Chapter 2

I unfastened the bright thing at my belt and began to unfold it. It made a series of clicking noises as I did so. I was hoping that I was making the best choice available to me rather than, say, a bad mistake.

The creature took longer than I’d thought to pass among the flowers. This could mean it was having trouble following my trail amid its exotic surroundings. I was hoping, though, that it meant it had been sufficiently injured in its encounter with the Jabberwock that it had lost something of its strength and speed.

Whatever, the final stalks eventually swayed and were crushed. The angular creature lurched forward and halted to stare at me with unblinking eyes. Frakir panicked, and I calmed her. This was a little out of her league. I had a Fire Fountain spell left, but I didn’t even bother with it: I knew it wouldn’t stop the thing, and it might make it behave unpredictably.

“I can show you the way back to Chaos,” I shouted, “if you’re getting homesick!”

It wailed softly and advanced. So much for sentimentality.

It came on slowly, oozing fluids from a dozen wounds. I wondered if it were still capable of noshing me or if its present pace were the best it could manage. Prudence dictated I assume the worst, so I tried to stay loose and ready to match anything it attempted.

It didn’t rush, though. It just kept coming, like a small tank with appendages. I didn’t know where its vital spots were located. Fire Angel anatomy had not been high on my list of interests back home. I gave myself a crash course, however, in the way of gross observation as it approached. Unfortunately, this gave me to believe that it kept everything important well protected. Too bad.

I did not want to attack in case it was trying to sucker me into something. I was not aware of its combat tricks, and I did not care to expose myself unduly in order to learn them. Better to stay on the defense and let it make the first move, I told myself. But it just kept moving nearer and nearer. I knew that I’d be forced to do something soon, even if it were only to retreat…

One of those long, folded front appendages flashed out toward me, and I spun to the side and cut. Snicker-snack! The limb lay on the ground, still moving. So I kept moving, also. One-two, one-two! Snicker-snack!

The beast toppled slowly to its left, for I had removed all of the limbs on that side of its body.

Then, overconfident, I passed too near in racing to round its head to reach the other side and repeat the performance while it was still traumatized and collapsing. Its other extensor flashed out. But I was too near and it was still toppling. Instead of catching me with its clawed extremity, it hit me with the equivalent of shin or forearm. The blow struck me across the chest and I was knocked backward.

As I scrambled away and drew my feet beneath me to rise, I heard Luke say, groggily, “Now what’s going on?”

“Later,” I called, without looking back.

Then, “Hey! You hit me!” he added.

“All in good fun,” I answered. “Part of the cure,” and I was up and moving again.

“Oh,” I heard him say.

The thing was on its side now and that big limb struck wildly at me, several times. I avoided it and was able to gauge its range and striking angle.

Snicker-snack. The limb fell to the ground and I moved in.

I swung three blows which passed all the way through its head from different angles before I was able to sever it. It kept making clicking noises, though, and the torso kept pitching and scrabbling about on the remaining limbs.

I don’t know how many times I struck after that. I just kept at it until the creature was literally diced. Luke had begun shouting “Ole!” each time that I struck. I was perspiring somewhat by then, and I noticed that heat waves or something seemed to be causing my view of the distant flowers to ripple in a disturbing fashion. I felt foresighted as all hell, though — the Vorpal Sword I’d appropriated back in the bar had proved a fine weapon. I swung it through a high arc, which I’d noted seemed to cleanse it entirely, and then I began folding it back into its original compact form. It was as soft as flower petals, and it still gave off a faint dusty glow…

“Bravo!” said a familiar voice, and I turned until I saw the smile followed by the Cat, who was tapping his paws lightly together. “Callooh! Callay!” he added. “Well done, beamish boy!”

The background wavering grew stronger, and the sky darkened. I heard Luke say “Hey!” and when I glanced back I saw him getting to his feet, moving forward. When I looked again I could see the bar forming at the Cat’s back, and I caught a glimpse of the brass rail. My head began to swim.

