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As Luke, Jurt, and Ellie leave, Ryoden sits in a corner, concentrating on her wringing hands. After a long period of silence, during which Mandor studies her carefully, she finally talks.
"I'm in trouble, aren't I?"
Mandor smiles, perhaps pityingly. "Someone is trying to kill you. I would call that trouble." He clears his throat and looks at Marrek briefly. "Mind telling us about the two other traps?"
Marrek settles himself down on one side of the room's couch, but not before a tall glass full of an orange liquid appears is his hand, which he hands to Ryoden with a wink.
Sitting back, he awaits Ryoden's answer.
She drinks the Hi-C, more as a stall tactic than anything, before she starts.
"I found them the day we left Chaos. I felt the strings go up in my sector, so I used a Logrus filament to set off. I found another a few minutes later, and set that off too. I thought I had them all, but he put one in a vase, so I didn't notice it."
"Or her. Whoever."
Marrek sits forward. "Was this the first time you'd felt something like this?"
She nods furiously. "Oh yes. We don't even have servants, really. Some demons, and my nan, but that's it. It's not a big part of the ways."
Mandor nods. "So, do you have any idea who it was?"
Ryoden stares at him, then shakes her head after a moment. She finishes off her Hi-C quickly.
A brief knock sounds at the door, and Benedict enters. Ryoden looks like she can't decide whether to be relieved or worried.
Marrek rises from his seat on the couch and inclines his head politely. "Your highness," he greets him, studying his face, looking for the barest hint of a definable emotion.
Benedict bows slightly at Marrek, not showing the least in homicidal tendencies. His face is not as icy as Marrek would have expected from the king of steel. He looks at the huddled Ryoden in the corner.
"Come sit here," he says, tapping a green armchair. She gets up reluctantly and does as he says. She sulks at him. Marrek recalls her comment about not being impressed with her new grandfather.
Reassured by Benedict's seeming calm, Marrek sits back on the couch and throws an inquiring look Mandor's way.
Mandor catches it and shrugs.
Benedict sits and takes out a piece of paper, the one Ryoden had drawn one earlier. He regards it a moment, then hands it to Mandor. "Nothing yet. The face isn't familiar. How good is she at drawing."
"She's quite adept. It runs in the family."
"How good exactly?"
Mandor pauses. "I think you're asking about more than her artistic talents."
Benedict nods. "She's under my protection. Therefore I should know anything unusual about her." Mandor sighs.
"She's a talented girl."
Marrek throws Ryoden a half-reproaching look. "She's not afraid to show it, either."
He looks at Mandor and makes a motion to the picture. "May I? I haven't seen it yet."
Ryoden glares back. Marrek gets the feeling she's going to make his life interesting for a while.
Mandor hands Marrek the drawing while he continues to speak to Benedict. "This is a delicate situation, as I'm sure you understand.
She's talented, but she's young, and as a result, impulsive, strong-willed, and overly trusting. We would certainly appreciate any information given out today staying in your Avalon. Even as a state secret..." He leaves the statement unfinished, and Benedict nods.
Marrek studies the drawing intently, etching each and every detail into his memory as Mandor and Benedict continue their conversation.
The drawing is good, but he can tell that parts she must have guessed on, or fudged.
The woman has long hair, and fine, almost unreal features. Eyes a bit large for the people around here. It's black and white, but he gets the feeling that a few colour pencils wouldn't make a difference. There are few details besides structure, leaving the woman pale.
When he looks up, he realizes Ryoden is watching him. "The eyes were blue," she says quietly.
Marrek stands and switches seats to sit next to her. "Do you remember anything else about her? Did she say anything to you?" He seems to think of something and further asks, "Did you smell anything strange while she was in the room?"
She thinks back. "She might have. But I just screamed. I got scared-- she was in MY room. No one gets in my room." She pulls up her knees and hugs them to her chest. "And maybe it did smell. Like flowers? But not really. Sweet. I wasn't there long."
Benedict and Mandor continue. "She's always been advanced. She seems to learn by osmosis, so I would be careful what you let her see. We've only formally taught her after realizing that she had the rudimentary skills anyway."
Benedict nods. "And the specifics?"
Mandor doesn't smile. "You need something to discover about your great-granddaughter, don't you?"
The slightest amount of steel enters Benedict's eyes. "Don't play games with me."
Mandor is silent for a few moments, then finally gives in. "Conjuration, which you saw. Sorcery. Trump. And... Logrus."
