Ellie : Beaches

The day is pleasant in Martaren, even if the surf is a bit rough. From the front porch Ellie can see the sunrise, and feel the morning dew beginning to burn off.

Jurt, as usual, is still in bed asleep, not savouring the beauty of an ocean sunrise as Ellie does. Normally, Ryoden would be out playing with the sand crabs or sketching, or sitting off on her own, as she does more and more these days... But today she sits in the living room, not seeing the gorgeous day ahead, but reading a thick book, a disquiet air about her.

Ellie looks out at the sunrise a moment longer then pours herself a coffee, glancing at the younger woman, quietly restless. "Would you like a coffee, Ryoden? Or something else to drink?"

Ryoden looks up slowly, as if not wanting to tear her eyes away. "Um, sure... Coffee." She stands, closing the book reluctantly.

She's grown taller, lankier in the past few years. Had Ellie just met her, she would guess her to be 13, perhaps 14. Her hair is mussed, in locks that are not quite curls, but not straight, and her figure just beginning to show curves (always hidden under her jeans and inexhaustible t-shirt collection).

Ryoden pours herself a cup, adding lots of sugar and cream.

Ellie smiles then says softly "You seem a bit restless. Anything I can do to help?"

Ryoden twists to look at the stairs, and listens. A hand moves to her pendant, and after a moment turns back to Ellie.

"They're sending me to Amber, you know. Mandor said so."

Ellie is quiet for a moment then asks "How do you feel about this? Do you want to go?"

Ryoden shrugs and looks at her mug. "I don't know. I didn't get to see much last time... Everything moved so fast. It seemed nice, though, and Merlin's said lots of great things...

"But then I read about it...

"Merle said I'll feel different when I'm older."

Ellie smiles then asks gently "What is it about Amber that's worrying you? Perhaps I can help answer your questions."

Ryoden shrugs. "I don't know... I don't know why he wants _me_ to go up there and be ambassador. I keep trying to see around this one, but can't quite make it. Mandor's really good...

"He says he wants me to learn up there, but I can do that anywhere. And I can't take pattern. So what's the point?"

Ellie leans back against the table "Well, there are lots of types of learning. Understanding and relating to people being one of them. Sometimes with that, it's helpful to meet and get to know people who are different from the people you're normally around or would choose to be around. Sometimes also living in a new place helps to see things in a different light, broaden the horizons so to speak."

Ellie feels the contact of Trump. She signals Ryoden that a contact is being made then opens her mind to it...

"Ellie dearest!" the thoughts of Lord Trennix come to her almost colored pink. "Looking even prettier than the magnificent art on your trumps." he compliments.

"I have a quick question and maybe a request depending on your answer: Are you in Amber right now?"

Ellie smiles "Hello, Trennix. No, I'm not in Amber, but will be visiting later today. Why do you ask?"

"Perfect! This is the best news I have had in... well, hours actually, but don't let that bring you down." Scren smiles *Perfect indeed* he muses.

"I want to talk to Andre and some other people in Amber for a big exposition I have planned in a few weeks, and as such, I needed some transport to that wonderful place. Can I call on you to get me through when you arrive?"

Ellie nods "Certainly. Or you can come through now if you like and have some coffee and share breakfast with us."

Involuntary, Scren's stomach growls and he decides to give in to his base instincts. "And get the chance to taste your wonderful cooking again? My dear, you have a deal. But please, don't use that magnificent chateaubriand to haggle down your prices again." he smiles as he extends his hand.

The rainbow swirl has hardly disappeared as Scren embraces Ellie and kisses her on both cheeks. "How wonderful to see you again!"

Ellie smiles "Help yourself to coffee, Trennix. I'll just get started on breakfast. Ryoden you know. Jurt I'm sure will be down soon."

The kitchen is large and well equipped, but more than that it is comfortable and shows the signs of being lived in, of happily filling the role of the heart of the home. Large windows let in sunshine from all angles and there is already a delicious aroma of spices in the air.

The views from the windows show exotic gardens and trees, through which can be seen glittering ocean under a scarlet and gold sky. The ambience is relaxed and informal.

Ellie begins cooking a hearty breakfast, delicious aromas soon wafting through the kitchen.

Looking around with an appraising eye, Scren remarks to Ellie "So this is the island paradise you have been talking about so often. Your renditions of the landscapes don't do it justice. It's wonderful!"

Scren bows to Ryoden. "Your highness, it is a pleasure to meet you again after all these years."

Ryoden curtseys, and even though she's somewhat drably dressed, there's a poise to her that is 100% princess. For a moment, Scren can see the Princess Dara in her, and her brother Mandor. She's young, barely into her teens, but still quite royal.

Ryoden gives him an odd smile, crooked and small, with an impish glint to it. Apparently she likes the sound of 'highness.'

"Lord Trennix," she says, rising. "How is Chaos?"

"Chaotic." Scren quips and he sits down. "Actually, the murders on the Summoners have been reduced luckily, so things are settling down a bit. Paintings still do well though. I can't complain."

"Are the demons still restless?" Ryoden chews on her lip, then sips at her coffee. "I hope they're not rebelling. Chaos without demons would be horrible."

Scren starts to reply when...

Upstairs, floor boards creak.

Ellie chuckles as she looks at the fragrant food then upwards "Works every time. Alright, who wants breakfast?"

Scren smiles and replies "I most certainly do! It smells wonderful again. I would ask for the recipes, but I know I'm a terrible cook, so I will rely on your artistic abilities in this too."

Ellie smiles then brings a number of laden platters to the table. Creamy scrambled eggs, feather light pancakes, crisp toast, butter, jam and a selection of bacon and kedgeree, along with a fresh pot of dark coffee. She says with a smile "Help yourself, Trennix."

Just at that moment, a flap in the door opens and a small, winged green-furred gargoyle-like imp, with blue eyes and white pupils, comes racing into the kitchen and climbs into a chair. Ellie smiles "Oh and meet Yrxk."

Scren grins and bows a mock bow to the creature. He digs into his food and eats with relish. Now and then, he glances over at Yrxk and once he winks and issues a small growl to the creature. It looks up and licks it's lips in reply, and continues eating.

Ellie laughs softly at the interaction and takes a place at the table, helping herself to pancakes and more coffee. She adds "I won't be in Amber that long, but take as long as you like and just give me a call when you're ready to leave."

Scren waves with his fork and shakes his head. "I'm not sure how long I'm going to stay. But don't worry about me. Mandor was so generous to give me a trump of himself as well. I'll get back on my own."

He eats a few more bites and then asks "What are you going to do in Amber yourself?"

Ellie smiles "Catch up with some relatives. Nothing really unusual, but Dad and Grandfather like me to visit every so often."

"Cosy! A family reunion." Scren grins.

After he finishes off a few more pancakes and a large mug of coffee, he stretches back and exhales with a loud "Ahhhhhh".

"You spoil me, Ellie."

The stairs creak, and Jurt appears, clad in a flannel bathrobe and cotton pants. He yawns.

"You're telling me. I've gained twenty pounds since we moved out here, I figure." He smiles sleepily and pecks Ellie on the cheek. He sits, helping himself to some of the pancakes.

"Good morning, Lord Trennix."

Ellie smiles "What can I say? I like cooking, especially for friends and family." pouring another two mugs of coffee for herself and Jurt.

"You'd cook for anyone." He smiles and takes his mug. "Family, huh?"

Ryoden keeps to the fringes, watching quietly over the rim of her coffee, as she was wont to do these days.

Ellie smiles wryly "It's a term. Some family more than others admittedly of late. Anyway, if you think I'm bad, you should have met my foster mother. She could have cooked for France on certain days. Came in really useful though at village fairs."

Scren stares vaguely at a spot in the distance as the exchange continues and almost wakes with a start as the eyes are expectantly turned to him. "I... I think I would have liked to be at one of those." He says a bit demure. But he rallies himself excellently by jumping up (the cane long forgotten after the spiel in Amber) and pouring more cups of coffee for anyone interested.

"So, any interesting news from Amber I should know before I run in there as a rhino on steroids and bowl them all over with my charm?" he asks whilst pouring.

Ellie chuckles then replies "Well, Wraecca and Lillian are getting married. Corwin is having some trouble with Kashfa. It's pretty quiet for the most part to be honest."

Putting down the jug on the stove, Scren rubs his hands and grins. "Opportunities! Good! Wedding gifts and maybe a display of Kashfan art to soften the relations a bit? Or maybe some Amber art in Kashfa?"

Ellie smiles "One of the wedding gifts is already a commission I undertook. Talk to Andre about the Kashfan art though. I like the idea."

Scren smiles and nods. "Will do. Will do." He sits down and looks at Jurt. "My lord Jurt, have you heard anything from your brother Mandor recently?"

Jurt shrugs. "He stops in to drop off study books for Ryoden now and then. He's been playing the Chaos scene lately, popping into Amber sometimes. You know him. He keeps busy, and damn quiet about it."

Scren shakes his head and laments: "It is just such a pity that I don't speak more often to one of my original... benefactors." he says with a little hesitation. "I don't want to presume too much and call on him unannounced. Do you know if he will be in Amber in the coming weeks?"

Jurt shrugs. "He may be... Hasn't said anything. He's never said too much about Wraecca or Lillian... Though I know Clarice has hung around his ways now and then. That's Wraecca's mother, in case you didn't know."

Ellie smiles "I like Clarice. However, back to work." She finishes her coffee and rises "I just need to wrap a canvas ready for transport to Amber. After that, we can head off whenever you like."

Jurt cocks an eyebrow.

"You _like_ her? She's about as friendly as a porcupine on crack." He sighs, then smiles into his coffee. "Each his or her own, huh?"

Ellie chuckles and kisses him on the top of the head then adds with a wry smile "Whereas you, my dear, are always happy and cheerful, aren't you?"

She pauses then adds "With Clarice, what you see is what you get. I respect that."

Jurt shrugs. "True. That is true. And it's rare with Amberites... Present company excluded, of course."

Ellie smiles then says "I'll see all of you in a bit and heads out and into her studio. Once there, she carefully wraps the commissioned portrait for Lillian and Wraecca's wedding. That done, she starts on a note for Mrs Martha Jones, occasional cleaner, house-sitter and

feeder of Yrxk, her gaze and thoughts drifting out to the sea view through her window. So many changes...

Downstairs, she hears the conversation continue as the day brightens. Clothes are strewn about, some from Jurt, some from Yrxk 'playing.' She starts to write her note, and notices something that makes her smile. Ryoden's tattered copy of 'Alice in Wonderland' sits on the

hallway table, along with a few sheets of paper and a roll holding Ryo's brushes and paints.

Eleanor lives with two slobs.

She smiles wryly /Maybe a short spell in Benedict's army .../ Almost absently, she picks up the strewn clothes and puts them into a laundry basket before quickly finishing off the note. She starts /Packing!.../ and hauls out a suitcase, looking out the clothes she will be taking.

Stopping briefly, she calls down "Guys, Mrs Jones will be in this afternoon, so pack what you want and sort out the rest, please."

There's a pause, and then half-hearted replies promising (somewhat vaguely) to pick up later.

As she pulls out various skirts and slacks, something falls out of the clutter that catches her eye... A trump made long ago, half-forgotten...

She picks up the trump. Red hair against green leaves, almost as green as the eyes of the man whose trump it is. Colours of green and black. Luce/Brand. /Why did you seek Ryoden and I out?/

She lightly touches the card, hesitating for a moment, then shrugs and shakes her head at her own foolishness. /It's just a test and it could tell something either way. If all things go well./ Carefully, she extends her awareness onto the trump's image.

The trump cools, then grows sharply cold, and Ellie feels something akin to a bolt of ice hitting her spinal cord. Her knees weaken...

And she wakes. A cool glade. A blue sky. A soft mummering around her. Leaves dancing in a light April breeze above her as she stirs from her place under a great oak.

A few feet away, sits a long table, empty, but filled with the leftovers of a tea party. Some of the cups are even still filled with the steaming liquid.

/Well, someone is definitely alive./ She rises to her feet and looks around, a smile on her lips despite herself in appreciation of the setting. /All I need now is the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse./

No Mad Hatter, no Dormouse, no other odd characters from the Carroll book appear. The scene is deserted, and Ellie realizes something odd.

She has the taste of tea and cake still in her mouth.

Ellie stops stock still as the realisation hits home. /Looks like Lillian may be getting another client./ More as a calming action than for any need, she moves over to the table and sits down. /Well, I'm still alive so that's good. What now?/

With hands that tremble a little, she pours herself a cup of tea. /Should I take this to Lillian though?/

Ellie sips the tea then takes a deep breath and begins to examine her surroundings more thoroughly.

There are 17 teacups, all filled... All save for two. Two are almost empty, one with dark tea... another with a sip of tea doctored with milk and sugar, just how Ellie normally likes it. In between the two places with the used cups sits a chess board, with a game in progress. One side seems to be losing badly.

The grass is matted here and there, signs of people walking about. How many people, however, is impossible to tell.

The table and greens it sits on are surrounded by an English garden, in full bloom.

Ellie moves to the seat with her preference to tea and studies the chess board. She smiles wryly /Looks like I persisted in my usual level of competence in chess and was losing. What on earth was said above this board, I wonder?/

A soft music comes from nowhere, twisting out of the whispers of the breeze, it would seem. A soft tune, lilting and sad...

Ellie sees something next to the chessboard... Had it been there before? Her find is foggy. Her trump, with an 'A-' written on the lower left hand corner of it.

She picks up the trump and examines it. /I thought you couldn't deface a trump? A-. If it is an initial, then why the minus, unless it's a grade.../ Ellie hesitates then smiles and calls out softly "I appreciate the music, the grading and this delicious tea. Thank you. So what would you suggest as my revision topics, please?"

No answer comes from her peaceful surroundings, but as she turns the trump, she sees it's back has been changed from her standard stylised seahorse to a serpent... a serpent eating it's tail. She has seen it before... on Jurt's lower back, the same one that raised Dara's ire so

long ago, the one he keeps to this day, no matter how he shifts.

'The time will find you all in the right place, no matter how you twist your path. You sealed your fate in my room.'

Ellie whispers "Ouroboros. Symbol of eternity. Like the Phoenix being ever reborn." She nods and calls softly "My thanks again." then tucks the trump away, pulling out Jurt's and concentrating upon it.

Jurt looks surprised as he comes clear.

