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I walked slowly through the rows of books...uncertain where to even begin. There were thousands upon thousands of novels on just about everything. I growled in frustration, scanning helplessly over the numerous book spines. 'Shadows: Manifestation or Reality?' caught my eye, but to the left were ten more just like it, only with different theories! While I could find one book on the religion of the Serpent, I flipped through it to find far too many references to unfamiliar things. I thrust it back into place, banishing it to the shelf from whence it had come. "Too specific...I don't have time to read about EVERY little detail!" I muttered, storming angrily to my left (in a very quiet manner...the librarians had been giving me evil death glares ever since I'd entered).

Then I was suddenly and acutely aware of someone's presence right next to me! I squawked and jumped back about five feet...even though I'd promised to rid my mind of the day's suspicions and thoughts, I was still a bit on the 'anxious' side. Thankfully it was not an Amberite, however. Rather, it was a petite man, in his mid-50's with delicate spectacles balanced precariously on a long, thin nose. Very human. Very harmless. I narrowed my eyes at him, upset that he'd seen me flinch. "Don't sneak up on me like that!" I hissed.

He didn't seem to care much, and ignored my command. Rather he turned to the books, hitching up his pant legs as he squatted and reached into the shelf. He removed a thick, faintly worn book bound in blue leather. A silver unicorn and golden serpent marked the front cover, and in Thari, it read: 'Amber and the Courts of Chaos: A Beginner's Guide.'

I blinked as it was shoved gently into my hands. He'd...somehow, he'd known exactly what I was looking for. Was it a librarian's gift, or something more? "How...?"

"Shhhhhh." And without word or explanation, he readjusted his glasses and shuffled off.

I looked at the book again, then back up at the man's retreating back. He had an odd gait to him, like that of a football player perhaps...or rather, an ex-football player. This was a pretty thick book, I knew, and I wouldn't be able to study in comfort in a stiff and silent library. If I was going to have silence, I was going to have solitude as well. I wondered if they let people remove the books from the library? So, I ran after him. "Hey, can I take this--"

"Shhhhhh." But he nodded, and turned away to begin shelving more books.

"Hmph..." I snorted my indignance, but turned the book over in my hands a few times before cracking it open. Though old, there were no traces of dust. Second edition, I noted...and indeed, some of the pages looked much newer than others; the table of contents being one such page. I cackled with glee as I left the library, burying my nose in the thing already. It had a long history and brief profile of Oberon, Dworkin, and his descendants. A fresh, clean page depicted Martin. His face was sad, and distant...and I wondered when it had been drawn. After his encounter with Brand? After Vialle's death? I touched it briefly, and felt a strange ache in my chest. So I turned the page, pushing the image out of my mind.

The guide had everything I wanted to know about...though the information on the Courts and the Logrus were less than I'd hoped for. There were no pictures of the Logrus much to my dismay...but then again, if the book was written by an Amberite, then it was pretty unlikely that they'd even gone to Chaos. It looked to have been obtained second-hand from others. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the battle of Kolvir was briefly touched upon. Not enough for my satisfaction, which was all right...I planned to get the full story from Bleys in the morning. I was especially impressed with Corwin's fortitude. Having his eyes burned from his skull? Nasty business. And yet still he pushed on. I had to begrudgingly admit, he had guts.

"Hall of Mirrors...that's retarded," I frowned, touching only lightly on the subject and skimming rapidly. It was, apparently, a very rare thing that occurred only during dire times. I doubted very much that I would ever encounter the thing, and from the sound of it, the information offered was dizzying and unreliable. "Sounds like something made to *confuse* people..." I felt my way up the stairs slowly since my eyes were otherwise preoccupied, and gradually traced my way back towards Bleys' rooms. I shut the door behind me, and was only vaguely aware of sinking into a chair that sat at an angle to face the empty, cold fireplace. Glancing at the clock, I grinned faintly. Two and a half hours...I decided to read for one and a half, then dress and primp myself with the remaining hour left.

Time ticked by, and I studied furiously, focusing all of my mind into the details and committing them to memory. Black roads, the jewel of judgment (so THAT'S why Bleys joked about me retrieving the Eye of the Serpent!), broken Patterns... The book was fantastic, a real life-saver. And the minutes passed only too swiftly. I licked my thumb to turn the page, making sure that the chapter based on 'hellriding' was the next to be read. I liked the was catchy. I marked my place with a strip of ribbon, and placed it on the mantle to be read later.