“There’s normally a deposit on the Vorpal Sword,” the Cat was saying. “But since you’re returning it intact — ”

Luke was beside me. I could hear music again, and he was humming along with it. Now it was the clearing, with its butchered Fire Angel, that seemed the superimposition, as the bar increased in solidity, taking on nuances of color and shading.

But the place seemed somehow smaller — the tables closer together, the music softer, the mural more compressed and its artist out of sight. Even the Caterpillar and his mushroom had retreated to a shadowy nook, and both seemed shrunken, the blue smoke less dense. I took this as a vaguely good sign, for if our presence there were a result of Luke’s state of mind then perhaps the fixation was losing its hold on him.

“Luke?” I said.

He moved up to the bar beside me.

“Yeah?” he answered.

“You know you’re on a trip, don’t you?”

“I don’t… I’m not sure what you mean,” he said.

“When Mask had you prisoner I think he slipped you some acid,” I said. “Is that possible?”

“Who’s Mask?” he asked me.

“The new head honcho at the Keep.”

“Oh, you mean Sharu Garrul,” he said. “I do remember that he had on a blue mask.”

I saw no reason to go into an explanation as to why Mask wasn’t Sharu. He’d probably forget, anyway. I just nodded and said, “The boss.”

“Well… yes, I guess he could have given me something,” he replied. “You mean that all this…?” He gestured toward the room at large.

I nodded.

“Sure, it’s real,” I said. “But we can transport ourselves into hallucinations. They’re all real somewhere. Acid’ll do it.”

“I’ll be damned,” he said.

“I gave you some stuff to bring you down,” I told him. “But it may take a while.”

He licked his lips and glanced about.

“Well, there’s no hurry,” he said. Then he smiled as a distant screaming began and the demons started in doing nasty things to the burning woman off in the mural. “I kind of like it here.”

I placed the folded weapon back upon the bartop. Luke rapped on the surface beside it and called for another round of brews. I backed away, shaking my head.

“I’ve got to go now,” I told him. “Someone’s still after me, and he just came close.”

“Animals don’t count,” Luke said.

“The one I just chopped up does,” I answered. “It was sent.”

I looked at the broken doors, wondering what might come through them next. Fire Angels have been known to hunt in pairs.

“But I’ve got to talk to you…” I continued.

“Not now,” he said, turning away.

“You know it’s important.”

“I can’t think right,” he answered.

I supposed that had to be true, and there was no sense trying to drag him back to Amber or anywhere else. He’d just fade away and show up here again. His head would have to clear and his fixation dissipate before we could discuss mutual problems.

“You remember that your mother is a prisoner in Amber?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Call me when you’ve got your head together. We have to talk.”

“I will.”

I turned away and walked out the doors and into a bank of fog. In the distance I heard Luke begin singing again, some mournful ballad. Fog is almost as bad as complete darkness when it comes to shadow-shifting. If you can’t see any referents while you’re moving, there is no way to use the ability, that allows you to slip away. On the other hand, I just wanted to be alone for a time to think.

Now my head was clear. If I couldn’t see anybody in this stuff, nobody could see me either. And there were no sounds other than my own footfalls on a cobbled surface.

So what had I achieved? When I was awakened from a brief nap to attend Luke’s unusual sending to Amber, I’d been dead tired following extraordinary exertions. I was transported into his presence, learned that he was tripping, fed him something I hoped would bring him off it sooner, hacked up a Fire Angel, and left Luke back where he had started.

