...And there it was. A crest of probability. A veil of shadow that surrounded the Sisters like the Mists of Avalon. Outside, as runoff from the Shadowstorm slowly drained into the Pattern Wells, chaos-churned worlds gradually settled into more stable shapes. Wind-driven dunes come to rest after the coriolis storm, or ripples in a sandbar drying as the tide has passed. No more will Eurayle and her Sisters be prey to horde or army seeking relief from the Storm at their expense. The Age of Upheaval has passed, and Eurayle - that shining lighthouse in the night - has withdrawn into legend.
'Your charm so strongly works 'em that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender.'
'Do you think so, spirit?'
'Mine would, sir, were I human.'
So closes the Tempest. It had been a long fifteen years since Ariel was released from her cell of slow time, and she thought she'd done well with them. She created an island of stability in what became a roiling sea of shadows, and brought together its peoples to ward off all manner of disaster and beast, human and otherwise that swarmed up thier shores. The Sisters had been all that there was left of the universe, besieged on every side by the desperate and the mad. Now it was over, and Ariel could look beyond the uncertain mists to see that they were no longer alone. All the lands that stretched between Amber and Chaos persisted, and in them laid revelations to questions unanswered.
'My Ariel, chick, that is thy charge: then to the elements be free, and fare thou well!'
She was done here. Her shoulders sagged as she looked out to the sunset over the ocean of a beautiful world that had become her home. But it was the truth. Her work here was finished. She had no reason save self-indulgence to stay, and every reason to go and find out what had elapsed in her long absence. When morning blossomed... she departed.
It was easy enough to trace her way back to her old cell. That odd, unstable little place of rampant time. Her trumps were still there where she had forgotten them, in haste to flee the breaking crest of storm that was upon her. She held the shadow open and snatched them up, hurrying away to a nearby place where she could contemplate them in peace. Upon a grassy meadow, she laid down a blanket and spread out the trumps before her. Wondering what play the universe indulged itself in, Ariel drew the cards together and cast them as tarots, reading the names of the actors and their parts. She had been away for so long... She cut short her uncertainty for she had known what she would do even before she read the divination. She picked up her card and stored the rest away, concentrating on the vivid red hair two shades brighter than her own reddish-brown. She remembered the long years of training as she focused on the image, reaching to make contact with her mother once again.
The card was strange in her hands, and she realized with a start why. It was warm and worn at the edges. For a moment she entertained the notion of someone fiddling with her deck, replacing an actual Trump with that of a fake, but a chill ran up her spine as she remembered one of Uncle Bleys's lessons.
"Once a card goes warm, there's not much else left to do but figure out what flowers you're going to send." She had asked him why some of the cards were different in her deck, and it was revealed with a shrug that it portended either death or some severe change. A story followed, one of Brother Finndo's fall from grace. It took up the rest of the evening's meal and he had left soon after, never returning to the subject of Trumps in more detail.
She came to Brand's card next. Again warm, no stirrings beneath the surface. Bleys's, then. With relief, she felt the coolness chill her fingers, and saw her uncle's image stir. His depiction moved, turned, then morphed from a bright scene of a fireplace and a laughing man to that of one in a dark room. She had never seen him in a state like this: his clothes were careless and rumpled, and she had a nagging suspicion they had been on him for longer than a day. His skin, while never exactly swarthy, had a deathly pallor to it, and from the circles under his eyes, she wondered when the last time he slept was.
Bleys gasped and sprang to life, throwing a hand out to her. "Ariel! My god... I thought you were... Come through!"
Ariel grasped Bleys' hand and stepped through immediately. She threw her arms around his neck and clung to him tightly, stammering "Uncle Bleys! What's happened? I tried mama's card, and Uncle Brand's and... I'm okay, but what's happened to you?"
"A spot of bad luck," he said, muffled, as he held her tightly. Bleys, while flamboyant, was never one for shows of affection like this... Too much paranoia was pent up behind his smiles. His hugs were praise said from across the room while he tested the alcohol for the scent of almonds.
"Ariel-- your mother. There's bad news. She's not quite herself... And--" He stopped. "My god... you don't know anything that's passed, do you?"
Ariel disentangled and forced herself to composure. "In a word, no. The only contact I've had with the outside in the past... Since I disappeared, I guess, has been running from a massive shadowstorm that broke me free from one cell and trapped me in another. Not an actual jail, if that's what you fear, but isolation from time and shadow gone wild. But Mother... She's still alive?"
Bleys hesitated. "Yes," he started, carefully. "But... she's at the end of the story, Ariel. So much has happened since you went missing..." He glanced at a door, listened for a moment, then nodded, leading Arial to a couch, rich and plump. "Sit. We have too much to go over, and not enough time until you're discovered.
"There was an attempted coup, you see, years back. Myself, Fiona, and Brand, against father." Bleys paused. "Things did not go well."
Ariel started to ask a question, and then changed her mind. Instead she sat on the couch and listened intently to what Bleys had to say.
Satisfied at her silence, he grabbed a bottle from a liquor cabinet and poured her a drink-- something dark and sweet, with a hint of spice. "Things did not go well, as I said, and we lost. Eric and some of his bunions opposed us-- I told you of him, didn't I? The dark haired one with the good jokes. At any rate, when all was said and done, they had lost their champion, Eric, and we had lost one of ours. Brand." He held out a hand, a finger pressed to her lips, silencing any outcry.
"He's not, though, not really," he whispered, "But that would be getting ahead of ourselves, now wouldn't it?"
Ariel accepted the drink at sipped from it absently. She made no sound when Bleys mentioned Brand. From her expression, she already knew something had happened to him. Instead, she continueed to listen carefully, letting Bleys make the best use of whatever time they have.
"At any rate, Brand became our scapegoat, our whipping boy, and in a backwards way, our savior... 'Our' meaning Fiona and myself. It was his madness and death that allowed us to travel back to Amber, unscathed, and take our places here again. Fiona took up her studies...
"Damnation, I've gotten ahead of myself again. Broken Pattern... I'll explain-- no, your mother will. She knows more on that. Lord knows I'm not going to read her papers on it. They'd swallow up an ocean, they're so dry. You'd think she'd never heard of pithy commentary...
"Ah! Yes, experiments. One of them went awry, you see... and one of our siblings was damaged. He took umbrage to this and did unto her as she did unto him." This time, he waited for a reaction.
Ariel bit her tongue as Bleys mentioned Brand's death, but made no other comment until he had finished. She frowned for a moment in thought, pulling the pieces of Bleys' rambling together.
"Points:" she begain, "What became of Uncle Brand. What prompted you to try and take the throne. What is a Broken Pattern, and why exactly is it important. What became of my mother's notes. Whom did she experiment upon and hurt, and what became of her. If you please, begin with what happened to my mother. She and Uncle Brand are the most important to me. How is she now, and what made her this way?"
"You treat the points as if they're independant. They're not, I assure you.
"Your mother used Julian for her tests... He was never a bright bulb, so the gentle application of some dark power could hardly do him too much harm, could it? Fiona rests, finally, and seems to be centering herself again. She was out of sorts for a time, screaming and carrying on, if you can imagine it, and she looks a fright. Flora applied a glamor to her to cover it, but that's fading already... you'll meet Flora. She can sniff out new blood faster than a drug hound.