"Ellie? I thought..." He looks up the stairs behind him, then back at her. "Where are you?"

Ellie replies quietly "I don't know. Would you bring me through somewhere private please?"

He puts out his hand, and pulls her in. She sees that Ryoden and Scren are gone, and he's still in his pyjamas.

"Ellie, what-- hey, what the hell are you wearing?!" He stands back to get a better look at her.

As she looks down to examine her cloths, she sees the normal skirt and top replaced by a blue and white checked dress, like an Alice dress grown up into something much more modern.

Ellie chuckles "It's not that bad, and given the tea party I can't remember being at, quite appropriate I guess."

She takes a calming breath "I was testing out a trump I made." and hands him the trump now graded "Don't activate it, please. It does work."

He looks down at the card, then drops it with a loud curse.

"Why would you activate that?! Why would you even draw it?" He looks at Ellie, his eyes wide, then quickly pulls her to him, holding her tightly.

"You could have been hurt..."

Ellie whispers back "I drew it because I thought it might come in useful at some point. I do that with most people I get to know. Activating it... alright, that was on a mixture of impulse and semi-reasoned curiosity, I admit."

She slips her arms around his waist "I wasn't hurt, but I am sorry for scaring you, Jurt. On the plus side, we have more information."

"What information? What happened?"

She is quiet for a moment then says "I was packing and the card fell out of the clutter. I'd made it a while back and then put it to one side, almost forgotten about it. I'm not even sure how it got there."

She shrugs "Anyway, I was curious and wanted to test it out, figuring either way I'd learn something. " Her expression becomes abashed "I have no other excuse."

Ellie pauses then continues "So I focussed on the trump. It cooled, then went sharply cold like a bolt of ice hitting my spine. I felt my knees weaken."

Her eyes unfocus for a moment then she continues "I woke up in a cool glade, underneath a blue sky. I heard a soft murmuring around me. It felt like an April breeze. The leaves of the great oak I was beside danced above me. A few feet away, there was a long table, strewn with the usual remnants of a tea party. Some of the cups even still had tea in them from what I could see. It reminded me of the Mad Hatter's tea party. Alice in Wonderland was my favourite story as a child.

"There were nobody else there though and then I realised that I still had the taste of tea and cake in my mouth. That caught me off-guard. I sat down at the table and poured myself some tea then looked about more properly.

"There were seventeen teacups, all were filled, except for two that were almost empty. One had dark tea. The other had tea the way I usually drink it, with milk and sugar. Between the two cups was a chess board with a game in progress. One side was losing badly. My side unsurprisingly. The grass was matted here and there, like it gets to be when people walk about. I couldn't tell how many though. The table and the lawn it was on were surrounded by an English garden, in full bloom.

"I moved to the seat with my tea, wondering what had been said. Then a soft music came from nowhere, seeming to twist out of the whispers of the breeze. It was a nice tune, lilting and sad. I think I could play it again if that helps. Anyway, I saw my trump of Brand next to

the chessboard. I couldn't remember if it had been there or not before. My mind felt foggy, fuzzy. The trump had an 'A-' written on the lower left hand corner."

Ellie puzzles momentarily "I didn't think trumps could have stuff written on them. I realised it wasn't an initial so much as a grade, like I got in school. So I smiled and called out that I appreciated the music, the grading and the tea, which was quite delicious, my thanks and asked for a suggestion as to revision topics with a please added politely.

"No answer came back. As I turned the trump though, I saw its back had been changed from the seahorse to a serpent eating its own tail, like the tattoo you have. Also written on the back was 'The time will find you all in the right place, no matter how you twist your path. You sealed your fate in my room.' I whispered 'Ouroboros. Symbol of eternity. Like the Phoenix being ever reborn.' I nodded and called softly 'My thanks again.' then I tucked the trump away and called you."

Ellie finishes quietly "That's everything. I really am sorry for scaring you."

"It's... it's okay. You're fine. So no harm done... But please, don't use it again. Don't even let people know you have it. You know how suspicious your relatives are. A whiff of that, they'll think you're in cahoots with him or...

"Can I see the trump?"

Ellie nods and picks up the trump from where Jurt had dropped it. She hands it to him.

He looks at it, then turns it and touches the snake.

"My tattoo... exactly. Even the colouring. How...? Ellie, I don't like the tenor of this at all."

Ellie nods "It does suggest that we were watched when in his rooms, maybe even before then. Getting the missing memories back may help us even more. Do you think me walking the Pattern again would do that? It seemed to stir up a lot of memories the last time I walked it."

Jurt thinks. "Do you remember when we met Sand and Delwin?"

Ellie nods "Yes, Ryoden said I wouldn't forget. Where are Ryoden and Trennix by the way?"

"I think what he did was called a forgetting... It's what Sand tried to do, but Ryo countered it. She can smell magic a mile away. You can't so you couldn't counter... It does some weird stuff to your short term and long term memory... you just don't move stuff from one bucket to the other.

"Trennix and Ryo went to the beach... She misses home, some days."

Ellie answers quietly "I'm sorry. I don't mean to make her unhappy." She is quiet then asks "Is there any way to get the memories back?"

"I have no clue... I've never made a forgetting. Ryo knows more about them, but she doesn't mess with them too much. It's hard to get lab rats.

"What are you planning on doing now? And don't worry about Ryoden. I'd rather her growing up here than under Mandor's and Dara's noses. They're already too involved for my tastes."

Ellie is quiet for a time then answers "I'll try the Pattern first. If that doesn't work, I'll think again about what to do. I'm reluctant to ask Fiona or Mandor's advice on this. Or most Elders

really. I'd be giving too much away." She moves back and smiles "I guess the first thing is to finish packing and get changed. I have both wedding presents ready." She looks up at him for a moment then smiles "Thank you for not being angry."

He sighs. "You're much braver than I am, that's for sure." He rises. "I still need to pack a few things... Ryoden said she'd make do once she gets there. Always been the kind to travel light, you know?"

Ellie nods "I know. I used to just travel around with the clothes I had on my back, a knife in my pocket and my paints and stuff in their wooden box. Anything else I either scrounged or did without." She takes his hand and leads him back to the suitcases "More foolhardy rather than brave I think, but thanks anyway."

As they walk, a knock sounds at the door, and Jurt turns, looking curious at first, then wary. He heads to the front door.

Ellie watches from a short distance behind and within reach of Jurt, her own nerves on edge and wary too. Almost without thought, her hand goes to her trump of the gallery.

Jurt opens the door, and Ellie can see a man standing there, pale skin against dark hair, a weak grin on his face. He opens his mouth to say something, then collapses against Jurt, who curses.

"Tolan!" Jurt lifts him easily and runs to the couch, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

Ellie goes to see what is wrong "How may I help?"

"Get me a towel from the kitchen." Jurt pulls open Tolan's jacket, revealing a nasty chest wound. He closes his eyes and starts to concentrate, and the wound begins to close up. "Damp, cool."

Tolan breathes heavily, his eyes slowly focusing as Jurt shifts the wound away.

Ellie does as she is bid moving to the kitchen and dampening a towel with cool water. That done, she returns and hands the towel to Jurt.

He towels off Tolan's face, trying to rouse him.

"Tol-- wake up... dammit!" Finally, Tolan seems to focus on Jurt's face. "Who did this to you?!"

Tolan only smiles. "No one terribly important."

Ellie asks Tolan gently "Tolan, whoever it is, will they be looking for you?"

He laughs weakly. "No, no... they won't, Eleanor. Trust me." His teeth flash, and she sees his fangs still extended.

Ellie nods "Alright, Tolan." She hesitates then adds "I can get you some blood if that will help. We have blood banks here. One phone call and it can be delivered."

"No... I glutted my self on the last one..." He sighs, and shoos away Jurt.

"That wound was all. He was a novice. I had hoped my pursuers would have hired better."

Ellie asks quietly "Who are your pursuers, Tolan? I can make this Shadow safer, but I'd like to know against whom I'm guarding it."

"It would be easier to find someone who wasn't trying to get the honor of killing me, soft Eleanor. Let me rest, and I'll fly again."

Jurt stands and looks concerned. "We've been out of Chaos too long."

Ellie replies quietly "So what do you want to do now?"

Jurt runs a hand though his hair. "After the wedding, we should spend some time in the Ways. I need to renew some contacts if we're going to stay out in shadow.

"And Tolan is going to need a few days to rest. Do you mind if he stays here?"

Scren and Ellie: Bloodstains

Jurt motions to Tolan. "This is a friend of the family, Tolan." Ryoden nods at him, not smiling, her eyes narrowing in on the blood. "He was attacked and came here to heal up."

Tolan manages to pull himself up. "Eleanor, I will be fine without the golden city as a side trip." He stands. "But if there were a bed I could borrow?"

Ellie nods and leads him away to a guest room. Making sure he's comfortable, she settles him in then adds quietly "I'll leave the number of that blood bank and details of an account you can use, alright? There shouldn't be anyone calling apart from Mrs Jones, a friend of mine. Like most of the people here, she's nice and I like her. Fair warning though, she'll mother you to bits if she gets the chance. Oh, and there's an imp around. Yrxk by name. He's mine." She thinks for a moment then asks "Is there anything else that would help you, Tolan?"

"No, no, Eleanor." He lays down on the covers. "Only inform your friend Jones not to stop by for a week or so... I can resist anything but temptation, you see." He smiles thinly.

Ellie nods "Will do. You just rest up and get well, Tolan." She thinks for a moment then pulls out a trump of herself and hands it to him "Just in case you need anything. Feel free to use it."

"I will, my lady. I assure you." He places the trump on his chest and folds his hands over it, closing his eyes. His chest moves slightly, slowly.

Meanwhile, back downstairs, Scren sits down after Ellie takes Tolan away. He looks a bit shaken by the appearance of the man, but does his best to hide the effect on him or tries to blame it on the blood.

After a few moments, he looks at Jurt and says: "I don't know if you are aware of the recent troubles in Chaos, I mean, all the killings and so on, but in the view of that, Ryoden has generously offered me protection from that and asked me to stay here for a while." and tries to gauge his reaction. He is, after all, the brother of Mandor, one of the players in the game that's afoot.

Jurt looks surprised, and looks at Ryoden. "You did? Why?"

Ryoden looks innocent, the earlier air of age and vision replaced with the simplicity of a child. "Mandor said it's awful down there... If Lord Trennix gets hurt, her gallery will close. It'll clear up later, I know it will. Then it can reopen." She smiles sweetly, and Jurt shrugs.

"Welcome to Motel Sawall, Trennix."

Scren smiles and is visibly relieved. "Thank you. I hope I won't be too much trouble. I will do my part in the housekeeping if necessary."

"You will? Then hell, stay as long as you want. Ellie'll love that. She's convinced Ry and I are pigs." He pours another cup of coffee, and Ryoden picks up small Yrxk, petting him thoughtfully.

"It'll be like the last time we were in Amber. Will Bel'k be coming?"

The smile disappears off Scren's face again for just a moment, but then he recovers by saying "Bel'k? Who is that? More important, does he buy paintings?"

"Only if they taste good," replies Jurt.

**********

Ellie nods and goes back downstairs to the others then makes a swift phone call to Martha, letting her know not to come up to the house until Ellie gets back and gives her a call. That done, she turns to the others with a smile "So would one of you magical types vanish the

blood please? Tolan's now resting comfortably."

Ellie re-enters, making her demand for a clean couch. Ryoden walks past it, uttering a few words, and the blood fades out. She eyes the disappearing stains curiously for a moment, then shrugs and sits, Yrxk on her lap.

Ellie smiles "Thanks, Ryoden. I appreciate it. So when do people want to head off?"

Scren clears his throat and says "Ah, before we head off, I just told Jurt that Ryoden has invited me to stay here some time, after we've been to Amber, seeing the tumultuous state Chaos is in right now. I hope you don't mind. I already said I would gladly help with anything around here to be of service."

Ellie nods "Alright, Trennix. If you want, we can set up something here for you to do or run. Letting Jordan have a go at running the gallery might be good for him anyway."

"That would be very nice, thanks. Jordan is a good kid. I hope he'll cope with the gallery though. He likes the sell, but doesn't consider the price. I caught him almost selling one of your works at one half the price listed!"

Ellie shakes her head, more amused than anything else "Alright. I have a few other people I can put in place. It's not a problem. Alternately, we can get Jordan some more training."

Scren waves his hands. "No! Jordan is prefect for the job. We just have to leave him precise instructions, that's all... But beyond that, I'm ready to go..."

Ellie nods "Jordan it is then. I have a couple of things to pack, but other than that, I'm ready to go too."

Jurt re-enters with a duffle bag tossed over his shoulder, and a slightly ragged pair of jeans on his legs now... Still the same top he had slept in, though. Ryoden trails behind him absently, holding a gym bag of books and notes, almost, but not quite closed.

Scren grins and then tut-tuts softly. "I see what you mean by 'untidy'."

He looks around and then claps in his hands. "Shall we go?"

Ryoden lifts her chin slightly, frowning, but then looks at Jurt. Nodding, she seems to agree, then pulls out a deck and manages to shuffle one handed to find a picture of Amber, verdant and bright.

Scren smiles and says brightly: "Remind me never to play cards with you, your highness." and he takes Ellie's and Jurt's hands in preparation of the transport.

The gates of Amber come alive around them, and the day, mid-morning, is bright and warm. Ryoden puts her trumps away and furrows her brow.

"Where are we staying?"

Scren shields his eyes from the bright sun as he looks around and then fixes his gaze on the castle. "I assume your attendance is known to the palace steward. I, however, am in a bit of a pickle I think. Last time I had Mandor to give me some credibility."

He thinks for a moment and then fixes his gaze on Ryoden. "I have an idea. Ellie, Jurt, you two probably know where you're staying. Might I kidnap Ryoden to go see someone in the castle to let it be known that I belong to her entourage?" and he looks questioningly at Jurt and Ryoden.

Jurt looks at the almost animal grin of Ryoden, and shrugs, looking only slightly doubtful.

"If you want... Just don't wear him out, Ryo."

Scren raises one eyebrow at the remark of Jurt, but he shrugs and smiles at Ryoden, proffering his arm and says "Shall we go, my lady?"

Ryoden grins broadly. "Let's." She puts out her hand and pulls Scren into the castle.

"I didn't get to see much last time... And you saw less, right." She shivers slightly, but continues forward.