My fingers moved to unbuckle the armor...and to my shock I found that it was half-unbuckled already. "@#$*!!!" I cursed, remembering that it was a small detail I'd overlooked when talking to Benedict. I blame Martin, he was distracting me. ~Oh yeah, real smooth, Fae...~ Oh well, nothing that could be done now. I stripped down to my undergarments and slipped into the dark red gown. Goosebumps trickled over my skin as I shivered with ecstasy at the feel of the silk, gliding over my skin. With a few contortions and some amount of effort, I negotiated the zipper into place and took a few deep breaths, to make sure the gown would stay put. And what a shame for all the men out there, because it was firmly affixed! I smoothed out the slim skirt, admiring the slit that began just above my right knee. Not too much leg, but enough that I needn't shuffle awkwardly in order to get around.

I pulled on the smooth hose, dark grey in color, and adjusted the garters. ~Martin ought to like those...~ I slid on a pair of dark gloves as well, working my fingers into them, and ran a hand through my hair. It needed work, as could be seen by the wildly chaotic style I normally sported.

I brushed and combed the stubborn locks, spritzing it with water...but it just wouldn't stay flat! **Growl snarl grumble...** Frustrated, I had to take the course of shape-shifting to make smooth and full with a delicate wave. If I'd only known about this sooner, I sighed, I would never have had to worry about a bad hair day when conquering towns and cities. But I liked the was new for me, and different, and... "Better!" I gloated, and fixed on a thin, graceful webbing with two barrettes at each temple, made of gold, weaving strands that were covered with tiny pearls hanging on fragile threads of spun gold.

Attaching some loose, swinging earrings also with pearls on strands, I applied a light touch of make-up to my eyes and cheekbones, then dashed on a streak of crimson lipstick. My feet slid into red heels that matched the color of my dress, the final touch, and spritzed on a faint mist of honeysuckle-scented perfume. I loved the smell. It made me feel womanly and powerful, attractive and unattainable, all at once.

I studied my image in the mirror for a moment with an intense, scrutinizing gaze, hands on my tilted hips. I turned to the the right...and checked myself out from behind. There was a crinkle which I quickly straightened with a tug, and I adjusted the bodice one more time. Just in case. I cleared my throat as I reached up to fluff my hair, and I smiled.

Time to go.

A knock sounded on the door behind me, and it opened, revealing Dad, dressed to the nines, maybe even tens. I saw him enter through the mirror's reflection, of course, and turned only slightly at the noise of the door. He leaned against the doorjamb and smiled.

"You clean up well. Let's go dazzle."

I grinned as I turned around, looking him up and down and sizing up his costume. It appeased me, and I slithered up to him to capture his arm.

"Yes. Let's!" she beams with a toothy grin. To be honest, I was afraid he would show up in something flashy and GAUDY. Thankfully, he had taste. And you wonder where I got it!

Bleys pulled me off towards the general melee... The main hall sparkled... glowed even, due to a wide array of lights, fire and magic, and a fair amount of gold that reflected... Seeing it reminded me why so many of these guys fought over this place. I was particularly fond of the gold, but what did you expect! I'm a pirate, give me a break!

The nobles milled about, being fluffy and arrogant...typical nobles. Near the ballroom, I spied my second favorite king (Corwin, in case you forgot) with some blonde-haired girl in blue and mauve, talking to a young man in a sharp looking tux and a young girl.

I quirked my lips, trying to decide if I wanted to talk with them or not. Corwin didn't like me...that much was obvious. And to be honest, I'm not terribly fond of blondes as far as women go. Men too, actually, but Martin was an exception for the time being. Speaking of which, I cast my eyes around to see if he was anywhere nearby. "You recognize any of those fiends?" I nodded my head to the Corwin quartet.

As I watched, the quartet broke up, the tux-guy moving over to Eleanor and into the dining area, dragging the kid along, and Corwin taking his arm decoration to another part of the room. Good riddance to them all.

"Well, I know Corwin. The rest, a mystery. But that's the fun of balls."

I barely heard him as I still glanced around, at first somewhat disappointed that Martin wasn't present... then somewhat worried. It took me quite awhile to get ready, after all, and men don't have THAT much to do! I opened my mouth to object to Bleys, but halted as an arm slipped around my waist from behind.

"I just knew it would look nice on you."