"As for Brand... He is under something of a duress, as far as I can tell. The woman who currently holds his chain won't let me in to see him, without paying a price."
Ariel paused briefly after Bleys spoke and then asked "What was this... Dark Power that was applied to Julian and my mother, and just what did it do to them?"
"It was the Broken Pattern... A result of an unfortunate necessity from an eariler power grab. We distorted the Pattern, just slightly, but enough to bring allies... At any rate, that's part of the past. What was left over after it was fixed was Broken Pattern, images like the Pattern in shadow, but dark, or twisted.
"I don't know the particulars, but I _believe_ Fiona convinced Julian to walk one, and later, he forced her to walk one herself, just as a crude form of 'just desserts.'"
Ariel nodded slightly, "And what did walking these Broken Pattern, if that is what happened, do to them?"
Bleys shuddered, and Ariel struggled to remember the last time he had shown weakness so readily. "It broke their Patterns... Shattered them, twisted them. My god, the horror... Fiona looked like she had lived through hell, and not quite made it back to tell the tale..."
Ariel inhaled deeply, and slowly let her breath draw out. She pulled out her trumps and began sorting through them. "So my mother... And there's no way to fix this." Julian's trump came to the top of her deck, and she stopped there. "I'm assuming that she is in no condition to seek an answer herself, and that you have already tried. I don't know if I would do any better, but I'm willing to undertake Mother's notes, to see if I can glean something useful. I'm sure she'd disapprove, but at the moment..." Ariel gave a little shrug.
Ariel examined the quality of Julian's trump, checking it for the same ragged state as her mother's. "Julian," she said quietly, "what has become of you?" She avoided trump contact.
The card was as warm as her mothers, and she felt a hand fall on hers.
"Not alone... You can't tackle it alone. But I _do_ think there is a way to repair your mother. There must be. Wraecca was repaired... Damn, you don't know him either... I'll get you a fixed deck later. You'll need it. Your generation has grown by leaps and bounds, of late.
"But I think we could fix her if we had a large enough think tank. She's returning to sensibility, I think, though there is something off about her... But we need my brother. We need Brand."
Ariel smiled faintly and returned Julian's trump to her deck. "It would be nice to have someone to help shoulder these burdens." She looked at Bleys, intent once again. "But Uncle Brand... You told me he was mad, that he was dead, that he was under duress, and that he was on some woman's leash. That's a lot to work against. Can you help me make sense of what has happened to him?"
"I can solve two of those straight off-- He is not mad, not any more. Death does wonders for that, apparently. What sightings there were, he was rather sane; at peace, almost. And as for being dead, he was brought back, so that issue is certainly no longer a problem for us.
"The woman isn't what I call evil, and she's not exactly fond of having to hold the leash. According to her, he was bound to her as a watchdog and, like any young woman, she resents an eye always on her person. However, she is wary. Brand is labeled many things these days, and she feels he might be better off pent up."
"Who is this woman," Ariel asked thoughtfully, "and what price does she ask of you to speak with him?"
"Ryoden of Sawall, a Chaosite," he said, his voice still a harsh whisper in the darkness. "She doesn't have a price, not yet. We were negotiating when she was called away on business. She recently rose to the rank of Ambassador here, so her time has been scarce."
Bleys caught a glimpse of himself in a gold gilt mirror behind Ariel's shoulder, and paused at the sight he's become. He sat back, taking a moment to compose himself, running a hand over his hair and attempted to fluff some of the wrinkles out of his shirtfront.
"We can find her now, but biding our time may be the most politic thing to do. It wouldn't do to look too eager. Her price is already going to be high... It's already not in her interest to help cure an Amberite powerhouse, and release another."
"A Chaosite. One of those people from that kingdom at the farthest end of the universe? I remember learning bits and pieces about them. They rule the shadows near them, which are easy to shape. But they never travel far en masse. For some reason the power they have access to makes that impractical." Ariel shrugged slightly, "Most of this came from Uncle Brand, during one of his more ominous moods.
Ariel continued kindly, "And yes, you look a mess. I wasn't sure if it was the result of depression over all that you've just told me, or the result of another more recent trouble. We certainly have enough to go around."
Bleys leaned back, glass in hand. "Hmph. More than enough. You've come back during thick times. I daresay we need our redheads more now than ever.
"You've remembered your lessons well enough. Chaos and Amber are on amiable terms; that's often what happens when one beats the other into a pulp. We were doing the beating, thankfully. Some things get out of hand so easily. Still, I have to take you there, one day. They throw the most glorious parties... the one that Minobee held for us was quite the show. I suppose they felt the need to show they weren't completely beat. The poisoning attempts were rather amusing as well, though they gave Random the heaves for weeks... We haven't been able to drag him back since...
"Ryoden, yes-- We have a fair number of Chaosites that come up here, to keep the waters clear, or perhaps, muddied. Imogen, our Queen of sorts, grits her teeth to nubs every time she has to arrange for more bedrooms. She's one of your generation dear, daughter of Deirdre. Married Corwin quite a while back, laws be damned, and he, being the king, was free to damn them.
"Too bad they chose to have a small wedding. I would have thrown something that would have caused a sensation, and driven Flora to tears..."
"Thick times, indeed," Ariel agreed. "Uhm... If Corwin's king... What happened to Grandfather?"
Bleys hesitated on this, taking a moment to sip at his drink and look at the fireplace, empty and cold.
"He... He was nearly destroyed. He might as well have been. He tried to repair the Pattern, and it ripped his own imprint out of him for the effort. He's in the castle, still alive, but dying." A flash of guilt flashed across his face, another new emotion.
Ariel shut her eyes as something akin to anguish or grief passed across her face. "So much lost then. Did you know that while I was fighting the storm, I would sometimes wonder what had become of you? Wether everyone I had ever known had been swept away into oblivion... I always thought - hoped - that if I could save myself, you would fare no worse. But I never imagined anything like this." She drank deeper of the liquor, pausing in silence to gaze deep into the dark liquid and into her own thoughts.
Bleys reached out and touched her hand, and her drink refilled. A trick of his, a simple one, but one he was always fond of. Then, it had been used to add flair to a story, or warm up a lull in conversation. Now, it seemed a desperate reaching for something that was long past.
"It's not all hopeless," he said quietly, and a strange fire entered his eyes. "It's not hopeless at all. We have you back now, and that was an unexpected boon... Fiona is far from dead, and seems to be regaining her wits more quickly than expected... And now, we have Brand within reach. If we try, we can put things back together again, back where they belong. My sister is no invalid, and my brother no pet for some child sorceress. We will get them back, Ariel."
Ariel looked up at Bleys gratefully and smiled faintly as he mentioned her mother's recovery. "Alright. We're going to get them back." She sat up straighter and braced herself with a breath. "Can you answer some more questions for me? Hard ones, I fear. From their sudden elevation from boogeymen to foreign power, I'm guessing the Chaosites are the allies you brought in."
