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The castle once again loomed into view as we rode. "What do you want to do first? Get a dress SANS pretty bows? Check in with Bleys? I'm sure you'd love to scream at him a bit, and he'd like to make sure I haven't spirited you off to shadow."

"Pity. I always imagined that would be rather enjoybale. Being spirited off by a handsome rogue," I teased with a wide grin. Which was only part true. Secret confession time...I like fairy tales. You'll never hear me say so out of my mouth, because pirates aren't allowed to like fairy tales. My mother used to read them to me, however, and I always enjoyed the rescuing bits...well, at least part of them.


"'The dragon slain, and the wizard banished, Prince Galain took Princess Diamantra--'"

"I told you these names really suck, haven't I?"

"You have. Silence, it's almost over. 'Took Princess Diamantra and set her on his horse, then the two lovers rode back to his castle where they lived happily ever after. The end.'"

"I bet the prince didn't live happily ever after, having such a sappy wife. She didn't even TRY to escape! I mean...all she did was SIT there!"

My mother closed the book and regarded me for a long moment. "Well, there was a dragon."

"Which SLEPT all the time," I pointed out. "How hard would it have been to just sneak out the back, or out a window, and high-tail it the other way? She's a wuss!"

"I believe the princess was locked in a tower," my mother replied.

I wasn't satisfied. "Don't tell me she didn't have enough hairpins to pick it."

"Perhaps she didn't know how."

"Which proves my point further. She's stupid AND wimpy. Poor prince. And that fight! He almost DIED, and she just stood off to the side and squealed! How helpful was THAT?"

"All right, Fae," my mother sighed. "You hate these stories, so why do you insist on hearing them?"

I shifted in my bed. "I don't hate the stories...I hate the princesses. The knights and princes I *like*. That's what *I* would rather do."

She smiled. "You want to be rescued, too."

I glared, partly because that was an insinuation that I wanted to be saved from a situation I had no control over, and partly because she was somewhat correct. "Whatever."

My mother laughed and ruffled my hair before kissing my brow. "Good night, Fae. Pleasant dreams."

"Yeah, you too," I smiled, the incident already forgiven and forgotten as I threw my arms around her and kissed her cheek.


The reverie took only a few moments, and I turned my head to grin at him. "What are YOU going to do?"

"Me? I have clothes. I wanted to stop by and chat with Bleys a minute, thank him for use of you, track down Ben, Flora, all the usual suspects. I've been away for a while."

"Good. I want a witness," I beamed.

"And who says you aren't going to be spirited off by a handsome rouge? There's just no one to witness it now, that's all."

I chuckled, pleased. "If the ball gets too boring, let's do that. I think it'd be great fun!"

"I'll bring my ladder and white stallion. You make sure you wear underwear, so if a gardener happens by while you climb down he won't be scandalized."

Pfft. That would take all the fun out of it, but oh well. It painted an interesting picture, with or without the gardener happening by.

We approached the side gates. "But you still haven't said what you want to do." He looked at the sun and seemed to reckon something on his fingers.

"Bleys first. Then the dress...I want to prolong that part as much as possible," I cackled, not in any hurry at all to appear feminine. "And it'll make the seamstresses sweat, besides! Mwah ha ha!" It's fun when you tell someone to do something in less time than they know they've got...they get all flustered and jittery, it's hilarious.

He grimaced. "Fine, but if you start getting fussy, they start poking you in the butt with pins. I was overly open about how I didn't want to be there when I got fitted as a kid, and I couldn't sit for a week afterward."

Ah-ha...point of interest there. I catalogued it away for future use just in case he got on my nerves.

He nodded to the guards as we entered the castle grounds. He dismounted and motioned for a stable boy to take over their mounts. "If anyone wants a blue horse, they're free to it."

"What, no souvenir for you?" I grinned, hefting up my shopping bags with a barely audible grunt before heading for the stairs. They were heavy, but I was buff. I could handle it. "Just how fast are these guys, anyway? The ball is tonight, right?"

"You mean castle staff? Oh, they're plenty fast. They do the impromptu ball thing all the time. It's more rare for it to be planned. The way of politics."

I'd been referring to the seamstresses, but it was interesting information anyhow.

He took one of the bags, even without my asking!, and headed off to Bleys's room. "Let's stow our goodies."

"Let's hope he's there," I chuckled. "I'm gonna whine at him to give me my own pack of trumps, I think that's a necessary little thing to have, don't you? Not to mention a room of my own...yes, I should like that..."

"Eh, steal his. Rooms, that is. He's never here. Most likely you guys will never run into each other. The guest ones are stuffy."

Still, I wanted my own. And Bleys...I had a feeling he would frequent it more often than not, judging by the mass quantities of clothes he kept in his wardrobe. Besides, his bedroom tended to lean towards the gaudy side.

The note was missing from the door, though a scrap still remained attached to the tack. Martin opened the door and placed my package down.


On the couch, a form stirred, and I realized all the shades were drawn. I figured it was Bleys, but I wanted to make sure.

"Heh...napping?" I drew in closer to see for a better look. "There ARE more comfortable places than the couch, you know..."

His eyes opened, and as I approached I saw it was indeed my father. He set his gaze on me, and looked to be in the worst of moods. Now this was going to be interesting.