Benedict looks surprised, and Mandor takes a small delight in this. "She's quite advanced," he mummers.
"All that mixed in with an insatiable curiosity and a dose of incredible good luck," Marrek puts in from his seat next to Ryoden.
Benedict nods. "The Unicorn watches over fools and small children." He looks at Mandor. "Or the Serpent."
Mandor smiles wanly. "I think the Unicorn would be a more likely deity to do that."
Benedict thinks for a moment. "She's Jurt's ward?" Mandor nods. "He's the least gifted of all of you. Why him?"
"He's emotional, hot-headed, and holds a grudge. But so is she. They're two fires that burn each other out eventually. Her education is well covered, I assure you."
/Her's or our's?/ Marrek stands and paces the room, deep in thought. In his mind, he sees two adversaries, one with definite hostile intent for Reasons Unknown. The other merely seems content to watch and wait...for what? Marrek shakes his head, troubled. Is this mysterious watcher-woman merely waiting for Ryoden's powers to mature before moving against her? That would be foolish at best, unless she wanted to harness it for herself. Marrek doesn't know how one would go about doing so, but in a universe where the word 'impossible' lost all meaning, there would have to be a way, wouldn't there?
The other opponent, the one that struck in Chaos, concerns him as well, even though he had yet to make an entrance. Was he, too, waiting for the proper time to strike, when Ryoden would be alone and vulnerable? Could he, in fact, strike deep into the heart of Amber herself, or would he need intermediaries to accomplish such a goal?
The entire thing was starting to give Marrek a headache.
Benedict notes Marrek's agitated state. "A problem?"
Marrek waves a negligent hand. "Aside for the one at hand, no." He stops and draws a breath. "I'm merely trying to sort through a myriad of details and walking helps me think."
Benedict nods and turns back to Mandor. "What else is there?"
"How else has she advanced? Swordplay and the like."
"I don't know." Benedict gives Mandor a hard stare. "My house is not one of sword swingers, and I don't find the idea of someone I don't trust anyone getting close to her with something sharp and pointed. Call me paranoid." The veneer of Mandor's cool exterior has worn thin, showing his sarcastic underbelly a bit more clearly.
Benedict nods, then turns his attention back to Ryoden. "Give me your trump deck."
She purses her lips. "No."
Marrek blinks. /That's probably the first time anyone's said 'no' to him in millennia. I wonder how he'll take it./
Mandor shoots darts at Ryoden, but she ignores him, her eyes locked with Benedict's.
Benedict takes the rebuff stoically. "It wasn't a request"
She takes out the deck and holds it tight. "You can't keep it."
He considers her for a moment, then takes something off of his hand.
Marrek notes a single red gem, large and from what he can see, flawless, set in silver... or perhaps platinum? This is Benedict. Platinum.
A wordless exchange ensues, where Marrek assumes they come to some sort of agreement, her taking the ring and looking at it, he taking the deck.
Benedict takes a moment to shuffle through it.
Marrek watches the exchange in silence, cataloguing the bribery for later use. Should probably come in handy almost immediately...
Benedict shuffles out cards periodically. At the end of his search, he has two piles. Marrek notes one of the piles seems to be a normal set, with the usual set of Chaos cards-- house heads, family, the usual. The other...
The other bears the Unicorn on each of the backs.
Benedict holds up the Unicorn deck and counts it. "Where did you get these?"
Ryoden lifts her eyes from the ring. "I found them."
Marrek starts in surprise, throwing a look Mandor's way. He'd been assuming that she'd made them herself, copying those from Merlin's deck.
"Where did you find them?"
Mandor looks just as surprised. Benedict keeps his eyes on Ryoden.
"This is an original Trump deck, from Dworkin's hand. Where did you find it?"
Another silent exchange, and Marrek can suddenly see the family resemblance. She can reign in that mouth of hers at the damnedest times.
She doesn't betray any emotion while answering. "The Rim."
Mandor goes to say something, but decided at the last moment to cover it by conjuring a brandy, which he looks like he needs. Badly.
Marrek's blood runs cold as the import of Ryoden's words strikes him. His minds eye envisions a brutal confrontation at the edge of the Abyss, two figures grappling; an arrow shot sure and true; two figures plummeting down into the void.
Could those be...?
Benedict nods, as if it was an answer he had been expecting. He takes one last look at the Dworkin deck, then adds it back to hers and hands it to her.
"It's appropriate you have one of the family. Guard it well." She hands him back his ring, a bit reluctantly it would seem. "Will you see the Pattern, later?" His tone has become a bit more gentle.