Bleys sighed and nodded. "They are. At the time, we were secure in the knowledge that only we knew their ways, giving us an edge. We needed it. Eric had already seized the throne. He who holds the fort holds the advantage, and a direct assault had already proved futile.
"The war weakened them, and now, they play the part of the still proud loser. Their king died - Eric's handiwork. I'll give him that much, in spite of all of his other bungling - and he was replaced, after many vague threats and airy promises, with Corwin's son, Merlin. Yes, I know you don't know him; neither did we, until then. Pleasant enough, but I sometimes second guess our wisdom of putting him on that particular seat of Power. He's like Corwin. He isn't made for it."
"The power will fall to people behind the throne then." Ariel gave an almost imperceptible shrug, "The universe has never lacked for people to rule it. The shape of Chaos may be important, but for now I'm more interested in events here.
Ariel catalogued her thoughts for a moment and then continued "The origin of my mother's troubles appears to be the Broken Pattern. I know, you think she's a better person to tell me about this, but you have different perspectives and each one is important. My mother taught me to sort through the answers for the one I needed, and Uncle Brand taught me to love the question though he cared little for the outcome." A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth with the memory, "I could ask you the same question three times and get three completely different answers, all of them true. I have, and I will again. So...
"The Broken Pattern. Its source, and its remedy. How did you distort the Primal Pattern? What method did you use, and what result was obtained?"
Again, Bleys hesitated, fidgeting with a gold chain about his wrist. He snapped his fingers, and the fireplace flared into life; another of his favorite tricks.
"We used blood. Blood of the family." He watched her. Seeing that the paltry offering wasn't going to sate his niece he continued, "We made our way to the Pattern; not the one in the lower levels, but the true one, the original one Dworkin drew... The Primal Pattern. There, one of us made it to the center, trumped a rarely seen relative, and stabbed him, using it to distort the Pattern.
"The victim was Martin, son of Random... He lived. The stabber was Brand. He drew the short straw."
Ariel clenched her teeth, but offers no judgement. She simply asked "Why Martin?"
Bleys sighed. "He was young, he was an easy target... And he would not be missed. Any of the others would report in to their particular cabal, so we wouldn't have much time to move. With Martin, prancing happily out in shadow, and no more protection than an indifferent sulking Benedict... It was our best option.
"The boy lived, and we've made friends since... He even carried on with my daughter for a time."
Ariel blinked, but retained her focus. "I'm glad for the latter, at least. How was Martin's blood used, and what was the result?"
"Our blood can alter the Pattern, change it-- In the cast of Martin, we used his blood to mar it, not improve it, so that we would have a road for our allies to travel on. The rougher troops of Chaos can't stay here long without turning to stone, and would have never survived the journey.
"Oberon gave his immortality to fix our transgression... So, in a way, all is almost set right again."
"Except that he didn't fix it," Ariel pointed out. "The damage was just pushed out into shadow, where it's still causing problems."
"We didn't think they were significant until a few years ago," countered Bleys. "Fiona certainly hadn't dug up anything in five years of research, and while Clarice was certainly a piece of work, she wasn't anything that couldn't be handled. Up until then, we thought all the problems of Patternfall had been patched up, made right...
Bleys sighed. "I know. Idealism. A fault I should have known better than to fall prey to. But treaties and victories can make one so heady. And in the face of a newly spoiled enemy, we needed the front of unity."
Ariel sighed, "They're probably wearing away at the foundation of the realm, if they incorporate any propogation like the Pattern. How could my mother not have found anything? Is she using a strict hierarchical model?" She shook her head vexedly, not expecting answers to those questions. "So how far do they go?" she asked quietly. "How many broken Pattern are there?"
"How many shadows are there?" replied Bleys with an overly careless shrug, implying that it was anything but. "Alright, that was facetious. But there are many, too many to catalogue. Ripples, as it were. That is, after all, what shadows are."
There was a rustling in the other room, the room Fiona was supposedly resting it. Bleys turned and stared at its door.
Ariel bit off a curse left unspoken as Bleys turns to the door. She considered for an uncomfortable moment and decided, "The questions I have would fill the night and the next day. I'll need those answers soon." She glanced at the door, "But for now, shall we say hello?"
"I think 'hello' is long overdue," Bleys said, rising and moving to the door. It opened as he reached for it, and by the dancing light of the fireplace, Ariel saw her mother.
Diminitive in stature, but never in presence, for a moment, Ariel could almost believe her mother was whole, untouched by tragedy. But when she moved forward, Ariel saw the wandering hands, the sightless eyes that were dulled from their brilliant green to a watery blue. Her hair was streaked with grey, and she stank of a fading glamor.
"Ariel," she said softly, and it was not a question.
"She's come home," replied Bleys, as she passed him, groping, and found the couch where her daughter sat.
"Mother..." Ariel said with some disbelief. Her hug for Fiona was a bit more reserved than the one she had for Bleys. "What... No. How are you?"
"Better," Fiona said, returning her own soft hug, and Ariel realized she could feel her mother's ribs under the night shirt. "I'm certainly glad you found your way back-- and at a time like this." She touched Ariel's face with fingers that once were butter soft but now were calloused. "You've been away so long..."
"I'm afraid to ask, but... How long have I been gone?"
Fiona ticked off in her head silently. "Forty, fifty years, by Amber time? It's difficult to tell... So many years were lost in the bat of an eye during Patternfall. Time is rampant in the Courts. A good fifteen years have gone by since our return, victorious and treacherous as it was." She glanced at her brother, and as if by undistinguishable signal, he flipped his hand and passed her a fresh globe of brandy.
Bleys sat on an overstuffed ottoman, warming his hands by the fire. "Hardly a blink, at our age, but more significant for you... How long has it been, in your time?"
Ariel let out an amazed breath. "About twenty years. Not quite half my life. I'm not sure, but... Tell me. Did either of you mark a huge shadowstorm or something similar about twenty or thirty years back? You'd know it if you saw it, I think. It was pretty hard to miss."
Bleys almost laughed at that. He smoothed back his hair and once again glanced at the mirror with a wince. "Yes, there was a rather large storm at the end of Patternfall. That happened to be reality rewriting itself, after Father had to repair the Pattern. It damn near killed us all... We were certain we were done for. Brand had been shot, and he had tumbled into the Abyss, taking the Jewel of Judgment with him... Oh, yes, and Deirdre... And it was our last hope to find some shelter..."
Bleys leaned back, his gaze distant now. Staring into the flickering of the fireplace, it seemed he saw the retelling of that day and he was only the mechanical transmitter. "We'd given up... Corwin was half-mad... Random had to knock him out. That was a sight: little wiry Random beating mighty Corwin about the head and shoulders. I looked later... Corwin didn't have a mark on him, but Random's hands were nearly purple.
"At any rate, on the rim of despair, just as Corwin awoke - Random isn't _that_ good at knocking people out, apparently - and we were sitting around, trading secrets - there isn't much else to do when doom is upon you- we were stopped by the sight of the unicorn crawling out of the Abyss, Jewel upon her horn. She stopped, looked at all of us and... dropped it.
"Corwin took up the stone, it's reality kept the storm at bay, and that is how we survived. Now, your story."
