Marching into Ericalunde


Being aware of Eric's personal convictions, Uriel circulates among the men as they march to make it just that much harder to blast the troops without killing off the blood relation and to help keep their spirits up and their fears tossed to the wind. The men appreciate this, but he can already tell that they're a little concerned.. The air begins to cool.. They march on...and sing.

To the heart of darkness

We bring our golden flames

None shall dare to face us

They tremble at our names

Our footfalls are the thunder

Our swords the flashing light

We'll tear the dark asunder

Bring dawn to end the night

With our fire we will cleanse

The evil from this place

The fighting never ends

Different land, same old face

Come out, Eric the Yellow

It's time to pay what's due

You cowardly fellow

Today we've come for you...

"Nice song," comments a man on a horse at your side.

He is blonde, clad in a suit of shining brass plate, and sports a pair of seven feet long angelic wings. He's wearing a pair of dark RayBans. He wasn't there a moment before.

Uriel looks over to him, the surprise on his face masked by the golden face with diamond tears of his helmet. He recovers quickly though. "Thank you" he says. "I believe in song."

"It's one of the better things to believe in, you know," he replies. "Himself has always been keen on choirs singing praises to Him." Uriel can practically hear the capitals in his voice.

"I'm familiar with the faith" Uriel replies.

He nods. "That's good."

He holds his bridles loosely in his hands, and seems to be calculating something. "Twenty seconds, hundred thirty yards..incoming." Having said this, he scratches his neck and continues to ride along.

"Uriel," he continues, conversationally, "Eric's orbiting platforms will take another thirty minutes or so to calibrate themselves properly. Once they do, they will take hour to completely demolish your forces. You are at least five hours from the woods, and perhaps a day to Eric's last known position outside the woods. I'm telling you this because I don't particularly want to see you die, at least not until you get to the rewarding bits.."

As if on cue, twenty seconds after he called the range, a meteor does strike about one hundred and thirty yards to their left and slightly behind them.

"Cool," mumbles the angel. "I'm getting better at this. Terry's scouts didn't should be seeing them soon..lasers got 'em, so there's not much left by now. Minuscules ate the scraps, I bet."

Uriel notes the location and attempts to make a guesstimate on the impending time that the weapons acquire their range, himself. His quick mental tumblings bring him to the same conclusion as the angel did. He turns to face a soldier.

"Take a team back from whence we came to relay intelligence of the orbital platforms effectivity limits. Where the so-called God-Creators fail, we succeed" he says. "Stop for nothing."

"YESSIR!" he barks.

The angel nods approvingly. The soldier offers the fist over heart salute and starts his way back, a few other soldiers follow. (and they probably look relieved)

"Their mothers thank you," he whispers. "But you forgot to tell them what they're supposed to say." He concentrates on their backs, then smiles. "There. All better. They will report that the platforms will establish range in one hour, that they are less than effective versus aerial targets and loosely massed forces, and that you are leading the men with honour and rare vision. Oh, and that you've had no help. 'Sfair to say they can't see me, but I thought I'd let you know that."

"Well, that's very nice of you to be looking out for me" Uriel answers, matching his conversational tone, looking at the angel at the corner of his vision. "However, I am left to wonder what master you serve. You are not one of my Guardians. And how you have managed to survive the storm of fire and ice... and why we wouldn't be able to use the same method."

"Think about that one, ace."Seamus responds

Uriel smiles beneath his mask. He's already thought up a half dozen reasonable explanations and loyalties which he finds believable. But he also has a well known soft spot...

Seamus continues "Cherubim do the guarding. Me, I'm a Mercurian, so I get to try and figure out how to get humans like you," he nods your way, "out of messes like *this*," he nods towards the sky, "and closer to some sort of more appropriate solution, if you get my drift. My guy is Michael, which is why I draw the war duty. Name's Seamus, and if you're nice, I'll tell you what my Word is."

The angel flexes his wings. "Can't fix on fast moving targets, or drop something on targets that can move in three-space. You're trapped in two-space, which means you're meat. Me, I'm safe for the next hour like this, then the odds drop."

Uriel nods, images of various airborne options going through his mind. They ride in silence for a few moments. Seamus laughs, and some light emerges from behind his glasses.

"The way I see it, buddy, this isn't a fight that's going to be won with magicks, or swords, or rocks. Eric's got help, he's got a plan, and none of your crowd seem to be trying to figure any of it out. There are players here who are sitting on the sidelines, and no-one has asked why they're there. All you really have to do is start asking questions, and it'll all fall into place."

Seamus takes out a silvered flask and takes a drag, then offers it to Uriel who declines. "Not unless there's enough for all."

"Of course there's enough. Its a little mod on the loaves and fishes schtick that I've been working on," he says, tossing it to you.

"Good thing Eric's an apostate, and you've got inside help, or Michael wouldn't have given two hoots about this whole mess. As it is, we're in play, so let's make the best of it. Whaddya think?"

"I'm not interested in just winning" Uriel answers. "I want to show him how far I'm willing to go to bloody his nose for my men he tortured without just cause and for betraying the love and trust of my wife. And I'm proving to everyone what a coward he is...hiding from a whelp like me calling him out while stomping about in his own home."

He glances back and a flash of anger can be seen in his eyes through the slits. "And to show them all where true power lies." He pounds his silver chain covered fist over the golden plate at his heart with a sharp chingk sound.

"True power? Why would you care about what Eric thinks, or think that he cares what other people think of him? Let's think this through. He's been pulling some pretty outrageous crap for a long, long time. He's been doing blood rituals," Seamus says, making a face of disgust, "for Cornelius-knows how long, and has sunk all that juice into this place, on top of the other jinks he's got going. He's let the walls down, and is practically goading you kids into taking a whack at him. You may have noticed not one of his elder brothers or sisters is raising a finger to help. This place wasn't made to keep out the younger set, it was made to keep Brand and Corwin out. That's more than enough to stop you. Even without his new ally."