Martin pulled up a shade. "See? I brought her back..."

I gasped, for the light revealed that MY father...someone I'd revered as a god for years...had a bruise running up the left side of his face, purple and nasty looking.

My eyes widened immediately. I'm a strong woman. Martin is stronger, yet says he pales in comparison to the Amberites. For something to have struck a blow like THIS...

"@#$&, Dad! What happened?!" I dropped to my knees next to him.

"If I said I tripped, would you buy it?" Martin rushed over and cursed. Always taking my best lines, that man. But before I could respond, Bleys continued. "I'm fine, Faetan. This will hardly kill me. I've fallen off of cliffs, after all." He winced, and I knew he was lying. "I got into a sparring match with a locomotive by the name of Gerard. We had a tiff, and he decided to prove he was right using a wall and a good hold around my neck."

I snarled off a string of curses, not to be outdone by Martin. "Who does that ogre think he is?! What on earth were you FIGHTING about?!"

"Oh, me trying to put myself on the throne, and a few other things. Borrowing his best tie. The like." He waved about his hand. "I'm faster, but the room was small, so he had the advantage. He simply filled more of it."

I grit my teeth, narrowing my eyes. How DARE he...

"It was a long time coming. Right after the war we declared all blood debts off in the family, just for simplicity, but Gerard still carried around his grudges."

My fists were trembling with helpless rage. I wanted to do SOMETHING... But I knew that I'd probably end up dead as a result. And if I even bothered to *mention* wanting to do something about it, I knew I'd receive a stern lecture from Bleys and Martin both. It wasn't something I was in the mood for. "I didn't know you still wanted the throne," I grumbled. "Is that why you brought me back?"

"My dear, you couldn't weld me to it now. This is from before the war, before Brand died. Fi, he, and I made a run for the crown and failed miserably. Nearly sacrificed the current king on the way. It was a good ride, while it lasted."

Still, I wondered...and he wasn't telling me why he HAD brought me in, in any case.

He eyed my fists. "Calm yourself. He's over it now. I bruised for him and he's happy now."

"Sunnava..." I trailed off, and folded my fists behind my back so they couldn't see. "Just how long ago WAS this war?"

He counted off on his fingers. "Oh, a decade or so? It depends on where you were. Shadows are funny like that."

Martin was thinking. "Corwin's been on the throne seven years."

Bleys threw his hand at him. "There's your answer. Really, Fae. I have to get you up on your history."

"And a thousand other things as well," I sniffed. "I need a trump deck. I've got to do some of my own homework out in shadow."

"A trump deck? Fine. Just don't go randomly trumping releltives. They're usually only used for emergencies."

As if I would do something that stupid. The only REAL cards I wanted were Bleys and Martin, and the one of Amber castle. But it was better to have a full deck, just in case.

He sat up with a slight wince, and I began to wonder what other injuries he was hiding under that padding of his. Whatever they were, they had to be serious.

"And homework... well, I suppose there's always that river of ale to be had."

Martin interrupted. "She's done it already. Nice and strong. Didn't test it, but I doubt she'd waste her time on poor alchol."

I wasn't listening to Martin. I narrowed my eyes at Bleys faintly, but concealed my worry. "Let's get you to bed...I'll go find you a doctor," I declared firmly. "Pity you won't get to see me wreak havoc at the ball."

He puffed up, but less boldly than before. "I don't need a doctor. Please. I'm an Amberite, dammit." He went to toss his hair, then regretted it as he winced at the movement.

My worry changed to fear. When you can't even toss your hair without grimacing, then something is definitely wrong.

"I'll be at the ball. I have a few glamors written up that can cover up these mishaps. I wouldn't miss my daughter's debutante coming out for the world."

I considered this for a moment. Who was I to rob my father of his pride? If our positions were reversed, you could be sure I'd be saying the same things. "You will if you wince whenever someone touches you! No showing any weakness...if you can promise that, I won't summon a flurry of irritating medics. Deal?"

"I have a day to heal, Faetan, and I'm almost certain he didn't break anything. I will be perfectly stoic tonight. Do you really think I want him parading around my limps and aches as his trophy?"

It wasn't a broken bone that concerned me. It was possible internal bleeding. I wasn't sure how quickly Amberites healed, so I couldn't really make a judgment call.

He smiled at me lopsidedly. "You're almost maternal, my dear. How cute."

"Silence!" I pointed at him, and grumbled for a few moments. "...*not* cute..."

He was trying to change the subject. I suppose I had to relent...just a little.

So I sighed. "In any case, I'm still going to put you to bed. C'mon," I put Bleys' arm around my shoulders. "Did you tell the servants to give me a room yet? I went shopping, and I need storage space."

"It wasn't foremost on my mind." He stood up, trying very hard not to show any sign of pain. He made his way to the bedroom, refusing help. He was so much like myself, it was frightening. "I thought you were using it, dear? I saw your lovely note, along with half the staff." He opened the door. "Oh good, my headboard is still in one peice. I would have thought you had a harder head than that, Fae."

Stupid man...I would have contradicted him, except for the fact that I still wanted to cause a scandal.

He sat on the bed and took off his shoes. "Did you have a good time? Spend me into ruin?"

