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Bleys shuffled off to his bedroom as Martin took my arm and led me off to another side room. "Most likely they stuffed it in this one. I think the other is your dad's study."

He opened the door and pulled up the shades, and I saw the dress... Blood red, soft and velvety... lots of draping material, and a sweetheart neckline. Martin admired it. And so did I.

"Nice. I should dole out fashion advice more often."

I grinned toothily, clapping my hands together. Perfect. Perfect! I couldn't have commissioned *anything* like this from any of the towns I'd conquered! "Ah ha ha ha ha!" I laughed egotistically, hopping from foot to foot. I rushed to it, unhooking the armor as I went. "I can't WAIT to put this little baby on...ooooo, it's soooo silky..." I purred. And there really is nothing finer than the feel of silk on your skin.

Martin caught me about the waist, stopping any further undress. "Going to jaunt around the castle in your pretty new party dress? You know-- you could test out that new deck of yours... Introduce yourself a bit more formally this time."

What's this? Martin stopping me from undressing? What was the world coming to? "Never thought YOU would protest such a thing," I tapped the tip of his nose. "I suppose if we have enough time... All right, who? I'm going to meet most of them at the party anyhow, won't I?"

Martin retaliated by kissing my nose. "Well, you wanted fencing lessons, no? And Ben might just run off to shadow and ignore trumps like he's wont to do after the party... And your first meeting wasn't all that formal, though I'm sure we can call it memorable."

I cackled evilly. Benedict was the sort you didn't want to get into a staring contest with, I wondered if the man EVER smiled. "Oh yes...fencing lessons will come in handy, that's for sure...but how to persuade him?" I pondered it over for a long moment. He had no reason to want to teach me, other than the fact that he'd taught Martin. And if he thought me a bad influence on the lad, it wasn't any good to use Martin as leverage. Hard to decide what his hook would be when I knew so little about him. So I decided to do what I normally do. "I'll just wing it." Sliding open the top of the wooden box, I tipped it over and leafed through the cards. "Ahh, here he is..." I frowned. Benedict's countenance was frowning back, and he was leaning on a staff entwined with a chain of...what were they, daisies? Something floral. "What's with the flowers? I thought he was a warrior!"

I pushed my mind's energies towards him anyhow.

His face became clear, and he appeared to be somewhere in castle Amber. "Faetan. The love slave." He nodded. "This is Martin's trump?"

I shook my head with a pleased grin. "Mine, actually. But he's here," I flashed the card towards Martin to show him. "And ex-love slave, my time is up. You teach weapon-play...I want to learn. Shall we bargain?"

"He gave you a trump deck?" Understanding dawned. "Ah. Whose are you?"

I smiled, but didn't respond because he moved on.

"If you are family, there is nothing to bargain."

"Heh...I knew I liked you for a reason. What time is good for you?" I grinned ferally.

"Sometime after you answer my question. Who's child are you?" He held out his hand.

I hesitated then, my fingertips close to brushing his. Gerard and Benedict were buddies. Supposing he had it out for my father as well. Putting myself in the hands of the most capable warrior in Amber was a pretty stupid idea if that was the case. Still, I had Martin with me... "Do you carry grudges?" I asked suspiciously.

"Why? Are you Brand's child?" I shook my head briefly. "Indeed, I do not. You have nothing to fear but the consequences of your own actions." He grasped my hand, but didn't pull me forward.

"Good. Bleys," I smiled, and squeezed his hand with a glance at Martin. "Are you coming, or do you have other engagements?"

He clasped a hand on my shoulder. "Wouldn't miss it for the world." We stepped forward, and Benedict had already turned, and motioned for us to follow him in the direction of his garden.

I grinned, and considered making a comment about fond memories to Martin...but Benedict seemed too serious to consider a comment like that funny, and so it wouldn't be too helpful.

I turned my head this way and that, studying out the landscape, and rested my eyes on certain scarlet blossoms that attracted my attention. Duh, I mentally slapped my forehead. The flowers symbolized his gardens. It was probably that 'finding one's inner chi' deal. Mom had talked about that quite a bit. But as I told you before, Mom's crazy. Some of her stuff I never placed much stock in.