I relaxed immediately as soon as I heard his voice, and felt a flood of relief wash over my mind. But I couldn't let him see that. My relief quickly changed to indignation. "Nice?! That's IT?! Just 'nice?!' C'mon, you're nearly a century old, surely you can do better than THAT!" I turned around, and couldn't hide my smile despite my mental protests. So I reluctantly relented, and busied my hands by fixing his collar. It didn't really need fixing, but my hands had other ideas. "Old-fashioned...just the way I like it," I winked at him coyly. "You look devastatingly dashing, my favored pimp." And it was an understatement. I don't think I could have found words to describe the effect his presence had. He wasn't sexy, mind you, but his charm had a winning effect. I refrained from clearing my throat which seemed to be slowly tightening, and strictly ordered my brain to quit spinning. Something was DEFINITELY wrong with me. I'd have to talk to Flora later, since she seemed the most adept at physical ailments. Still, I wasn't about to ruin a nice evening, and kept my symptoms hidden.

He bowed. "My appologies... not for looking dashing, but for not scouring my thesaurus before daring to alight anywhere near your presense. Can you ever forgive me, my little feline?"

Bleys rolled his eyes. "Let's not start this evening by me throwing up in the nearest corner, shall we?"

"What, don't you like the occasional technicolor yawn?" I mused, eyeing my father with an evil smile. Already I was plotting ways to ditch him. He always got grouchy whenever Martin was around...and I wondered if there was some correlation. "I thought a *good* party wasn't complete without fighting and barfing. Why not start us off?" I elbowed him, provoking him. I'd forgotten about his injuries.

As my elbow landed lightly in his ribcage, he winced, then glared at me. He cast a quick glance around, "It's a good thing no one saw that..."

"Hmph. Well excuse ME, but I thought you were healed, the way you were strutting about with us in the gardens!"

Bleys gave me a withering look. "Adrenaline, my dear. It's rather hard to nap when you get the news you gave me. And I'm not healed... I have a few of Flora's glamors on, and a bit of bedrest under my arm. That's all."

What a whiner. I turned back to Martin. At least he was funny. "So how was...Gerard?"

Martin chuckled. "Gerard was just dandy. In a hurry, though. He had been out in shadow with some girl he picked up, so he had nothing ready. I think I saw him here..." Martin craned his neck and looked around the room.

Did the fool man actually think I wanted to TALK to that ogre?! My hand twitched to stay his arm... But hell, like I said, fighting is another essential element of a good party. "Oh that's just peachy! I'm DYING to see him all dressed up...hopefully in something *wretchedly* uncomfortable! Mwah ha ha ha ha!"

Martin looked rightfully worried. "I know you're not all that fond of him, but let's say we lay off the guy tonight? I don't want Flora's ball ruined. She's done a good job on this one."

"Oh, you're no fun," I declared, running my fingers through my hair. Ah, the reverse psychology was working. He wouldn't take me anywhere near Gerard now. "He probably won't even recognize me like this. The room was pretty dark...let's see how perceptive he is, eh?" I squeezed his arm, though I was still plotting mischief in case he changed his mind.

"Is it too late to claim she isn't mine?" sighed Bleys. Rotten old grouch.

Martin laughed. "She's too much like you to deny. You hungry, Fae?"

"Hungry for what? Power? Evil? Devious deeds? You bet." I pecked his cheek. "But a bit famished's been a loooong day." Then I shooed my hand at my father. He was being too much of a downer, and it'd be easier to just watch him from afar. "If you don't want people to associate me with you, you'd better be on your way, my social butterfly. I'll keep an eye on you in the meantime, just stay in my sight."

"Yes, mother," sighed Bleys sardonically. He breezeed off, and seemed to gravitate to the bar. I deliberated on whether or not to flip him off. I considered the gloves on my hands, and decided they drained the desired effect. Not to mention Martin would have been pissed.

Martin took my arm (the one I would have used for flipping, coincidentally) and led me to the buffet. "Food is what I'm hoping you're hungry for. Becaue Power, Evil, and Devious Deeds are in short order tonight."

I, still feeling impish, said, "That's not ALL I'm hungry for," I growled, and nipped his ear lobe briefly before turning to the buffet. ~Heh...~ "Quite a spread," I was somewhat appeased and impressed. I picked up a plate and passed it to my date, then picked up one for myself. Skipping right past the vegetables, I headed straight for the roasted miniature game hens. I plopped two of them onto a bed of rice, grinned with an evil chortle, and tossed on a side of pasta along with a cheese biscuit.

He followed, taking a few noxious green things, but concentrating on the meat and savories. "Well, you'll have to wait to sate all your tastes. Though Ben's garden is nearby--- Oh, wait, someone doesn't like her hair mussed. That's right. Or burrs in her butt."

"What a selective memory you have," I sniffed, turning to the bar to pick up a glass of pale wine. "You also seem to have forgotten that Benedict asked us specifically not to scandalize his garden. And as I *do* want those's best to play his little game for now." I winked at him, and found a table. Sadly the ones by the windows were all taken, but no matter. "You know...I was planning on a little shadow jaunt once this whole ugly Brand affair is over with. Want to come with?"