"My story. Alright. At least now I have a reference point," Ariel said. "Uhm... Do you want the long version or the short version?"
Bleys looked over her shoulder, and Ariel saw the first yellow strands of dawn in the sky. "It will have to be short, my dear. We have to figure out what to do with you before the servants start muddling about and catching a whiff of you."
Ariel nodded, "For about a month after I was last seen, I was simply experimenting in deep shadow. Familiarizing myself with the Pattern Lens and what I could do with it. To help hide my experiments, I tended towards fast time shadows, since the distortions they create have a natural white noise effect. Unfortunately, one of the shadows I used turned out to be unstable. It underwent a temporal inversion while I was inside, and I hadn't even realized that my fast time shadow had suddenly become a very slow time shadow. Years passed in the space of a couple hours, and I might still be there now, if it weren't for the Patternstorm.
"The Patternstorm broke that shadow wide open. It also scared the hell out of me, since it was the largest shadowstorm I'd ever seen, and it appeared instantly right on top of me. I ran, and lost my trumps in doing so. I did manage to outpace the storm, however. I quickly discovered that it was a massive wall between Amber and me, and that even with the Lens, I couldn't see through it. Unable to retreat that way, I found a stable cluster of shadows and made my stand there. I was able to affect the storm, indirectly, and divert it around the shadows where I was. It didn't like that, and kept after me for a very long time. When things - people and otherwise - started coming in out of the storm, I set myself up as a sort of warlord and archmage, and coordinated the intershadow conflicts as they arose. The people there came to realize that I was the reason the storm hadn't swept over their worlds, and from that I gained the surname 'Stormbreaker' which I've grown accustomed to.
"The next two decades were a constant skirmish between myself, the storm, my shadows, and the things that came out of the storm. The storm, you see, kept changing. Mutating. What kept it at bay one day wouldn't hold it the next. Not everything that came out of the storm was bad. Some of the refugees would become my elite soldiers, and other things that washed up on our shore would provide for useful research or husbanding. But the storm chewed hell out of the shadows outside my defense, and there was enough greed and desperation out there that we were constantly on guard.
"Water runs downhill. The stalemate came to a close this year when I completed a trap for the storm. I decided it was seeking something real, and so I created a set of Pattern Wells - shadows with some infusion of Pattern to them to create a pseudo-indentation in the fabric of shadow. When allowed access to the wells, the storm flowed in. And there I bottled it like the proverbial jin. It still exists, but it's contained, and it no longer bars me from the universe outside. That done, I took the time to set my affairs in order, and then - today - came out to learn what had happened in my absence. That, and my recovered trumps, are what brought me here."
Bleys listened, though she could tell he was distracted by footsteps passing in the hall. His eyes flitted nervously to the windows and door, as if expecting them to spring at any moment, some sneering sibling snapping shots of his niece like a crazed paparazzi. More than a few times he signalled for her to lower her voice, or stop altogether.
When she finished, he sighed. "We'll get the long out of you sooner or later... most likely later. That was a narrow escape, dear, I'll have you know, closer than you think...
"Now, about the family... You know they know nothing of you. Do you care to come out of the woodwork now?"
Ariel thought hard for a moment before speaking again. "Objectives: Primary - Formulate a cure for the Broken Pattern Imprinting. Subordinate - Research the Broken Pattern, learn how Wraecca effected a cure, acquire Brand to assist in theorization, develop a network of allies and informants. Subordinate objectives are conflicting in necessity. Three recommend I be known as an agent of the Royal Family to facilitate cooperation. If the remaining - researching the Broken Pattern - is to be pursued, freedom of movement afforded by avoiding family entanglements may be beneficial." She frowned, "And whatever I do, I still have forty eventful years worth of details to catch up on. I've no doubt that if I'm active, the rest of the family will learn about me, probably within a month. For now, however, I'd like to take advantage of my relative anonymity."
"Then you should be scarce, quickly. Nothing stays secret in this castle. Father made certain of that... And I can't leave, not with Imogen tagging me."
Fiona paused to take a mug of tea from a place there had been no tea a moment before and sipped it. "You should not tangle with the Broken Patterns alone... I will go with you."
"So much for my first visit to Amber." Ariel gave Bleys a wry smile and then turned to her mother, "Where should we begin?"
Fiona closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment, then nodded.
"They are heading for the main one now... That one, then." She rose, brushed at her dressing gown as it became a travelling suit, then looked in Ariel's direction, hand outstretched.
Ariel took her mother's hand.
Ariel expected some surge of energy, or some crack of power, but there is none. Fiona simply led her over to a wall and began to touch it. The stones shifted about, and Ariel saw Bleys rise, lips parted slightly with surprise.
"A trick," confided Fiona, "From a friend in Chaos..."
"In _my_ room?!" exclaimed Bleys a second too late as Ariel and Fiona stepped through, and he faded away.
The meadow was faded, the wilting fall wildflowers already bleached by the sun. Fiona described a land to her daughter, one of wars and disease, of red clay earth and the broken, twisted turnings of a Broken Pattern. From time to time, she drew diagrams in the air, traceries of magic to lead the way.
"You will have to lead us," Fiona explained, motioning at her eyes.
"Shall we ride pillion, then?" Ariel asked.
Fiona straightened her jacket and smoothed back her hair, the grey in it now showing starkly against the red. The last of the glamor wore off, and Ariel could see her dry, burnt skin, and the sightless orbs of her eyes.
"I don't care how we do it... I'm remarkably less picky than I used to be."
Ariel nodded and became quiet, listening to the wind and the birds and working with shadow. Soon, the pastoral sounds were accompanied by the softly approaching footfalls of a quadruped. The horse, a strong sorrel, looked about uncertainly before approaching the women. Ariel stepped up to the horse and gently stroked its muzzle as they regarded each other. A moment's contemplation, and the horse lowered its head in acceptance. Ariel smiled and offered the horse a sugarcube from her coat pocket in thanks.
Ariel helped her mother up into the horse's saddle, and they were underway. Wildflowers gave way to grass which became scrub as they glided through shadow, following Fiona's guides. As the horse came to the entrance of a rough valley hewn by an unpleasant-smelling river, Ariel paused. "I've avoided the worst parts until now, but things may get a bit rough. Hazards of the destination." She checked her bearings and said "I'm going to pull us through quickly now." With that warning, she set the horse off at a gallop, pressing hard toward their destination.
Fiona attempted to look unflustered, her hair breaking out behind her. The landscape melted and rose about them, twisting to Ariel's desire until they come to a hill, the horse frothing and fighting her, eyes rolling wildly. Ariel could see the dim glow of power on the horizon and three specks of people in the distance heading towards it.
"We're here," Fiona said simply, leaning forward to calm the horse.
"Three people," Ariel noted. "The ones you were expecting?"
"More or less," replied Fiona quietly. "And Julian will be expecting us... There's a strange way of sensing each other." Fiona's brow furrowed. "It calls for further exploration. But forward, now."
"Makes sense," Ariel mused. As she nudged their horse forward, she asked "This is where you and Julian... Attempted the Broken Pattern?"