**********

Ellie smiles slightly as she watches Ryoden run off with Trennix then notices Jurt, standing and looking slightly puzzled. "What is it?" she asks.

"What is it about Amber that makes her want to kidnap people?" He shakes his head. "You know, I've never seen your rooms here."

Ellie smiles "Come on then." taking his hand and leading him on to her rooms. "Dad got all of us new ones rooms. So unlike last time, I won't be separated from Dad only by a wall or two."

The rooms are spacious with lots of light. The predominant colours are pale blues and greens, but, here and there, splashes of brightness draw the eye. A blue-green woollen throw from Brittany. A green glass vase from Martaren, filled with summer flowers. A large shell found on a walk, twirling shape streaked with delicate pink and gold like the finest marble, yet grown in the sea. Through the window, one can see the azure blue of Amber's waters.

Ellie smiles "This is my sitting room. My bedroom is that way. Bathroom, that door. Guest bedrooms, there and there. And studio there through that door. Finally, a small kitchen through that door."

She smiles at Jurt "What do you think?"

Jurt places his bag down. "I like it... I like it a lot. They did a good job on the new wing.

"Huh... guest rooms." He smiles mischievously. "I was hoping we wouldn't have any guests. It's been a long time since I had someone to keep Ryo occupied."

Ellie smiles back, her eyes twinkling "Just because I have guest rooms doesn't mean that they'll be occupied. And yes, it has been a while I agree." She laughs softly "You know, if Trennix is going to be around on the island for a while, this may have unexpected advantages to us."

"I think it's more sure than a 'may.' I just hope he doesn't get bored... Chaos is pretty busy, and even more so compared to the island. I'm going to get vertigo when I go back, I know it."

Ellie nods "You and me both. However, maybe keeping our heads down while so much death is flying about in Chaos isn't such a bad idea. I just wonder what's causing it though."

"I wish I knew... I know there's assassins running around, and the demons are getting unruly... Even Mandor's getting edgy, and he usually loves this crap."

Ellie nods "It's worrying. Maybe things are out of kilter at both ends." She kisses him lightly on the cheek then adds "However, for now, let's just concentrate on what we have to do and on celebrating Lillian and Wraecca. They deserve the best we can all give them."

He pulls her close and holds her tightly, something almost out of character for him. After a handful of moments, he releases her. "They do. And you deserve the best. Wish we had more than two poles to pick from."

Ellie is quiet for a time then looks up with a wide smile "You know, that's a wonderful idea. And we do. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. Dad's Pattern. It's still undeveloped and kind of half-way between the two."

He laughs. "You'd probably want to ask the man before you take it over... He may have some feelings about it, you know."

Ellie laughs too "Of course I would ask. If he agreed though, it could solve a lot of problems. It would certainly make our life easier."

"It would..." He looks away for a moment, looking thoughtful.

"What do you have planned for the rest of the day?"

Ellie replies "Catch up with Uncle Benedict briefly. Say hi to Grandfather and Dad and drop off the portrait that Dad and Imogen commissioned. After that, I'm not sure yet. Why?"

"Nothing. Just thought I might look around a bit more than I did last time, being somewhat handicapped and all. I could draw you the exact layout of Brand's room, down to the ashtrays, but couldn't tell you where the kitchens are."

Ellie nods "I know what you mean. My knowledge of Amber still has a long way to go."

"Really? You've been here a bunch of times... What did you do then?"

Ellie shrugs "Well, I was invariably working hard with the gallery or catching up with relatives. Either way, it was busy. Most of the time I've been away from Martaren has been in Shadow to be honest."

"I've never asked what you were doing... Do you mind if I ask now?"

Ellie shakes her head "I don't mind at all, but let me get out of this Alice dress and into something a bit more appropriate for Amber. Would you put on some tea or coffee please, dear?"

She smiles at him then disappears into her bedroom, pulling a light blue-green velvet dress out and quickly changing into it. She re-emerges, brushing out her hair after having been lying on it under the oak tree. "So where would you like me to begin?"

She finds Jurt waiting for a percolator to bubble. "Anywhere you want, really. I mean, I have no right to ask, but that doesn't mean I'm not curious."

Ellie looks puzzled "Alright, but... where do you get this you have no right to ask idea? I know you've said before and I'm still puzzled. You have every right to ask."

He chuckles, still watching the percolator. "It's not that uncommon for couples to have independent agendas. Look at my mother and father. Here she was, trying to create a mini-army of half-breeds, and he was... well, I'm not sure what he was doing. Mandor and Despil

had taken over by then."

Ellie nods "I see what you mean. Independent agendas are part of being individual." She smiles then adds "I still think you have the right to ask though."

She finishes and puts the hairbrush to one side. "Most of the time I was out in Shadow, I was exploring. Either the Shadow or the limits of what I could do either with Pattern or Trump. Mostly Trump to be honest. Making lots of sketches which I would also later develop for

the galleries, trying my hand at new things too. Again exploring, but this time of what I am. I guess coming to terms with not just being a normal human any more if that makes sense."

He nods. "I went through that too... Not as quietly as you did, though. It wasn't an easy time, when I found out I was half-Amberite, you know. I think mom was damn close to pushing me onto the wrong part of the pattern just to get me to shut up."

Ellie nods "So what did you do? How did you feel?" She smiles "And I'm very glad she didn't."

"I yelled. I threatened to destroy Amber, Chaos, Sawall, damn near everything I could get my hands on...

"Then I walked the Logrus. I figured as long as the world refused to make sense, it might as well _really_ not make sense."

Ellie looks curious "What is that like? Walking the Logrus, I mean."

"It's... I don't know how to describe it. Terrifying. Possessing. You're not you anymore. You're just the need to survive. The most primal of urges. It's a maze of sensation, and smells, and emotions, and sounds... I can't remember half of it, and I'm glad.

"You hear about Amberites rewalking the pattern all the time... But you rarely hear about Chaosites doing it."

Ellie nods "I can see why. The primal urge to survive is one of the most deep seated and terrifying, whatever side of it you happen to be on."

She is quiet for a moment then says "The Pattern stirs up memories and emotions. Sometimes, it feels as if you're stuck, like a butterfly pinned to an electric blue board. I've walked it twice so far. Though it seems to get physically easier, the emotional drain is

worse. It's like being both the viewer and the thing under the microscope at the same time. Nothing is hidden, even if you want it to be."

Jurt cups his chin in his hands, his look a little distant. "What did you remember?"

Ellie stares out at the ocean "My father visiting once a year, every year. My foster mother taking me to ballet and piano lessons and the hot chocolate at Henri's afterwards. My foster-father teaching me to sail and to fish like he did and when to run for home because a storm

was marching in over the Atlantic waves like a great grey giant. The gendarme knocking on the door and telling me that my parents were dead in a car I should have been in too. Losing my home. The hopelessness of a sixteen year old with no experience trying to find work then homelessness again. The nights where I had a choice between rats and some creep wanting to 'get to know me'. The rats won, but there were always so many of them and if you lay still too long, they'd start biting. Andre. My friends in the abandoned subway. They're all dead now apart from Andre. Bleeding out from a miscarriage and gentle Lisle helping me to hospital."

She turns away from the window "Lots of stuff."

He rises and hugs her from behind, holding her tightly and silently.

"...You never told me about the miscarriage."

Ellie replies quietly "I don't usually choose to think much about that time. It was less just the miscarriage and more a lot of painful things happened that time. Andre had disappeared. I was still getting over my parents' deaths and a friend of mine had got gunned down just

because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I felt guilty. The nurse said it was common to lose the first, but I felt as if I had let the baby down somehow. Would you think me terrible if I said I'm relieved too that it didn't happen? I just think sixteen was far too young for me to have a baby, never mind that I lived in the subways at the time."

She bites her lip then turns to look at him and asks "What do you think, Jurt?"

"I think sixteen is too young, and as to how to raise a kid in the subway...

"Your life is complicated enough, without adding that to the mix. Hell, at that age, everything is complicated."

Ellie nods "I hope you don't mind what I'm going to say, but while we're on the subject... I was also relieved that I wasn't pregnant five years ago too. Don't get me wrong. It's one thing to choose to have a child, but another to have it kind of thrust upon you." She blushes "I'm making a mess of this. What I'm trying to say is that while I think I'd like a child at some point, I'm happy with things as they currently are. How do you feel?"

"Um..." Jurt blinks. "I'm happy. I hadn't really thought about... Well, I have, a bit. But-- it's weird. I'd feel like I was replacing Ryoden, and I can't do that right now.

"I was relieved then, too, but I think you can guess that."

Ellie nods "I agree. We effectively have a kid in Ryoden." She grins "A kid who currently is occupied. I need to go and drop this painting off, but would you us like to go out later and do something?"

"I would. I haven't been bar hopping in a while. I could use a night of drunken revelry. Wonder how much Lord Trennix charges?" He releases her and steps back.

"When do you want to meet up again?"

Ellie thinks then answers "I think I may be a couple of hours anyway so how about we meet up for lunch?"

"Lunch sounds great." He pecks her on the cheek. "I'll keep myself busy." He smiles, then leaves.

Ellie smiles then picks up the wrapped canvas and takes out her father's trump and concentrates.

She expected to find him in a meeting, or in the castle, but instead she sees him in Arden, riding in the midmorning light.

"Eleanor! You're in Amber already? I must have had my days mixed up. I would have brought you in."

Ellie smiles "Don't worry, Dad. I just got in. Now, where do you want me to drop this painting off? The one you and Imogen commissioned for the wedding."

"Ah! My chambers should be fine. I can't wait to see it. Are Jurt and Ryoden around?"

Ellie smiles wryly "Ryoden was last seen dragging Lord Trennix off around the castle. Jurt's gone out for a while though we're meeting up later. Would you like me to bring you through?"

"Horse and all?" He chuckles. "No, I have business here, with the Rangers. Julian's been gone a long time, so we've had to shift leadership."

Ellie nods, her face more serious "Alright, Dad. Do you think Julian's absence has anything to do with the spirit of the place being missing? Maybe he's looking for it. So who's the new leader?"

"Spirit? What are you talking about?" He looks genuinely confused. "I think he's gone because he figured out his presence wasn't welcome. He usually stuck to the deeper parts of Arden when things like this happened in the past, but I got word from one of his regiments that he's been away for years."

Ellie explains "Last time I was here, we went looking for the Unicorn and tried the Grove first." She looks almost abashed but continues "I feel things sometimes, Dad, sort of sense stuff. Anyway, what I'd sensed before, the sense of peace, the spirit of the place was gone. That's what I was talking about." She puts down the wrapped canvas and pulls out another trump, this time of herself and hands it to her father "I forgot to give you this the last time. Now you can talk to me whenever you like. If you need any more trumps done too, Dad, just let me know."

"Thanks." He takes the card. "I think right now I have a full set, but we'll need the spares upgraded, of course. Maybe if you're free for a while I can commission you for that too.

"I've been to the grove a few times in the past years. I can't say I noticed a difference, but it may be something of a blind spot for me by now."

Ellie nods "Alright, and I'm happy to do more trumps." She pauses then adds "Dad, would it be alright if we had a talk later? I've been doing a lot of thinking about my future and I have some ideas I'd like to run past you."

"Your future? Like what?" He stops his horse and regards her curiously.

Ellie replies quietly "Long-term prospects. I've been kind of sitting at a crossroads for a while now. I think I can see a good direction for me, and it will help Amber too, but I need both your backing and your advice. Later is fine though, Dad. I can see you're busy."

"Okay. I had better get moving. I'll see you in a few hours, okay?" He smiles, and the connection closes.

Ellie smiles then quickly moves on and leaves the canvas in her father's chambers as preferred. That done, she goes next to her grandfather's room, tapping lightly on the plain door.

There's a gruff reply from within, and entering, Ellie sees him pushing away the last of breakfast.

"Eleanor! On time, as it happens. How are you, girl?"

Ellie grins and gives her grandfather a quick hug before answering "Doing great. How are you? And on time for what?"

"You were due another visit. You're like a clock.

"I've been same as ever. My pet makes the days brighter, when my page isn't around."

Ellie chuckles "Visiting you is one of the few things I do keep track of, time wise. So who's your pet? And I'll be in Amber for at least a month to come."

"Ah, Esta, my good girl. She's always been a good solid one. I kept her away as long as I could, but I think I was wrong. She's keeping true here. I didn't think it was possible. But she's a good girl. I always knew that."

Ellie nods, committing the name to memory, then smiles "I'm glad. I don't like the thought of you being here on your own without anyone visiting." She is quiet for a moment then asks "Grandfather, does the Pattern restore memory that is missing or messed up?"

"It should. You've been hit on the head?"

Ellie shrugs "I don't know how I lost my memory. I tried something in Shadow and it backfired on me. I came to later with memory missing." She smiles "Thanks, Grandfather. I knew you'd be able to help."

"You going off to find your memories now? You should be careful what you tangle with."

Ellie nods "Yes, I learned that. At least I'm being more cautious anyway. I really scared Jurt and I regretted doing that." She rises and smiles, giving Oberon a peck on the cheek "I'll be back later, dear one, with tales to tell as your dutiful page should have." She grins mischievously then heads out. Closing the door behind her, she fishes out two trump cards, one of Jurt and one of the Pattern, and concentrates on Jurt's first. *Hi, dearest. I have something to do that I thought you may want to be present for."

The connection is slow to come, and for a moment, Ellie wonders if Jurt has gone back to Chaos. Then his face becomes clear, and she sees him, in the Amber library.

*What's that?*

Ellie replies gently *If you're busy, it's fine. I was just on my way down to the Pattern, but I'll meet you later for lunch. Alright?*

*Why are you going to the... oh, that's right...

*No, I can finish up later. Library isn't going anywhere.* He holds out his hand to her.

Ellie brings him through and concentrates on the trump of the Pattern before stepping through with Jurt.

She takes a deep breath as she looks at the Pattern. "I just wanted to check with Grandfather that the Pattern should restore my memory before I walked it again. He doesn't know why its missing though. So what are you studying?" She smiles and adds "And yes, I'm just delaying for a moment."

"I'm just studying... Nothing really," replies Jurt quickly, and looks out at the Pattern uneasily.

"Sure you want to do this?"

Ellie nods "Yes. And I'll be starving after most likely. Lunch will be most welcome." She smiles "Wish me luck, love." and walks over to the start point and begins to again walk the Pattern.