"It was also made to keep something in, but that's another story, and mostly why I'm here. If I were in your shoes, I'd figure out what sort of practical result you can expect, and find out a way to get it without joining the Glorious Dead for no good reason. Dead is no fun, believe me. Lots of waiting around and reading old magazines."

"Ah" Uriel responds quietly and stops to turn to his men. "Calculations indicate that their indirect fire will acquire our range in just under thirty minutes. Afterwards, even scattering tactics will only delay our total destruction for no more than an hour. We're five hours to the nearest wood where I suspect Prince Julian awaits to entrap any who enter and at least a day to the last known location of Eric the Yellow" he says, his voice crisp and clear.

Seamus lets one of his wings creep forward, and he picks out one long feather.

Uriel draws his sword, holds it up high for all to see and then drives it halfway into the ground. "No man has marched beyond this point in these conditions and lived to tell the tale. Few had the courage to enter, fewer had the wisdom to see when an effort would be fruitless. You, my men, are not expendable pawns to be thrown away to satisfy my ego. To move forward is almost certainly suicide."

Seamus runs the feather between his fingers, drawing it into a pointed flight.

Uriel continues. "Break into threes and scatter, make your way back to the exterior of this place. Cheer as you exit so that all shall know we entered and challenged, we were left unanswered and therefore emerge victorious. The first foreign forces to march into Ericalunde and the exit to make such a claim. Hurry, our time runs short..."

Uriel then turns back to Seamus. "Can you carry me aloft to the heart of this place? Or to a place of superior advantage?"

Seamus hands Uriel the feather. "Hold this, and imagine yourself flying. It should work as long as you remain pure of intent. Consider it a test, Uriel, which Janus, Yves, Laurence and Michel himself will be watching. If your namesake had not been summoned to the Higher Planes, I'm sure he'd be watching too, but as it is we have no way of knowing."

He takes off his glasses, and Uriel sees that his eyes are sightless. "Diplomacy should be blind to appearances, and so I am reliant on the substance of things, not their seemings. You seem to be made of the right stuff, kid, just don't get too hung up on winning. Eric has made a poor choice of allies. Understanding this, you'll be better positioned to defeat him in the long run. But in the short run, I'm sorry to say going mano e mano with him will get you the same sort of treatment Piers has gotten...poor guy."

Clutching the feather, Uriel feels lighter, somehow, with a strange energy surging through him.. "Watch out for the wraiths..they're Baal's boys, through and through." Seamus isn't there anymore.



"Of course I'll take care of him for you." Cat rises from her desk and Ossian passes Nicolo through the Trump connection and breaks it off. Cat sets the wounded Nicolo down on the bed and lays a hand on his head. "Sleep," she tells him, backing it up with a spell.

"Sleep is for the dead, cutes," Nicolo says softly. "We've got work to do."

"Oh really. What work would that be?" Cat asks suspiciously, trying to pull away.

He just smiles and winks at Cat. She feels a wave of..something..washing over her. As it does, she is aware that soothing her mind, making her more agreeable. Cat fights it as best she can but feels as if something is forcing it's way into her mind, a calm, patient and reasonable presence that reduces her desire to fight to nil. She finds herself standing still, swaying slightly from side to side.

Cat stops trying to fight the presence and concentrates on keeping a corner of her awareness for her own, so that she will retain the knowledge of what happens even if she is told to forget. She has no problem doing this and has the strangest feeling that it was designed to work that way. Nicolo appraises his work and hops up, all signs of his tears gone.

"There. Isn't that better. Now, let's leave the right fingerprints here before we run off.."

Nicolo seems to concentrate for a second or two, and Cat gets the clear and present sense of a Logrus connection being formed. The room is transformed, slowly, before her eyes, as if a veil were being drawn across it. Cat shivers. She does not feel comfortable with Logrus at the best of times and this is definitely not the best of times. Nicolo notes her shiver, but says nothing. The room is filled with the signs of conflict and a battle. Blood appears on the walls, splattered and smeared, and torn articles of Cat's and Nicolo's clothing lay scattered. On the floor she sees a playing card with the Queen of Diamonds on one side, and the standard of two crossed sabres with the other.

"This should keep them guessing for a while," Nicolo mutters, rubbing the back of his neck. From where Cat stands she can see the edges of the wound closing. "OK. Let's go, babe. We got an appointment to keep."

He takes her hand and concentrates on a Trump. Cat notices that the Trump is an image of a massive keep, the sky above it traced with racing clouds of crimson and sable. As she examines it with Nicolo, she hears him mutter, "Come on.. come on.."

A few seconds pass.. Then the clouds begin to take shape..Then she sees them moving.. And she finds herself standing on the ramparts of the keep, looking out on a flat, blasted plain of low scrub. The air smells of ozone Standing nearby is the figure of a man, back to her, leaning forward on a section of curtain wall. He looks out over the plain, the skirts of his red robe flapping in the slow breeze.

Nicolo shakes his hand suddenly, dropping the Trump which burns as it falls to the ground, vanishing in a small cloud of flaming ash. "Jesus, you didn't have to make it self-destruct like that, did you," he growls.

"Do not take the Lord's name in vain, Nicolo Borgia," says the man in a calm, modulated voice. He turns, and Cat sees that it is Paolo. A gold cross is slung around his neck and tucked between the third and fourth buttons on the front of his robe. Underneath she sees the hint of chainmail, and his hands are gauntleted. Other than that he seems relaxed.

"Welcome to the Esqueline Redoubt, Cat," Paolo says, bowing slightly. "Your presence here is most..essential. Come, let us go inside and await our other guests."

"If it is so essential, why could you not just ask for it? Or was the playacting all Nicolo's idea?" she asks acidly.