As Benedict turned and drew a weapon, his eyes fell on something behind me, and I recognized the sound of Corwin's voice.

"We need to talk. There's been more developments."

Bah...just when things were getting good. I straightened and turned, then stepped aside to let Corwin pass. "Well well, my second-favorite king..." Merlin being my first favorite, if you didn't know. I liked the fact that he'd at least considered letting me rule a kingdom.

Corwin didn't crack a smile (ignoring ME?!), and he saw Martin sitting at the table. Looking at Benedict he asked, "Does he know?"

Benedict shook his head. "This is the first I've seen him."

Corwin sighed, and motioned for me to take a seat next to Martin.

Martin looked rather concerned. "Um, told me what?"

I swung my leg over the chair and leaned onto the table, folding my arms in front of me. If Martin didn't know, but NEEDED to... Well, this was going to be good. "What's new?"

Corwin kept his face neutral as he addressed Martin. "Apparently we didn't kick Brand far enough into the abyss. He's around Amber somewhere. He approached my daughter and a young Chaosite we have here, and seems to have been the force behind Imogen's appearance here."

Martin blinked several times, and managed to keep his hand from flying up to his old wound. "Wow. My least favorite uncle is back in town. Wonderful."

I stiffened as I realized the implications present, and my eyes narrowed. My hand moved to Martin's protectively. "That @#$&%#@'s come home? Any idea what he wants THIS time around?"

Corwin shrugged (probably the first act of acknowledgment towards me) as Benedict resheathed his sword. "Who knows? This is a power center, with lots of neat trinkets to steal and misuse. Maybe he's after one of those."

Benedict sat on top of a convenient statue. "Why Imogen?"

Corwin shrugged again, but something flashed on his face. Guilt? Worry? If anyone else caught it, they were keeping their mouthes shut. Boring people. But I wasn't about to alienate Benedict now, so I had to follow suit about it.

I frowned. "Er... Who's Imogen?" I blinked, shifting my gaze back and forth from Corwin and Benedict both.

"Another cousin. Deirdre's daughter," replied Corwin, flinching slightly as he looked at Benedict.

Benedict stayed on his perch (ah ha! looking cool, was he? just like my father), and narrowed his eyes at Corwin. The wind shifted, and some of his hair moved, revealing a set of scars on the left side of his face, still red. Martin noted them, but still seemed to be to involved with thinking about Brand being back to say anything.

More scars? I didn't understand... We Amberites are supposed to heal quickly. What was causing this rash of scarring? Something to ask about when Benedict was gone.

I turned my attention back to Martin. "Remember, you're stronger than he is," I poked his shoulder. "Only reason he got away with what he did is because he took you by surprise. You know better now."

He nodded. "I know that..."

Benedict looked over at him. "He is most likely not after you. You no longer fit what he was looking for." He turned his gaze back to Corwin. "Somewhere private?" Corwin nodded and began to lead Benedict away.

I restrained my impulse to follow. I had a scared ex-love master to take care of after all. I looked to Martin. "We should help out, if it's something serious."

He shook his head. "If they want somewhere private, I'd bet Corwin's trying to think of the best way to break this to the rest of them." He got up and paced a bit. "Llew. I bet she doesn't know yet. Or Moire. They're always the last to know." He let out a string of curses.

None of them were too original either, I'd heard all of them before. He looked more frightened than angry. And who could blame him?

"Couldn't have stayed dead, huh?"

I watched him pace for a few moments, my eyes following him calmly. My mind was already churning with possible schemes that might be afoot. Revenge is always a strong motive, and so is power. It was the revenge part, however, that concerned me. "How did he die in the first place?"

He continued pacing. "The battle at the rim. He had Deirdre captive and was shouting about the world ending and Caine rode up and shot him in the thoat and chest..."

He stopped.

"Caine... Oh @#$*..."

"What about him?" I stood to my feet. I was worried more for Bleys, personally. If MY partners didn't stand with me during the final hour, you could bet I'd gun for them as soon as I could. "And I'm gonna let ol' Daddykins know, no doubt it'll be good information for him to chew on. Hope he's not *completely* asleep..." I thumbed out his card.

