Of course, that’s not how they phrased it -- in their version, they were merely bringing the cowardice of other tribes to my attention -- something was happening, and those yellow-water dogs had fled their own tribal homes. Didn’t have anything thing to do with them, of course, but they thought I might be interested. The fact that this Big Bad seemed to be coming their way was a coincidence, and they weren’t concerned in the least.
I took the horse the direction they pointed and kept and eye out for trouble -- and water. The region was dry as old stories and I was starting to run low on needful things. There wasn’t anything in that area that was close to anything else, which was probably the reason the tribes didn’t fight more than they did, so it took me a day to come up on anything interesting in the way of information. In the way of water, I didn’t see a thing.
The village we came on was wiped out. Bodies were bloated and scavenger-torn in the sun and quite a few of the buildings had been torched. The village warriors and marksmen looked liked the first targets, which was smart -- their guns didn’t load fast, but the men shot for distance on this wide plain and hit what they pointed at. After that, it looked like the raiders had swept in and ripped through the noncombatants at their leisure.
Two types of attacks; smart and sharp, lazy and sloppy. Smart & sharp had used guns. Big ones. Lazy and sloppy had used claws. There hadn’t been many of either group; maybe eight total. Maybe less.
A couple commanders and some demonling back breakers. Maybe a scout-and-destroy mission. I picked up the trail and moved on. Another day passed before I found the next village, which looked too much like the second to make me want to poke around. I knew where the next village was, but the tracks didn’t head that direction, so I left the second-guessing for another time and followed.
The trail shifted, literally shifted, and I didn’t like the feel of where it ended up -- same sort of open grasslands, but the local flora tended to be bigger, faster, scalier, and meaner. Not a tourist spot. None of the territory was, but this place went to the trouble of hanging up large “No Trespassing” signs, if you knew what you were looking at.
The next attack wasn’t a village, which wasn’t surprising; the villes around here tended to be fortified and even more than overprotective. The rovers had killed off a pack of scaled critters that had been hunting herbivores around a small watering spot. I filled up my canteens and thought about it. There hadn’t been a fight -- the shooting had started from nearly a mile away, and most everything was dead by the time anyone got close to anything that could fight back. It was a slaughter, like congressmen vs. buffalos out the back of a railroad car.
They weren’t scouts. They were hunters. This was a vacation for them.
See, that sort of thing pissed me off.
I heard the gunshots from close to thirty miles away, half that distance before I could see anything at all, and a tenth of the distance before I could make out anything useful.
The demonlings were winged, scaled buggers, the like of which I’d seen before and killed without too much strain. The hunting party had been in full swing for several hours by this point, and one of the shooters was mixed in with his minions, getting up close an personal. From what I could tell, there was one other shooter staying back about a half mile to a mile and firing off a shoot every few minutes. Trick shots. Amusement.
I walked the horse in a circuit, watching the group in amongst the reptile pack and the circling pterodons that were waiting for their chance to feel on the leftovers. I moved without incident, a mixture unnoticed or uninteresting, circling at about the same distance as the shooters had stood off from the pack.
Eventually, I found the second shooter’s gear, left in a neat stack so that he could go have some more direct fun. My current arsenal included a heavy-gauge shotgun, the revolvers, the saber, and a few heavy knives. I picked up both the big, discarded rifles, grabbed a handful of the ridiculously-sized ammo, and left the horse where he was. It took me another half-hour to get closer to the other shooter without being noticed. I watched his pattern and loaded the big guns. Like the first shooter, he had two large guns, and was swapping between the two, letting a demonling reload while he did his trick shots. Each gun had one shot in it, but you really only needed one, if you could hit.
I waited until the shooter was aiming and his underling had reloaded and was waiting. My shot went off when his did, so that it sounded like one shot to the other group, and took the reloader square in the chest, tossing him and the only useful gun back about 20 feet. The chaos lord didn’t notice for a second, and by the time he looked up, I had rolled to the second gun (laying next to the first), and was aiming as he started to move.
I winged him. Literally tore one off, actually, but didn’t kill him. You only need the one shot if you can hit, you know. I taunted myself and started moving. The thing was running perpendicular to me and trying to flank my location. I ran straight for their original position and heard him racing through the grass towards me. I dropped and rolled over when I figured the timing was right and unloaded both revolvers up into him from the ground. He left on top of me and we both struggled to end it favorably. He was strong, and had grown himself some claws. I didn’t have any claws, so I had to settle with shoving a foot of metal into his brain. It worked well enough, and I rolled him off of me without too many more bruises than I’d already had.
The lackey was just as dead as he should have been. I grabbed the last loaded big rifle, took aim and dropped one of the flier demons out the sky to get their attention.
That left me, my shotgun, the revolvers, the knives, and their four, who were suddenly very interested in me.
My horse was fast, watered, and didn’t get tired under most normal situations, so my situation could have been worse. On the other face of things, all but one of my new friends could fly, and the big fellow on the ground didn’t seem to be having any problems keeping up. They were too far away from my weapons to do much good, and when they did get in range, I’d have too many targets to choose from all at once. I switched paths to take us back to more civilized tribal territory, thinking that I might be able to hold out in a two-day race for the nearest armed village, but the fliers were coming in too fast for that, and within and hour, the fastest one was on me.
Rather than letting him land on my back, I turned my mount around and we moved in to each other head on. I had the saber in one hand and was using my revolver to say hello with the other. We passed each other, and he dropped a net at us. I got clear and I heard my horse scream as it went down.
Didn’t look good.
The ground-bounder was closing in, and the other two fliers were circling and telling knock-knock jokes while the first one swung around for another pass. Checking it over and gauging my chances while my fingers did their reloading trick, I noticed something fast and blue coming at the fliers. It went through one, and the demon fell in two pieces. The second one was ready, though, and there was a tangle of screams and claws in the sky.
I didn’t know what that was about, and I didn’t have more time to worry about it. I fired a couple shots at the ground-bound chaser, the chaos lord, to keep him occupied and distracted. This got the second flier in close, and I used the rest of both revolvers on it to take it down. Close. My hands did their trick, the callused tips burnt tan from pressing against hot shell chambers for years.
The chaos lord was busy with something dangerous, and it took me time to beat his summoning back enough to throw more silver slugs his direction. While his head was down, I got to the horse, who was still thrashing with three broken legs. Trying to get up. I put a stop to that and cut loose my shotgun from it’s harness. I had a variety of shell loads for the short, double-barreled weapon -- silver shot, rock salt with a low powder load for dealing with zombies -- right now, I was using silver slugs, each one thicker than my thumb nearly an inch long. The accurate range on the slugs wasn’t much farther than I could throw the gun itself, but like the big rifles, you usually only needed to hit once, and I had two barrels.
The son of a bitch was already fading away through some sort of portal when I turned around.
I checked the sky, watching the blue avian dropping down in steep, bloody drive with the last demonling in it’s talons. They hit the ground about thirty meters away. The demonling didn’t get up.
I closed in on my possible ally with both barrels ready to go, watching the cyan feathers pull and shift in ways unnatural, revealing a blooded-but-beautiful dusky woman with strange eyes.
I had heard of such things, even seen them, but never from someone I hadn’t been hunting. My hand didn’t waver as I watched her.
She watched me watch her, standing naked in the harsh, dusty light of the plains for all the world as though she owned the place, and nodded in recognition.
“You are Jacob,” she said in a lower voice than I’d expected. “I have a message for you from the Prince Regent.”
I didn’t have the damndest idea what she was talking about.