With a sober look, he fingers his cross absently. "No, Nicolo was working under orders. But he has always chosen a certain carrying out orders, you see."

"Hey, don't bitch at me, padron," Nicolo growls. "You give me a job, I do it."

Ignoring Nicolo, Paolo continues. "I am afraid that I was not confident of your response, and could not risk your disagreement. I am sure that when all is done, you will understand my motivations for your involvement in this..delicate affair, and the value of your being kept unawares until the time was right. of the utmost importance."

Cat raises a quizzical eyebrow. "Kidnapping me is supposed to keep me impartial, is it? I'm not sure I follow your logic, Don Paolo." There is the slightest hesitation before she speaks the title which shows she has deliberately not used an ecclesiastical one.

"That is well..princess." There is the slightest hesitation before he speaks the title as well. "Look, listen, and learn. You will have choices to make."

"And to refuse to choose is in itself a choice, which means I have no choice but to do as you say or be lost before I begin," she notes ironically. "Bravo, Don Paolo."

He bows, slightly, and presses his hand to his chest. "We all make choices. Rarely do we have the luxury of anticipating them so clearly."

"So I am privileged, then," she says dryly.

"In many ways, some yet unknown," Paolo replies.

Nicolo takes Cat by the arm, not terribly gently, and leads her forward. The two of them follow Paolo.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, stop manhandling me. Where the hell do you think I'm going to run to?" she asks irritably.

Nicolo chuckles darkly, but does not release his hold. "I always thought you were a cute one..too bad I don't go in for the sort of cousin-grabbing that old dead Andy did.."

"For which I am devoutly grateful, I assure you," she flashes back tartly. "It may be your one redeeming feature."

"Aww..don't be that way toots. It's not as if you'd even have to do anything.."

"Nicolo, that will be enough," calls Paolo from ahead. "She is a guest. You will treat her with respect."

"Sure, sure." Nicolo lets her arm go, and raises his hands in a gesture of placation. "Don't blame me when that geas of yours fails and she takes a dive."

Nicolo falls in step behind Cat, and Paolo stops and looks back. "Come, walk with me, young Cat. I anticipate the potency of the geas to diminish by the time we have entered the Redoubt proper. You must be of clear mind and clearer resolve by then."

Cat quickens her pace to catch up with Paolo. "You speak in riddles, Don Paolo, as if you have some sort of test for me. Is that so?"

"A test..perhaps you might consider it a test. You are..different, princess. That difference qualifies you for unique responsibilities. I merely wish to learn if you are ready for them."

Paolo looks up at the sky as he walks with her. "This is a most beautiful place. It is ironic that such beauty will be the backdrop for a prison..but perhaps that will be the most bitter irony of all, si?"

Cat looks around her. "I am not sure that everyone would agree with you as to the beauty of the place. Certainly it seems desolate enough for a prison. I do not suppose you are going to enlighten me as to whom you intend to imprison here." She keeps her tone neutral.

"Everything in its time, princess. Everything. But you should look beyond appearances, to see the heart of things, of people. That which seems most obvious is often the least telling.."

Using Pattern sight, Cat realises that this place is incredibly charged with Pattern energy, as if the essence of many Pattern-ley lines converge here from places where the Patterns live..Parys, Amber, and beyond. Yet all the lines seem to converge in an ordered manner, as if they have been ordered by a separate hand to act in accordance with some plan. The vision is both lovely, and startling. Cat stops dead for a few moments, absorbing the nature of the place and trying to understand how it has been achieved. "Fascinating," she murmurs.

Looking more carefully she realises that this is a Pattern intersection point, where the energy vectors of Pattern meet..much like the Keep of the Four Worlds, this is a place of potent power. The subtle changes that have been made are evident to her through her enhanced Pattern vision. Like water, flowing visibly, emitting cold and heat, yet shielded through a piping that transmits effect, while preventing access to the source. Like bars of iron that combine to produce an effect.

" you see. Very good," says Paolo softly. "I have ordered this place.. this.. intersection.. to serve its role. It is the amber that will hold an Amberite.." He pauses. "..if you so order."

Cat looks at him, her face showing shock. "You plan to make me a judge?" she asks bluntly. "Why? There are already others who claim that title."

"We are what we are. you have made apparent to not make the man, or woman. It is our inner selves that gives us form, and decides our proper function. You are..uniquely qualified."

They proceed into the keep, and down many stairs and turns. Through sealed doors, through tall corridors of sweating rock and puddles of moisture, she finds herself ushered into a small salon. In it are four chairs. Nicolo leaves with one last lingering look, and shuts the door behind Cat and Paolo.

Without appearing exactly at ease, Cat is clearly less uncomfortable once Nicolo has departed. So is Paolo. His tone changes as he speaks. "Bene. Now, princess, would you care to refresh yourself? It may be a little time before our other guests arrive, and there is no reason why you should not make yourself comfortable. Some Chianti, si? Mangiama, if you like. I prepared the polenta myself, earlier today. Details are important to me," he says, pouring himself some wine.

Cat permits herself a brief smile. "Chianti, certainly. And since you have gone to the trouble of preparing a meal, far be it from me to be so churlish as to refuse it."

"That pleases me, princess. Truly, I do not wish to make an enemy of you...I hope that you will appreciate the merit of my actions when our other guests arrive. You will be protected, of course, and absolved of your role. In fact, the means of your delivery here is more for your protection than your detriment.."

"So that I cannot be thought to have been complicit in your plan, do you mean?"

"Correct. Nicolo brings many assets to the table, but one of them is not the power of subterfuge. His obvious seizure of you works to your advantage."

"I doubt that he intended to do me a good turn, however," she remarks acidly.

Paolo swirls his glass of wine as he holds her eyes, then looks down briefly as he takes a slight sip. "Nicolo lacks..refinement. It is an unfortunate trait of the Borgias."