"If you came back from the dead, wouldn't the first person you went after be the @#$hole who put you there?" He thumbed through his deck and cursed again. "I hate this guy. I don't want to talk to him. He's a prick. Why me?"

"Why NOT?" I countered with a grin, but kept staring at the card. ~Wake up, Dad...~ I kept concentrating. At first I thought the coolness was a response to my efforts. But no...there was something different this time. It was an icy, awful chill that stirred up the hairs on the back of my neck. There was something dark in front of me-- a dark female figure... And blood... And my dream came back to me in startling reality.

My father's face appeared, and he rubbed his eyes. "I won't get better if you keep disrupting me, you know."

I frowned, blinking as I shuddered for a moment. How the hell did THAT happen?! Then I took in my breath and let the moment pass. I had business to take care of. "Your favorite brother isn't as dead as you thought he is. Wanted to pass on the warning."

Bleys shook his head. "What are you talking about? Brand? Br--" His eyes went wide. "Faetan, close this contact _now_. I'll be down there."

I passed my hand over the card, and looked at Martin with narrowed eyes. Was that a piece of my dream surged back into remembrance? Or was Bleys having the same dream...? It was time to tell Martin about what had happened during our nap in Chaos. But there were a lot of other things to be discussed too... "That was probably the strangest reaction... You know why he might ask me to close the Trump contact like that? He's on his way."

Martin shrugged. "Except the one experience, I don't know Brand all that well. But he had some neat tricks, and one might involve Trump." He stared at Caine's card, but somehow, I got the idea that he wasn't actually using it. Afraid to, most likely.

I kept studying him for a moment, and decided it was best not to expose him to anything like that right now. "Want me to do it?" I slid out of my chair and put my hand on Martin's shoulder. I was all too aware of the story he told...of how a Trump ended up betraying him. So I turned my attention to Caine's surly visage. It looked like a fanfare should accompany that dramatic pose of his. "I like the looks of him...reminds me of some old friends of mine."

"No. Caine isn't as friendly to unexpected trumps from strange women as I am. He's one of the darker ones." He put it away. "I'll let your dad do the honor. Caine and I don't get on all that well."

Interesting... That meant I would probably like Caine, but I didn't feel like arguing about it yet.

He paced and gnawed at his lip. "Hell of a time to come home, huh?"

"Nah. Perfect timing," I winked, winding my arm around his. "There are two things I'd like to talk about with you... The first, how did Benedict get those scars on his head? I was under the impression that Amberites heal quickly. What causes these scars?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe he tried to french a hellhound. He's always had odd tastes. Hellmaids and such." He managed a weak smile. "Perfect timing indeed."

"Just be glad I didn't succeed in seducing Corwin, otherwise we might not have had as much fun." I winked to hopefully put him back at ease, then let my face become serious again. "Do you remember napping on that couch, back in Merlin's little side room?" I began slowly...hesitantly. It wasn't a comfortable memory for me either. Being that scared--no, being that nervous, I corrected. Nothing wrong with feeling caution during something like that.

"You were going to seduce the king? Boy, good thing you decided to step up the ladder and try for me..."

I shrugged. "It's a power thing. I still want to rule a kingdom, you know."

"Yes-- I remember. You have no idea how hard it is to fall asleep with an unravished woman lying on your lap."

His comment caused my cheeks to grow hot, but I pressed on. "I had a dream that was...disturbing..." I explained it as best I could (except for the fear factor, which of course was NOT there...just a keen sense of caution and apprehension), as well as every detail that I could recall. "I don't like that it was my father's sword," I squinted my eyes faintly. "And when I first started making contact with Bleys, I saw *her* again...and a lot of blood. Something creepy is going on." I wasn't aware of actually growing that tail of mine again until it brushed against the back of my knee, lashing back and forth like that of a predator...wary and stiff.

Martin listened and sighed. "It sounds like you tuned into a dream of Bleys's. I don't know. I've never had it happen, but I'm not too trump happy."

I'd figured as much...and I also remembered that he was even wary of me trumping him at the very beginning. I nodded, and motioned for him to continue.