"And Clarice as well... this is the main one, the main gateway." Fiona paused. "I know this is where Julian attempted it, but I only assume as much for me. He carried me over it, blindfolded. The blindfold never came off, in one way."
Ariel was uncomfortably quiet for a time before saying "I never did ask how you felt towards the Broken Pattern. It may be simple to assume you want to get rid of it, but that presumption could be wrong."
"Perhaps." Fiona pated her arm, "Power is a strange thing, a wild thing, and as of now, it is in the hands of amateurs. I've told you of your uncle Julian, your aunt Deirdre... would you put them as sole custodians of something terrible and new?"
Ariel shrugged slightly, "Where lies wisdom? I do not know. As for this new power, I would unmake it. My impression is that it is an injury to the universe."
"Perhaps... But I don't think so... They are mispercieving it, what it is. They focus on the Broken Patterns as the power, but that isn't it... The patterns, the designs, they are caging back the power. It's a primal power, badly in need of taming. It would be a pity to see it botched."
"You're saying that the Broken Pattern are more than crippled castoffs of the Primal Pattern, then," Ariel queried. "That there's another force behind it, slipping through the weaknesses. It sounds as if such a force would be anathema to the Pattern itself."
"They are cages, the way I look at them. A weakened Pattern's last attempt at keeping the chaos at the other end of the universe at bay... But, controlled, it can be lead to order, like conduits. We need someone to submit to be able to control it, though, someone tied very closely to them."
Ariel considered, "The Broken Pattern are an interplay of two forces, then. The Pattern, on one side, and the Primal Force from the far end of the universe. The latter is what you're suggesting we learn to tame, and the former is the method. Both exist independently. The Broken Pattern might be a useful method of exploration, but ultimately..." Ariel shook her head and grinned, "I guess I'm a purist. I wonder how that happened. It's too soon for me to argue, though. I need to know a lot more about the nature of these Broken Pattern. Their origin and their effects so far just make me feel as if they were something we could do without. Like a tear in our armour that we find fascinating because we can slide a knife through it."
"You can do without it..." retorted her mother. "I cannot. Wraecca tossed it off, god knows how, but it hasn't proven easy for any of the rest of us. I attempted to restore Julian, before he left, to no effect, and I know both Caine and Clarice have attempted it.
"It is attracted to Clarice... It feeds off of her. In fact, I believe she created it."
Ariel said, "I thought the Broken Pattern were created by the Primal Pattern, shrugging off its damage when Grandfather tried to repair it."
"In a way..." mused Fiona as the specks grow larger. One turned, noted them, and stopped. "They have always been here, since the damage of the Pattern... But they had not been powerful until she walked them. She... I would say that she awoke them."
Ariel nodded, "That makes more sense then. Can you tell me more about the Broken Pattern... What it's like, how it behaves... How it reacts to the presence of unbroken Pattern."
"It's not fond of it's predecessor... It tends to mutate true imprints. Caine's imprint, when he encountered it, was shattered, as well as part of his mind. For some time he found himself struck mute... A pleasant state of affairs for the rest of us; there are more than a few I could name that would benefit from a time of holding their tongues...
"I digress. Caine's was shattered; Julian's, broken; mine, twisted, somewhat. The only holders of the original design are Clarice, and a puppet of hers, Lillian. They never walked the original Pattern, so there was little it could do to that...
"Now, something of interest... Caine never actually _walked_ the Broken Pattern when his was shattered. A storm had brewed around the thing, and Clarice had gone into it. Caine, occasional hero he is, went in after her... He never walked it, but going into the storm was enough... Hence, my theory that the power of it is _not_ in Pattern itself. The storm was a manifest of that."
One of the riders far ahead broke away from the others and began to move toward them at a hard gallop.
"Company's coming," Ariel noted, pulling out a spyglass for a better look. "One rider out of three, riding hard. The part about Caine and the storm is disturbing. While I have a chance... Wraecca. Had he walked the Primal Pattern before he was initiated into the Broken Pattern?"
"No," Fiona said quietly, "He took Broken Pattern first, but wasn't well taught in it." She set her lips into a grim smile as the other horse approached...
He rode well, and Ariel knew him from peeks at Trumps... There, his hair had been long, and his armor white. Now, however, his hair was short and uneven, and his armor appeared to be no more than studded leather over his chest and back. He stopped his horse a handful of yards away from them, and it neighed and snarled, biting at the bit.
Julian regarded Ariel, giving no hint of expression, the only clue to cognition in his eyes, lingering over her features. "Fiona... Did you bring a new lab rat?"
"A new mind, warrior," Ariel replied, "to unravel the mystery of this off-center power. Do you cherish it then, as something of your own?"
"You have it the wrong way round," Julian said, sliding off of his horse and moving to where he could better see Ariel and Fiona. "I believe it is _it_ that cherishes _me_. I would say it's of discriminating tastes, but it took on Deirdre and Clarice... Especially Clarice. May I ask what you're doing here, sister?"
Fiona smoothed her hair, appearing undaunted at the presence of her previous tormentor. "The same thing you are, only better, of course."
Julian grunted something that could be a laugh, then looked at Ariel. "So... who's is she? Brand's? Bleys's? Or..."
"She is mine, Julian. You see? We all have some secrets we manage to keep, even through the worst trials."
Ariel watched the exchange with interest. As they paused she introduced herself, "I am Ariel Stormbreaker. We would have met previously, but events have kept me preoccupied for some time. You require no introduction, however. You are Arden's Champion, are you not?"
"I was," he nodded, taking a hold of the reins of their steed and leading them forward. "Some time ago, before the small matter of my death." Ariel imagined he smirked as she watched the back of his head. "I heard the funeral was touching, Fiona."
Fiona sniffed, "Passable, as funerals go. Overwrought and oversentimental, too long and full of dreary speeches. I'll be relieved I won't be asked to attend my own."
The figures on the field grew larger. A man and a woman, black their predominant colors, although Ariel saw hints of a silvery-blue on the man, and red and white on the woman. They waited, sitting on their own stopped horses, studying, but not approaching.
Ariel considered offering Julian her condolences, but decided that her presence simply didn't interest him. Instead, she took a moment to study the land and the people in the distance.
The land was a flat plain of red, the soil a cracked clay good for little. The flatness of it seemed almost unnatural, like a huge hand had patted the earth down. To the west, there were mountains, not high enough to be snow-capped. And to the east she saw a haze of something silvery... A river?
Julian led them down, and the two figures do not move to greet them. As they grew closer, Ariel recognized them: Deirdre, in dark riding suite, sword strapped to her back, her hair pulled back into a tight, severe braid; and Corwin, also in black, though his outfit was less severe, gilded in silver, his sword strapped to his side. Deirdre seemed irritated at the wait, and even more so with the appearance of Fiona, but Corwin only looked amused as he petted his horses mane, and calmed the spirited steed.
Behind them, perhaps a hundred paces, Ariel saw a slight rise in the earth, black, with lines of light racing across it in a mockery of the Pattern of Amber. There were occasional tremors in the land as they neared it, and Ariel could see where the web of the Broken Pattern almost seemed to be holding back the churning darkness.