Flying into battle

Uriel lifts off his horse effortlessly. He feels thrilled about the sensation and compares it poorly to the weightless feeling of the sensory deprivation tank he uses moreso than zero gravity... it's definitely rich with sensation, a combination of electric and elation. Raising up, he begins to feel the coolness of the air across his face, the freedom of flight, and the features of the land begin to resolve. Where ice has formed craters, where lasers have burnt patches of land, from this height the land seems covered with the sightless faces of screaming skulls. And the land itself seems to be beginning to seethe, as if something is rising out from underneath it. There is a flash of lightning across the sky, but no thunder. He sees, far, far away, the band of a forest.

Beyond the forest, the horizon is blood red. But at the outer edge of the forest, he sees a patch of land that seems whole, unaffected by whatever plagues this place. An island, of sorts, in a sea of corruption. A whiff of Pattern, of something stronger. And around him, misting in the air, barely visible, he sees the gathered hosts of winged angels, bearing naked swords in their hands, each looking down at the ground with looks of revulsion and resolve. One nearby nods at him.

"Blood to blood, you have repented and are made whole," the angel says soberly.

It adds up to four, Uriel muses. There are no 'evil' Creators that he is aware of and surely none of them would be fool enough to fall for the temptations of the devil. However, what better temptation for good men than the chance to stamp out a great evil? The kidnappings, the across the board proclamations and constant threats - Eric was perfect in his role as bait for his own trap. Who can stand up to Eric but other elders and Creators? And who is kept out? Only the elder creators who actually might stand a chance of winning. Leaving only our weaker Creator allies as our best and, perhaps, only weapon...and they are exactly the prey he was waiting for. We were blinded by righteousness and our sense of justice when we should have been guided by it... "You are the first to fathom this. Congratulations," the angel answers Uriel's thoughts.

Uriel strains his eyes to see farther and more clearly than he actually can, looking down at the calm patch below. Perhaps there is still time to stop Eric from getting what he wants.

"Is that where Piers lies broken?" he asks the nearer angel. "I was told of a duel."

"Yes, a duel," says the angel in a voice of bells and iron. "He is not broken. He has an ally who seems an enemy. He has a fate that seems a destiny. And he has pride that seems to be devotion. Break him of these and he will be made whole. Fly, Mercurian, and seek the Kyroiate."

Uriel turns his attention to the clearing, and as he flies towards it he notices that the angels begin to dive from the sky, hurtling towards a host of dirt covered armoured creatures struggling to free themselves from the ground in which they lay buried.

Drawing closer to the clearing, he sees the following: Two men duelling, who resolve themselves into Eric and Piers... Caine at a table, next to him another man... far away, but approaching fast, another man... and nearby, men struggling with more of these armoured creatures who are climbing from the earth

The man next to Caine appears, on closer inspection, in a 19th-century French officer's uniform with a beret rather than the gigantic shako-like hat. He has a gaudy longsword in an equally gaudy scabbard at his side. He is remarkably pale. Uriel knows him - Mordred.

As Caine steps towards Piers and Eric, he turns to this man and growls, "Back off, kid. I told you to wait." A quick breeze of fresh wind passes over Piers' face, and Eric looks up. "Damn," he says.

"Indeed," rumbles a new voice, that of the figure that had been distant a moment or so ago, and which is now right next to Piers and Eric. It is a humanoid figure, dressed in a three-piece suit of ebony sharkskin. A red rose alights its lapel, and matches the colour of its head, curved horns at its temples, and highlights neatly the burning ebony holes that are its eyes. Then, as the horned creature speaks to Eric and Eric grapples with Piers, Caine shouts, "OK, we're done here. Eric, let Piers go."

The horned creature looks mildly amused as Eric growls, "We're hardly done. Are we, Piers.." Eric's hand tightens on Piers' wrist, and the pulsing stiletto begins to throb more intently..

Everything is happening in real-time. All around this scene, creatures are rising out of the earth - rust armoured figures, their faces obscured by glass faceplates, bearing iron rods pitted with rust. Nearby soldiers are engaging them in a frantic hand to hand battle that rings in the fields. The air is growing progressively hotter. The sky seems mottled, shot thorough with light and shadow. Looking up into the air, the horned creature strokes it's chin. He seems to be watching something.

"Hmm. This is a novel development." Then he casts a glance at the man in the uniform. "Kyroiate, leave this place. You are in no position to work your feits here," he says in a sonorous voice.

Caine stands stock still, watching the scene. The man in the uniform strikes out at one of the creatures struggling from the ground with the pommel of his sword, fracturing it's faceplate. With a sizzling crackle, a green gas pours out of the helm, and the viscous, semi-gaseous form of a shrouded wraith-like creature pours forth. "My containment..." it shrieks. The uniformed man reels back as if struck by a strong electric shock, and the rusted suit of armour sags to the ground. But on all sides, hundreds upon hundreds of these creatures pull themselves from the grips of the ground, casting off dirt, lurching to their feet. The soldiers who were struggling with them are overwhelmed, vanishing under their collective mass in muffled screams and muted wet crunching sounds.

Around Eric, Caine, Piers, the uniformed man, and the horned creature, very few seem to be emerging, as if the nearby area were somehow protected. The air is becoming oppressively hot, with only the merest of cool breezes.

Many things seem to happen at once. Uriel descends from the sky in a streak of light, striking Eric and Piers with full force. The two men fall apart. Caine rushes to Eric's side. There is a nimbus of light around Uriel, and the faint outline of wings at his back.

Baal begins to laugh, hollowly. "Oh, well done. Very nicely done." Mordred and Uriel seem to be both moving to Piers' side; Piers is groggy, but conscious.