"I don't like the sound of your dream. I'd be tempted to write it off as stress, but you had it back before you saw your dad and heard about Brand." He shivered, and this time his hand did touch the old wound.

"Hey hey hey," I murmured, seizing his hand in both of mine and squeezing it. "Martin, it'll be all right. I'm here to protect you. So is Benedict,'re Amber's golden boy, everyone *loves* you. Let's think about this. Which one of my elders knows the most about dreams and sending projections?"

"Uhh--- I don't know. They're not really a mystic bunch, you know? They're really practical when it comes down to it. Maybe Dworkin, but he's more likely to just send you off more confused as ever. Scrying and all that crap is more Chaos style, you know?"

"All right," I inclined my head. "We've got two options here...and I want you to decide which you'd rather take. One, we talk to Merlin. He might be able to offer a fresh perspective. Hell, maybe Mandor would know. Two..." I paused and looked up at him intently. "We forget about the whole thing, get ready for the ball, and enjoy ourselves for an hour." Not what I wanted, but... "This is a lot of crap to be dumped on your head. And I'm surprised you're staying here. A lot of lesser men would be hiding right now."

"I was hiding when he found me. So there's not much point to it." He squeezed my hand, then kissed it.

Martin was a mystery to me...a very pleasant mystery. He had a lot of guts...and he was hiding his real strength with a few modest words. What was I supposed to do with him? I smiled at him, and the tail disappeared. He inspired me.

"I want to be horribly selfish and just run out and have fun for a hour, and get dressed up in all my nice stuff and dance and eat fattening party food and drink Bayle's Best...

"Yes...something Bleys-esque," I tilted my head faintly. "But?"

"But I have the feeling we should be helping out. I don't want to bother Merlin again, though. He's kinging."

"That's how I feel too," I nodded, and put my arm around his shoulders. I was fiercely proud of him, and it caused my heart to beat fiercely. ~That's my boy.~ "What about that Mandor guy? He's smart, and likely to keep his cool about it all."

He nodded. "I don't have a trump for him, but I got the impression he'll be at the ball--"

Martin cut off as Bleys entered Benedict's garden, moving carefully but gracefully. I couldn't see any bruising, to my delight, and he seemed to be quite adept at covering up winces.

I made a mental note to send Flora a gift, it was good to see him looking healthy again.

"Now, what is all this about Brand being back?" he asked, getting right down to business. Very unusual for Bleys...he usually liked to dance around things before centering. So either it was VERY serious, or there was something else he was dancing around. I kept both options open.

I smiled. "Flora's done a good job," I noted, eyeing him carefully. Yes, a very good job indeed. "Corwin and Benedict know more about it, but he's definitely kickin' it here in Amber. At least, he was for a time. Why did you ask that the Trump contact be severed?"

I paused for a moment, a strange smile on my face, and I wondered which question he would answer first after I'd posed my next query. "And how have you been sleeping lately?"

"I don't know. If you let me actually sleep without breaking in with a trump call, I'll tell you." Bleys made his way to the garden table and sat. Martin joined him. Ah, the dancing had begun.

"Ben and Corwin said that he accosted Corwin's daughter and some visiting Chaosite. And that he brought Deirdre's daughter into town," Martin explained.

"Dee has a daughter? Oh, Unicorn help us..."

"Yeah," I cleared my throat, keeping my gaze fixed on Bleys as I sat down. "Exactly." I wasn't about to let him squirm out of this one, though. I had a feeling that this bloody dark woman was important. "Have you had any...strange dreams, as of late?" I allowed my hand to pivot in a slow circle.

"Strange dreams? Not that I recall. But that's not unusual. I never remember my dreams. Drove Sand nuts sometimes."

Sand? Hmmm... I figured that this Sand person probably knew a lot about dreams...I'd have to talk to her if I could. I latched onto the name and kept it.

"Why do you ask? Are we now an auger?"

"Nope, just another paddler in the sea of crap that seems to surround Amberites," I grinned. "Wanna hear about a dream we're sharing?"

"_We're_ sharing? How do you know-- Oh. The trump. You must have broken one up."

I smiled. I would have given him a doggie biscuit just for chuckles, but there weren't any lying about.