Ariel's mouth twitched as she felt a strange urge to laugh. Under her breath, she said to her mother, "Did I say a month?"
"News travels fast," mummered Fiona with a slight smile as Julian helped her off their horse. "It's the way of our kind. Why do you think we're so particular about secrets?"
Deirdre studied Ariel's face as she hopped off of her own gray mare, then looked over the blind Fiona. "So, what brings you out here, sister? I thought the road less traveled didn't suit you."
Fiona only smiled wanely and moved forward to the churning black behind Deidre.
Ariel regarded Corwin and Deirdre for a moment trying to assess their strength, demeanor, and stability. With a mental shrug she dismounted the sorrel, stroking its neck and made sure it was well before trailing after her mother.
"I suppose a few thousand years living with incurable gossips would drive me a little batty too," Ariel commented to her mother. "Although I suspect in my case it would take considerably less time. I see what you mean about the Pattern. How does the corruption here compare with the original damage?"
Fiona stared out, looking beyond the pulsing earth, hands folded in front of her. She seemed to be listening, as if to some half-familiar song on the wind.
"It is... aching to be released. It wants the bonds over it broken... But now is not the time. It is untamed, and we need everything in place. Julian, do you know where Clarice is?"
Julian noded, then realizing the futility of this answered "Yes... She's somewhere stable..."
"My realm," said Corwin, patting his horse's neck. "It's hard as a rock. We've struck a deal, of sorts."
Ariel said to her mother, "I am dubious about releasing this thing under any circumstance. But... What sequence of events would you consider to constitute the right time? And for what purpose would you loose this force?"
The question caught the attention of the others, who quieted and listened, all eyes on Fiona's diminutive back.
Fiona felt the attention, and, as is her style, waited, allowing the silence to build up like a wall around her. "Power cannot be destroyed, Ariel, never totally. Even the Pattern, I now believe, would be damn near impossible to break. Do you see how it sent out replicas? Power can be changed, but never completely eradicated.
"This one is waking up, and like any new life, it is irrational, a thing made of id, impulse, and fear. We must shape it to make it rational, able to control.
"There is one it is more than a little fond of. Though it dogs her path, it keeps her alive. She was the first to walk it, son in hand, and it has a vested interest in her. We control her, we control it. We tame her, we tame it."
"Clarice," Ariel stated. "What sort of woman is she then? What does the Broken Pattern learn from her in its vicarious existence? And who is this son?"
Julian grunted a laugh, settling onto a small boulder and taking out a dagger. He began to clean his nails. "What sort of woman is Clarice? A gruff one, a diamond in the rough I don't think even Flora has the chance of polishing. She's half mad with paranoia, and the fact her dogged existence on this plane won't end. These are simply my observations, though. If you want something more in depth, I would go to her protégé, Lillian Moore. She lives in Amber still, doesn't she?" Three shrugs are returned.
Fiona glanced back over her shoulder. "Learn... interesting choice in words. It is my belief that she awoke it, and now, the thing learns of consciousness through her, and of desire, want, anger; all the base emotions that are the first to be picked up. As for the son, that is Wraecca... And if you mean to contact him, I would change your hair color first. He has a marked distaste for redheads."
Ariel nodded to Julian in thanks.
"I'm almost afraid to ask what Wraecca has against us. As for my choice of words..." Ariel explained to her mother, "You described the Broken Pattern as a new life. Children learn, and grow, and become adults. And generally have accidents and make messes along the way, as you well know. While a mortal child might not be the best analogy for a new power, it's a good place to start drawing ideas from.
"Also, you mentioned it watches over Clarice. And so in watching, I assume it is learning, using her as a primary sensory organ. Seeing the universe through her eyes - which by the sound of it should give us all cause for worry, as Clarice doesn't come across as the best teacher of rationality. It's probably learning that it's alone and unwanted, in a hostile universe, and Wraecca turning his back on it in favor of the Primal Pattern likely didn't help.
"That brings up a question, which I need to ask anyway. What is Amber's policy toward the Broken Pattern?"
"Worried," replied Julian first, "But inactive. They lost one red-head to the mess, and hesitate to lose any more manpower."
"Amber is always caught up in her own problems," said Fiona, "Until the ones outside become too big. Then, she is a force to be reckoned with. Still... it does buy us time."
Deirdre, meanwhile had been studying Ariel closely. "With all these tongues wagging freely, I'm assuming we're bringing this neophyte in...?"
Ariel gestured toward the Broken Pattern, "Well this is one problem that's going to grow and I have an interest in learning how to mitigate its effects, preferably before it achieves its potential."
Fiona turned slowly, pivoting on hidden feet, until she faced her daughter, her unseeing eyes roaming slightly in their sockets. She gave a quiet little smile, one Ariel had seen her give her brothers any number of times, especially when she was about to undercut their egos. "Mitigate? Whatever makes you think the lot of us are here to stop it? I, for one, am not. I've come all this way to help it achieve it's potential. I know the same is true for at least Julian and Deirdre. We've fallen from grace, but we certainly will not grovel in the dirt. We will make us a kingdom from the shards we are left with."
"Because it's all you have," Ariel said softly, "you look to it to solve your problems. But I believe you're overlooking much among your skills, your remaining powers, and your resources. And I think you're giving up hope that your Pattern might be restored. Granted, you may not be able to right your imprint yourself. But if I came to you and told you I had found a way, would you dismiss me to follow your own path?
"Perhaps it's because I'm young or perhaps it's because I've just arrived, but I've no desire to give in yet. And I dread the rise of a Power that goes around consuming Amberites and turning them into its own agents. What you propose has the markings of a zero-sum enterprise where the strength of the Broken Pattern is Amber's weakness. You remember how the dark power fights the Pattern in this design. Did you not find them to be in opposition?"
"They are in opposition," Fiona replied. "Just as the power of Chaos is in opposition with the Pattern, and the two Patterns vie for dominance, though that struggle remains subtle." Fiona settled on the earth, spreading her skirt around her with the patience of a sculptor. "If we left today, and you restored us, do you truly think this thing would cease to be? That it would fade back into the woodwork? No. Another of the powers would attempt to control it, or, in the worst case, the power would develop to such a point that it would create its own denizens.
"You need not join us, Ariel, but I do need you. Bleys, like you, wishes to 'cure' me. He does not see the disadvantage yet. I think, however, that I can get through to you, and through you, I can keep him at bay. He would not hesitate to run down here, army in hand, and drag me back by my hair like an errant school child."
Ariel told her mother, "With these Powers in opposition, you are going to be asked to betray one for the other. And there will be much to lose, whatever your decision. On one side, your personal power and years of investment in work and pain. On the other, Amber. On both sides, family." Ariel knelt beside her mother with a dancer's controlled grace and said, "If your remaining a worker of the Broken Pattern is a choice rather than circumstance, then I will accept that. But I need to know that you understand what you're going to face, and that you're acting with a purpose rather than reacting to your situation.
"I do see the necessity of studying Broken Pattern, from inside and out. It is too immediate and has too much potential to go unexplored and uncontrolled. And I think you're wrong; I do need to join you. _Because_ you need me."