"Time to go," cries Caine above the din of clanking armour. Eric nods. Baal steps next to the men and holds out his hands. In one is an orb of grey crystal that seems to throb with some sort of inner light. "Our contract is complete," says Baal in a voice thick with mockery. "Blood of creation for a creation of blood." Eric holds out the stiletto, and the two of them exchange the two objects simultaneously. "It has been good doing business with you, son of Oberon."

"Fuck off," spits Eric, wrapping his arms around the orb. Caine pulls at him. "We really have to go.." There is a note of urgency in his voice. From the ground nearby, something emerges. It appears as the folding petals of a large metal flower, shiny and very high-tech. Eric and Caine move through the crowds of rust armoured figures and are lost. There is the sound of an engine warming up.

Baal fingers the edge of the dagger and turns his attention to Piers, Mordred and Uriel. "Malakim, Offanim and utterly delicious." The air around him begins to crackle with electricity. And around them, the shuffling armoured creatures grow silent.

"Ahh..the gallant sons of Oberon make their escape..leaving you to pay the bill..." intones Baal. "Who will be first?"

Uriel glances to Mordred. "This isn't about you, anymore. Don't throw your life away" he says quietly. There is the briefest of pauses, and a slight nimbus of light flares around Uriel.

Mordred looks at Uriel, "You seem to understand better what's going on here. I'm going to take Piers, and then I'll be back. Trump me if you can." Mordred rushes up to grab Piers. Uriel steps aside and lets him take the fallen man. Then Mordred and Piers trump out in a flash of rainbow.


Back at the Redoubt

The meal is excellent, and Paolo makes a point to serve Cat first. But it is entirely contained in the room; no servants or others enter to disturb them. Across a glass of wine, Paolo says after a while, "Princess, we have had few occasions to discuss matters of import to us both. Is there some..insight..I could give you on affairs that you would find helpful? You have my complete and full attention, as you can see.."

Cat swirls the wine in her glass gently, watching the ruby sparkle in its depths for a short while before looking up. "You spoke earlier of my being 'uniquely qualified' for the role you plan for me? Could you explain that, please?"

"Certainly. You are the leader of the KBCF. You are the daughter of one of Amber's greatest diplomats. You are free from partisan wranglings in such affairs as Parys, Rolandae, Thelbane, and the current court in Amber. You have a reputation for honesty, forthrightness, and do not fashion yourself an ingenue. And you and I have never, ever been connected or associated in any way known or suggested. That alone may be the most significant asset you have, for my influence is more pervasive than has been suggested, making one unaffected by it singularly valid in the role that has been prepared."

"I have always tried to keep out of family politics, certainly," she says thoughtfully. "Though I am not sure how successful I have been, especially recently."

Paolo laughs, a wry sound. "Amberites may avoid politics with as much success as the bird may avoid the skies. Eventually, all nestlings fly."

"Are you about to push me out of the nest, then?" she asks quizzically.

"Are you prepared to fly?" he replies.

Cat considers for a moment. "I don't know," she says frankly.

"Then we shall find out, will we not. The time to fly has been long in coming, and is long overdue."

"Especially if she's talking to you, Don Paolo," says Mordred, suddenly appearing in the doorway. " No offence, Father, but if you're going to kidnap my lover, at least drop me a note."

Cat looks up in surprise at Mordred's sudden arrival. She smiles at him, her face showing both pleasure and anxiety, before looking worriedly at Paolo. Mordred smiles back, with a similar mixture of emotions. He mouths the words "I love you" to her and then glances back at Paolo.

She glows with pleasure at this and mouths back "love you, too", before composing herself and turning her attention back to Paolo.

Paolo makes a bit of a face. "I have no desire to know any more of your..relationship..than I already do, Mordred. But I am glad that you elected to come. It was, Princess," he says, turning to Cat and pouring her another portion of wine, "another sign of my good faith to you that I allowed come. Do understand.. he will not be a party to what will happen here, which has risks associated with it."

"Which are for me to take, because you think I am best equipped. Yes, I understand that," Cat replies steadily. She looks at Mordred. "I believe that Don Paolo does not mean me harm," she says, adding "Nevertheless, I'm glad you came. I think I may welcome the moral support."

Mordred says, "Inasmuch as I am a moral creature, I shall provide it." A giggle escapes Cat, but is quickly stifled.

Lifting his glass, Paolo lifts his head as he gazes dispassionately at Mordred. "Ora pro nobis deus vivum," he calls out in a steady voice. There is a thrum of energy in the room, as if a wave of energy passed through it. (Cat notices that the nature of the Pattern energy has shifted relative to the view she had before). "There," Paolo says, standing and drawing another chair to the table. "The feits are restored. Now we have but to wait for our last two guests. Mordred, I had prepared a meal sufficient for five. Refresh yourself, if you wish. You see that I intend the princess no harm. Following your meal, I would ask that you leave. For your safety."

Mordred sits down. "And what would be providing this danger, Father? Yourself? An external force? Too much wine?" Cat waits interestedly for Paolo's reply.

Paolo looks into his wine. "There is really only one sort of danger worth worry. That of family. Especially.. close family." Cat makes a wry grimace of assent.

As he says this.. The door opens, and there is the creaking sound of two sets of rust-encrusted armour moving into the room. The figures are unarmed, and pause at the threshold, scanning the room. "If you wished to leave, Mordred, do so now," whispers Paolo in an urgent tone, not taking his eyes from the door. "It will be your last chance."

Cat looks at Mordred, fear for his safety and desire for his support equally clearly written on her face. For a moment she seems about to speak, then she turns her attention back to the figures at the door, leaving the decision to go or stay to him. Mordred does not look impressed. "I shall leave only if Cat desires it. I promise I will not... interfere with anything that goes on, so long as Cat agrees to it beforehand." Cat flashes him a grateful smile and gives his hand a swift squeeze before turning the whole of her attention to the figures.