Martin sat down beside me. "Oh, sure. Where to? I assume you're driving, not me?" He dug in, apparently fond of something nice and cheesy. "I just got back, but hell, I have the feeling I'm going to be sick of this place by the time all of this mess is wrapped up nice with a bow."

"Heh! Deja vu, had the same kind of sneaky suspicions," I tore off a piece of chicken with my fork and popped it into my mouth. It was delicious, richly seasoned and slow-roasted. My state of being 'somewhat appeased' was upgraded immediately. "First off, my mother. Keep in mind she's a bit unbalanced," my gloved hand wavered from side to side. "But a good enough sort. Anyhow, she's an outcast from her homeworld which I'm actually starting to believe her about. A fierce race of warriors. It'd be fun to slap them upside the head and rule them all. Not quite as quiet as your Largo, but it suits me."

"Sounds like it... Oh well, Ben would probably say I need the field experience anyway. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it's time I saw some action." He waved about his spoon fiercely, and I was reminded of our trip to the freezer while he brandished an ice-cream coated scoop. I felt an odd fluttering in my stomach at the memory, and put my hand to my belly to quell the disturbing sensation.

"Good!" I beamed, decidedly pleased at his easy acceptance. "I'm sure you'll enjoy's where I inherited my tail, you know." I scooped up another forkful of rice. "Wonder how long this will take? And they DO play jigs and reels at this ball, don't they?"

"Later on," he assured me. "When everyone has a few drinks under their belts and Flora's loosened up. She's rather hyper about these shin-digs, you know."

I nodded, ripping off the rest of the game hen flesh from its tiny frame before attacking it with savage hunger.

He winked. "You know, we could run off and get my sax later if we _really_ want to liven things up."

"Ah yes, you mentioned that before!" my eyes lit up. Ask just about any woman, and they'll agree: a sharp-dressed man who can play an instrument can cause severe heart palpitations. Fair warning. "Those were the days, eh? When you offered to cut my hair and I suspected you wanted to cut my throat? Heh... I love being an Amberite."

"'The days...?' You mean less that a week ago?" Martin chuckled and took in a mouthful of rice.

I rolled my eyes. It was true, but it felt like I knew Martin a lot longer than that.

"But yes," he said after swallowing, "It is great being an Amberite. Most of the time."

"I'm enjoying it," I purred, glancing around the room. "Wonder if anyone else shares my happy little power that Mandor taught me about? Hm. Do any of the elders do it, that you know of?" I purposely kept from saying it out loud, since you never knew who was listening.

Martin shook his head. "Dunno--" His mouth was a bit full to elaborate...

Across the room I saw someone who might have been Benedict, and my father leaning against the wall... Corwin and his arm decoration... And bunches and bunches of nobles. A few tables away, two talked, one a dark haired girl in bright blue, and the other a handsome blonde guy in a military style cut.

I looked past Martin's shoulder, and my smile turned feline. "Well well...hello there, blondie... Who are those two?" I nodded to the table. "Any idea?" Something about them stood out, especially the man, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I was curious, and thus, I had to be sated.

Martin looked over and furrowed his brow. "I don't know. They aren't local nobles... Not the right colors. And I know Girt's hand when I see it, and those outfits were made by her... So they must be in the palace... Honestly, I don't have any clue. Maybe more cousins?"

"Possibly...quite possible," I nodded slowly, my interest keen. "C'mon," I picked up my wineglass and took his hand. "Let's go find out. We'll make it a double date!"

Martin grabbed his plate and let me lead.

I left my plate behind on the table. I'd already eaten most of the food anyhow, and could get more later. I enjoy wasting royal money.

"I get the dark-haired one, right?"

"Pimp," I chuckled, giving his hand a hard squeeze.

The two of us approached the table, and I smiled slowly. "Evening. Either of you Amberites?" I skipped straight to the point.

The blonde man looked up from his plate, swallowing. "Probationary Amberites I think. We havn't been issued dessert cards as of yet. I'm Wraecca, she's Lillian," he pointed his fork at Lillian as he spoke the last.

Lillian waved. "Well, not me. I'm just your average shadow girl."

Martin sat and dove back into his plate. Typical man. I was almost sure I'd have to make the introductions myself. "Faetan Jarl--," he got out finally, waving to me, "and I'm Martin."

Lillian reckoned on her fingers. "You're an Amberite... Random's son?" He nodded.