"Out of curiousity, what did you see?"

"Just a piece, but no doubt it's the same thing," I leaned forward, interlacing my fingers. And then I proceeded to tell him the same thing that I'd told Martin, with only a few brief glimpses in Martin's direction to see what he was picking up or thinking, and studied Bleys' face. It's not that I was suspicious of him...I honestly believe he hadn't a clue. I wondered if that got on his nerves. "So. What do you think?"

Bleys shrugged after I'd finished. "I wouldn't worry about it. It's not as if the images were all that original. Blood. Shadowy figures. I'm fairly certain we can worry about the more substantial right now."

I frowned, disagreeing. Oh sure, easy for *him* to dismiss it! "Yeah, you say that because your sword wasn't pointed at YOUR throat. Fine... We also think it would be best if you told Caine. He knows you better than either of us, and he might like a warning."

Bleys sighed and noded. "Prudent. My god Martin, what have you done with her?" He shuffled out the appropriate card and concentrated, then frowned. "The greasy-- he's blocking me!"

Martin looked concerned. "What if someone's got to him and..."

Bleys tossed away the trump and made a face. "No. It was him. He sent a nasty thought my way before completely going warm."

I was fascinated. Dirty, arrogant, conniving... My kinda guy! "Ooo, I like this one...let me try?" I pleaded. Besides, if *I* got through, I could smirk at Bleys and gloat about it.

"I take that back," sniffed Bleys. I looked at him, mildly insulted.

"It comes and goes..." replied Martin, rolling his eyes. "She has a trace of common sense. Probably just for fashion. You know her."

No they DIDN'T!!! But I was still too eager, and wanted to try it out. "Oh, come on," I bounced in my chair with a wide grin. "He's a pirate, I'M a pirate...we'll get along just swimmingly! Besides, two Trump calls in a row, maybe he'll realize something *serious* is going on!"

"It was nice being a father..." muttered Bleys.

Martin sighed. "Okay, if you really want to. But let me warn you. If there is an opposite to sunshine, this guy is it. He has an attitude, and I think he likes to hurt people for jollies."

"Hmph," I snorted. "I'm not exactly daffodils and butterflies myself." I located Caine's card and grinned at it...admiring it. He was so dark and my mother's people! Not that they were my idols, but they certainly were inspiring during my time of warfare. ~I like the feather especially...what style!~ I touched my fingertips to the card, deciding that I would have to appeal to his ego first. **Nice ship,** I sent.

The image opened up, to reveal a man sitting somewhere rocky, at about the same time of day as me. His hair was uncovered by any stylish cap, and blew in the breeze. He didn't look pleased. But then again, he didn't appear to be the sort who usually WAS pleased to begin with.

*Someone had better be dead.*

*Oh, much, MUCH more interesting than that,* I chuckled, and briefly pondered as to where he was at. In Amber as well? At least close to it, I would guess. *One of your FAVORITE brothers is alive, and prancing about Amber somewhere.* My smile broadened. *The name 'Brand' ring a bell?*

His eyes narrowed, and he turned back and said something to someone off the view of the card. He returned his gaze to me and offered a gloved hand. "Pull me through."

I took it in a firm grip, to show that I was no simpering weak female, and gave a tug to draw him into the gardens. "Welcome home," I winked.

He stepped through, and a woman in leather and jeans, sun bouncing off of white-blonde hair and mirrored sunglasses, followed. She wandered off and sat off the edge of a pot, lighting up a cigarette. Bleys looked at her with interest, but Caine didn't indulge.

I studied the woman for a moment...ah, no wonder he didn't want Bleys to interfere. My father was sort of a pimp...Caine must have the hots for the woman! I felt smug.

"What is this about Brand?"

Bleys sighed and gave a quick, summarized version of the latest goings-on, excluding my dreams. I was glad about that, because there were only two people that should know. And I'd already told them. Caine listened without any touch of emotion, besides something sour.

"Now, we can trade," finished Bleys, "Who is this you've brought with you?"

"Clarice," Caine responded simply.

