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I did a double-take, for Random was actually the last person in my cards that I'd thought to see here this evening. ~Funny...I didn't expect him to show up. Flora must have conned him...~ I decided to find out for myself. I smiled and patted Luke's shoulder, in appreciation for a fun chat. "I'm gonna go see how Random's doing, aight?"

Luke cocked an eyebrow. "If that floats your boat. Toodles."

I grinned, setting my glass on a random surface and moved forward, waiting to be seen before making the final pounce. He was so strange the last time, I was almost wary of making any sort of sudden movement. It's a careful game to be played, certainly.

Random nursed a glass of something clear and potent. He wasn't as bedraggled as before, his shirt-tails being tucked in, and his face being shaved. Flora flitted nearby, occassionally checking back, apparently to make sure he hadn't sprouted wings and flown away. I didn't think he would. That was something more up MY alley.

It took much longer than it should have for him to notice me, trying to get noticed. Not a good sign. If these were dangerous times, he would be an easy target. When he finally did sight me, he winced slightly.

"Oh, come on!" I protested vocally, putting a hand on my hip. "I'm not even wearing my fangs tonight! Geez..." If he only knew the subtle truth of that statement! Nevertheless, I persisted...a glutton for abuse, apparently. In a bit more subdued tone, once I was close enough, I added, "I'm actually glad you could make it." ~For Martin's sake,~ I told myself.

"Florimel didn't give me much choice." He studied me a long moment. "You're the freezer girl, aren't you? Couldn't place you."

I doubted it, elsewise he wouldn't have winced. Unless, of course, Gerard decided to have a punching fest on male Amberites. "That's right. Faetan." I remembered that Martin didn't introduce me to him as the 'love slave,' so I didn't bother bringing it up. Martin seemed to be the only one amused by that anyway. "Don't like parties?" I grinned toothily.

Random took another sip of his drink. "I do. This isn't a party. The parties I've seen..." I realized he seemed less edgy than before, but bleary too. Still, better bleary than edgy if I had to have my pick of the two.

A good sign, I decided. And of course I straightened immediately with interest at the mention of REAL parties. As nice and social as this one was, it was just plain BORING. "Is that so? Good ones? With fights and gross intoxication?"

"Fights, intoxication, music, smoke, cards, flying... Anything an Amberite would want."

It just got better and better! No WONDER I liked Martin so much, he had a father with the same tastes that *I* had!

"So whose accident are you?"

That could've been an insult, but hey, it was true. Bleys certainly hadn't been expecting me when he'd romanced my mother. "The red-headed pimp's," I nodded towards Bleys for a moment, watching him laugh it up. ~Ugh. And I thought WOMEN were bad when they flirted.~ Then I glanced back at Random. "I like your version of parties, they're decidedly more fascinating. By the way, Martin is here too." I left the invitation for him to join us unspoken, just in case. But since he seemed loosened up...well, it would be good to see father and son together, having an enjoyable time. Worth a shot.

The only response to Martin's name was a slight grunt, and another slug of his drink. He looked away. "It's a royal ball. Figured everyone'd be here."

So much for the family picnic.

"Just about." I shrugged. I wanted to keep trying, though. I liked Martin. And I liked Random. And besides...I owed Martin a dance. If they kept up all these corny violins and heart-quashing ballads, I was going to throw up. "By the way...I've got a rather personal question." I sidled up to him, glancing around suspiciously. "How the hell are you supposed to DANCE to this...slow and boring dredge that the band is playing?!" I whispered with a growl. Oh sure, you think it's a joke, but I'm serious! All I could see was a handful of couples latched tightly to one another, toddling about in a circle. It was ridiculous!

He cast an irritated glance the band's way. "You tie up Flora in a closet somewhere, excommunicate the string players, and bring in some amps and a decent band."

Oh yes, I definitely liked Random. "Mmm, tempting," I purred, and then chuckled. "You've got kind of a dark side, don't you?" I regarded him sidelong, not displeased in the slightest.

"We all do," he corrected. "Some just hide it better. There isn't one of us without a sin or two under our belt, or a conspiracy in the fire."

"Good! Then I'm in the right place." I grinned, and glanced at the band. "You play any instruments?"

"Used to," he grumbled. "Drums. Some guitar." He took the last slug of his drink and grabbed a waiter, shoving his empty glass in his hand and ordering another.