"Good time, yes. Financial ruin, nope, sorry. I was practicing my shadow-shifting," I flexed my fingers with a smug look on my face. "As for the headboard, I suppose we'll just have to try harder next time, eh Martin?"

He didn't answer.

"Oh good. Your first time out should be entertaining. As for homework..." He placed his boots to the side. "I don't know. Dad just loved doing that to us, but that was mostly to get us out of the castle. Those were the old days when we all actually used our rooms more than once every few years."

For a moment, I wondered what he was going off about. Then I remembered...the Trump deck. Which he STILL hadn't coughed up.

"I know. Go fetch me the other Eye of the Serpant or something. I'll give you a shiny dollar."

Martin clucked his tongue with disapproval...possibly because he feared I would try something like that just to prove I could.

So what if I was considering it?

Martin leaned in as he tested the bruise on Dad's face. "By the way. Five hours."

"Until it heals?" I questioned. "Or was that how long we were gone?"

He tutted. "Neither. That's how much longer I have you as my love slave. Did you forget that?" He tugged on my arm. "We should go and let him rest. I don't think he's hemmoraging."

"Oooooo. That's right, almost forgot. Have a good time, Dad! Call Martin if you need anything, we'll be sticking rather close together for the next five hours...mwah ha ha..."

Bleys rolled his eyes, a motion he could manage without wincing, and Martin left, keeping me on his arm.

"So, I believe we were going to get you a dress... Since you're my slave, can I pick out the design?"

I let myself be distracted, pushing my worries aside. I couldn't do anything about it, after all, and I did owe these last five hours to Martin. "Be my guest," I grinned, happy that I didn't have to bother with it. There were other things for my mind to chew on. "I'm not familiar with the fashions, after all...just make sure it's appropriate," I slapped his butt.

He let me make my mark this time, instead of doing that stupid annoying sidestep thing. "Oh, I think you need a boostie-- or whatever those things are. The ones that put your boobs under your chin. Wonderful things. Ahh, yes, and lowcut in the back. And a hole for your tail! You _will_ be wearing that, no?"

"Not yet," I chuckled evilly. "I like to keep that a surprise. Besides, the tail usually makes a hole of its own...just the way it is, I suppose. Now," I said with a mock giggle, "are we going to wear matching colors?"

Martin gagged. "Oh, god, no! Blegh! Not that I don't want to prove to everyone that you're mine, but I'd rather not get mocked for the next several hundred years about being a 'Bobsey Twin.'"

Lingo. Lingo was something I had to get caught up on, he mentioned TOO many strange things!

He turned me into a room. "I hope you wear the tail. I happen to like it."

What did he think it was, a fashion accessary? It was an implement of fear! "Afterwards. When you spirit me off, I'll see if I can get it to come out. It usually doesn't unless I'm ticked off about something or other." I looked around the room with a casual glance. "All right...impress me."

A matronly old woman moved in to help, but Martin winked at her and brushed her aside. "Please, I need the practice..." He scooped up a bolt of something hot pink and shiny. "Well, what are you waiting for? Disrobe!"

I peered at him. He didn't really expect me to do anything THAT idiotic, did he?

He studied his material. "Oh, then I guess I won't get to see your tail... I don't know how to tick you off."

Crap, he had taken it as a dare. Stupid pimp.

"Oh no you don't...*I* know how measurements work, and you don't have to disrobe! Scoundrel," I grinned. "And put away that pink crap, I'm NOT wearing pink. EVER."

"This?" he looked down. "This isn't pink... Oh, that's right. You're from shadow. Well, these things get confused sometimes. You see, here, this is called 'blue.'"

Whatever. I sniffed and turned my head.

He unfolded the stiff itchy fabric and wrapped me in it. "Lovely. Blue is sooooo your color."

"Martin..." I growled a faint warning. "PUT...IT...AWAY."

He sighed. "Oh, did we forget to purchase a sense of humor while we were out? How neglectful." He threw the offensive material over his shoulder, and quickly scooped up another, this one fluffy and polka-dotted all at once. "Now this, this is a treasure. AND it's not blue!"

I snorted aloud. "Just remember, I'm going to be at your side the entire time! People will scoff at your poor choice in women."

He tossed the fabric, then walked past me. He pulled out something dark and handed a corner of it to me... Soft. Velvety. A deer red.

"Something form-fitting, I think. No stupid poofy dress."

I nearly purred, glad that he wasn't completely bereft of fashion sense, and rubbed the fabric between my fingertips. "Ah yes...excellent choice." I moved it over my cheek with a fond smile. "This is the one." I'm very much a 'touch' kind of person, I've always admired soft things.

"Thought it might be."

A tape measure went around my waist as the old woman deftly took my measurements.

Martin frowned. "I still think they'd be more accurate with no clothes on."

I smirked at him. "And that's why you're not going to be a tailor." I held out my arms, accustomed to being fitted for fancy clothing. I have a penchant for it, after all.

The measuring didn't take long, the woman obviously having spent the better part of her life doing this. After too long, Martin was whisking me impatiently away again.

"Now, we have you properly attired, or at least when Marta's done. You have a sword. What else is on your to-do list?"

"Get a trump deck, since you're so stingy with yours," I sniffed jokingly. "After that, I think I'm prepared to face the day-to-day events of Amber life." I glanced over at him. "Anything in particular you want to do with your few remaining hours?"