I was fairly impressed, both with Lillian's quick knowledge and that Martin was so recognizable. "You've got a reputation already? So jealous..." I seated myself easily, and took a sip from my wineglass. "How long have you guys been around?"

Wraecca shrugged, and took a swig of beer, "Couple hours here or there. Were still playing who's who. We've already met a couple people, but I'm beginning to realize there's quite a few individuals of royal blood in this town."

Martin snorted. "You better believe it. Too many. And more every day. Fae here is one of the new horde."

Lillian perked. "Whose?"

"S'a secret," I winked, remembering the earlier plan...but I also remembered how Bleys had scoffed at it. So if she didn't find out from one of the already knowledgeable ones, Bleys was sure to tell everyone soon enough. "Buuuuut...I suppose it'll leak out sooner or later. The talkative redhead over there," I pointed to my father. "What about you?" I turned my eye to Wraecca. "You know who yours is?"

Wraecca shrugged, "Haven't a clue. Do I look familiar at all?"

Martin shook his head. "Sorry. Kinda big to be my brother... Not prissy enough to be Flora's-- you really don't ring a bell."

Lillian smiled brightly at the mention of Bleys. "Really?" She looked over at the petulant redhead. "I've read so much about him... He sounds fascinating. I was hoping to meet him a bit later."

I chuckled. Already, Dad had an admirer. Not too surprising. "Go easy on him. He bruises easy, the big baby." I studied Wraecca's face for a long moment, but couldn't really make any direct links. "You DO look a lot like Martin...but probably just because of the blonde hair. And you can't tell by looks anyhow... Bleys and I? Pfft. I got all of my mother's traits."

Wraecca nodded, "Mmmhmmm...yes, I can see that. I'm not terribly worried about lineage anyway. If I can't find my parents, I've at least found my family. As luck would have it, it's quite large...and from the way they operate--" he arched an eyebrow at Lillian, "it reminds me of another family I was once a member of."

Lillian smiled back at him softly, but there was the smallest hint of a question in her eyes.

Interesting...was there an attraction between the two? I would've bet money on it.

Martin continued gorging. I had no idea he could pack so much food away, and was naturally jealous. "Yup-- It's a big family... So, how you two know you're Amberites, anyway? How'd you get here? Someone has to be sponsoring you for you to be in the castle."

I decided to let Wraecca answer, my eyes flickering up to a tall and sleek dark-haired man that entered the room. ~Hmph...he's standing there with that 'look at me! notice me!' look.~ Stubbornly, I refused to acknowledge his presence. ~That's MY job.~

Wraecca grinned, "We just walked into the castle. Messed around a bit and then headed back into town for some dinner. Corwin came up and offered us rooms in the castle. Quite straightforward I think."

Martin nodded. "That was nice of him..."

Lillian smiled gratefully. "Yes, he's been kind. Even outfitted us, invited us to a ball... Oh! That's right!" She started to get up and headed back to the buffet table.

"You got rooms of your OWN? @#$*%$#s." I said it good-naturedly, grinning enviously. "I have to use my father's couch. So how did you find out you were one of the blood?"

Seeing that Lillian was heading back to the buffet Wraecca stated, "I got pushed onto the Pattern when I was touring it. It appears this automatically confers some sort of royal status to a person if they manage to essay the @#$& thing."

Martin raised an eyebrow. "Yeah... That'll do it, won't it? We're just chock full of mysteries lately, huh?"

"I *still* want to know who sent that phony missive to Bleys ordering him to bring me here. And I'd like to know why." I raised my glass with a wry smile. "Here's to hoping."

Taking another swig of beer Wraecca smiled, "Mail service here must be sporadic. So what do royalty do around here anyways?"

Martin shrugged. "We attend improptu balls. Avoid Flora when she's in flail mode. Or we run out to shadow and play football. You play football?" He looked at Wraecca.

A strange looking butterfly fluttered off after Lillian, who carried a full plate out of the ball room. What the chicken?! How did THAT get in here?! And aren't butterflies diurnal animals anyway? Oh well. They were talking about football now, which was a subtle signal to boot me out.

"Oh NO, they've gone into testosterone mode!" I shook my head with an evil smile. "I'm going to see if I can tackle any other new relatives, and get a refill while I'm at it. Don't do anything I wouldn't do..." Which wasn't saying much as I'm apt to do about anything.

I rose smoothly, sauntering casually towards the bar. Something red this time...

As I picked up my new drink (a Shirley Temple with a hell of a kick!) I spied Eleanor and Bill Roth (back up Martin) talking quietly, and a pair of little kids, one, the girl, tossing around little globes of light and laughing. Nearby a big red-headed guy watched on, sadly amused. It took a second, but I placed him soon enough.