Ellie and Jurt - En Route to Lunch

The walk is hard, and she almost forgets that this is far from her first time... The energy courses through her, and she feels the events of her life wash over her.

She comes to rest in the centre again, and her mind drifts back to a cool spring morning, in a storybook glade...

She stands, holding the hand of a man, once named Luce. He studies her dispassionately.

She smiles then curtsies politely "Thank you for seeing me.", studying his face in turn as she rises.

"It was a bold move. Those can land you where you want, or in a grave. You appear to have been lucky this time. Was there a reason you've decided to seek me out?"

Ellie nods "Yes. I wished to know what it is you intend for Ryoden and why you sought her out." She takes a deep breath then adds "I know you could kill me without blinking, but Jurt and Ryoden matter to me."

"They must. But this matter might be a bit over your head... I have not laid out Ryoden's path at all." He moves over to a long table, and motions for her to sit.

She moves over to sit as indicated and smiles ruefully "I know one thing for sure. That's there's an awful lot out there I don't know yet, but I'm trying to learn."

"I'm not your teacher. I've been allocated already." He smiles blandly and waves his hand, a chess board appearing between them. "Coal or ice?"

She replies "Coal. And I never asked for you to be my teacher. I take my lessons wherever I can find them."

"That's wise. Teachers shape... They point their students like so many loaded guns and a crowd..." He waits for her to make a move.

Ellie looks at the board then cautiously moves a pawn forward. "How did you go about learning?"

"Dworkin. And then the shadows. Boundaries are illusions... as are any sense of safety or security one might have. But it's a trade. You trade certainty for answers."

Ellie nods "I'd agree with that. Sometimes it's as if the clearest answers come from the paintings I do when I'm in turmoil and uncertain. If that makes sense. So why did you seek Ryoden out?"

"Because I had to. Because she needed it."

Ellie asks curiously "You sound as if you had little choice in the matter."

"I do, don't I?" He shifts his pieces around with little thought, countering Ellie's moves. She finds that there's more play than strategy on the board between them. Corner, retreat, corner,

retreat...

She sighs "Chess has never been my game. So how did you get back from the Abyss? Did anyone else?"

He shrugs. "I was called... When one is needed, a way is found. As for others... That isn't in my scope."

Ellie nods and asks quietly "What is in your scope? How do you feel?"

"How I feel is for me, not for publication. As is my scope. You won't buy all the secrets of the universe with curiosity as your currency, but brava, my dear, for trying."

Ellie smiles "Thank you. I liked the window by the way."

"Did you? Corwin seemed less than pleased."

Ellie shrugs then asks, colouring a little, "Were you watching all the time in that room?"

"Perhaps. But I'm hardly a voyeur. My interest is academic, and there are some things I do not need to be taught."

Ellie shakes her head, amused despite herself "No, I didn't think that would be the case somehow. So what is your conclusion about Jurt? And about our association?"

"I am nearly indifferent. The boy didn't turn out as planned, but Dara is not quite the grand puppet master she makes herself out to be."

Ellie replies quietly "Jurt is a good man and the better man of many who would consider themselves greater than he. However, 'nearly indifferent' does tend to indicate you have something other than indifference." She shrugs "Everyone else seems to have an opinion on

him and us, but we are neither of us our parents' children."

"Very true. Dara only wanted the certificate on her pedigree, not my fathering skills. I was barely even a father to the son I did acknowledge." He shrugs, and moves another piece.

Ellie moves a piece and replies "Luke is also a good man." She pauses then asks "Would you be interested in helping Luke?"

"If I could, do you think I would be here? Rissa is not as sick as you think."

Ellie smiles "I'm glad to hear that. I like that family." A thought strikes her and she asks "You said you were called. Was this something Ryoden alone can do or any Amberite or Chaosian?"

"Did I say Ryoden did it?"

Ellie pauses "No, you didn't. Point taken."

His hand moves to his rook, and he looks at Eleanor. "Checkmate in three. You might want to ask your questions now."

Ellie nods "What do you intend to do next? What is it you want from your life now?"

"Eleanor. You don't read your history. I'm dead, remember?"

Ellie stops then looks at him "I thought you were alive again." She cups her chin in her hands and looks at him "Uncle, please don't take offence and know that I am grateful for your time, but what are you then?"

"I am many things. Time will show you that. We are all large, in our own way."

Ellie nods "Maybe my next question should be is there anything you wish to ask me?"

"If it is, then the answer is easy; no. I have other routes to my enlightenment." He moves his rook. "Checkmate, Eleanor." Her vision dims, and next she knows, she is under the oak tree again, then coming to in the middle of the Pattern.

She rubs her head and wishes to be sent back to Jurt's side.

He catches her as she appears, and holds her gently. "You okay?"

Ellie nods "Yes, I'm okay more or less. Let's get lunch."

He takes her deck and starts to shuffle through them. "Where do you want to go? Does walking that make you hungry?" He seems to find the card he wants.

"I won't ask now, but you know I'd like to know what you remembered."

Ellie nods "If you like, we can go to our room and I'll tell you what I remembered, just now. Then we can go for lunch."

"Sounds fine to me." He shuffles a few more cards, and finds the one of her suites. A moments thought, and he steps forward, into her sitting room. He sits her down on a love seat, then joins her.

"So... was it him?"

Ellie nods "Yes, it was him." She smiles thinly and adds "I think I've had enough of being reckless with Elders for a while."

"What happened? He didn't... do anything to you, did he?"

Ellie shakes her head "No, I was fine. It's just... I'll explain."

"I arrived standing there, holding the hand of a man, once named Luce. He studied me dispassionately. I smiled then curtsied, trying to be polite and said 'Thank you for seeing me.', studying his face in turn as I rose. He said 'It was a bold move. Those can land you where you want, or in a grave. You appear to have been lucky this time. Was there a reason you've decided to seek me out?'"

She looks down at her hands, unconsciously clenched, realising again how close she came to real danger. " I nodded and answered 'Yes. I wished to know what it is you intend for Ryoden and why you sought her out.' I took a deep breath then added 'I know you could kill me without blinking, but Jurt and Ryoden matter to me. 'He replied 'They must. But this matter might be a bit over your head... I have not laid out Ryoden's path at all.'

"He moved then over to a long table, and motioned for me to sit. I moved over to sit as indicated and smiled ruefully, replying 'I know one thing for sure. That's there's an awful lot out there I don't know yet, but I'm trying to learn.' He said 'I'm not your teacher. I've been allocated already.' He smiled blandly and waved his hand, a chess board appearing between us. 'Coal or ice?' he asked.

"I replied 'Coal. And I never asked for you to be my teacher. I take my lessons wherever I can find them.' He answered 'That's wise. Teachers shape... They point their students like so many loaded guns and a crowd...' He waited for me to make a move. I looked at the board then cautiously moved a pawn forward. You know how bad I am at chess, Jurt. I then asked 'How did you go about learning?'

"He replied 'Dworkin. And then the shadows. Boundaries are illusions... as are any sense of safety or security one might have. But it's a trade. You trade certainty for answers. 'I nodded and answered 'I'd agree with that. Sometimes it's as if the clearest answers come from the paintings I do when I'm in turmoil and uncertain. If that makes sense. So why did you seek Ryoden out?' "

Ellie pauses then continues "He said 'Because I had to. Because she needed it. 'I was curious and said 'You sound as if you had little choice in the matter.' He retorted 'I do, don't I?' He shifted his pieces around with little thought, countering my moves. It seemed to me there was more play than strategy on the board between us. Corner, retreat, corner, retreat... You get the idea, Jurt.

"I sighed and said 'Chess has never been my game. So how did you get back from the Abyss? Did anyone else?' He shrugged and retorted 'I was called... When one is needed, a way is found. As for others... That isn't in my scope.' I nodded and asked quietly 'What is in your scope? How do you feel?' He said 'How I feel is for me, not for publication. As is my scope. You won't buy all the secrets of the universe with curiosity as your currency, but brava, my dear, for trying.' I smiled and thanked him, adding that I liked the window from

his room. He commented 'Did you? Corwin seemed less than pleased.' I realised then that he must have been watching, shrugged and blushed a little, asking if he had been watching all the time in that room. He replied 'Perhaps. But I'm hardly a voyeur. My interest is academic,

and there are some things I do not need to be taught.' I thought that was funny and I shook my head and answered 'No, I didn't think that would be the case somehow. So what is your conclusion about Jurt? And about our association?'"

Ellie hesitates then continues ďHe said 'I am nearly indifferent. The boy didn't turn out as planned, but Dara is not quite the grand puppet master she makes herself out to be.' I replied quietly 'Jurt is a good man and the better man of many who would consider themselves

greater than he. However, 'nearly indifferent' does tend to indicate you have something other than indifference.' I shrugged and added 'Everyone else seems to have an opinion on him and us, but we are neither of us our parents' children.'"

"He said 'Very true. Dara only wanted the certificate on her pedigree, not my fathering skills. I was barely even a father to the son I did acknowledge.' He shrugged, and moved another piece. I moved a piece and replied 'Luke is also a good man.' I paused then asked 'Would you be interested in helping Luke?' He answered 'If I could, do you think I would be here? Rissa is not as sick as you think.'

"I smiled then. I like Luke and Coral and said I was glad to hear that. A thought struck me then and I asked 'You said you were called. Was this something Ryoden alone can do or any Amberite or Chaosian?' He responded 'Did I say Ryoden did it?' I paused and replied 'No, you didn't. Point taken.'

"His hand moved to his rook, and he looked at me and said. 'Checkmate in three. You might want to ask your questions now.' I nodded 'What do you intend to do next? What is it you want from your life now?' He answered 'Eleanor. You don't read your history. I'm dead, remember?' I stopped then looked at him and said 'I thought you were alive again.' then cupped my chin in my hands and looked at him, asking 'Uncle, please don't take offence and know that I am grateful for your time, but what are you then?'

"He answered 'I am many things. Time will show you that. We are all large, in our own way.' I nodded agreement and said 'Maybe my next question should be is there anything you wish to ask me?' He replied 'If it is, then the answer is easy, No. I have other routes to my enlightenment.' He moved his rook. 'Checkmate, Eleanor.' My vision dimmed, and next I knew, I was under the oak tree again, then coming to in the middle of the Pattern."

 

She finishes quietly "Everything else, you already know."

"'Know?' That's a relative term if I ever heard one. Please, and I'm begging you, never talk to him again. I don't like the sound of anything that happened there."

He sits back. "Now what?"

She replies quietly "Everything I know of these meetings, I've told you. I promise I won't talk to him again or certainly, initiate contact anyway." She kisses him lightly on the cheek and says "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." She then bites her lip "How are you feeling?"

"Sick, to tell the truth. Ill. I thought Mandor was right, that the worse was over... it was some rival who took Brand's face. But... I can't ignore this anymore." He kisses her on the cheek. "Lunch is sounding good."

Ellie nods "Yes, let's go." She squeezes his hand "Whatever happens, love, we'll face it together. Alright?"

He goes to say something, but stops.

"Together. Right. Um, you must be hungry. Where do you want to eat?"

Ellie looks curiously at him for a moment then shrugs "Some place with seafood I think. However, let's get there first."

"Sounds good. Feel like a walk, or you have another trump we can play with?"

Ellie smiles "A walk is good. It's a nice day too." As they leave the rooms and walk along, she says "I'm to meet my father in a few hours, but apart from that, my day is fairly clear. You?"

"I, um, don't really have anything planned. I mean, this is really your end, isn't it. I'm just here to look good on your arm." He smiles.

"You're not going to take me shopping, are you?"

Ellie laughs "And you look very good too, though that's hardly why you're here. No shopping today, I promise. Is it really such a dreadful prospect?" The smile on her lips is mischievous, teasing.

"Why do you think I took Logrus? Eliminates the need." As they descend, they see the thin figure of a young boy, perhaps fourteen, eyes focused on the ground. He sits on a windowsill and reads something, completely involved.

Ellie pauses then smiles, stepping over to the boy and saying "Mouse, how lovely to see you again. How are you?"

His head snaps up, and Ellie sees he seems to have given up his glasses since the last time he saw her. He's somewhat gawky and awkward still, obviously in the middle of a growth spurt.

"Ellie-- hi! And oh... You're um... Jurt?" Jurt nods. "Oh. Hello." He blinks. "That means... Ryoden is in town?" He sighs.

Ellie nods and smiles "Yes, she's around somewhere with Lord Trennix. We're just going out to get some lunch, Mouse. Would you like to come along?"

"No. I'll find a hole and hide a few days. You guys are in town for the wedding, I suppose." He sighs again. "That trump should be along shortly, then."

Ellie laughs softly "You know, Mouse, you can just say no. And yes, we're in town for the wedding and Dad wants me to hang around Amber for a bit."

"Ryoden doesn't know what 'no' means-- Or wait. She does. She just delights to ignore it. One time--" He looks up. "Crap. Lessons. Gotta-- ACK!" A grizzled hand reaches out of the air and snatches him by his shirt, then pulls him out of the stairwell in a rainbow fury.

Jurt looks confused. "Didn't know she talked to him."

Ellie shakes her head "Me neither. She does seem to like him though from what I recall." She fishes out a Trump "Alright, this will take us into Amber itself."

The city comes alive around them as they step into the heart of Amber, a stones throw from the fashionable district, and within sight of several restaurants and bars.

Jurt keeps an arm around Ellie's shoulders. "C'mon. You look like you could use some protein."

Ellie nods "Definitely. That walk was tough." She looks around "There. That Italian restaurant should be great. Are you hungry too?"

"A bit, yeah. You know me." He walks into the ally and towards the restaurant entrance. "Ravioli is sounding good right now... And a Chianti."

Ellie nods and follows him into the restaurant, the delicious aromas curling around and reminding her how hungry she is. "And tiramisu to follow."

A strong hand grips her shirt and throws her down, and a moment of anger is smothered by confusion as she realize it's Jurt that's shoved her to the steps leading up to the restaurant. He dives, and she hears a humming from somewhere. It quiets, and Ellie sees an

arrow stuck into the wall above them, still shaking from the impact.

She turns her head slowly and carefully, whispering to Jurt "What can you see?" and reaching for her trumps as she does so.

He jumps up and yanks her off the ground, jumping into the restaurant as another arrow hits the ground where Ellie was laying.