"Well, I can't get you that... Don't have the right key. And the librarians will have nice little conniption fits if I break up their desk."

I wondered if that would reaction would differ should I choose to do that.

We wound our way to the main hall. "And day to day _this_ day will involve hiding from aunt Flora, lest we become her unwitting slaves. She's good at that." He eyed the flurry of activity... Flowers being strewn, tables being cleaned, food being carried in... "I think we're hitting ground zero."

"Perhaps," I eyed the frenzied staff with distrust. "But you still haven't answered my question. We don't have much time left. Or rather, you don't. Now if it were ME, I'd be demanding a massage right about now."

"A massage!" He clapped his hands once. "Oh, I didn't know I could ask for that. I thought you were just going to follow me around all day and insult me. But, if you're offering, oh, why not..."

There are times when you should just keep your mouth shut. Martin obviously didn't understand that.

He looked around. "Crap. You know, I knew I should have put in for rooms... Never thought I'd need them up here."

I glanced left and right, and then pulled him along. "Library, then. We'll sit you down in a nice little corner and I'll work your shoulders at least. Or we can find a bench outside if you want your whole back worked on."

"We aren't shy, are we?" He backtracked a bit and found the library, full of dusty old books, and dustier old men. He found a comfortable chair and sat. "Now mind your hands. I bruise easily."

"Wimp," I chuckled, moving around behind the chair. I loosened the top three buttons of his shirt, widening the collar enough so that I could move my hands comfortably on his skin. Gently I kneaded at his muscles, and I frowned faintly at the awful amount of knotted tissue that I encountered. "Geez, Mart, you're *really* tense! You should hire love slaves more often." I passed it off with a joke, but inwardly, but after seeing Bleys, I worried. I was disturbed...perhaps these Amberites weren't so immortal after all. Perhaps *I* wasn't so immortal after all either. It left a sickening knot in my stomach.

"I'm just strong," he insisted.

A few librarians moved to say something, but as they recognized one of the faces as an Amberite, they seemed to give up hope.

After a while he loosened up. "Okay, so I was a little tense. This place sets me on edge every time I come back. Just a lot of bad memories." I felt him shudder.

I stayed quiet for a moment, working the muscles on the back of his neck. I couldn't understand how anyone...even the most vile of people...would want to hurt him. Well sure, the obsession with pink gets on your nerves, but still... "How long ago did it happen?" I asked in a subdued voice, so as not to upset the librarians.

"Did what? You think this is a solitary memory? I said multiples. Lots of bad memories."

I squeezed at his shoulders, then pushed my fingers forward to work along his collarbone.

"I miss Camp Benedict, in a way. Okay, the food was @#$*, and getting up at dawn is not my idea of fun, but it was quiet and stable-- like a calm before the storm."

"Mm..." I smiled faintly, my eyes scanning over the rest of the library. His words were making me paranoid. I pressed my thumbs against his spine, spreading out as they worked downward bit by bit. "Well, at least you've got a pirate on your side. Love slaves are so fiercely devoted, don't you know. I'll watch out for you."

He laughed. "For the next five hours. Then you're going to tackle me again. Or at least try." I couldn't see his face, but I knew, just KNEW, he was smirking again.

"Stupid pimp," he said for me, just as I opened my mouth.

I shut it again for a moment. "You're right, I should get a patent on my catch phrases. You're too fond of them by far." One hand reached up to pat his cheek. So he didn't want to talk about what plagued him...that was fine. It might have made him tense anyhow, and thus ruin all my hard work. "So what shadow are we going to enlighten with our magnificent presence?"

He stretched. "I have an idea for one-- or two. Some of my favorite haunts. We can visit Chaos, since it's really fast there, we won't miss any time up here, and hence, won't miss the ball, or a fast shadow by there I tinker with. Your choice. Want a coin?"

"You mean...right now?" I blinked, somewhat surprised. "I was referring to afterwards..." I dragged a stool around and seated myself next to him. "Are you saying you'd rather skip the ball altogether?"

"We won't miss the ball! We could spend a month in Chaos and still not miss the ball..."

I gave him a scrutinizing look.

"Okay, so maybe I'm not horribly keen on going, but Flora will have fits since she got my word I'd come. True, she threatened to puree my brain, but hey, my word is still my word. And I haven't seen Gerard in a long time... Or Ben. And I have my fancy duds all ready to go, so that would be a waste."

"So you LIKE Gerard." I frowned slightly, still unhappy with the man's treatment of my father. I wondered what Martin saw in him. "Let's wait until after the ball to hit Chaos. The name appeals to me, of course, but I still want my Trump deck before we go anyplace weird, just in case we get separated."

He pulled out his deck and shuffled, then handed me his Trump of Bleys. "Here. You've been _such_ a good slave and all..."

I cupped it gently in my hand, feeling the coolness of the edges, and looking at my father's smiling, charming face. It struck a heart pang within me. I don't know why...maybe because I was fearful for Bleys' health. Maybe because it was what caused me to follow Martin during out first encounter. It seemed so long ago...and yet, it hadn't even been a full day.