I rolled my eyes. ~I'm surrounded by pimps!~ "Remember what Flora said, don't want to rupture," I warned him, hoping he would take the hint without me having to damage his pride.

Then I leaned back in my chair, drumming my fingers three times on the table. "I have some questions...about that day where Brand 'died.' What *exactly* happened? Where were you?" I looked specifically at Bleys. "If this guy is out for revenge, it might be best to figure out who he's going to target first."

Bleys sniffed. "I was referring to information."

Caine glowered at me as he answered my question. "I was on the hilltop behind the battle, perforating him." Why the glare? What butt gremlin invaded HIS inner territory?

Clarice spoke up. "This the jackoff you told me about? The red haired guy?" Caine nodded. "Figures, don't it?" A puff. "Maybe it was me." Caine shrugged.

I growled at her. No one made comments about my father like that, except for ME! Then I looked at Martin. "And you? Were you present?"

"I wasn't at the main battle. That was an elders only thing."

Bleys sighed. "Yes, when we've put our mind to doing a lynching, we tend to be exclusive at that point."

Clarice noted the growl and smirked at me. "Bring it on," she muttered. last, a challenge! I refrained from laughing in the style of most megalomaniacs. Rather, I grinned toothily, my eyes gleaming. Then I looked at Bleys who had dodged the question. "And what was YOUR position?"

"I was there too, near Fiona, hoping he'd come to his senses at some point..."

Caine gave him an odd stare at this point, narrowing his eyes. Bleys stiffened slightly and returned the look. There was a lot of animosity between those two...and I was going to side with Bleys if anything flared up! "I still say it was the Font that pushed him over, and a good helping of bad timing."

Clarice puffed away, then returned an animal grin to me. I wasn't worried...she smoked too much. That meant she wouldn't be as healthy as I was. She looked at Caine. "Either this guy's taking his sweet-@$% time about killing people, or he doesn't care..."

"Or he has bigger fish to fry."

"Hmmmm," I mused, cocking my head faintly at Bleys. "You knooooow, it wouldn't surprise me frankly if he decided to try something on you and Fiona. After all, you were partners at one time...and during that last battle, you weren't there to fight beside him. Not happy for Brand, and if he's a vindictive sort... Well, he might try to just carve you a new smile."

~Or go after the kiddies...better keep my eyes peeled too.~ I decided it would be best if I didn't parade around declaring my heritage.

"Now you said he pulled in a sister too...was she, perchance, dark in any sort of way?" I continued...wondering if this might be linked somehow to my dream.

"Dark hair and eyes. She favored Corwin. Deirdre was his full sister." Bleys looked around. "Never a damn servant around when you want one."

Martin sat back and mulled over the tidbits of information. "She may have something-- the revenge thing." I felt pleased, to hear him praise my keen intellect in front of others.

Clarice stood, tossing her half smoked cigarette to the ground. "He'll be dead before sunrise then. Caine, you think this tool was that stupid?"

Caine shook his head. "True. Revenge, he can put off."

I doubted it. If it were me, I'd want to strike down MY enemies first thing. But, I'd have to wait and see...hopefully I wouldn't see, but you know what I mean!!

"Which gives you more time to prepare," I shifted my gaze from Bleys to Caine and back again. Then I turned towards Martin, regarding him silently for a few moments. He was doing okay...I didn't want to mention that Brand might be entertaining the possibility of going for a second round at the boy. It was a pointless thing to do in any case...cruel, and vindictive. I'd keep my fingers crossed. "S'pose all we can do in the meantime is watch and listen...unless anyone else has a better suggestion?"

Caine stood and looked at Bleys. "Watch carefully, indeed." Bleys kept his face neutral.

For crying out loud! First Gerard, now Caine...what next?! I was sick of person to accuse my father was gonna get a fist in the mouth!

Turning on his heel, Caine left, trailed after a second by Clarice. Martin breathed a sigh of relief. And I said, good riddance!

"There. Our civic duty is done. His lady was a bit cold though."

"That wasn't his lady, trust me."

I spat on the ground, for Clarice left a bad taste in my mouth. "He's more suspicious than my MOTHER! I didn't think it was possible..." I shook my head, momentarily disappointed in my would-be hero, then leaned forward. "If this guy's alive, then Deirdre must be too. Think it's possible they might be in cahoots?"