"..ISN'T THAT JUST THE BIGGEST LOAD OF CRAP YOU'VE EVER HEARD.." crackles a processed-sounding voice from the armoured creature on the left. With this they both enter the room. The door shuts behind them. They reach up and press their hands to the sides of their helmets, and rotate some flange slightly. With a hiss, they lift their helmets. "Hi, son," says Eric with a smile. Caine just winks at Cat. "And a hello to the lovely lady."

She inclines her head to them. "Uncle Caine, Uncle Eric."

Paolo draws a packet of cigarettes from a fold in his sleeves and begins to tap out one. "Don't mind if I do.." says Eric, reaching out his hand. "That damned helmet smells like naphtha." After a slight pause, Paolo holds out the packet, and Eric manages to extract one from it with his armoured hand. He presses the end to his chest, and it begins to smoulder. "These things really do kick off some BTUs..gimme a minute to shut it down," mumbles Eric through his cigarette. Caine, meanwhile, has been extracting himself from his armour to the side.

Mordred just watches. He pulls a cigar from inside his coat, lights it with a mirrored Zippo from the same source, and shakes his head. "Interesting," is all he says.

Not taking her eyes from Caine and Eric, Cat holds out an imperative hand to Paolo for a cigarette. When she has it, she leans back so Mordred can give her a light. She inhales deeply, blows a leisurely stream of smoke and then says. "So, now we are all here, Don Paolo, you can tell me what all this is about."

"Of course."

Caine finally takes off the last of his armour; Eric manages to untangle himself, then as he kicks away the pitted breastplate, he pulls a small glass orb from a pouch and holds it lightly in his palm. Caine leans against the door, his arms folded. Cat continues to watch the three of them, smoking silently, waiting for Paolo's promised answer. She looks, if not exactly relaxed, reasonably tranquil.

"Nicely done, kid. Nicely," grunts Eric brusquely, the cigarette in his lips, twitching up and down with his words. "Thanks for setting this up."

"Not at all," replies Paolo, slowly. "But I should answer the princess's question. What this is your trial, father. I intend to see judgement passed on you, now, and the sentence carried out."

Eric says nothing, then begins to laugh.

"No kidding," says Caine, inspecting his fingernails. "Sorry, Eric. I made a deal."

Cat gives him a sharp look, eyes narrowed, then turns her attention back to Eric and Paolo. Still laughing, Eric sits down, and pours himself a portion of wine, letting the liquid spill over the rim of his glass as he pours. "And who will judge me..these.. children?"

Cat tenses a little, as if she knows, or guesses, what is coming. Paolo taps off an ash, and holds up the burning end before his eyes, inspecting it. "The princess will judge you."

Cat lets out the breath she had not realised she was holding. "So my task is stated clearly at last. If I am to judge, who will present the cases for the prosecution and defence?" She draws again on her cigarette as she waits for an answer.

"There is no prosecution or defence. You are the daughter of the King. A late King, but empowered in my eyes by virtue of your birth and character.. and by my association with your judge."

She bows her head, accepting his assessment. She looks at Eric for any signs of dissent. Eric burps, and looks at the glass of wine. "Same crappy old I-talian reds, Paolo. Your taste is truly broken."

Ignoring his remark, Paolo continues. "For you see, this will end it. Only those in this room will know of how the result was reached. If you find Eric innocent..he can leave. If you find him guilty..he will stay. At your call, all is resolved. You are..and have always been..a separate party, unencumbered by these events. In arranging for this..meeting..I complete my oath. To bring Eric to justice."

"Ah, yes. But your oath spoke of two people you held responsible for those crimes. Only one of them is here. What of the lady Dara?"

Mordred leans forward at this point, cigar in mouth

Paolo answers. "One at a time, princess. I will deal with her..separately."

"Good luck, kid," drawls Eric, leaning back in his seat and crossing his legs before him. "She's more than you can handle even on your best day."

Mordred nods and says. "If only my follow-through were better..." Cat gives him a wry, worried look

"Come on, kid," grunts Caine. "Up or down. I gotta go pick up someone up."

Paolo shoots a look of cold venom at Caine. "You understood the conditions, Caine. Be still." He turns to Cat and nods to her. "The time has come to fly."

"Indeed. And you have chosen a lofty nest to push me out of," she retorts dryly. Only a slight tremor in the smoke rising from her cigarette shows that her hands are trembling. As if noticing this she takes another drag at it, then puts it in an ashtray. Mordred puts his hand on her shoulder and nods at her. Eric just lounges in his chair, puffing away. Cat looks at him dispassionately for a few moments. When she speaks her tone is more conversational than judicial.

"There is no doubt that you have been guilty of many crimes against Creation. I have spent enough time myself trying to mitigate the worst consequences of your actions to know that. Therefore I must find you guilty. But.." and here she turns to Paolo "others of the family have been guilty of similar crimes. I therefore return to you the question of whether it is just to imprison one man alone for crimes which have been committed by many."

"Your question is accepted, and in that justice does not rest, those will be judged as well. But for today..we are resolved."

Mordred looks at Paolo. "Mark me as interested in those... others, Paolo. Because Cat's concern mirrors my own."

Eric looks around, a little smile on his lips. "Well, that was a hoot." He continues to sip his wine.


A deal with the Devil?

When Piers and Mordred trump out, Baal lets them go. After they leave, Baal thrusts his bastardsword into the ground and gently peels off his wireframed glasses, and carefully begins to clean them with a red silk kerchief he draws from his breast pocket.

"Now, Uriel, let us resolve this in a more sensible manner," he says as he holds up his glasses to the sky and squints through them. The armoured figures begin to wail, and all of them start to run away from Uriel. There is a rush of cool wind as they put some distance between him and them.