I crept up behind him, looking decidedly entertained. "Hey, buddy," I elbowed him with a grin, lifting my drink in greeting. "Why the long face? Or does that come naturally, being as we're descended from a horse?"

He looked down at me and laughed. "Hey-- Bleys's kid, right? Faetan... Thought you might be here."

I smiled in return. He had a nice laugh, and the type of stance that puts a person at ease immediately. A nice feeling for the time being.

"Don't know how much of the local news you've gotten into, but if you know the headlines, you can guess why I'm a bit down."

I nodded knowingly, sipping from my drink. Bleys had mentioned before that he was Brand's son. I wondered how he was coping with that, if he and Brand were even close. Or perhaps he had the type of relationship that Martin shared with Random...distant and practically non-existant. "Oh yeah...must be hell. Not easy when your parents are infamous for certain things." I clapped his shoulder, empathizing. I had a bad rep as well.

He nodded at the girl juggling the fireballs with eerie dexterity. "Ryoden Sawall... Don't know if you've run into her yet."

"Nope. Cute lil' pipsqueak," I noted. "You playing babysitter tonight? Coral giving you practice runs?"

He chuckled. "Nah. She and I go way back. Merle trumped me down to Chaos right after she was born so I could see what a baby demon looked like. Don't mind telling you, she was an odd looking kid. First baby I ever saw with claws and pointy gums."

I paused to consider that. Definitely something new, but it still didn't rival the horrid horrid image of a hunchback and a unicorn...

"So, what have you been up to?"

"Not much...pretending to be proper, terrorizing the ones who are... Typical run-of-the-mill stuff," I shrugged. "Martin's been good fun. Great football player." I grinned ferally and sipped again. "Other than that, been pretty dull. I miss the fights and fires of home."

Luke chuckled. "I don't. I like this lull we've been having."

I gave him an odd look. THIS was a lull?

"At home," he clarified. "Not here. Here... Well, things are always sticky here. Bleys just tells me I haven't been around long enough. I'm not desensitized."

"Yeah? How old are you? Older or younger than Mart?" I asked, turning a sidelong glance at him.

"We're about the same age-- Shadows are screwy like that. I guess Morganthe died when I was about ten or so... I remember Dad taking an interest in that tidbit of gossip over dinner."

It gave me a bit more insight into his relationship with Brand. He'd grown up with a father, apparently...I just wondered how he felt about it now. Bitter, or regretful? "Y'know what's weird to me? The fact that I have cousins." I gave the ice cubes in my glass a swirl. "Or cou-SIN, since you're the only one that I know of in the Bleys clan. The rest don't count," I shrugged. "Still seems weird. Hard to shake that when you're an only child, you know."

"I think I'm your only cousin by the red-heads. As far as I know, Fi hasn't had any kids, though it's always possible. Anything is possible."

True. "Least I can't complain about being crowded out," I smiled up at him. Then I glanced back at Ryoden. "Neat trick she's got there. You teach her that?"

"Me? Nah. She's a member of one of the most magically powered families in Chaos. Wouldn't be surprised if she knew more spells than a fouth or fifth year student up here. Flashy little thing, isn't she?"

I shrugged and nodded. It was pretty interesting to watch, after all, and she seemed a cute, squirrely type of kid. Much as I hate to admit it, I have a soft spot for kids. Don't know why, just do.

"I think she's conjuring, though. A more practical type of sorcery."

"Conjuring?" I reflected on that, not remembering it in my reading. It must have been more towards the end of the guide book. "Ahhhh...there's still a lot I need to learn, it appears. Though I've got a few nifty little Power Words tucked away," I grinned proudly.

"Do you now? Well, you're just blossoming, aren't you?" He paused, then pointed, drawing my attention back to the girl as she seemed to concentrate, then pull another butterfly out of thin air. So that's where the @#$& things were coming from. "Conjuring. She makes things. It's not too hard to learn. I mean, hell, if a kid can learn it..."

So could I. I didn't exactly relish the idea of going to school again, but this was much more fascinating that stupid idiot Bobby running around with Jane and Spot.

"What else are you picking up?"

"Oh...this and that," I grinned widely, showing that I definitely had a secret but wasn't about to announce it just yet. As empathetic as I felt towards his situation, it was still possible that he and Brand were still on good terms with one another. "I'm saving it for a special occasion, though, so you probably won't see it tonight. I picked up a book at the library to catch me up to speed on Amber proceedings. Oughta stop ol' Daddykins from rolling his eyes every time I get a blank look on my face." I glanced at Bleys surreptitiously, still keeping a close watch. "But making things out of thin air...I'd very much like to do THAT." Like summoning disgusting spiders to crawl into the beds of people who get on my nerves.