"And Mart plays a sax...I play a mean penny whistle. I say we start our OWN band." I signalled the waiter for a double of what Random was having. Because face it...Dad's tastes were too refined for me. I liked the rough, hard stuff. And Random seemed to be the expert on killer drinks. "Want to sit down?"

"'S where I was going," he replied. "I suppose you're going to join me?" He shrugged and found an empty table away from the crowd.

"Love to." I followed after him, taking a seat at an angle to him. "So you've probably heard the latest on Mr. Magnifico's return to the living."

Random blinked, and for the first time looked like something else other than 'mildly irritated.' I was pleased with myself. "Magnifico? Who the hell are you talking about?"

"Word hasn't spread to you yet? Amber's grapevine reeks!" I folded my arms on the table, leaning towards him. I wondered how he would take it. Would he flinch like Martin did? Frown sternly as Bleys had? Stomp around and look angry per Caine? I was betting he'd be angry, but who could tell. "Brand is back."

Our drinks came, and for a moment, Random didn't notice, his eyes wide. He shook his head, then slammed down his drink and swallowed hard.

"Details. How do you know this?"

"From Corwin and Benedict," I murmured, picking up my glass but not sipping from it. There was some talking to do, and if it scorched my throat, I wouldn't be quite so effective. "They figured they'd let Martin in on it, seeing as how Brand did quite the number on our boy the last time. He appeared to Corwin's daughter and some Chaosite, and sent some blonde here as well." I paused, wondering if Random was afraid. The eyes were a good indication, but still... "Thought they would have told you..." Then I took a cautious sip to test the booze.

Random chewed on a knuckle for a moment, then got up silently, and began to retreat away from the ballroom.

Meanwhile, I was fairly convinced that they'd served me paint thinner... It was disgusting.

I made a face, and left the drink on the table to chase after Random. "Hold up," I put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "This place isn't going to be very safe in awhile. Martin and I are going to hole up in one of his shadows. If you want to come with us...well, I could use another conspirator." And I meant that. Random was several times over more experienced than Martin or I.

Random pulled away from my touch, and quickly made his way through the twisting hallways. "That would be about the stupidest thing you and he could do."

And he was gone. Just like that. I was suddenly angry. VERY angry. And if he hadn't been so @#$& fast, I would have grabbed his collar and shaken him. He owed it to his son, to help him out at this hour! But noooo, all he could do was insult our intelligence. All his kewpie points were flushed.

"FAT LOTTA HELP THAT IS!" I yelled after him, narrowing my eyes. I turned on my heel, quickly scanning over the room. Wraecca was crossing the room, which left only Martin at the table. Good. I tried my hardest not to storm back to his side, as it's a painful thing to do in high heels, and dropped into the seat next to him. "Why is the older generation so...?!" Unable to find the word, I substituted a growl. Good enough!

Martin sighed. "Can't leave you alone for five-- okay, who'd you bug? Gerard again? Track Caine down?"

I turned my head to regard him for a few moments. Then sighed. What good would it do him anyhow? He deserved a nice night. So it was my duty to make it that way. "It's not important." I laced my fingers together, trying to force myself to calm down. "Have a nice chat?" I asked, but unfortunately through still-gritted teeth. @#$&! ~Try HARDER!~

"Um, yeah, we did. Talked about all kids of guy stuff. Scratched and spit. That sort of thing. I think he's having a jealous fit over his girlfriend talking to your dad." He chuckled. "Justified, too, knowing your dad."

"Hmph...he knows better." Then I cast a glare over in Bleys' direction. "At least he should, if he values Flora's advice at ALL."

He let a silence sit for a minute or two, picking at some cold leftovers on his plate. "You sure you're okay?"

"Fine. Bored," I lied, and shrugged. Normally I don't feel the need for scruples when I lie, but I sure didn't like doing it to Martin. But he was probably better off not knowing if his father had come and gone. At least, not right now. "You?"

"Eh, it's a ball. And we haven't hit the apex yet. They're usually like this. Kind of dull. That's why I stay out of town. It is neat to watch all the little intrigues, though. I'm a bit disappointed Flora left the backways open for people to chitchat out of the public eye. So much less fun that way."