"I have what I came for, Eric got his Undershadow trinket, and this sad planet will tear itself asunder. The stage will empty of players, who will slump home and await tomorrow's drama. You," he nods towards Uriel, "will do noble deeds. I will explore ways to undo them. In other words, all is right with the Universe, the Dance Eternal continues as scheduled by the Divine."

He replaces his glasses and smiles benignly at Uriel. "It may comfort you to know that the Divine lives, in the guise of a small boy. He does tend to enter His world that know him as Constantine, but his true name is Oberon. Eric knows this and seeks to use his new tool to do Him harm. Any other remaining fragments He left are useless now. Consider this knowledge fair trade for your fine efforts," he smiles.

"I defy everything you stand for!" Uriel shouts and charges Baal, half wishing he hadn't used his own sword as a marker for how far his loyal soldiers had marched earlier. "Defend yourself!" As Uriel charges he discovers a silver blade of light extends from his hand, surrounded in the same nimbus that once shrouded him.

Baal's hand is to his sword and he deflects the charging attack with ease. "You people always say the same thing. Heaven must truly forbid original dialog" Baal says, sounding bored.

He is a formidable foe, Uriel decides....but not unbeatable. And he is not fighting for a quick victory. Perhaps a delaying tactic. Uriel throws some probing attacks to better gauge things. With the world ready to erupt around him he'll have to finish this quickly.

"They say there can be no good without evil. No light without dark" Uriel says through clenched teeth, his words punctuated by the clashing of their weapons.

"But they also say that evil always wins because good is dumb," laughs Baal. "Let us be reasonable, angel. You are no match for me."

"I'm willing to find out if that's true. While the others may battle for their facades of reality, I strive for something greater" he says, perhaps more for himself, as Baal is subjected to a very textbook series of attacks, dangerous, but easily parried.

He responds in a textbook manner to the attacks, and begins to call out the fencing names of your attacks. "Riposte, parry en sixte, parry en octo.."

"And I will not be judged until it is my time to be" Uriel says, attempting his strongest beat against Baal's blade.

Baal responds. "And who decided when your time is come? Perhaps Kelric decided to kill his alter-ego, Cedric, so he should decide your time as well."

"Now who's asking the dumb questions..." Uriel utters. His objective is to open up Baal's defences enough, not for a sword strike, but for Uriel to get his hands on him and turn it into a grappling match... he's going for the stiletto, of course... With this goal, and as bored as he seems, he does manage to turn the battle into a strength match.. ..he grapples with Baal....and finds himself in the strong grasp of something that curdles his blood.. ..all around even more of the armoured creatures topple..none seem to be standing....the air is so oppressively hot....the ground begins to move, to lurch....vents of steam, followed by fountains of magma, pour forth from the ground with thunderclaps.. ..and Uriel grabs the stiletto....but in doing so opens himself up to a crushing embrace by Baal..

"Such effort, for so little a prize," he whispers into Uriel's ear, his breath cloyingly sweet. "Eric has a worthless bauble, you seek worthless blood, and I destroy both of you." ..the breath is slowly being squeezed out of Uriel, and motes of light begin to dance before his eyes.. Uriel grunts, keeping his teeth clenched and his eyes squinty. He focuses some attention on expanding his torso's musculature to help reduce the crushing on his insides. He attempts to plant a foot between Baal's legs to gain leverage enough to start kicking him properly, and begin headbutting him across the bridge of the nose. All he needs is to distract Baal a little so he can simply relax his muscles and slip down and out of his grasp. If he can kick Baal's footing out while he's at it, all the better.

The manoeuvre takes the demon by surprise - surprise which is augmented by the very ground under their feet heaving suddenly. Baal begins to topple backward as Uriel butts him across his nose and slips a foot under him to assist in his fall. Momentarily stunned, he releases Uriel and twists in the air as he falls to the ground. When he strikes the ground a great cry bursts forth from the face down demon - his arms shoot out as if he were suddenly pierced by an electric shock. To Uriel's sight, a light seems to be bursting forth from his center, sending coursing waves of white and blue arc light towards his extremities. This continues for ten whole seconds; gradually, his twitching limbs sag, and Uriel watches as his body collapses into ash, his clothes burning away in a wash of oily flame.

When a foetid wind comes to sweep the ash away, all that remains are a stiletto, its handle imbedded in the ground, its blade seething with a bright, Pattern-chased white flame. And a pair of glasses, wire-rimmed, one lens broken.

"I think you should go now," whispers a familiar voice.

Seamus steps around you and reaches down to pick up the stiletto. When he touches it all light in it fails.

"Your Trump communications will now function. It is only a matter of minutes before this planet explodes. Well done, angel of purity. God bless you," he says. He bends and picks up the glasses as well, and idly polishes the one remaining whole lens with a kerchief.

Breathing somewhat heavily Uriel's eyes narrow. "Give me the knife" he says, not believing this is the same Seamus judging by his choice of words.

Seamus smiles absently. "The knife isn't important anymore."

"Then you won't mind handing it over" Uriel responds, holding his hand out, if not still, as his shoulders continue to rise and fall with his breathing.

Seamus turns slightly to his right, keeping his face towards Uriel. With a smooth motion he slides the now cleaned glasses into a pocket. "Persistence isn't always a virtue" says the angel.

"I have to be sure" Uriel says, perhaps more to himself than to Seamus as he takes a step closer, trying hard to slow his breathing some.

Seamus' face begins to melt away to be replaced by another. Another face which Uriel knows all too well and which sends instant chills and electric tingles throughout his body. It is Oberon.

Uriel steps back, surprised. This is the second time he's seen Oberon, the very likeness of the greatest of gods in the shadow in which he was raised. Perhaps even that god in truth.

"By the High!" Uriel exclaims.

Oberon says "Don't be a fool, boy. The knife is useless. The blood is gone, the devil defeated, your friends are safe."