"Oh, yeah, it's a real neat trick. You're never without something to eat, or drink, or smoke..." Always thinking practically, he obviously wasn't as inventive as I was. Or nasty.

Bleys had sat down, far away from the dancing, and I watched as the dark haired girl (Lillian?) approached him and struck up a conversation. Before long, he'd broken out the flair and was obviously enjoying the eager ear and attention.

"HA...look at the ol' goat!" I snorted, grinning. "I bet he's talking about himself again, that's the only time he gets so animated." Shaking my head with a heavenward-directed sigh, I looked back at Luke. "So how's Kashfa and lording? Everything going okay?"

He shrugged. "It's a waiting game right now, with Coral about to pop. There's all kinds of debates about the royal birth, et cetera. We haven't told anyone what it is, because we know the country's hoping for a boy... They're not going to get one, and Coral's not too keen on having another."

"Another?" I paused for a moment. "Ah, I see...for a moment, I thought this was going to be a second. Girls make excellent children." I curled my lip back with a smile. "And, sometimes, are more fiercely devoted to duties of royalty than boys. Nice work," I elbowed him with a laugh. "I'd give you a cigar if I had one! Maybe some other time." I bet my father wished he had a boy, or at least some dainty and stupid female.

"No, no, this is the first royal child. And girls do make great kids. But you know all the sexist weirdos... Girls don't usually inherit the kingdom. They do what happened to Coral. Married off to settle an alliance back when she was still convinced boys had cooties. At least we grew up together. Kind of odd, especially during the teenage years." He smirked. "I kep trying to convince her it was okay to fool around since we were already married... She's stubborn as hell, though."

I smirked, deciding that I liked Coral even more because of that. "Good girl..." I muttered.

"And I'll take you up on the cigar, even if I will have to smoke it outside and then get scoured by the bath people."

"Good!" I smiled toothily, and polished off the rest of my drink. "I'll drag Martin along. I don't smoke, you probably already knew that, but we'll make it fun." Then I added with a confidential murmur, "And a LOT more exciting than all this *social* garbage. Where's the entertainment?!"

"It'll be fun when word about you-know-who gets around, and everyone starts freaking, and all the elders start throwing daggers back and forth. Lotsa fun. Think I'll make myself scarce then.

I grinned. The knife throwing was the part I was looking forward to, since it was something I was pretty good at. "Well, you'll be missed." I almost winced, realizing what the figurative meaning of that statement meant. But oh well. It was kind of funny.

"Oh, yeah, and no one's drunk yet. And Droppa hasn't got going. But this is the fussy nice part."

"I was wondering about that...can an Amberite even get drunk? I mean, you can't really DRUG them, so how much booze do you have to consume before it starts taking effect?"

"They can, don't worry. I've proven it a number of times. But you piss like a racehorse for a week, so most of us just stick to looking cool. Drugs are generally totally ineffective for our family, or very, very dangerous."

"Really?" I lifted an eyebrow, swirling the ice cubes in my empty glass. "What kinds? And what do they do?" Drugging was another attribute of mine, and I was disturbed that my usual bout of sleeping powder wasn't enough to do the trick when it really counted.

"Hallucinogens. Very, very dangerous. If you walk while on one, you can start shifting uncontrollably. It's scary as hell, and almost impossible to work out of your system. Unpredictable too. Guess that's why the Elders don't use it."

"I'll keep it in mind," I nodded sagely. ~Something to add to that ring of mine...good self-defense.~ "Sounds like you've had a touch of personal experience, hm?"

He smirked. "I was in college... And I was kind of in a bad way. Just learned my dad had died. Mom was being a pain in the @#$. Seemed like a way to escape."

Interesting, that...I wondered just how long he'd been in college, then, since the Patternfall War didn't occur all that long ago. What a crappy way to learn about your father being alive...

"Very dangerous stuff. Makes powers go wild."

"Reeeeeeeaaallllly," I purred, growing even more determined to find some. That dream of mine was NOT going to happen, and I was going to take every precaution available to me. "I'll make sure that I never take any into my system then," I promised with a wink. And it was true. I fully planned on using it on someone else instead. "Now these...have you tried these?" I gestured with my glass. "VERY nice stuff. I might have to abandon my vision of a sea of beer in exchange. Want me to pick one up for you as long as I'm going to the bar?"