"And yes, I like Gerard. Trust me, Gerard had good reason for doing what he did to your dad, and we both knew it. Gerard's not the type to forget that someone has a lesson to be taught, and Bleys managed to stay out of town long enough to avoid it. But he knew that he wouldn't forget. Most likely he had it on his itinerary.

"Get new boots.
Show daughter around.
Get ass kicked."

"Not amusing," I commented with a sniff, but forced a smile as I tucked it away. "All right, so why do you think Bleys brought me into town now? Thoughts? Speculations? Or do you have any?"

"The invite, the ball... And the fact that he probably thought you were ready for Amber and that Amber was ready for you. I was born in Rebma, so I always knew about all this." He waved his arm. "But it seems like the new fad is to raise your kids ignorant, then bring them out when they're older."

Some fad. I wanted to "discuss" that little tradition with whichever genius thought it was a good idea.

"Not that I'm terribly fond of that. I get the feeling sometimes like some of these guys may have kids stashed off they have no intention of enlightening."

"Ugh. You make it sound like we're something to be stockpiled," I made a face. "All right...let me wear something more suited to my style before we hit Chaos. I doubt boxer shorts and my dad's shirt qualify as travel apparel." I regarded Martin for a moment, and smiled. "Do you know someone in Chaos to pull you through?"

He nodded. "You bet. But I like your outfit-- But oh well, we do as we must. What do you want to wear?"

He shuffled his deck again and pulled out two more cards, one of a dark haired man that had a cute little smile on his face, much like Martin's, wearing purple and yellow, and another of a ring of fire.

"Something not pink," I decided with a shrug, my eyes passing from the man to the fire ring...I was reminded vaguely of an annoying sea chanty entitled "Ring of Fire,"...'I fell down, down, down, and the flames rose higher..' which was meant to be sung in a terrible twang... and shrugged it off. "But if you think this'll pass, hey, pfft! What have we got to lose?"

"Oh, I like that outfit," he grinned, and stood, redoing his shirt. "Shall we?" He offered his arm, and held out the card to concentrate.

I smiled, and looped my hand through his elbow. "We shall."

The connection was different this time-- fuzzy, static. The ring became alive, pulsing, the flames moving about it lazily, much slower than fire should move...

He stepped through, and the wind hit me first... A hot, desert wind. The sky overhead was a dusty red, like a cathedral window at sunset. Martin held up the second trump. "Welcome to Chaos. Let's get somewhere a bit more plesant."

I rather liked the warmth of this particular shadow, it made my outfit more acceptable. So I just basked in it while I was able, and made a mental note to tease Martin into bringing me back here later.

I felt the trump awaken, and Martin pulled us both through.

The room was-- disconcerting. There appeared to be no floor... Just a place my feet didn't happen to sink through. As I looked down, stars swirled below me, granting an incredible feeling of vertigo...

~Oh crap I'm gonna hurl...~

Martin pulled my chin up, and I saw a man before us, dressed in black and red. He smiled, which again reminded me of Martin, and I recognized him as the man on the trump.

"Merlin. King of Chaos. Glad to meet you."

I smiled. "Same here. I'm Faetan...Bleys' kid." I put a hand on my hip, glad that we'd finally arrived somewhere warm for a change. Heat is MUCH better than cold. Then I glanced at Martin. He hadn't mentioned having relations with a KING of a major pole of reality. "You've really got connections, don't you?"

He laughed. "You bet. Have tea with the Serpent and the Unicorn all the time. Maybe you can join in. One lump or two?"

I rolled my eyes.

He bowed slightly to Merlin. "Glad to see you wore your human shape for me and my little love slave. You're so considerate."

Merlin shrugged. "I'm more comfortable in this skin."

I perked in interest. "You can take on different shapes?" I lifted my eyebrows. "Into anything you want?"

Merlin looked at Martin, eyebrow raised. "You say she's Bleys's daughter...?"

"He's a pitiful teacher, I've found," replied Martin. "I've had to fill in."

Merlin nodded, then looked at me. He appeared to be thinking for a moment, and I almost began to wonder if I was seeing things... his skin grew darker... harder... shinier. Fangs appeared, then claws, and finally, a pair a taloned wings.

"Yeah, pretty much anything."

Martin pointed to Faetan. "Well, she can grow a tail, you know. AND change her hair."

"Involuntarily..." I was highly impressed at the demon form. "Now THAT...THAT is FAR more useful," I pointed at the webbed wing. "Imagine the shock value I could have on my crew whenever they started murmuring!"

Merlin slowly shifted back to human. "Involuntary-- you know, you may be a latent one...."

He motioned for us to follow him.

I looked at Martin with a gleeful lifting of my shoulders. "You hear that? Your love slave might be able to change into anything you want," I jabbed his ribs with my elbow, and moved forward to follow after Merlin.

He laughed. "If it's true then I have some magazines to show to you." We moved to enter a smaller side chamber. "I'm sure that would give you lo---" His voice broke off as his hand moved to his throat and he gasped. Merlin turned and pushed him back, and Martin sucked in a gulp of air.

Merlin looked at me...I was breathing normally. "Well, that confirms that."

"Confirms what?" I shrugged, glancing back at Martin with a furrowed brow. "You okay?" I had my suspicions, and I doubt he was choking on his spit.