He leaps back to his feet and grabs Ellie, dragging her into the restaurant. Inside, he pulls them low to the ground, much to the consternation of the maitre'd, and looks over Ellie.

"Were you hit? More than one out there-- the shots were too close together."

Inside, she notices his skin hardening and eyes beginning to glow as he looks her over.

Ellie shakes her head, drawing out a trump as she does so and pulling them both through. In the peace of her chambers, she replies "No, I'm fine. How about you?"

He stops her from taking him. The tavern and her rooms mingle, as they look over each other from opposite sides of the trump.

"I'm going to find who was shooting at us."

Ellie nods "Be careful, please. I'd rather have you than the information if it comes to a choice."

"I'll be okay. I'm sturdy. I'll be back soon." The connection breaks, leaving Ellie alone in her rooms.

A knock sounds at the door.

Ellie goes to open the door, her wariness showing in her eyes.

Ellie : In Amber Castle

Lillian is there, her face pale.

"I have some bad news."

Ellie nods and waves Lillian inside "Me too. You want to go first?"

"Corwin's been-- been abducted. He was taken by the Rangers in Arden not too long ago. He's still alive, but--

"They think someone has done something to Julian, and they want to know who." She puts a hand on Ellie's shoulder. "Do you want to sit?"

Ellie shakes her head "Thank you, but no. I don't know if this is connected, but a few minutes ago, somebody tried to kill me in Amber with a couple of arrows." She smiles grimly "Jurt's currently hunting them down." She looks out of the windows "Alright, who knows of this and what has been done so far?"

"Imogen's gathering people, last I saw. She asked me to find you and tell you face to face.

"They're all in Oberon's old chambers. At least there'll be room for them all.

"How long do you think it'll take Jurt to get some... witnesses?"

Ellie shrugs "I don't know. He should be in contact soon though." She smiles to Lillian "Thanks for coming to get me. Let's go see the others. I think I may have something for the Rangers to think on."

Lillian turns, heading back out to the hallway.

"What's that?"

As Ellie walks alongside her, she answers "Funnily enough, it's something I was talking to my father about a little while back. The spirit of Arden is missing so I thought Julian had gone to look for her."

"Spirit? Never thought it had one, to tell you the truth... It's pretty enough...

"Heh. Knew I should have taken that philosophy major."

Ellie replies quietly "The spirit is the Unicorn. Imogen was there when I discovered this."

"Imo never said anything to me..." She thinks. "I don't know. But I think Julian's leaving had more to do with you and Corwin than anything. You weren't really around those first few months."

Ellie shrugs "I had my reasons. So what happened those first few months?"

"It was tense... It was fairly obvious there was some bad blood about, and eventually Julian just left. It took us a while to figure out that he wasn't coming back."

Ellie nods "Okay, scratch my idea then. I can't say I'm sorry to see Julian go. However, I'd rather see him back and my father safe."

"I don't think the Unicorn is something you can seek, per se, at least not according to the literature. I know a few have tried, and none succeeded, at least as far as they would tell."

She opens the door to Oberon's old rooms and starts at the number already accumulated. Bleys and Fiona stand by the windows, not saying much. Imogen still stands in the middle of the room, trumps in her hands, worry writ large in her face. Gerard, Esta, and Wraecca talk by a writing desk, and Eleanor spots Benedict, limping and bleeding in several places, being helped from the room by Random and a confused looking young woman.

"Wow. Glad this all started off from a big room."

Ellie nods to the gathering "Alright, what's the latest news?"

Bleys moves away from the window and hands Ellie a snifter of brandy. "Here, dear. Well, from what I could gather, Imogen had a little chat with him while he had arrows pointed at his head, and Benedict nearly got turned into Swiss cheese on his ride in... Oh, and apparently he has a daughter, but _there's_ a mountain we're going to have to climb _much_ later.

"Ah, yes, and we still don't know where the hell Julian is. Drink up, dear."

Ellie sips the brandy and replies "You may want to add that somebody just tried to put a couple of arrows through me in Amber. Jurt made sure I was safe and is now hunting the responsible party."

"What?" says Imogen. Her blue eyes darken. "An attack on the King ... and his heir? We =so= do not need this. Flora ... can you have the Castle guard put onto this? Immediately? Witnesses ... suspects ... whatever they can. Oh - and tell them to be careful around Jurt. Ellie, did you alert anyone in the guard? Where did it happen?"

Ellie replies "Moments after I arrived, Lillian came and got me, so no not yet. It happened just outside that little Italian resturaunt. There should be a couple of arrows still there. Jurt thought there was only one doing the shooting."

"I know it," agrees Imogen. "Ellie, I'm sorry. Would you like a guard assigned to you, until this is sorted out? I'm sure some of Benedict's men can be assigned ...Flora, can you take care of this, please?"

Ellie nods "Probably a good idea. In the meantime, is there anything I may do to help matters, Imogen?"

"Securing your safety must be our first concern, Ellie said Imogen. "You should know ... the last word Corwin spoke to me was your name. He was worried about you ... even as death was being aimed at his forehead. If only ..."

She breaks off, and stares ahead sightlessly for a moment. Then he gives herself a little shakes, draws a deep breath, and continues.

"That being said - do you have any thoughts on how we could track him down? Wraecca is out there ... we can send patrols too once he reports back."

Ellie nods "If he's outside Amber, or anywhere without substantial reality, it should theoretically be easy enough to spot him using either Logrus or Pattern as I understand it. Another possibility is if he can see or describe well enough the location, I can make a trump to take people there en mass."

Imogen considers. "He was well guarded, Ellie. He was 'permitted' to take my trump contact - these people clearly have some experience in Amber and its ways. I think they wanted to make sure we knew that he was taken. I don't think he will be able to speak so freely again - and even so he warned me they were ready to shoot him if he described the place or allowed me to pull him through.

"And that being said, I think it may be hard to track him. If I were carrying this out, I'd hide him in a protected Shadow - wouldn't you? I am sure Julian has several ... and all damn near impenetrable forests. Hard to trump an army into that even if we could find the right one. And by the time we have arrived in numbers, Corwin could be ... Ellie - whatever we do, we must make sure we don't put him in danger.

"But any means we can use to track him ... we must try."

Ellie nods, thinking "Alright, another option would be for Wraecca or someone with similar abilities to make a blood-creature and send it after Corwin. Once it found him, it would then act like a homing beacon or even let the creator see through its eyes. If nothing else, it would give more information than we currently have."

Imogen's face lights up. "Ellie ... what a wonderful idea!" She turns to Fiona. "Can it be done? Would it work?"

Fiona nods. "However, we would need one who could make these creatures. And none of us even have the basics of shapeshifting besides Eleanor, and Wraecca has already flown, so to speak." Ellie feels a chill as she seems to be getting a rather strong Trump contact.

Ellie opens her mind to the contact *Hello?*

Jurt stands before her, smears of blood on his clothes, and the moaning figure of a man thrown over his shoulder. His skin appears to be slowly softening back to human form. He extends a hand.

Ellie's smile widens in welcome and she extends her hand, grasping his and pulling Jurt and his captive through, taking the opportunity to send to him *Are you alright, love?*

*Just a couple of stupid Rangers, hon. I'm fine.* He steps through, and tosses the man on his shoulder roughly to the ground. He groans, and Ellie sees several places where he seems to have broken bones. "There were three."

Ellie turns to face Imogen and the gathered Elders, Jurt's reassuring presence at her shoulder "You wanted witnesses. Here's one for you."

Fiona steps forward, eyeing the groaning mad. "Where are the other two, dare I ask?" 

Jurt grunts as he concentrates on closing a wound on his forearm. "Ranger heaven, I guess. Didn't like the odds of three on one, so I only kept one."

Ellie nods "Sounds fair to me. They fired the first shot after all. And if it hadn't been for Jurt, you would be down one Amberite by now."

Fiona shrugs. "Who would care to interrogate?" She looks at the rest of the room levelly. Jurt seems to notice the strange amount of people present and turns to Ellie. 

"Lot of people gathered for an assassination attempt." He looks confused.

Ellie replies quietly "Dad's been abducted by Rangers. I heard almost as soon as I got back from the attempt."

Jurt blinks several times, confusion replaced by shock. "By the-- Are you okay? Who did it? Is he still--- you know."

Ellie nods once "As far as we know yes. The Rangers want Julian back and they think Dad is responsible for his disappearance." Ellie thinks for a moment then says to Fiona "Concerning my earlier idea, it should be possible to trump Wraecca and pass on the details. Alternately," and Ellie looks up at Jurt "Would you be upto making a blood-creature?"

"Um, yes, I can do that-- as long as you don't need me to fight later. It'll wipe me out pretty good. ...Maybe your dad wasn't as much as a wuss as I had him pinned for."

Ellie smiles slightly then turns to Fiona "Will this be acceptable or would you prefer Wraecca?"

Fiona studies Jurt. "Wraecca is more familiar with the ways of Arden and the Rangers-- We'll need his expertise on the field. Jurt can create the creature, if he still desires to do so." Jurt sits and thinks, studying his forearm.

Ellie crouches in front of him and asks quietly "Would it help if you had some of my blood in the creature to track Dad?"

In Castle Amber, Ellie feels the coolness of a contact, someone not familiar to her at all, and the soft words 'Ellie, can you hear me?'

Cautiously Ellie replies, her mental voice clear and soft *Who is this?* moving one of her hands to hover above her own trump should defence prove necessary.

*Do not be alarmed, you do not know me nor does anyone. I am with your father and wanted you to know he is safe. All I want is some help. I don't know if Corwin was involved in JUlian's disappearance or not, but those I am with believe so. I need your help in finding Julian. Can you help?*

*I appreciate your kindness and I am quite happy to help. However, perhaps some proof that my father is still alive? May I suggest he be allowed to make a brief trump call to the person of your choice? We may then more fully discuss what help it is you wish from me.*

*I am sure you'll understand if I don't let a man as powerful as him hang on to a trump. But I think I can work with this. You must be alone with a single person you trust implicitly. I will contact you in ten minutes and give you a trump of myself to give to them, I will then bring you to see your father. If you are not back in 5 minutes that person can feel free to give my trump to whoever he wants, to gain vengeance. Agreed*

Ellie hesitates *That could be considered extremely foolish of me given that Rangers have just recently attempted to assassinate me.*

*That is news to me! I assure you we knew nothing of an assassination attempt. I can uderstood your conflict and so I make this amend, here is my trump contact me when your are with only the one ally.* He then drops a card into her hand without exposing his body to her side of the connection, it is of a slight gentleman who is very bland looking, there is no name or identifying marks on it other than the portrait. *I trust you will not dishonor the faith I have shown here. I pray you won't.* Contact is then abrubptly ended.

Ellie swiftly pockets the trump then blinks and looks around "How are we doing?"

She finds Jurt and Imogen watching her intensely. "Who was that?" asks Jurt, "And who's on the card? Are you okay?"

Ellie takes a deep breath "That was one of the abductors. He wished to reassure me that Dad is safe. They were genuinely shocked to hear of the assassination attempt and gave me further leeway and potential leverage as recompense. Uncle Gerard, would you accompany me to a side room for a moment?" She looks at Jurt "I'll be alright."

Imogen glances at Gerard and nods. "Ellie ... be careful, won't you?" she says worriedly. "Whatever this contact is saying ... they've already tried to kill you once. They could wipe out you ... and Corwin."

Jurt lowers his arm, looking doubtful and tense. Gerard pats him on the shoulder and leads Eleanor to a side room, this one a library of sorts. "Whatcha got for me?"

Ellie smiles wearily "They said I could get my best ally. You're certainly one of them, Uncle Gerard." She takes the newly acquired trump out of her pocket and concentrates on it, including her uncle in the link. "Hello again. As you can see, I have my uncle Gerard with me."

"So that is Gerard! I have heard nothing but kind things about you, I am glad to meet you uncle." His hand extends, "Shall we? And don't forget to leave him my card." He smiles and beckons.

Gerard seems to growl softly, but says nothing. He squeezes Ellie on the shoulder. "Five minutes."

Ellie transfers the trump to Gerard's large hand "If I'm not back in ten minutes, Uncle Gerard, do what you see fit." then with a deep breath, she takes the outstretched hand and steps through.

As the ranger pulls Ellie through he waves to Gerard and cuts contact. "I believe if you look on the other side of this large tree you will see a familiar man, he will be bound and blindfolded. You will not be allowed to get any closer than 15 feet and i will be right next to you the whole way. Please do not test the limits, yours isn't the only father who is in a predicament." He then gestures to a very angry looking gentleman with a bow who is glaring at Corwin and obviously sees nothing else. "I will time you and as you can see I already have Gerard's trump out to send you home."

Ellie moves round as instructed, observing the limits, and quickly asks "Are you alright, Dad?"

"I'm fine, Eleanor," he replies, then lifts his head slightly. "You hurt my daughter, you are a dead man, whoever you are."

Ellie smiles slightly then relies "It's alright, Dad. I'm here to make sure you're okay." She turns to her companion "So what now?"

Before Irmin can respond the ranger says, "Sir, I know a lot about you and i know that threat is very real, if the circumstances were any different I would be leaving at this time. But I assure you your daughter will not be hurt. She knows the rules of this visit and hopefully now we can all reach a point we need to be at. Cooperation sir, thats all we want and as she will testify I have been more than accomodating. Ellie, three and a half minutes left."

Corwin nods. "I also reiterate that I know nothing about where Julian is currently."

"As you can see your father is in fine health, bad spirits, but fine health. My part is completed, now if you would be so kind there is a rather large and strong gentleman waiting for an excuse to rip man y new orifices into my body if you don't get home. I trust you will stick to your word, and keep the trump, you may need to talk to me." He leads Ellie back around the tree and pulls a trump of Gerard from his pocket. "Uncle, she is ready."

Ellie steps forward and extends her hand to her uncle Gerard, glad to see the large, kindly man again.

Gerard pulls her forward, back into the study again. "What happened?"

Ellie replies "Dad's alright. Threatening them, but alright." She paces a little "They trust me which is good. I've obeyed their rules. Now I just need to figure something out." She stops and grins "I think I may just have it." She fishes out the trump again and says "Hello again. I have an idea that may bring the desired solution."

"So soon, well I am all ears."

Ellie replies "You wish Julian found. I don't know where he is, but I have experience with finding people by moving through shadow. I help you find Julian and you return my father. Agreed?"