Luke didn't respond for a moment, then gave me a hard look.

Oh boy, here came the lecture train.

"Piece of advice. Don't screw with the funny drugs, okay? When Ben and Fi say something shouldn't be used because it's too unpredictable, then you know it's nothing light."

"Hey, relax!" I laughed it off. "I don't do that kinda stuff, booze is about as far as I go. Hell, I don't even care for sleeping pills. You have NOTHING to worry about. Now do you want something to drink or not?"

"Ummm-- Whiskey tonic. Haven't had one of those in years."

"Gotcha." I sauntered casually to the bar, giving my hair a shake. It'd been a long time since I'd worn it down. The tiny pearls made a faint tinkling sound, which nauseated me with the sickening sweetness it implied, so I kept my movements to a minimum while ordering the drinks at the bar. I cast more glances around, keeping aware of the situation. Bleys was still yakking it up, and I recognized Ellie moving to speak to Wraecca and Martin. Good...they ought to be reasonable to return to before long. Just so long as she stayed away from my Martin, everything would be fine.

Picking up the two glasses, I weaved back towards Rinaldo. "Here you go, sweetie."

"Why, thank you." Luke flashed his best salesman grin. "How's your stay in Amber been since I saw you last? Sorry we couldn't have been more entertaining."

"Don't worry, it's picking up," I winked, grinned, and sipped. "And Martin has more than enough entertainment to go around. Mwah ha ha..." I stifled my maniacal laughter for a moment. "And that Gerard...he's like a barrel of monkeys, he's so fun."

He laughed. "What did you and Gerard do that was so fun? He's a great drinking buddy. We give the treasury a run for it's money every time we get together. Ask him to take you to Bloody Bill's. He loves that place."

"Good booze?" I raised an eyebrow. "I like the name..." I decided to pass on letting Rinaldo know I was being sarcastic about Gerard. He looked perfectly boring to ME. Boring and crude. Obviously Rinaldo and I had different versions of fun, or Gerard was hiding something. "I might make the trip."

"Oh, it's great. Lots of fresh fish and cheap liquor and fights... If you like sailors and unsavor people, I highly recommend it. Might want to leave Martin out though. He's more the fencing type, not bar brawling. Comes from being Ben's ward too long."

"Maybe I'll give him a few lessons, then," I smiled, glancing back at the table where he was sitting. "'Bout time I knew something he didn't anyhow. Sailors and unsavory people are my faves!" I gloated.

He laughed. "I've been knowns to hang with a few. And the odd mercenary, outlaw, and revelling band. He's too sensitive sometimes."

All right, Rinaldo was definitely a relative of mine! I was thrilled. "Mart? Yeah." I felt something soften inside of me unexpectedly. Same fluttering nervous nausea feeling, though the drinks helped to ease that somewhat. It wouldn't be long before they started playing the gushy slow dances. What a waste of time. I'd never bothered to learn them, really, for I was usually too busy being sickened by the gooey-eyed looks that people exchanged as they toddled about in a tight circle. It was stupid. And yet...and yet... I shook the thoughts from my mind like fresh spiderwebs in a fierce wind. I decided to probe a little, and see his perception of the boy. "I like that about him. You know what's especially endearing...he said if there was a war, he'd drag me out by my hair. Cute, huh?"

Luke paused, gave me a look, then rolled his eyes. "Whatever floats your boat. I, personally, hate for my hair to be touched. Sensitive scalp. Yeouch."

"Typical man, missing the point," I snorted, and took another sip of my drink. Did it on purpose, too. "Nice to know your weak point though." I grinned eeeeeevilly.

"Not my worst one," he replied with a wink. "I have an army of them to keep me warm at night."

I stared at him for a moment. The implications of his words were just too... Men. Filthy animals, every single one of them. I made a small noise of disgust. "I don't want to hear about it." And I didn't. Besides, I'd spoken to Luke for long enough, I figured I should make one more acquaintance before tackling Martin again. "Well, I've got to make more rounds, get to know more people," I grinned, taking out my trump deck. There were just too many people at the ball to really distinguish those who were of the blood. I'm sure there were several I'd never met. So, I decided to try my luck with Lord Chance. I started spreading the cards apart, glancing through them and comparing them to the sea of faces before me, to see who was available.

A quick scan of the room revealed Corwin and Gerard (grrr) talking. Bleys was still hitting on Lillian, occasionally brushing her hand, which she politely withdrew and goes back to talking. view of Amberite men as being pimps was, not surprisingly, boosted.

Flora escorted someone in, and they talked quietly for a moment. Blonde, short... Random?