He stood and glared at Merlin. "I do NOT like being a litmus strip!"

Merlin laughed. "Faetan, Martin can't breathe the air in here. We can, because our bodies adapted. So, you are indeed, a shapeshifter."

I kept looking at Martin...I didn't blame him for being upset, but he didn't really seem too angry or injured at all.

I glanced back at Merlin as he reached forward and shook my hand. "Congrats. Now, we can keep loverboy at bay for as long as you like, if you want."

I grinned evilly at Martin, arching an eyebrow. "That we could...that we could. Any objections, Mart?" I was *extremely* pleased to learn of this new potential...shape-shifting, that is, not macking out in front of Martin.

He crossed his arms. "I should say so. You're still my love slave, and I'm not too thrilled with the idea of my prize possession running off with some rogue Chaosite."

Merlin laughed. "Pft. I'm a king. AND a shapeshifter. You can't compete, farmboy."

"He's got a point...," I countered Merlin. "I'm his for the next five hours," I grinned. Then I looked at Martin, bubbling over with pleasure at his response. "You should learn this trick, Mart, imagine how helpful it could be if I fell off my boat! I bet I could breathe underwater." I left the room and returned to Martin, shaking my head and grinning still.

Martin paced at the border of the two rooms. "I don't think it's innate in me..." He frowned, but then smiled suddenly, and turned. "Hey, was that the crown...?" And he made a break for a small table in his room.

I glanced at Merlin, and shrugged with a smile. "Well, he knows my weaknesses!" And I jogged after Martin with a wide grin. ~I think I like it when he gets protective! How endearing...~

Martin got to the table first, and picked up a slim ring, not the gaudy thing I would expect of a crown. These Chaos people had STYLE. He tossed it about, much to Merlin's dismay.

"Stop that! You have no idea--"

Martin sited me to the other side of Merlin and laughed. "Hey, they have frisbees in your shadow?" He tossed the crown to me in an odd underhand way, sending it sailing in my direction.

I chuckled evilly as I caught it, and grinned at Merlin as I sent it sailing back to Martin. "We have no idea about what, sweetie?"

"What it does, you idiots!" He made a grab but missed.

Martin caught it, then looked concerned. "Um, just out of academic curiousity... what does it do?"

Merlin raced forward and snatched it out of his hand, then smiled widely. "Oh, it sits there and looks round. That's about it."

I chuckled. "Handsome AND smart. I ought to find more of you guys and form my own little cult!" I shifted my weight to the other hip, tilting my head. "I want to learn how to shape-shift at will instead of merely responding to my environment. Can you teach me?"

Merlin grimaced. "I'm a bit busy--"

A voice from behind broke in. "Merlin. That is not where you wear your crown." I spun to see a man that seemed a bit older than Martin or Merlin, leaning against a jam of a doorway, looking mildly peeved. He wore black, and his hair was a shock of white, but in a good way...a VERY good way, I appraised him silently. Cool and sexy seemed to exude from every pore. But he also seemed more dangerous.

"Great, another M," muttered Martin.

"Mandor! Catch!" yelled Merlin, tossing the crown. Mandor watched it hit the wall next to him and fall harmlessly to the floor.

"It isn't that easy to dispose of, your highness..."

Martin, Mandor, and Merlin... What a treasure. I was practically purring, eyeing all three of them with undisguised interest. "Another reluctant king? It can't be... Why doesn't the ability to lord everything over people appeal to you guys?"

Martin looked uncomfortable across the room, as if questioning the wisdom to bringing me here--

Mandor approached. "I heard the lady's dillema. I don't believe we've met..."

Merlin motioned to me. "Faetan, Bleys's daughter."

Mandor nodded. "Ah... AH!" Something seemed to click, and he chuckled.

~What's this?~ I straightened, suddenly realizing they knew something about me that I didn't. I *hate* that.

"You're looking for lessons?"

"Depends on who's offering tutelage," I smiled back at him, and glanced briefly at Martin, to see if he was actually worried. He should know better by now... I'd made an oath after all, and besides! I wasn't about to trade HIM up for a man with white hair! I was the only one allowed to have white hair as far as I was concerned. "Do you shape-shift as well?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Child... you do know where you are, do you not...?"

I bristled faintly. Child indeed!

Merlin shrugged. "Eh, she just got here. Doesn't know the ins and outs." Was that a wink at Mandor...?

Martin moved to my side, slipping an arm around my waist, a slight smile on his face. Mandor shrugged, and the worry dropped from Martin's posture. Now what was THAT all about, I wondered...

"I've not much to do-- I can get you started."

"Wonderful!" I exalted, and smiled at Martin. Possessive...just the way I like it. Or protective. Either way, I was pleased. I'd have to work on getting that tail to show, in appreciation. I patted his hand that restd on my waist. "When can we start?"

"When do you wish to start?" asked Mandor. "You don't have anything pressing to get to, do you?"

"Just a ball," answered Martin, "But with the time diff, it shouldn't be a problem."

"A ball?" Mandor raised an eyebrow. "And I wasn't invited?"

I merely smiled. "I doubt it will be very interesting," I noted, and cast a glance at Martin out of the corner of my eye. It was what would take place afterwards that had me intrigued, this spiriting away business. I was having a great time so far. "I'm beginning to think we came here solely to place an extension on that love slave time limit."