Mandor shakes his head. "Absolutely not. She can't take the pattern."
"Her brother did."
Mandor smiles a bit. "Her brother also has pattern in his blood. We know a bit more about the breeding of partial Amberites, and we have found around her generation, the chances of having pattern become less and less. She was born without." Benedict nods.
"How many of Chaos's citizens have mixed blood?" Mandor chuckles.
"Your line doesn't spread that far. Most of them seemed a bit ambitious, and that's not a recipe for longevity. As it stands, Dara and her progeny are all that are left."
Marrek watches the ring change hands yet again, keeping his face carefully neutral. If only it didn't belong to Benedict. But then, that added to the value of the trinket exponentially, didn't it?
Shaking himself, Marrek turns to Benedict. "Even so, how many even half-Chaosites would want to risk complete--and messy--obliteration in that fashion?" He shivers. "I know I wouldn't."
Benedict shrugs "Those with enough desire for power or knowledge." Benedict dons the ring again, studying it for a moment.
Ryoden counts her cards carefully, nodding finally, then replacing them. She studies Benedict warily, and he looks thoughtful.
"I thought you said she was trusting." Mandor shrugs.
"She also normally talks a mile a minute. She's a child, and they have their moods."
Benedict watches her a moment more, then stands and goes to leave. As he passes by her chair, he briefly touches her shoulder. "Welcome to the family," he says, then exits.
Mandor lets out a sigh as the door closes. "Family is a mixed blessing, and I think today I found the lesser part of the mixture."
He looks at Ryoden. "And why in the world were you so petulant? Do you want to be skewered before you reach your next birthday?"
Marrek assumes a crocked grin. "Our last meeting wasn't as cordial as this one," he tells Mandor by way of explanation.
Mandor's expression remains serious. "Ryoden, not only is he the eldest of the Amber Royal family, and not only is he your ancestor, but he's also not a man I'd think suffers fools gladly. You should watch your step around him more. He's about the only thing guaranteeing your safety right now."
Ryoden glares back. "He's done questioning me. Can I go now?" Mandor sighs and nods. She takes out her deck and finds a Trump, concentrates, and steps out without a word.
Mandor looks at the chair she was occupying. "This is why I don't have children."
"Amen," Marrek agrees fervently.
Summoning a glass of chilled wine to his hand, he assumes a thoughtful expression and starts ticking items off on his empty hand. "One, we have the intruder in Chaos. Two, we have the meagre-- if any--evidence of the explosions in your ways. Three, we have our mysterious nocturnal visitor here in Amber. Four, we have Ryoden's picture of the visitor, which no one seems to recognize. Five, we have a concealed tunnel (one of many) leading from Brand's quarters to the ocean, with an off shooting tunnel to the pattern itself--for obvious reasons, really." Marrek takes a sip of his wine. "Not really much to go on, is it?"
Mandor laughs drily. "To a passing observer, I'm sure it's quite interesting. I think we've been caught up in a comedy of errors." He sips his wine. "One thing you forgot-- we just learned a few facts about my sister I have to admit I didn't know. Those cards, who I'd hate to speculate on the ownership of... Her subterfuge is getting better."
/Who needs speculation? Amber luck running the way it does.../
Marrek drains his glass and sets it on an end table (from which is slowly fades from existence). "I'd be tempted to pick her up by the ankles and shake her to see what other secrets she's been hiding--if I didn't think she'd turn me into a frog."
Marrek sits back in his seat. "You know," he says, "she going to be absolutely impossible for a while, right?" He grimaces. "
Mandor nods. "Oh, yes. I've seen her tantrums before, and they're not pretty. Broken things, nasty spells, a lot of sulking and dangerous forms. You and I, and the Prince Benedict, are not her favourite people right now." He takes a sip of his drink.
"Which reminds me. I have to be getting back to Chaos now."
Marrek smirks knowingly. "Your timing, as ever, is impeccable." Marrek stands to see his brother off. "I'll be in touch. Let me know if you turn up anything on your end."
"Indeed," he replies. He clasps him on the shoulder. "Sleep lightly, brother." With a mysterious smile and a nod, he takes out a trump and steps out.
"Count on it, brother," Marrek replies grimly to his brother's fading form.
Taking a seat, Marrek sets to work. Concentrating, he brings forth the image of a bird. Holding his hands out before him, one cupped over and around the other, he shapes some of the reality around him until a bright blue jay flutters to life. Holding it up to his ears, he whispers the words, "Seek and report."