Fiona reached up, touching Ariel's cheek with rasping fingers. "You will not walk it... At least, not now. You are so bright, Ariel, but I don't think this is a task you should undertake... Later, when it is stronger, and we are stronger.
"But if you wish to join this rag-tag band, I will not stop you... But the choices you laid out for me will apply to you as well. You are young, though... And in new endeavors, a youthful face is a boon...
"There is another we will need... Will you fetch her for us?"
"A minor misunderstanding, Mother. I wish to stay as I am, and I believe that is how you need me. So we can see what we do from both sides. And yes. If inertia prevails, then I will face the same decision. I don't look forward to that." Ariel looked off into the distance, her gaze crossing over the Broken Pattern. "Who is it you need me to bring? Clarice? Lillian Moore?"
Fiona laughed dryly. "I wouldn't match you against Clarice. Lillian... Clarice hates me, and possibly for good reason. We don't have time to work out our minor differences, though, so we need to lure her here. Lillian is her Achilles heel.
"No force, though I know it will be tempting. Use her profession against her. She is a therapist, a healer of hurt minds, and I think you can use this to lure her out here."
"No force," Ariel pondered. "This may take some work then. May I ask the reason for this limitation?"
"If your force her," Fiona replied evenly, "You'll have an irate shapeshifter, a merciless spy, and a gunslinger hot on your tail. Trust me... Accidents have been made before regarding Lillian's well-being, and the reactions are never what you would call rational.
"Beware them, and by that I mean befriend or at least do not be an overt enemy. Sometimes it is the weakest of the brood that gets to the softest part of her ally."
"Interesting. What more can you tell me of Lillian and her allies?" Ariel asks.
"I've told you of Caine before, though he has developed some weaknesses in his sea-hardened armor..." Fiona said, glancing back at approximately where Julian sat. He looked up from his business with his dagger and nodded, giving a nearly rueful grin.
"I've long since given up trying to guess his game," Julian said. "He's faithful to Amber, yet somehow manages to sully himself with that, in what was probably the only selfless act of his life. Clarice is hard to handle... you'll get burned trying. Ask her son...
"As for Wraecca, he is variable as his shape, sometimes an animal, sometimes a scholar, I sometimes wonder if he's an Amberite at all, and not some hell-born Chaosite."
"Curious," Ariel commented. "Shall I be about then, Mother, and would you like me to bring you anywhere before I begin?"
Fiona brushed her daughter's cheek once again, then leaned forward, leaving a prim, exact kiss on her cheek. "Go. Be careful. You will find me right here... After all, we must begin building..."
Ariel hugged her mother gently. "Fate be kind," she said and then stood. Mounting the sorrel, she gave the place and the people one last study, committing them to memory. Then she was off, passing quickly through shadow.
Ariel felt the distance between herself Amber close, and the reality of the shadows began to close in on her efforts. Before long, she knew she was just within a few tweaks of the Forest Arden which Bleys had told her of so many times...
Amber, however, was not Ariel's destination. Instead she detoured around it, heading for an insignificant shadow that lay in its umbra. Those who kept meticulous detail of every shadow called it 'Plainsea'. Bleys called it 'The most godawful boring place this side of Perdition's waiting room.' For the first half of her life, Ariel had simply called it 'home'.
The house was where it had always been, nestled against the woods several miles out of town. Inconvenient for most, but then Fiona had discouraged most ordinary visitors. It was abandoned and stripped clean thrice - by Fiona when the task of raising her daughter was complete, again by looters and youths, and lastly by nature's own seeking scraps of food and broken glass. Seeing it brought Ariel an odd sense of familiarity and detatchment. This place had been the center of her life, but that life was no longer hers. She was such a different person that the place felt alien, as if it had been someone else's life or she had arrived at the wrong shadow.
Ariel shook her head and dismounted, seeing to her horse and then entering the house through the broken front door. A few pieces of furniture remained, but little else. Everything of value had been taken long ago. But what she wanted was of value to nobody but her. Searching through her mother's room and the bath did not yield the personal effects she had hoped to find. Her mother's private study was likewise bare, but here Ariel found what she had come for. A matted and worn place in the carpet shows where Fiona sat at her desk in her late nights of study. Kneeling by that place, Ariel clawed her fingers through the carpet both blessing and cursing the absence of vacuum cleaners in this shadow. A moments work turned up dust and lint and a tangle of her mother's long red hair.
Pressing the untidy bundle together and tying it in a handkerchief, Ariel returned to her own room on a whim, snatching up the discarded hairbrush that had been hers so many years ago. Securing her prizes with a satisfied smile, she walked out the broken door, pulled the saddle and bridle from her horse and set it loose.
"Go on, now," Ariel told the horse, "I can't ride where I'm going now. Not if I actually want to get there. This is a good place for horses, you'll be fine."
Ariel concentrated and brought to mind the complex sigil that was the Pattern of Tir-na Nog'th. She held it before her, constructing it piece by piece as she passed through it. A quick survey of the surrounding area revealed nothing of note other than herself. Bracing herself with a deep breath, Ariel sent her vision deep, deep within shadow until she came upon a region where shadow was broken and twisted, a realm that only a creature of Chaos would call home. Near the center lay a barren area, littered with the seared corpses of things that should not exist. A semi-stable shoreline bordering a dead sea of broken worlds. It is the edge of a nightmare twenty years in the making - and Ariel was there.
There Ariel invoked a portal and passed through, emerging in the shadow of an iron citadel where she was rapidly surrounded by guards and techicians. She allowed them to confirm her identity and then began issuing orders to be relayed to several members of her staff. From there she and her escort entered the citadel and proceeded to the north wing medlab to await the arrival of her people.
"Ethan. Dorothy. Denton." Ariel nodded to the people as they arrived, "Good. Denton, I have a special treat for you." Digging into her pocket, she pulled forth her handkerchief. She unwrapped the dirty hairball within and handed it to the scientist."
Examining the hairball closely, Denton commented, "I suppose I could knit a pair of baby booties out of it. Or wrap it around some catnip and make a kitty toy."
"It's your hair, isn't it?" Dorothy asked.
"Not quite," Ariel said. "It's from my mother. This hair came from her when she was in her prime - when she was one of the most powerful workers of reality of her generation, if not the most powerful. Next to her, I'm just a beginner."
"You have a mother?!?" Denton squeaked, aghast. "I mean, of course you do. Not that there's anything wrong with... I mean..."
"Ponder the implications, Doctor," Ariel said with an amused expression. "The universe has just gotten a whole lot larger. Here's the situation..."
Ariel spent the next hour detailing what she has learned. "Now what I need from you is a genetic analysis of that hair. Use my own genetics as a baseline. They should be fairly close. I also brought a sample of my own hair from before I was exposed to the Pattern. Understanding the changes that happened to me when I was initiated into the Pattern is our next step. The key step, however, will come when I bring you a sample of my mother's current genetics, after they were warped by the Broken Pattern. Those are the changes we really need to examine. The rest of this is just preliminary work. I also want to leave a sample of my blood in stasis, and..." Ariel grimaced, "I want a bone marrow sample taken with the goal of getting it to grow into a supply I could use for replacement procedures in case I become twisted by this Broken Pattern myself. I realize there's no guarantee that any of this will be productive, but it's a start. Dorothy, you're here because I want Thaumaturgy to have a shot at this too. Lastly, I want to see if there's a way to convince my mother's DNA to replicate. I'll want to see how it stands up to her mutated genes when I get a sample of that in. Secure the samples, doctors, and let me know when you're ready for the extraction."