"That is all I have ever desired, to clear up this little squabble before someone really gets hurt. What would you need for the others to let you leave?"

Ellie thinks then answers "At the very least, I would think a regular call home and possibly a meeting with you. This is something I really need to run past them. In the meantime, what happens to my father?"

"Your father will be as safe as he has ever been as long as our agreement is upheld. As for the meeting, that can be done as long as you can guarantee my safety as I have guaranteed yours. I believe I can trust you, and I hope you will not prove me wrong. As soon as our quest is finished your father will be freed, and I will personally bring him home if he so wishes."

Ellie nods "Alright, I'll be in touch shortly." She cuts the connection then looks up at her large uncle "What do you think, Uncle Gerard? What would you consider a good check for my safety given that if I help them, Dad stays safe and alive?"

Gerard pauses, goes to speak, then pauses again. Finally, he shakes his head. "Can you fight? You've had a blade on you lately. The others won't like this."

Ellie nods "I can defend myself yes. And surely something that gives us time and keeps Dad safe with a potentially peaceful outcome is good?" She pauses then adds "While I am away, keep an eye on Jurt for me, would you? He's a nice guy. He just has no tact." She straightens "I guess we better go back through."

Gerard stops her. "You want a tip? You go back in that room and tell everyone what you're doing, you're going to be stopped by one of them, whether it's Imo, or Jurt, or Bleys, or hell, even me. I'm halfway to keeping you here. But it's your dad. You're going to go crazy if you stay here. So if you want to leave, go now. I'll tell the rest."

Ellie smiles "Thanks, Uncle Gerard. I'll see you soon hopefully. Tell Jurt please I'll be in contact soon." and draws out one of her trumps, concentrating on it, then stepping through...

*********

In her chambers, she quickly changes into clothing more suitable for a long journey then straps on her sword. That done, she pulls out another trump of waving golden fields. Another few moments and she steps through...

*********

She walks, seeking what she must first find. Skies change and clouds scud by like racing waves. Grass fields lengthen into rolling grasslands that undulate gently under the grey-blue sky. She turns as she hears the whinny of what she seeks...

********

She feeds the apple to the small grey appaloosa mare, letting the beast get used to her as she looks over the horse. Quick, spirited. The mare nuzzles her and Ellie smiles, noticing the patch of black covering one side of the horse's face like a half-mask "You'll do just fine, Domino."...

********

Ellie stops and dismounts, taking out the final, newest trump "I'm ready to begin."

The ranger answers "Step through." Once through he turns extending a hand and pointing towards Irmin. "This is your cousin Irmin, he is Julian's child and the one with which you should be speaking." The ranger then goes and guards Corwin so that Ellie and Irmin may speak.

Walking up to Ellie, Irmin puts his bow away and extends a hand in greeting. "Hello cousin. It seems we have something in common we should discuss."

The ranger pulls out a card and beggins to concentrate. Once the connection is made, he says. "Father we are ready." Before stepping through with Corwin he turns to Ellie. "You are as safe as ever with this gentleman. I shall return shortly." Him and Corwin then step through.

Ellie takes Irmin's hand, holding onto Domino's reins with her other hand and curtsies politely. Rising, she says "Good afternoon, cousin. And I'm Ellie. Yes we do have something to discuss. In return for my father's safety and eventual release, I have offered to help find your father Julian. Finding people in shadow is something I have some experience of and hopefully this may help." She smiles "I'm assuming you've been informed of the discussion so far."

Kissing the top of her hand. "Yes I have. I do appreciate your willingness to assist in these matters, especially under the circumstances. As a ranger I am skilled in tracking though I have not ventured into shadow much. I need just aquire a steed and we shall be under way." With that Irmin walks to the other side of the glade knowing he will find the object of his search just beyond the tree line. Just as wished there is a marvelous white stallion with a pitch black mane and tail. Finding a carrot in his pocket Irmin appraches the horse and starts to befriend it. "You are a splendid creature aren't you. A horse such as you needs a name. How does streak sound?" The horse whinnies and bobs it's head. It quickly eats the carrot and allows Irmin to place the saddle that is on the ground on it's back. "This looks to be the beggining of a good relationship." Then mounting the horse. "Come we have company to attend to and a father to find." With that Irmin rides back to the other side of the glen. "We are ready now." He states to Ellie as he pats the neck of his horse.

Ellie nods "If you will, I would like to contact those close to me to let them know that I am safe and matters are proceeding as expected. This will help as they will be worried." Ellie concentrates on Jurt's image, hoping he is still near Imogen so the link can be made quickly.

His image stirs, grows still, then stirs again, and finally becomes real. She can see him sitting in the same room as before, his face drained, and eyes dull. "El? Where are you...?"

Ellie takes a moment then answers *Jurt, I don't know how long I have to talk, so would you link Imo in, please? I'd like you both to hear this.*

"I know you are busy but I am going to listen in on your trump contact so as to insure our safety, in that you bring no one else through." With that Irmin places his hand on Ellies shoulder.

Irmin sees a man, half dead from exaughstion, glaring at him as he joins the contact. "Imo's gone. What's going on, El?"

Before Imo gets a chance to speak again Irmin chimes in. With a smile, "Hello I am Irmin. I do not recognize you from Corwins trump deck, though I gather your name is Jurt if I heard correctly. I will be litening in on this conversation so that nobody tries to come through and take pot shots at me." with that said Irmin sits back and just listens. Constantly on the watch for a trap.

Ellie answers quietly and quickly "I'm with the kidnappers, Jurt. In return for helping them to find Julian, Dad stays safe. These aren't the Rangers who tried to kill me. I'm reasonably sure of that. Tell Imo if you see her that Dad and I are okay." She pauses then adds "I'll be back as soon as I can, love. Give Ryoden a hug for me."

Jurt's eyes widen and he struggles to sit up. "You're mad, Ellie." A wave of exaustion seems to hit him, and he slumps back again. "Be- careful. Call me..." The connection fades out.

Ellie puts her deck away and turns to the two rangers "I would suggest we eat before we start. The search once it begins may require all our stamina and strength. It's better to be prepared."

Irmin tells his rangers to set up camp so they can eat and get a good nights rest before heading out. Two of the rangers head off to get some fresh game as the rest set up camp. Irmin then stoops low and prepares a fire pit.

The other ranger disappears into the crowd as he begins to assist with the setup.

After about an hour there are several rabbits spitted over the fire, and some trail biscuits being warmed. Once everything is ready they all sit down to eat.

Irmin then turns to Ellie. "So tell me about these rangers that attacked you."

Ellie shrugs "There were three. One survives and is now in custody. I was on my way to lunch in Amber when two arrows were shot in quick succession. One would have been into the back of my head I think. The other would have been into my back. What would you guess the reason to be?"

Listening intently, Irmin thinks it over before replying. "I would like to see one of the arrows or speak to the ranger you guys have in custody. I know that I had nothing to do with it. Perhaps my mother had a backup plan, but that would have only been to capture not kill. I feel as if I where being set up by someone who knew of our plans ahead of time."

Ellie nods listening then replies "Well, the intention was most definitely to kill. Nobody other than Jurt and I knew I would be going for lunch in Amber and I only arrived that morning. It either suggests an opportunistic attack or a standing order. Does the blame you place on my father extend to me? If you are being set up, you are being set up to die. What do you think our family's reaction would have been to me dying with a Ranger arrow in my back?" She pauses then adds "Later I'm sure you could look at the evidence, depending of course how things transpire. I can't give any guarantees on that though after this."

Nodding his head. "I have no reason as of yet to kill you, and your willingness to help me find my father gives you points in my book. I apologize that it had to come to this, but as you know this is how the game in Amber is played.If our aunts and uncles had cared enough to try and find hime it would have never come to this." He says between bites. Irmin than reaches back in his pouch and pulls out a wineskin and takes a hefty pull. Passing it over to Ellie. "Carefull with this. It is a bit stronger than wine."

Ellie smiles "Thank you." and carefully drinks of the liquid before handing it back. "And yes,I know how this game is played. I only hope our generation can rise above this. We are not our parents, for better or worse. We can work together where they may not and hopefully build bridges in the process." Ellie thinks for a moment then says "Alright, let's look at the facts and options. Beginning with the possibility that Julian left voluntarily, was there any difference in Arden just before he left or did he receive any communication?"

I was off in my own shadow at the time, though he had mentioned the last time we spoke that he missed her. When I asked him what he meant he only replied "My grandmother, the unicorn." this made me look at him oddly.Later that night he assingned me my own set of rangers and we feasted. When I woke the next morning he was gone."

Ellie hesitates then says "This ties in with something I've noticed. Five years ago when I was last here, I visited the Grove of the Unicorn and felt... A sense of peace doesn't really describe it." She colours slightly as she adds "I sometimes feel things, sense stuff you know? Anyway, I visited the same area a little while back and the spirit of Arden, possibly the Unicorn, was gone from there, missing. When I heard Julian was missing, my first thought was that he had gone looking for her."

Mulling what has been said over in his head as he finishes off his meal. "Then I would think that might be a good place to start our search." Taking another deep pull from the wineskin Irmin passes it to Ellie again. "But first we need to prepare some things. Would you assist me in rounding up seven more horses, and then I think I should speak with my mother."

The ranger's voice comes from behind Ellie, "Do not bother yourselves, you still have much to discuss. I will take care of the mounts. Circumstance is the only thing that has put you at odds and, I think it would be a good show of faith to try and become friends. It may also make our journey all that much more enjoyable." Without waiting for a response he turns and disappears into the trees.

Turning around so he can see the ranger. "Thank you my friend. I do hope you know I appreciate all you have and are doing for me." Then turning back around he pulls out his own set of trumps, as he rifles through them he picks out the one of his mother and begins to

concentrate.

After a moment the ranger returns with seven horses from Saxony. "I trust these will suit your purpose." He then climbs into the saddle of the horse closest to him and motions the other rangers over. "We are ready when you are."

Ellie leads her own horse Domino over and then mounts it. "Ready here." preparing herself for both the search and leading the extra people through shadow.

Her picture becomes lighter, and she looks at him, then the background. Her brow knits together in concern.

"Where is Corwin?"

Giving her a slightly evil smile, "He has been put in a safe location far away from the other Amberites. Under heavy guard of course. And how are things with you mother?"

"I'm waiting from word from town. A few scouts haven't reported back." She narrows her eyes. "Find out anything from our prisoner?"

Looking back at her quizzically, "Those wouldn't perchance be the ones that were sent to kill

"Kill? Hardly. The dead can't talk. She's under suspicion as well. Why? What have you heard?"

"She's under suspicion as well for what? Is that any reason to kill her?" Irmin tries to get a look at the background behind to figure where she is.

The ranger seeing Irmin's frustration reaches over and watches the area surrounding Lledra, and quickly memorizes it.

Her position, obvious to Irmin, is near the outer edges of Arden. Lledra crosses her arms.

"A few bolts wouldn't have killed the girl. She has sturdier blood than that. But we needed her pacified. Those Amberites don't trust many, but I think Corwin would trust his own daughter if he did have anything to do with Julian's disappearance.

"Corwin was the one Julian feared most."

"Corwin is pacified at the moment, and I think the time for diplomacy has come. I will be leaving Arden forest for a short while looking for my father, if you need me call me. We shall discuss these other matters later." He then closes the trump contact and mounts Streak. "Shall we be off to the grove then?"

The ranger looks up at Irmin, "It seems your mother may be getting a little out of sorts, is it wise to not keep an eye on her?"

Looking back at the ranger, "It would be wise, but you are the only one I trust and I would rather have at my side, keeping me on my best behaviour."

Smiling the ranger says, "As you wish, I shall try and keep an eye out for her as well though, for prudence's sake."

The Grove approaches, and the quick eye of Irmin sees that his Father's folk have even gathered here, hiding in shadow and brush. There is a watchfulness, a sense of waiting... And Irmin can't be certain if it comes from the men, or the glade itself.

Irmin stops the procession and gives the code for the lead rangers that are watching the place, to come and meet him. "Turning to Ellie and his ranger friend, "We wait for a moment before we go further."

The men gather in their own way, a few of the more senior men coming forward, and the juniors staying back, watching the area warily.

Dismounting his horse, Irmin approaches the leaders. His trusty hound Vlar at his side. "Who is in charge here? And who set you here to keep watch?"

"Lledra," replies the most senior Ranger, looking genuinely confused. "We're posted throughout the woods and Amber, sir."

Ellie meanwhile stays perfectly still on Domino, her face neutral and calm. Underneath the quiet surface though, she pushes her senses outwards, searching for whatever she can discern of the Grove itself or anything unusual.

The first time she scans, she sees nothing... then, out of the shadows men appear... At first, only one or two, but as she searches more and more appear, dressed in grey and green, one with the woods.

The air is quiet and tense, waiting, watchful.

Ellie almost nods to herself, but suppresses the movement /It's a time of crisis for them with Julian missing. Why wouldn't they come here to this sacred place?/ She continues to examine the place, the men, gathering a sense of Julian, through the people who love him,

for the search to come.

The men are hard to read. They keep their faces and stances guarded. A few look at her briefly, but return to either looking for more intruders, or listening to their commander.

Irmin huddles them all together. "Have any other Amberites passed through here recently?"

"None at all. They seem to be keeping to the castle, from what the reports are saying. We've accounted for all but a few. Caine is still missing, but our informant seems to think they haven't called him in yet."

Nodding at the answer. "Thank you. We will be searching this area. Let no one in, and inform me immediately of any such intrusions." With that said Irmin goes to leave. Before he gets more than two steps away he turns on his heals. "Also, you are not to report this to Lledra. I will handle that. Am I understood?"

The Ranger nods neutrally, then motions with his hand. The Rangers fade back in to coverage of the woods, invisible in seconds.

Irmin turns toward Ellie. "OK. Lets start. What do you need of me?"

Ellie replies quietly "Alright, the first thing we need to do is move into Shadow. Julian's obviously not in Arden so we just have to move through Shadow and look for clues as we can. The fewer people who can't shift Shadow on their own the better as we may have to move fast on occasions. I'm not sure what we'll find, but danger always exists and I would hate for people to be unnecessarily lost."