He seems to grow bigger and more impressive... more imposing with each word. His eyes stabbing their way right into Uriel's soul. Uriel is still except for the heaving of his chest, gradually slowing. "O-Oberon?" he asks, his previous determination drained from him.

"You did well, boy. Good work" says Oberon. "Now you had better run along." With this he begins to fade from view, the barest of smiles creasing his face. Uriel's eyes widen and his shoulders are still at last.

As he realises the man before him is vanishing he reaches out. "No! Wait! You have to tell me how to..." his voices drops off as he realises it's too late. "How do I?..."

At the edge of hearing, he thinks he hears, "..another time, boy..another time.."

Uriel's shoulders sag as the world begins erupting around him. As he fishes for his trumps he wonders... why it was so important not to give him the weapon if it was no longer important, itself. He finds the card he was searching for and holds it up. The cool sensation is extraordinarily pleasant in this place. Uriel becomes the last rainbow in a world of fire and destruction...


After the judgement

Cat leans back in her chair and picks up her cigarette again. "You have my verdict. The rest is up to you." Mordred takes his hand off Cat's shoulder and nods. "That will do," nods Paolo, standing.

The door opens. Caine is first out the door; he seems to be in a hurry. Paolo invites Mordred and Cat to rise. "We have a train to meet."

Eric just sits, sipping his wine, then leans forward and picks at the polenta with his fingers, selecting a morsel to pop into his mouth. He does not stop Cat or Mordred. Mordred raises an eyebrow and extends his hand for Cat to take. His expression is such that it isn't easy to tell if it's for his comfort or for hers. She stubs out her cigarette and rises, taking his hand.

As they leave the room, they hear Eric's voice, "I hope this makes you happy," he says, his tone somewhat subdued. Then he chuckles, darkly. Cat turns her head as she steps out of the door. "For the record, no," she says quietly.

With a long sigh Paolo shuts the door behind him. "Come. There is not much time."

They make their way back up through the keep, which now seems strangely empty and silent. Cat walks close to Mordred as they return through the keep, clearly gaining comfort from his presence. Ultimately they enter a courtyard, which exits onto what appears to be a train platform, except there are no tracks, and no sign of a train. Caine is standing there, inspecting an antique watch with an agitated look. "You'd better have gotten this right," he mutters.

As if on cue, the air fills with a rush of fragrant steam, then a pulse of heat, then the piercing sound of a whistle. Through the clearing mists, they see a single locomotive, a single car, and a bright red caboose before you. On the locomotive is blazoned BRANDENBURG in bold capital red letters.

"Of course," Mordred is heard to mutter. Caine tries first one door, than another, than a third. All are locked. Then a fourth door, which opens. He dashes in.. ..then emerges, supporting a frail, wizened lady, wrapped in a black veil, wearing a shapeless black dress. He pulls her away from the train; the locomotive gives one great whistle, then in another blast of steam, it vanishes.

Cat and Mordred note that the woman is busy kissing Caine's face, holding it between her two hands. " boy, mi familia, gratzi, I have wished to see boy..ohhh.." He holds her close, but carefully, as if he were worried that he would break her.

Paolo, pausing, approaches the two from the side. She sees him. There is a pause. Then she extends her shaking hand and slowly draws him into the embrace with her son. "Lady, I have done what I said I would do," they hear him say, softly. Then the three do not speak, but merely stand there.

Mordred shoots Cat a quizzical expression. A whisper: "I hope this makes more sense to you than it does to me..."

"Caine's deal, I think," she whispers back. "That must be Rilga." She sighs. "Which may open another can of worms. Later for that. Let's get out of here." Mordred's expression tightens at the word "Rilga", but he nods

Cat raises her voice and speaks to Paolo. "Don Paolo, I have served your purpose as you demanded. Are we now dismissed?" Paolo detaches himself from Rilga and Caine, and approaches the two of them. As he walks towards them, an archway of light opens to their right, rising up out of the ground. Pattern vision shows that it is a trumpgate, straight into the heart of Amber - in fact, to the Pattern Room in the basement of the Castle, to the very center.

"You have served, princess. And you..prince," he says with a look to Mordred. "If you wish to go, I have opened a way for you. If you wish to have my welcome. But be aware that Redoubt..will serve two purposes when we leave. It will keep it's occupant from leaving, but it will keep outsiders from entering with equal efficacy. It is a fortress that stands sentinel over..nothing. A fitting place for Eric's exile. In one hour the feits will coalesce into their final, inviolate state; departure after that will be impossible."

"I was planning on going with the Princess, Father Paolo," says Mordred. "No warnings or threats needed. Though I appreciate the heads-up on the nature of this place. Perhaps, sometime, you'll tell me how you did it."

Paolo smiles a little smile. "You are most welcome. I have long worked to your benefit, Mordred Osricson, and see no reason to stop now. Perhaps some day we shall discuss this place..but that may have to wait until it is no longer of use."

"I understand," says Mordred. "Please let me know when your next...trial... is to occur."

Rilga holds Caine at arms length; they see that she has a Rosary in her left hand. "Take me home," she says, looking over at the three of you. "Take me from this place."

"OK, Mom." Caine leads Rilga towards the gate. At the very edge of the gate, Rilga turns and looks back at Paolo. "Gratzi," she says, softly. Paolo raises his hand and makes a small crossing gesture. "Go with God," he replies. They step through and disappear.

"Our turn now, I think," Cat says. She looks at Paolo with wary respect. "I am not sure that I wish to thank you, exactly, but these events have certainly been.. instructive."

"Betimes we know not why we fly, yet we do nonetheless. You have dared, and in daring, have won a victory. I thank you, princess, and am in your debt," he says, with some meaning.

She nods and, still holding Mordred's hand, turns to step through the gate.

Exeunt, Fiat Lux, Amen.

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