Later, with stitches in her arm and a meal in her belly, Ariel departed the Citadel through a portal similar to the one from which she arrived. She used the Pattern to cast herself through shadow into a place not far from Amber and then rested a moment. Feeling slightly less worn, she pulled Bleys' trump from her pack and began to concentrate.
The Trump cooled quickly as she felt her uncle's presence light up around her. He stood in his sister's apartments, newly clothed and freshened up. He smiled at her appearance, but then frowned. "Ariel. Where in the world is Fiona? We're going to be called upon soon. Corwin's called for a family dinner. Some missive of Oberon's concerning a new sibling. I've been trying to reach her since I got the notice."
"Bad news," Ariel replied. "Mother is exactly where she wants to be. Is that her room? I remember that wall hanging. Good. Please bring me through."
"What do you mean she's where she wants to be?!" Bleys exploded as he yanked her through. "She's with that damn Pattern?! How could you have left her there?" He paced, drawing his sword and testing the edge nervously with his thumb. "We have to go get her... She's half-mad, I knew it. She convinced me to let her out when she was having one of her 'hawk from a handsaw' moments."
Meaningfully, Ariel said, "She's with that damn Pattern, that damn Julian, that damn Deirdre, and that damn Caine - although he looked like Corwin at the time. If it were just Mother, I would have pressed or called for reinforcement. But as it was, I didn't care to place myself between four older relatives and their power. Now please, sit and listen or help me find one of her hairbrushes.
Ariel rummaged around Fiona's bathroom and bedroom, looking for watchful hairs and trying not to leave anything out of place when she was done. "Apparently, they're digging in, trying to build a power base. Or at least they will be. It's not a terribly well put together group - I think they may fall to arguing among themselves if left alone. Wishful thinking, I know... Unfortunately for me, their interests are precisely the opposite of mine. I want to learn how to keep the Broken Pattern in check and undo its effects. They want to learn how to bring it to its full potential." She scowled, "I don't think they're even interested in being restored to the Primal Pattern anymore. The damned broken one seems to be recruiting. Hmph. Mother tried to scare me with the idea that it might start creating its own creatures. Well I think it's bloody well done just that!
Ariel turned to face Bleys again, "I came across to that group as smart but naieve and idealistic. Kind of disgusting - even moreso since it seems to be true. I offered to help, but I don't think anyone believes I'll stand with them in the long run. When I blow off Mother's little not-quite-kidnapping scheme, they're going to know I'm against them for certain."
She came across a vanity in her search, recently used, with the tinges of magic still floating about it. She found a brush, a snarl of hair caught in its wiry teeth, red with a touch of gray. Bleys didn't help his niece, but sat in one of his stiff backed armchairs, hand covering his chin, blue eyes distant as he took in Ariel's words.
"A powerbase. Over that thing? I've seen some of it in use, and the question of how strong it is still remains to be seen. The majority of it's wielders go to painful lengths to leave it be. With Fiona though, I don't think they'll have that problem much longer.
"As for Caine looking like Corwin, are you certain it was Caine? I know the man's devilishly clever when he wants to be, but disguising himself as the king when in shadow? I can't make sense of it. Unless it wasn't Caine. Unless." He paled slightly and settled into an uncomfortable silence. "Corey? Corwin's Pattern?
"And what is this about kidnapping? Who were you supposed to be kidnapping?"
Ariel answered, "Mother believes - and I concur - that the Broken Pattern is a power in its infancy. Untamed and untrained. She intends to be its teacher and controller. Unfortunately for her, that position is already filled. Perhaps you've heard of Clarice? It's her student, Lillian Moore, who I'm supposed to lure to the Broken Pattern so they can use her to coerce Clarice in some way. It's... There's a whole callousness about everything Mother's done today that's disturbing.
Snatching up the snarl of hair, Ariel wrapped it in a kerchief and replaced the brush. "Lillian seems to be the next step in learning about Broken Pattern, regardless. Hopefully I can convince her to work with me. As for Corwin and Caine... I'm not certain it was Caine. But they spoke in front of him as if he weren't the King of the very Power their own Power was in opposition to. That, and he was about the only person who didn't answer when I asked what Amber's position on Broken Pattern was. Once I got the idea that it might not be Corwin, Caine was the logical choice. And that's when I started hoping for any excuse to leave. It might not have been him, either. Again, Mother talked in front of him about Caine as if he wasn't right with us.
Ariel grimaced at the vanity and pocketed the kerchief and its hair. Turning to Bleys, she asked "Now what did you mean about Corwin and the Pattern?"
"Lillian, Lillian... of course. I'm daft today... Of course she would be trying to lure her down..." Bleys paced, hand stroking his precisely trimmed beard. "She'll be at dinner... If you were there, you could get the chance to talk to her, to warn her... Or I would, at least. But then your movement is limited...
"The Corwin you saw was most likely _not_ Corwin of Amber... Corwin, during the troubled times, drew his own Pattern. He has pluck, if he has anything... That Pattern, later, created a kind of avatar we call 'Corey.' Up until the drawing of the Pattern, they have the same memories... Now, they've diverged more than a bit...
"I could disguise you!" He snapped his fingers. "Perhaps as a serving girl, or some waif I've taken on... But wait... No... Too many would see through that..."
"There's _another_ Pattern?!?" Ariel exclaimed, "Maybe I should meet Lillian at dinner afterall. After today, I'm going to need a good therapist.
Ariel paused in thought. "Questions: The number of Pattern Adepts currently active, the properties and powers of Broken Pattern, and those of Corwin's Pattern. The research done into Broken Pattern. The activities of this 'Corey'. The method by which Cowrin drew a second Pattern. And what spell was on this vanity. A lot to cover, and it's the short list. That's what I get for missing forty years of staff meetings. Would you be willing to start with the first two?"
Bleys ticked off on his fingers. "Pattern adepts is unknown, though I know myself, and possibly Random are advanced enough... Flora and Caine as well....Oh, yes, and Wraecca. Broken Pattern... Lillian, I would guess, but I can't be certain... Clarice... It's hard to say what qualifies in that category... Corwin's Pattern is much easier: Corwin and Eleanor, and that's all."
A bell rang in the distance and Bleys cursed. "Damn... They're starting... Well, are you going?"
Ariel glanced down at her outfit and says "I guess it's come as you are night." She paused briefly and then decided, "Yes. I'm going."
Bleys put a hand at her back, muttering as they wander out... Her shirt lightened, and became silky. The pants loosened until they became the trappings of a skirt. Even her skin gained a sheen that hadn't been there before.
"In Amber, you learn to prepare ahead," he muttered, and swung open the door to the great dining hall, smile already plastered on, blazing.