He laughed. "Would _I_ do that? Mister innocent? Your beloved filthy maggot?"

Mandor looked to Merlin. "They have odd terms of endearment."

"Wait til she gets shapeshifting down," shot back Merlin.

I cackled, rubbing my hands eagerly at the thought. "Yes...just wait! You'll get MORE than a tail," I grinned evilly at Martin. "Teeth, claws, fur..."

Martin pouted. "But... I bruise... And there are so many more better things your could shift. Non-owie things. Hmph. I'd better not get any nasty surprises."

"You like surprises, darling, I remember you saying so specifically. And whether or not they're 'nasty' is a matter of opinion!" I sniffed, still following Mandor.

Mandor shooed Martin back to Merlin's room, and took me to another side room.

Because lessons are generally an arduous and boring thing, I'll just skim past what generally happened.

I realized after a while, that if I had just _thought_ about the tail and the hair stuff, I could have done this long ago! Frustrating to say the least, but at least I was learning now. He went over imitation, creation, safety-- I also noted that it took a real drain on my endurance... After a few hours, I started to flag, and he led me back.

Martin was in the middle of some entertaining story, and I bristled until I realized it wasn't about me... Wait a minute! It wasn't about me! Bristle...

I cleared my throat dramatically, hands on my hips and a small frown on my face. "Nice to see I wasn't MISSED," I sniffed.

Martin turned, and I realized too late he'd taken this as another dare... He rushed forward and grabbed me about the waist, swinging me around, then throwing me over his shoulder. I would have protested if the shape-shifting hadn't completely worn out the ability to do so further. Stupid pimp.

Merlin frowned. "And before he got to the punchline, too. Tacky."

Martin laughed. "And the penguin says to the nun, 'Hey, that isn't bubblegum!'" They cracked up, and Mandor sighed and left. And away walked the only one of us with class...

His loss.

Merlin waved him off. "Must have heard it before."

I drummed my fingers on Martin's back, propping up my elbow on his shoulderblade on which I rested my chin in my palm. "If I weren't exhausted, I'd wail on you." Then I caught Merlin's eye and winked, showing that I was rather enjoying the attention. "We haven't found my avatar form yet, but I've got my demon one!"

He swung me back down, catching me in his arms in a more... dignified way. I liked it. "He tired you out? I thought I was your chosen for now..." He sniffed, then winked at me.

Merlin looked at the crown in his hand, and it seemed to weigh much more in his hands than it actually did. "I'm sorry-- I have to cut this short. I have to get back to kinging. The shit's really hit the fan lately."

"Oooo?" I turned in interest. "Why not let ME take over? Bwoh ha ha ha ha..."

Merlin looked tempted, but Martin hugged me close. "Nope. She's mine. And I've heard rumors about what kinging here is like..."

Merlin grumbled and set the thin band on his head again. "Well, here's to listen the rabble squawk." He bowed to the two of us, then exited.

"You're no fun," I sulked, half-heartedly shoving Martin away. "That was a prime opportunity! Wouldn't you just LOVE to rule a kingdom with a shape-shifting love slave at your side?"

He laughed. "In easy times, oh sure. But Merle is having a hell of a time down here, so you couldn't pay me to have this job. Besides, it's not open to the like of us. We're Amberites, remember? They kind of like their own holding the power down here."

Hmph. It still would've been fun, even if only for a day.

He stepped back and looked at me. "So, do I get a demonstration?"

Eh, why not? I could at least give him that tail he was so fond of. I closed my eyes tightly, and my fists trembled. My hair stirred a bit, as though ruffled by the wind, but I couldn't summon that last little 'push' of energy to make it happen. Heck, I couldn't even change my hair color, I was so tired! I stopped abruptly, panting. "Later on. I'm not in the mood," I lied, unwilling to reveal weakness.

He nodded and took my arm. "Where to... You look a bit winded. Maybe something to eat? Then a rest? You don't want to be tired for the ball, you know." He looked around a moment, then led me to a sideroom.

"No, but I thought you said we'd have a month here...or were you exaggerating again?" I moved with him, not bothering to resist. Food sounded good, but sleep even better.

The side room was much less... wierd than the last. A bed, a couch... It looked like a place made for a king to catch a nap. Or a goddess like ME.

Martin waved his hand over a stone and spoke softly, motioning for me to make myself comfortable.

"I'm sure he won't mind. And we do have a month, if you feel like being away for so long. You'll get shadow lag, though."

"Who cares?" I yawned, and flopped my weary self onto the couch. I wriggled my shoulders into the padding, and grinned with a feline expression. "Maybe I like the idea of being a love slave for a month, even if I'm not being ravaged every moment. Are YOU going to rest TOO?" Which, interpreted, means, "You're not leaving me for a second! When I rest, YOU rest!"

He laughed and lifted my legs a moment, then slipped under them so they laid across his lap. "I'll remind you miss- I haven't ravaged you _yet_. And I won't until our time is up." He moved to my boots, and went to take them off. "Now, can't get the king's couch dirty."

"I don't need reminding, I like it this way. Leave the socks on," I warned him, but smiled as looked at his face. "Think you can handle the wait?"