Nodding in agreement, "These seven rangers have trumps to both Lledra and myself. If they get lost they can trump themselves back to safety. If it is as you say we can leave two of them in areas to report if we are being followed, and by whom. And the seventh our mutual friend can stay with us.. Before we leave though is there an elder Amberite you trust more than the others, that would be willing to talk with me?"

Ellie nods and without hesitation answers "Benedict. He is fair and of all my uncles and aunts, the one that can generally be trusted."

*********

Wraecca bows slightly to the assembled elders and walks to the next room. As soon as he is alone he focuses on Ellie's trump card...

Ellie nods to Irmin and lets him listen in out of sight as she takes the call "Who is this please?"

"This is Wraecca, If youíre not terribly busy I need some advice on some stuff that's been going down."

Ellie nods, her expression more tense than normal "What is it, Wraecca? How may I help?"

"I'm up to my neck in uncles and aunts. They're acting like a murder mystery is in process and I don't much care to be stuck in the middle of it. Julian is absent and his wife, Lledra thinks it's foul play. She contacted Corwin but it appears the King may not have acted on

this development...either that or his actions were not enough for Lledra. To speed things along she kidnapped the king. Terms are simple...find Julian and we find Corwin."

He pauses, not certain what to say next, "So how was your day?"

Ellie smiles wryly "Great. Got shot at by Rangers while going for lunch. I'm now with the people responsible for the abduction of my father; the deal being that I help them to find Julian and Dad stays safe." She looks briefly off to the side at Irmin before adding "Dad

may have harboured ill will for Julian trying to either kill or make a vegetable of me, but Dad also thought he did it on Fiona's request, apparently to prove to Dad he couldn't keep secrets from her, so I doubt very much that Dad had anything to do with Julian's disappearance." She shrugs then adds "The important thing is to try to resolve this as peacefully as possible. More violence isn't going to help anyone's cause. Currently we are pursuing some lines of

enquiry."

"Interesting. Fiona blatantly told me she knew nothing of the situation with Julian, or rather, that she knew as much as everyone else. Very curious indeed. Can you briefly outline what enquiries youíre initiating. I would like to help, or failing that, not work at cross purposes."

Ellie laughs without humour "I wouldn't trust Fiona as far as I could spit her. Alright, currently I'm starting a search for Julian through Shadow using Pattern cross referenced with the missing spirit of Arden, possibly the Unicorn, which Julian may also have been looking for. I'll be moving into Shadow soon and may not be reachable by trump due to moving fast."

Ellie pauses then asks "Keep an eye on Jurt for me please. Gerard already knows what's going on with me or at least the general intention I had. He'll help you with Jurt if need be. Other than that, just give me room to work and keep an eye on the Amber end of things. I'll be checking in regularly. Anything you can dig up on the Unicorn would be helpful though. Is there anything else you would suggest?"

Wraecca blinks a couple times. "Okay, have fun. I'm going to track down the unicorn if I can. Keep me posted, and I'll do the same for you."

Ellie nods "Will do. You have my trump. Watch your back, Wraecca. Our family can be a treacherous one."

"Aye, I'm starting to realize that. I was hoping for a pack of wolves and what I've got is a mob of hyenas and vultures. Say, have you considered just using the pattern to teleport to wherever Julian is?"

Ellie smiles ruefully "I would try that, but I already had to walk the Pattern once today to restore my memory and it was tough going this time, as bad as the first time more or less. I was on my way to get food and recover from that when all hell broke loose."

"What happened to your memory?"

Ellie pauses, barely suppressing a wince, as she replies "A meeting with a member of our family backfired and my memory got messed with. C'est la vie. It could have been a lot worse."

"Right. Okay. I'll chat with you later. I need to put forward my own gambit. Don't be a stranger."

He drops the contact and heads directly for the nearest pattern. Rebma might be close...

Ellie nods then turns to Irmin "Shall we head out now? We can either continue through Arden or I can trump us directly into shadow."

*********

He quickly makes his way to the stairway leading down to the watery city, not even breaking a sweat. Guards respectfully nod to him as he passes and makes his way to the pattern chamber, deep beneath Castle Rebma.

He throws open the doors and enters into the glowing chamber. With the barest hesitation he puts his foot on the start of the glowing tracery. /What does this make now? Five times on patterns broken or otherwise. Hope it doesn't hold a grudge.../

He pushes forward...

The Pattern crackles under him, and memories flood him once again... Not the pain of the broken Pattern walks, but still, far from pleasant.

As he advances, a new memory surfaces... One he hadn't had before walking... The smell of gunfire, feathers flying out from a pillow, a scream from Lillian and a curse from Caine... Then a heavy darkness.

At the centre, he pants, and puts the lost event together again...

Wraecca shakes his head at the liberties the elders play. "Caine I will mess with your mind in ways you've yet to consider..."

Wraecca straightens and prepares himself for the unexpected, to the pattern he says, "Send me to Julian."

The stone pulses, but it is too late...

The previous times, the transport had been instant, painless... This time, he feels something dark flowing around him, through him, searing his mind and being. The pain is all too familiar.

The pain of the breaks.

A millennium and an instant later, he finds himself on a patch of dead grass, a stagnant autumn wind in the air. Looking up, his eyes widen involuntarily...

The shadow-- The fabric of reality seems to be churning, tearing, falling apart... A blackness wells up from a thousand fractures before him, swallowing anything of substance, crushing it into nothingness...

Wraecca shakes his head. "There goes the neighbourhood." He looks around for Julian. Hopefully he's somewhat close.

He doesn't see him, or anything living about... The landscape is desolate and fractured, with only a few twisted trees and broken fences to break up the dead and twisted scenery.

The ground shakes once, twice, then seems to still again.

/I want a refund, this was not the ride I signed up for.../

He shifts into a bloodhound and begins to sniff around for Julian's spoor.

The smell of decay covers everything, and he has a difficult time finding anything but mold.

The ground shakes again, and this time, the soulstone begins to pulse.

Wraecca calls up the true pattern to his mind. /Which is truly stronger, I wonder. I think the flawless version trumps the broken one./

The ground under him stops shaking, and some of the breaks closer to him seal up slightly. The rest, however, keep widening and pulsing, a terrible nothingness and silence beyond them.

"This is not the real estate I want to invest in. If Julian came this way he's toast."

*********

Mulling it over in his head for a moment Irmin comes to some conclusions. "I wish to talk with our uncle Benedict first. It might be wise though for you to initiate the contact, unless you feel

uncomfortable doing this. You see I love my mother but I do not believe she is acting with her head but her heart. If there is one thing my father always told me about our family, it is to discern the consequences before the action."

Ellie nods and concentrates on the trump of her Uncle Benedict, hoping to get through.

*********

Wraecca draws out Ellie's trump and focuses on it...focuses on it really, really hard.

Ellieís answer comes quickly "Hello Wraecca." She looks quickly at the scene behind him and holds out her hand.

Wraecca grabs hold of Ellie's hand, he hesitates a moment and shouts, "Remember this scene!" Before he allows himself to be pulled through.

Briefly he hears in his mind *I have it. And can make a trump of it if you wish.* before Ellie pulls him through and asks gently "Are you alright?"

Upon seeing Ellie pull someone through a trump, Irmin makes a quick sign to his rangers and they train there sights on him. "Well cousin, at last we meet. I am Irmin, Julianís child and if I where you I would not make any sudden moves." Pausing briefly to see that he

understands. "Now that we have the formalities out of the way. How may we be of help?"

"I should have checked my horoscope today. Doubtless it would have mentioned people pointing missile weapons at me...I was in a bit of a rough spot trying to track down your father. Can't say it looks promising so far."

Ellie nods "We should compare notes at the very least. If you give me time, I'll also construct a couple of trumps that may help."

"Sorry, I meant I was tracking down Julian. Asked the pattern to send me to him. Can't say I was much impressed with his choice of bars."

Suddenly the ranger looks at him intensely, "Is that where you came from?"

Looking sceptically at Wraecca. "And just why would people suddenly be looking for my father? And why should I trust you would not hurt him?"

Wraecca looks nonplussed, presently he laughs, "I'm looking for him because he's missing. As for hurting him, that would be silly given that he wears impregnable armour, is deadly with a blade, and traipses around with militant rangers and stormhounds. Start talking sense

man, I'm on your side. Hell, I was a ranger not too long ago."

Turning to Ellie. "It is your call. Do we trust him or do we send him elsewhere?"

Ellie replies quietly "I would trust Wraecca with my life. He says what he means and does what he says he will. You may trust him too."

With that said Irmin makes another sign and the rangers lower their bows. "You still have not answered my friendís question." Then turning back to Ellie. "May we try Benedict again? So that we may be on our way." Irmin than has a spark of thought. "Actually, Wraecca. Please tell me again what it was you were doing to have been put in the situation you were, and about the place you were."

Ellie nods and again concentrates on Benedict's trump as Irmin and Wraecca talk.

Wraecca looks hard at Irmin. Apparently trying to decide what this fellow's game is. With a glance at Ellie, he shrugs and says, "Like I said. I was trying to find Julian. I might be late on his trail but I hadn't heard of his disappearance until recently. I tried a blind teleport off of the pattern. Didn't work too well I'm afraid."

Ellie nods and goes to reply then signals that she is making the contact...

After her conversation with Benedict is over, she informs Irmin of their uncle's decision "Uncle Benedict, as you have no doubt heard, is willing to take your trump without any repercussions to you." She asks quietly "Do you have a trump of him or would you wish to borrow one?"

Smiling gently at her. "Thank you. I have the one I confiscated from your father."

Ellie turns again to Wraecca "So what exactly did you find?"

"I'm not exactly certain. It was like being inside the broken pattern. All the world was being swallowed up in cracks and flaws of the universe. Everything was filled with the stench of decay, and rot. I was right on the knife edge of going over. Nothing I'd care to repeat. I got the feeling that Julian is either dead, or I was deflected from entering into a shadow. Has anyone else ever experienced anything like that?"

Ellie shakes her head "No, but if it is use of the Pattern or another power deflecting entrance into a Shadow, it's way beyond what we can get past I think. I couldn't do it anyway, being honest. I don't know what would cause that if it's not deliberate, but it would require someone very skilled if it's on purpose. Either way, we need someone we can trust who can investigate it."

She adds quietly "I could be very wrong on this, but I'm sure my father couldn't do something like this. Doesn't this go some way to proving he's innocent? Irmin, you said earlier you thought you were being framed? Who would have reason to remove both our fathers?"

Pondering all he has learned over the last few minutes Irmin comes to some decisions. "First let me contact our uncle Benedict, then I think we might want to speak to your father and see what his views on this are. I think he might be able to assist us on this search even considering the circumstances. What say the rest of you?"

The ranger nods his head in silent agreement.

Ellie nods agreement "I would suggest that I speak to my father though, at least initially."

Irmin pulls out his trumps and shuffles out the one of Benedict that he took from Corwin, and begins to concentrate on it.

/Fiona...I caught that redhead in a lie. Or did I? She said she only knew as much as the others about Julian being absent. Strange she hadn't volunteered more. Then again, nobody present seemed up for volunteering anything...damn./

Wraecca asks Ellie, "As soon as you can, it might be good to get that trump made. If nothing else it may serve as something we can show around and ask the others about. Particularly Fiona. She seemed quite intrigued about the broken pattern power."

The ranger looks at Wraecca and seems a bit perturbed. "I hate repeating myself so this will be the last time. The place you just came from, is that where the Pattern sent you?"

Wraecca pivots and snarls, "Take your best shot!"

Ellie looks from one to the other then says "Alright, we're all a tad tense here. Fighting won't help though. If we are being set up, it simply aids the person doing so. If we're not, it's a waste of time and energy that we can ill afford. Yes, that was the place the Pattern sent Wraecca. Wraecca, I'm working on the trump." as she draws out paper and pencils from a saddlebag. "Irmin, how are you getting on with your trump call?"

Holding up his hand. "Working on it right now." Irmin then goes back to concentrating on the trump.

The ranger looks over at Ellie, and says. "Go ahead and put your utensils away, youíre going to need to help Irmin deal with Benedict." The ranger then pulls similar utensils from his bag and begins drawing.

Benedict's face becomes clear, lit in lantern light. At his back, Irmin sees a young woman, looking on nervously. Benedict studies him carefully for a moment before speaking.

"Where is my brother?"

With a look of trepidation in his eyes Irmin replies, "He is safe for as long as we are safe." Then pausing briefly before continuing, "Believe it or not it is good to finally meet you. Though I wish it were under different circumstances. Now to the matter at hand though. I am worried about my mother."

"I thought it was your father you were worried about." He crosses his arms. "I want Corwin in my sight. Then we can talk."

*********

Wraecca folds his arms and watches the proceedings. He considers the plans of actions he can put forward. Shadow walking towards where he had been might be a good idea. Would provide him better control over the environment and maybe he'd pick up some clues as to where that place really was. It might even point him in the direction he needs to go.

Another thought comes to him. Ransacking Corwin's rooms in Castle Amber has a certain charm. Perhaps there are additional avenues that can be explored.

He listens and watches...

*********

"I regret to inform you that it would be impossible at this point, seeing as how he is not with us. We have sent him somewhere that he can not harm any of us. I am sure you understand our reasoning."

"I can. And I can also reason that you, being the _expert_ kidnapper you are, know either where he is, or someone who does know. I will also wager you know this man at least by reputation." He holds up a card, one Julian had said was his brother Caine.

"This man is an expert at torture."

"I respect your mind as a tactician. Though I do know the laws of Amber. I am still within my rights according to the laws of vengeance. As your niece has informed you, he is quite safe. Now I really wish to discuss the matter of my mother with you." As he stands back he crosses his arms as well.

"Very well. What is your concern?

"Besides the obvious."

"Though my mother and I started with the same goal in mind, I believe I am a bit more rational than she has become. Dealing with elder Amberites has never been her strong suit, so she is acting a bit rash. I had no knowledge of the attack against Ellie until just recently. I believe my mother needs to be stopped before she gets herself killed. As for me I only wish the safe return of my father, and will only harm the one responsible if something has happened to him."

"Fine. What do you know so far?"

Irmin brings Benedict up to date with what Wraecca has found, explaining his plan to go there and try to stabilize the shadow using multiple pattern enhanced people to rebuild it.

Ellie, standing nearby, stills momentarily at Irmin's words. Her eyes narrow slightly before her face again becomes a neutral mask. Being out of the link, she takes out a trump and concentrates upon it...