I had to agree with him there, for there were FAR too many hidey-holes. My unease was for another reason, though. Who knew what types of creeps were lurking around, listening in? I cast a wary glance around, and shifted in my chair.

"How can I entertain you?"

"Beat up Gerard?" I said hopefully, trying to lighten the mood. Then I grinned. "Nah... I don't think I'd like the results. Soon as the band picks up, we'll dance. How 'bout you? Anything you can think of to be especially entertaining?" I offered. It was sweet of him to be concerned. It was more than I could say for a lot of people I knew, so it was secretly appreciated.

"Well, we could always snoop around, seeing as how most the castle is fairly unguarded right now..." He winked.

THAT caught my interest. "Throne room?" I movd in closer, pushing my shoulder against his with a pleading smile. "I want to...try out the furniture."

He laughed. "Okay, I was wrong. _Most_ of the castle is free. That place is still pretty well watched. Has some bad juju stuff in there they don't want just anyone playing with. Especially not with my and your fav uncle on the loose."

"Bah..." I was vaguely disappointed, but smiled as I stood up, stretching out my hand. I was sure we'd still have a good time. "You know where all the good stuff is. You be the tour guide, eh?"

He got up with a shrug, and held a hand out to me that I readily accepted. "I think I can find a way or two to keep you entertained." I saw a familiar glint in his eye...and I found myself both intrigued and excited. How typical of me.

My smile lengthened, and my lips split to reveal my teeth. "Lead on, Geronimo..." A thought occured to me for a moment. Maybe I could still bring Martin and Mr. Small, Fair, and Sinister together. I glanced in the direction that Random departed. "Lead on...that way."

He laughed. "What, you want to raid elder's rooms? I'm sure we could--borrow one for a while." He led me to the darkened hallway, and off towards the end, I could see a patch of yellow--someone had left their door open. HAD to be my man.

I paused, pulling back on his hand. "Hey...whose room is that?" I whispered. "Looks like someone else is skipping out too."

"Rand-- Dad's room. Doesn't surprise me. I didn't think he would show." Martin drew his lips thin, but then pressed on, a smile returning.

"Look, we have Flora's room, Gerard's, Caine's... A whole slew."

"He was there briefly...Flora dragged him in. But he left really quick after that. Probably heard the latest gossip." I shrugged, and squeezed his hand with a grin. "Let's make it one where its occupant is sure not to return for a long time. Flora might go back in case she forgot something. Gerard and Caine, they'll beat a path out as soon as they can, I'm sure..." I paused for a moment, and couldn't resist the evil thought. "How about...Brand's room?" I teased.

Martin's eyes widened slightly, then narrowed. "You can't be serious, can you? I mean, he may _be_ there... And even if he isn't, that's just...not condusive to certain activities."

Ah well...was worth a shot. I was kind of curious to see them, honestly, but I definitely wasn't expecting Martin to giggle with joy over the idea. "I'm kidding," I reassured him, patting his hand. "Go ahead, you could be a tiny, cramped armory closet for all I care." And I smiled encouragingly, just to prove it.

Martin went to open a random door, but then heard a rustling. I heard it too. He stopped, turned slowly, laying his hand on his sword and his eyes on a rustling curtin. He motioned me back as he drew.

I thought the sword was a bit much...but on the other hand, considering what we were dealing with, perhaps not. ~#$%*...and me without my scimitar...~ I stepped back at Martin's motion, keeping my mouth closed to hide the slowly lengthening fangs. It might be nothing, after all...but if it WAS, the demon/chaos form would be much more useful.

Martin was perfectly still for a moment, then lashed out at the curtain, aiming high... (And I was proud of him for not instantly skewering the person without knowing who it was...good interrogation technique.) It fell, revealing a young man (boy? Hard to tell with the short ones) wearing that jean stuff Martin was so fond of. He looked white.

"Please don't kill me..."

We'd caught ourselves ... a teen-ager. Terrifying.

I relaxed, retracting the fangs, and rolled my eyes. Not to humiliate Martin, for he'd acted admirably in MY opinion. But rather, to put this kid at ease. "I dunno, he looks *awfully* dangerous," I grinned at Martin, and clapped his shoulder before moving forward. "What are you doing hiding behind the curtains, kid?" I asked, putting my hands on my knees as I leaned forward.