He removed the boots and absentmindedly tugged at my socks. "What, do you have hairy feet or something? Thought you could fix that now..." And if I wasn't so tired, I wouldn't have growled at him. But I was, so it had to be done. He looked back at me out of the corner of his eye. "Oh, I think I might be able to handle the wait. Immortality breeds patience."

I swung my feet out of his grasp. "That's one thing I'm firm on. NO ONE sees my feet." I continued swinging, pivoting on my hip, and laid my head comfortably on his lap to grin up at him. "Guess I've got a ways to go as far as patience goes."

He looked at my feet forlornly. "Now, what if I have a foot fetish? That's not fair. I'll show you my feet..."

"LATER!" I snarled. Then I calmed, and smiled. "After I've mastered shape-shifting and can fix the problem."

Martin played with my hair. "You'll get patience. You're still young. That whole 'holy @#$* I'm not aging' thing hasn't set in yet. You'll get there. Trust me."

A low purr sounded in my throat. There's nothing better than having one's scalp massaged, and hair toyed with. I hadn't felt that since my early school days, and it was a VERY nice reminder of those simpler times.

A... THING walked in with a tray of food. Martin looked over our goodies as the THING left.

"Oh good. They managed to kill everything first this time."

"That's too bad, takes all the fun out of it," I murmured with a lop-sided grin, turning my head to look at the tray. "You can go ahead and eat. Me...I'd rather catch a few winks."

He looked at me on his lap. "Are you planning on sleeping here? Or somewhere less lumpy?" He leaned forward and grabbed a few pieces of something organic looking, and sniffed them. "I always come to Chaos when I think I could stand to lose a few pounds."

I winked. "I like my Martin's very...accomodating." But I sat up to allow him access to the food. "What's wrong with it? It looks fine to me," I said, more or less accustomed to eating unsavory things. Hell, I'd had rats before. You make do with what you've got when you get stuck at sea longer than anticipated, or when food stores get ruined. And once you've eaten sea urching, you can stomach just about anything.

"I know what some of these things looked like when they were alive. And it's not something that lulls me to sleep at night. Demons. Insect type things. Merle and Despil took me pit hunting once and I nearly added a splash of color to the dark down there by puking my lunch up."

"Awww...poor widdle guy," I laughed, bringing the image to mind. Poor innocent Martin, hunting with the demon shifters. "All sickie wickie? Hee hee hee!" I folded my hands on my stomach, looking up at him and just studying his face. "You're awfully nice for an Amberite."

"Am I awfully mean for a something else?" He quirked an eyebrow. "And Amberites can be nice. Gerard's nice to a fault, as long as you don't get involved in some dastardly plot that gets a handful of siblings maimed or killed." Again, that wince, and I frowned. "And Flora can be nice. Just don't look in her handbag."

I could've told him that rule applied to just about any woman, but oh well.

"Llewella too. She pretty much raised me, with Moire. Too bad there weren't more guys around to help."

"Ahhhhh, that makes sense," I nodded soberly, closing my eyes for a moment. "Raised by women...although you should be more evil if that's the case." I lied back down again, snuggling into the couch. "What is it about couches? What's the appeal about them? As soon as you lie down on one, you've just got to sleep right there."

"Thought that's what you wanted to do?" He kissed me on the forehead, and I lulled off...


The dream--

I didn't know why, but I was scared-- Not nervous, or cautious, but actually scared. I saw something writhing around me... Scaled and strong, and _huge_. I couldn't move, even though nothing touched me or impeded me...

Then I saw the darkness rise, and a shadow shaped like a woman stepped near...

The blade came to my throat, and I saw it was my father's blade...


With a strangled scream I sat up, an arm raising to bat away the dreamed blade. Martin caught me as I nearly tumbled off the couch.


With a start I looked at him, and saw from his bleary eyes that he was sleeping too.

I pursed my lips for a long, silent moment, debating on whether or not to talk about it. He seemed to be expecting an explanation. But, I didn't feel like giving one just yet. ~That wasn't...I'm NEVER scared! What the hell?!~ "Just an old battle," I turned into his arms and pretended to yawn...even though I had no intentions of returning to sleep just yet. That felt too strange to be just an ordinary dream. It was more like...a piece of the future, something that would result in deja vu before long. ~What scared me? Nothing scares me...NOTHING! Well, marriage makes me a little antsy, but STILL!~ "The shape-shifting must've brought it out. Go back to sleep, ducks."

He held me tightly and settled back down into the cushions, his face relaxing, and eventually, his hold. His breathing was regular and even.

I waited for a few moments after that, just to make sure he was really asleep. I cracked my eye open to look at him, then the other when I saw that his own eyes were closed.

Again, I was impressed with the seeming purity that he seemed to hold. There wasn't a trace of malice in his face, none at all. ~Look at you...the picture of innocense. Why are you hanging out with someone like me?~ My balled-up hands were resting easily against his shoulders, and I shifted one faintly to seek out the soft, slow pulse of his heart within his chest. The feel of it made me smile, and I glanced up at him again. ~What do you see in me, that I don't?~ The sight of him relaxed me...though it took quite a bit of time...and before long I could feel my eyelids growing heavy again. I kissed him gently and closed my eyes, taking sanctuary in his embrace as I resolved to get some rest.