"Yes, I always pair up with my murderer when I'm freshly returned from the dead. What a wonderful person to trust to watch your back, but the one that tried to stab it."

Martin threw Bleys a reproachful look. "She's trying to help. And it is possible that Deirdre is alive." All RIGHT! My man was standing up for me! I elated smugly.

Bleys sighed. "Let's worry about this one black sheep at a time."

"Normally I wouldn't ask," I sniffed in my defense, folding my arms. "But this dark woman I've been seeing...well, what if it's connected? Anyone got a picture of her?"

Bleys sighed. "One track mind-- you'd think the girl never had a nightmare." He rifled through his deck and pulled out a card depicting a woman in a black dress, with a silver belt. She looked out of the card sultrily, nearly purring. She looked like a skank to me. Corwin had poor taste. Though I tried to fit my dark lady and this one, the dream was now hazy in my mind... Maybe, maybe not. Too convenient.

"Hmph...too hard to tell," I slumped back in my chair, disappointed. "But now that I've seen her, I'll be sure to remember next time. Dad, watch your back... I think I'm going to hold off on telling anyone who my father is, since I'm not about to be a tool. So far, besides us, not too many people know. And we really don't look alike, so that's an advantage."

"Well, let's see, who knows about you... Our mysterious invitor, Corwin, Caine and that woman, Thomas, Martin, Benedict-- Oh, we're doing a marvie job of keeping that identity under wraps. Dear, I think it's a bit late to worry."

Martin nodded. "But, caution is still a good idea. Maybe away from Amber would be the best place after the ball, at least until you guys get this cleared up."

I nodded, more than a little annoyed at Bleys' continued snarky comments. He was still smarting over my being able to reach Caine, I bet. "Largo, maybe?" I looked at Martin.

He smiled. "Sure." Looking at Bleys, "Maybe you should go back to bed. I think you're still trying to wear off the edge."

Bleys dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "I'm fine. I think I'll go for a walk."

"But what if--"

"Don't worry. I think I'm being watched over plenty." He rose to leave.

I frowned. "All right...see you at the ball," I stood up as well, thrusting out my hand to Martin to help him rise as well.

Bleys waved limply as he exited Benedict's garden to the more general purpose flower dumping area. Something was nibbling at the corners of my mind...and I didn't like it.

Martin smiled at me. "Largo it is. But I'm not making my sea imbibable. I like it salty."

I chuckled, taking his arm as we slowly walked in the opposite direction. I glanced over my shoulder at Bleys, waiting until he was out of sight. My eyes narrowed, and my smile dropped. "Did that seem especially odd to you?" I grumbled lowly.

"Did what? Your dad being testy? I'd imagine he'd be on edge... He was Brand's previous tool, and actually was known to be rather close to him in more sane days. So it's possible that he had something to do with Brand resurfacing. Not that I believe that."

I didn't know if he was adding that because it was how he felt, or if he didn't want to upset me. I felt like one of those doom pendulums was sweeping closer and closer to my throat, and it was a very disturbing feeling. Well, no duh it was disturbing...

"Hmmm..." I growled again, looking down at the grass in quiet speculation. Something was still wrong. "He's lying. I'm not sure what about, but he is." I rubbed a hand over my face, through my hair, and let it drop back to my side. "And I've got a really bad feeling about this."

Martin looked stung. "Faetan, he's your dad. What, you think he actually _did_ have something to do with Brand coming back?" He shook his head. "If he did, now would be the worst of times. No one really trusts him yet, some people are still mad... Patternfall is still fresh."

My lips tightened, and I breathed out slowly. Bleys was involved...I had no doubts. I didn't know what his reasons were, but I was willing to place money on it. Maybe he was trying to help his brother get back into the good graces of Amber. Maybe hoping for a second chance. Or maybe he still wanted the throne. I prayed with every ounce of faith in me that Martin wasn't in on it either. But because of the stab wound, I was sure he'd be the last to turn to Brand's side. "All right, if it disturbs you, I won't talk about it." My hands clenched into tight fists of frustration. "I feel so...argh..."