The cards are still cold, but she can't seem to reach any sense of mind or presence behind them.

She shrugs and puts her deck away before nodding to Wraecca and drawing out her sketch pad and pencils, the pencils quickly flying over the paper.

The ranger looks up at Ellie and says, "Don't worry about that. I am almost done with the trump."

Ellie replies calmly "For my own records and possible research later should this current gambit fail. This location is not known to us, but that does not mean it is unknown to all. By the way, if we do exhaust our options and Julian is still missing, do you still plan to hold my father?"

"If you want it for later then I'll give it to you. Right now I think it would be better if you and this gentleman were thinking of ways to stabilize the shadow using Pattern in concert with others. As for your father, that all depends on what we find. I will assure you though that I do not want to see him harmed and that I will do all I can to get him to you safely."

Ellie raises an eyebrow as she replies "Given that I've only just heard of this plan that has apparently been decided to be the best course of action, I'm sure you will forgive me if I take a moment or two to think on it before making suggestions. From what I have heard of it, it is not a place to rush into. I would also like to hear on what basis this idea was formed. I am a tad wary about taking on unknown forces without preparation."

"I understand completely and I do trust that you will come up with a better solution than I. I am not as familiar with the Pattern as you seem to be. If you come up with anything please let me know and we can work on it. My theory was that multiple Pattern users may be able to stabilize the shadow we are going to and that added with the fact that Wraecca was able to repair a portion of it makes me somewhat hopeful."

Ellie replies "Fair enough, but such an effort would take a lot out of us all. I'm reluctant to expend that energy on what may be a futile gesture, or possibly a fatal one should other enemies come. Surely the pros and cons of stabilising the shadow should at least be

discussed before a plan is made to do so?"

"Those are good points and I agree fully, if there were to be danger though I would already have a trump ready to get us out of there. I have no skill with Pattern so that is how I would be most useful. I would like to think that I have been trustworthy so far, do you not believe so?"

*********

Benedict looks concerned, and seems to struggle with something for a moment. He says something to the girl behind him, then turns back to Irmin.

"Bring me through."

Looking a bit sceptical, Irmin replies. "You must understand if I am a bit reluctant to do so. What guarantees do I have on our safety from you?"

"Absolutely nothing. But little in life is guaranteed. Once, the safety of the woods was guaranteed to all Amberites. This does not seem to be true anymore.

"You are trying my patience."

"That may be, but I am not the fool you think I am. My mother alone could not have come up with as good a plan as I to capture Corwin without killing him. As for Arden, that again is my mothers doing." Pausing briefly. "Once again I ask you. What guarantees do I have on our safety, if I bring you through."

He sighs, then studies him once again.

The connection closes.

Unsure of the situation Irmin signals his rangers to take cover then pulls out a trump of Saxony and palms it.

*********

A trickle of cold runs down Wraecca's neck. A trump call.

Quietly, and without any expression showing on his face, Wraecca accepts the call.

Benedict appears, looking more perturbed than Wraecca had ever seen him.

"Bring me through now."

Wraecca extends his hand toward Benedict and pulls him through.

Upon seeing the shimmer around Wraecca like a trump contact Irmin begins to concentrate on the card in his hand.

Benedict comes through, and he turns to face Irmin.

"I can guarantee that I will not be running you through. But toy with me any more, and I will not aid you. Do you understand?"

Keeping the trump contact open. "As you wish."

Saxony becomes clear around him, and for a moment, he stands between two worlds.

Benedict regards him, yet doesn't move. He simply folds his arms and watches.

"Do you wish to find your father?"

"Yes. Do you have any idea on how we can accomplish this?"

"Perhaps. All I know for certain is you are going to close that connection now if you are to trust me. Otherwise leave, and find a headstone for your father."

*********

Wraecca eyes Benedict and Irmin warily but speaks to Ellie. (Apparently he trusts Ellie, fears Benedict, and doesn't trust the rest...)

"Makes sense. Who do we know that we can get a straight answer from about Pattern dynamics? I got a long list of people I wouldn't care to discuss this with, and the list of who could be helpful is short. Also there's something I've found out Ellie that I need to explain to

you sometime. What do you see as our options?"

Ellie shrugs "You have been, but we still need to know more about what we are heading into. What sort of drain can we expect from the repair process? What sort of aftermath? Using a trump still requires the person to be alive to use it."

"Unless the stern gentleman who just came through kills me I think I will be fine to get us out of there. As for your questions, I don't know, you are the Pattern experts."

Wraecca considers the alternatives, "Perhaps we could stagger our approach? One person following the next at some distance. Point man shifting slowly towards the shadow with the others monitoring. That way if the person up front runs into trouble the others can pull him or her out of the fire."

"Sounds logical enough to me. What do you think El?"

*********

With that Irmin closes the contact and puts the card away. Turning to the rest of the group, "I was not thinking of charging headlong into that place. Group discussion to discern the best possible means was my original idea. Though in the heat of the moment I spoke too quick

and without conferring with you all."

Ellie replies quietly "A good idea." then turns to the ranger, green eyes flashing fire "I said I could track through shadow. I never claimed any ability to repair broken patterns or stabilise shadows. One thing I do know though is not to assume I will ever be safe, whether it is in Amber, Arden, shadow or my own home. There is always the possibility of death from sources both known and unknown. It's therefore not a habit of mine to assume I can safely hand my life over to anyone, but a very select few. I will use my abilities as best as I can to help find Julian, but I refuse to commit suicide for a man and his wife who have already attacked me twice, especially when it seems that it's open season on Amberites in Arden. Understand this. I am here to help my father survive, preferably by peaceful methods, and for Amber to continue to have a king. No other reason."

Wraecca frowns. "I don't know how to fix pattern's either. I do know how to break them though...and I don't like the indicators."

The ranger smiles, "I understand your anger but I don't feel I am the one you should be angry with. I have done nothing but try to resolve the situation peacefully and expeditiously. I see the fire in your eyes and I know that in your situation I would be much more hostile, but lashing out gets us no where. You have more knowledge of Pattern than I and to me that means you might have an idea. If you don't we'll try something else."

Irmin pipes in, "How well is your father attuned to the Pattern, does he have control over the Jewel?"

Ellie nods to Benedict and replies "That you would have to ask my father. It strikes me though that trumping directly there may give us more problems than we can handle. Using Pattern, we should be able to approach though more safely at which point other abilities can come into play."

Wraecca smiles,"Speaking as one who just did that, I'd tend to agree. A cautious approach might provide clues."

Turning to the ranger. "Can you handle asking Corwin about the jewel?"

The ranger replies with, "No problem."

Irmin then turns back to the group. "So it seems that the slow approach is the safer and sounder of choices. What kind of an interval did you have in mind Ellie?"

Ellie replies "A moderate pace which should combine a steady speed with best detection." She pauses then adds "Before we set off though, I would appreciate my father's trumps back."

The ranger starts pulling cards from random pockets about his person and hands them to her. "I don't need these anymore so I would be more than happy to return them to their owner's family."

Irmin pulls the rest of Corwin's deck and the box they were in out and hands them over to Ellie.

Ellie smiles "Thank you. Are there any other matters we need to settle before we head off?"

Irmin thinks for a moment and says, "No, now would be a good time to start."

The ranger pulls the trump of his father out of his sleeve and concentrates, "I was hoping to talk to you....."

Delwin's eyes do not raise to receive the contact. He sits in his library, and the ranger notices a certain pall to his features, which can only mean one thing: Sand is acting up again.

*Yes?*

"Sorry to bother you father, but I was wondering if I could come and talk to Corwin? We have a few questions."

*Sand is here, and I haven't separated him from his mistress. Tell me what you want to know, first.*

"Well, here goes...... they were wondering if he was attuned to the Jewel of Judgement. Second they want his help. I know this is kind of a foolish idea, but its Irmin's father and he needs help staying alive, Benedict's here. Did you say his mistress? Does he seem very

attached to this woman?"

*He's quite fond of her, from what I've gleaned.

*Is Irmin being held captive? Or is Benedict simply being what he is: vaguely threatening and disapproving?

*If I ask Corwin about the Jewel, I'll have to isolate him. I do NOT what Sand getting ideas about that particular piece of heritage.*

*I see, the fondness may help but I would prefer to not threaten the loved one of the King of Amber. But you never know what may happen. As for your second query, no he is still free, but Benedict did put him in his place quite handily. For the most part it is the latter though. I was hoping maybe you could take Corwin to get "freshened up" and then I could come through and speak with him and you, I have spoken with him before and I doubt that he likes me but I think he may listen. Hopefully. And what in the Unicorn's name is Aunt doing there, please say its not an augury day. I would hate to have to explain that to Ellie.*

*She sensed a disturbance. She's less than pleased that we have guests now. She and Imogen are having a lovely match of verbal fencing.

*I'm certain she'll be casting like mad for weeks after this. But she hasn't put in an order for black spring lambs, so perhaps that is as far as it will go this time.* He looks over, and seems to study something for a moment.

*I can get him out. Call me back in a few minutes.*

*Yes father.* With that the ranger cuts contact and waits patiently as the rest of his group gets ready to depart on their quest, he muses for a second at the unlikely group. Irmin; son of lost Julian and kidnapper of Corwin. Ellie; the same Corwin's loving daughter. Benedict; Corwin's brother, and not too happy with Irmin at the moment. Wraecca; an unknown who seems to have a lot of pent up rage waiting to boil over. And then himself....... He think to himself, *Interesting, I wonder if my aunt knew this would happen. I may want to ask her someday, then again, I may not.*

After waiting the allotted time he silently focuses on the trump of his father again, *Are we ready or do you need more time?*

*Yes. Do you want to come through?*

*Yes, I want to get all this over with.* He then reaches to his father and goes through. As he gains his bearings he looks around to see where he is.

At the disappearance of the ranger, Ellie looks over at Wraecca and shrugs, adding "I have no idea how soon the instabilities may start, so in preparation..."

She flexes her neck as her black hair changes hue to dark blue-green, the long tresses becoming barbed at the end. Her face and neck stays the same though the skin takes on a blue hue and blue-green iridescent scales ripple downwards over her form, like a strange

fish or dragon, lending her a degree of protection. She grins at Wraecca "Shall we go?"

Wraecca warps and melts becoming a multi-colored feathered snake with butterfly wings. He hisses in reply and long fangs lend a strange look to his smile, "Yesss a very good idea. Let's be offff."

Slowly the two cousins begin their walk. Elements in the scenery being changed one element at a time as they approach the dead zone.

Ellie pauses and dismounts from Domino, patting the horse as storms rage around them. She looks back at the people they have led here, green eyes glittering in the lightning, as she says "From here on in, it is like to get considerably worse. I would suggest those without Amber blood or shapeshifting stay back."

*********

He doesn't wait for any protests or excuses and looks meaningfully to Dworkin and Mouse. Then, with a soft squeeze in Ryoden's hand as encouragement, Scren pulls open the door and runs headlong through the dark hallway and takes out Ellie's trump whilst running. When he thinks he is out of the range of the protection of Dworkin's chambers, he slows and concentrates on the card.

"Ellie?"

Ellie lifts her head and smiles "Hi Trennix. How are things there?"

Scren is taken aback by the demon-form he sees in the trump-contact. He blinks twice, but then the urgency of the moment, together with his pumping adrenalin gets the better of him and he starts to talk: "Well, a surprise! I didn't know you had Chaos blood too... Okay, everything here is fine : I just sent Ryoden off to go look after Jurt, I didn't want to put her in any danger. I'm also well aware of the whole situation right now. I'll explain later how. Can I give you a hand in the search for Julian?"

Scren is talking fast, and much of his glibness as Trennix is replaced by a driven sharpness, Ellie notices.

Ellie nods and turns to Irmin "A friend of mine is coming through. He can help." then extends her hand to Trennix.

*********

"I must be honest when I say that I feel a little uncomfortable and outnumbered at the moment. My main wish is, now that we have a lead, to begin our journey. The sooner I have my father back the better." Irmin replies as he readies Streak and Vlar for the trip.

The ranger concentrates on the trump of Irmin, "My friend, Corwin has agreed to help and we shall join you shortly. Keep me informed of your progress." With that said he closes the contact.

*********

Scren clasps her hand but before he steps through, a thought strikes him and he says to Ellie: "Oh yes : one thing. Call me Scren. It's, eh, my first name and another long story." And with that he advances and lands before Ellie.

Around him he sees some people standing, including Wraecca. He knows the others will probably include some trigger-happy rangers and he holds up his hands as a sign of peace.

Looking at the demon-forms of both Wraecca and Ellie, he asks "I notice the shifted shapes. Any reason to them?"

Ellie nods and replies "We're heading into dangerous shadow that may tax the survival abilities."

Ellie nods to Irmin and remounts Domino, encompassing the small group as she brings the Pattern to mind again and leads them on in the search for Julian, first acquiring a steed for Scren as they go.

Irmin makes a sign calling his lead ranger to him. Once he arrives he tells him what is going on, and that he is sending them back to Saxony. With that he opens a trump contact to Saxony and sends his rangers through. Then he nods to Ellie, "We are ready."

Mounting the steed, Scren rides next to Ellie. Scren inhales deeply. "I haven't done this for a while" he says and then things start to happen under his black suit.

His eyes lose their focus and slowly go from dark brown to a deep hue of red and become cat-like. The seams of his suit slowly burst as razor-edged barbs and spines push through. His blonde hair turns a nasty shade of yellow-white and becomes more like porcupine needles and much longer. They span almost his complete back.

His suit falls off after a few moments, but the black stays. His whole skin is black with lots of very sharp protrusions and spines. Sleek and almost shiny, a few patches of black fur can be seen but also black scales and black skin.

His nails extend as well and then retract, but they are sickly white as well. Long fangs protrude from his mouth in a perpetual grin and his eyes, shine with an eerie red glow, surrounded by the brilliant whites.

He moves his jaw and soft plops and cracks can be heard. With a low, lisping voice he says "Lead on."

Ellie nods and leads the group on, her senses focussed on keeping the group safe as she leads them on, hopefully towards Julian.

Irmin shakes his head, "I am glad you all trust in your natural abilities. Now that we have a freak show gathered letís go."

Scren turns his head slowly, the porcupine-like needles clicking against each other. His eyes flare up slightly and he lisps "Freaks we may be, but the show will have to wait until we have someone to perform it to..."

He turns back and rides on after Ellie.