He sighed and sat me back down again, pulling a chair so that he was directly in front of me. "Don't worry about it, Fae. Better you talk to me than to someone else. At least I know I can trust me."

I smiled a little at that...just a little. Martin was probably the only one that I could trust.

"I'm a big boy. I'll deal."

I stared down at my hands for a moment, eyes flickering up briefly to Martin's before lowering again. "I think he's in on it," I murmured shamefully, feeling the heat of it rising in my cheeks. "Maybe he thinks it's for a good cause, I can't say. And maybe you might think I'm putting more stock in a dream than I should. But *I* think it was a warning." I shifted uncomfortably. Bleys had laughed it off far too lightly. "And there can be no doubt, it was my father's sword pointed at my neck. It's... I feel like..." I snarled at my ineloquence, baring my teeth, and closed my eyes. "I feel like I'm never going to be 100% certain until it's too late."

"You never are 100% certain. Look at Patternfall. We're still not sure what the hell happened, and it's been over for years." He sighed heavily. "I really don't want to think that Bleys had anything to do with it. He's not a bad guy. True, he's sided with the black hats now and then, but usually he's been a tool. His ego's his weakest spot."

I was silent...and remained so for a long time. "Remember the serpent thing I told you about...the big one...what do you think that was?"

Martin held up his hands helplessly. "I don't know. Are you scared of snakes at all?"

"Psh, no!" I frowned, meeting his eyes for the first time. "It's just... I have a suspicion that it might be that thing the Chaosites draw on for know? The opposite of Pattern? I don't remember the name. And then your story about erasing the Pattern... What if..." I growled, looking away for a moment. "What do you think might happen if the blood of order went all over it? The Chaos thing, not the Pattern, that is to say."

Martin looked concerned. "Never thought about it, really. And it's called Logrus. I usually make it a rule of thumb not to bleed on power items, though, if I can help it. Now, I know that the sigil creature-- mascot, if you will-- is the Serpent, but that may not have anything to do with this. We have enough snakes up here as is."

I sighed, feeling gyped. You find out you're a god, and the next...not for LONG! "If I'm right, I'm gonna die. This sucks. I haven't even conquered a shadow yet!!! How pathetic is that..." Yet somewhere in the back of my mind was that small consolation that at least I hadn't died a virgin. I smiled wryly at Martin and stood up. "But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, and I had good reason to argue with Gerard." ~Least I got away with THAT!~ "Got a ball to attend to, after all...can't miss that. Especially with a killer dress and an escort worth a mountain of diamonds."

Martin smiled. "Just a mountain?" Stupid pimp. Turning to the castle, he led me back in. "I'm going to track down Gerard and say hello more civilly this time. Plus, he'll help hide me from Flora, who knows I'm back in town again, and how good I am at moving heavy things..."

I began to nod slowly, disappointed that we would be parting. It seemed like we'd been inseparable, almost from the very start of my arrival in Amber. Then to my surprise, he pulled me in close to his side and said quietly, "You aren't going to die. Don't put so much stock in dreams, okay? You'll go loopy."

I smiled a little, sighed, and decided to give it up for now. "Who says I'm not loopy already!" He felt comforting and warm, and his gentle voice soothed my frustrations. It's not easy when there isn't much you can do to control your own destiny. I felt locked into this, that no matter what happened, I wouldn't be able to break away. Martin relayed that silent and calming feeling that I wouldn't be alone, however, and that made all the difference. I realized at that moment that I did care...very much...about him. And I didn't want him to get dragged into this. Perhaps he was right. Why would Brand single ME out after all? I had to be, by far, the most *charming* of all the third-generation Amberites. I'd made my impression, and I *would* be missed! But there was Gerard...and Benedict...and Caine... Bah, no matter. Someone would miss me. Amber wouldn't be the same without good ol' Faetan. ME. I turned his face towards mine, kissing him thankfully. "I'm going to be in the library and brush up on my Amber terms... After that, I'll meet you at the ball." I smiled, brushed his cheek fondly, and we parted. Halfway to the stairway I turned to offer a wink and a wave, then jogged up the stairs to find the library.