I’d gotten two things out of it, I mused, as I strolled through the cottony mist: I’d stalemated Luke in any designs he might still have upon Amber. He was now aware that his mother was our prisoner, and I couldn’t see him bringing any direct action against us under the circumstances. Aside from the technical problems involved in transporting Luke and keeping him in one place, this was the reason I was willing to leave him as I just had. I’m sure Random would have preferred him unconscious in a cell in the basement, but I was certain he would settle for a defanged Luke at large; especially so, when it was likely that Luke would be getting in touch with us sooner or later regarding Jasra. I was willing to let him come down and come around in his own good time. I had problems of my own in the waiting room, like Ghostwheel, Mask, Vinta… and the new specter which had just taken a number and a seat.

Maybe it had been Jasra who had been using the homing power of the blue stones to send assassins after me. She had the ability as well as a motive. It could also have been Mask, though, who I’d judge had the ability and who seemed to have a motive, though I didn’t understand it. Jasra was out of the way now, however; and while I intended to have things out with Mask eventually, I believed that I had succeeded in detuning myself from the blue stones. I also believed that I might have scared Mask somewhat in our recent encounter at the Keep. Whatever, it was extremely unlikely that Mask or Jasra, whatever their powers, would have had access to a trained Fire Angel. No, there’s only one place Fire Angels come from, and shadow-sorcerers aren’t on the customer list.

A puff of wind parted the fog for a moment and I caught sight of dark buildings. Good. I shifted. The fog moved again almost immediately, and they were not buildings but dark rock formations. Another parting and a piece of dawn or evening sky came into view, a foam of bright stars spilled across it. Before too long a wind whipped the fog away and I saw that I walked in a high rocky place, the heavens a blaze of starry light bright enough to read by. I followed a dark trail leading off to the edge of the world…

The whole business with Luke, Jasra, Dalt, and Mask was somehow of a piece — completely understandable in some places and clouded in others. Given some time and legwork it would all hang together. Luke and Jasra seemed to be nullified now. Mask, an enigma of sorts; seemed to have it in for me personally but did not appear to represent any particular threat to Amber. Dalt, on the other hand, did, with his fancy new weaponry — but Random was aware of this situation and Benedict was back in town. So I was confident that everything possible was being done to deal with this.

I stood at the edge of the world and looked down into a bottomless rift full of stars. My mountain did not seem to grace the surface of a planet. However, there was a bridge to my left, leading outward to a dark, star-occluding, shape — another floating mountain, perhaps. I strolled over and stepped out onto the span. Problems involving atmosphere, gravitation, temperature, meant nothing here, where I could, in a sense, make up reality as I went along. I walked out onto the bridge, and for a moment the angle was right and I caught a glimpse of another bridge on the far side of the dark mass, leading off to some other darkness.

I halted in the middle, able to see along it for a great distance in either direction. It seemed a safe and appropriate spot. I withdrew my packet of Trumps and riffled through them until I located one I hadn’t used in a long, long time.

I held it before me and put the others away, studying the blue eyes and the young, hard, slightly sharp features beneath a mass of pure white hair. He was dressed all in black, save for a bit of white collar and sleeve showing beneath the glossy tight-fitting jacket. He held three dark steel balls in his gloved hand.

Sometimes it’s hard to reach all the way to Chaos, so I focused and extended, carefully, strongly. The contact came almost immediately. He was seated on a balcony beneath a crazily stippled sky, the Shifting Mountains sliding to his left. His feet were propped on a small floating table and he was reading a book. He lowered it and smiled faintly.

“Merlin,” he said softly. “You look tired.”

I nodded.

“You look rested,” I said.

“True,” he answered, as he closed the book and set it on the table. Then, “There is trouble?” he asked.

“There is trouble, Mandor.”

He rose to his feet.

“You wish to come through?”

I shook my head. “If you have any Trumps handy for getting back, I’d rather you came to me.”

He extended his hand.

“All right,” he said.

I reached forward, our hands clasped; he took a single step and stood beside me on the bridge. We embraced for a moment and then he turned and looked out and down into the rift.

“There is some danger here?” he asked.

“No. I chose this place because it seems very safe.”

“Scenic, too,” he replied. “What’s been happening to you?”

“For years I was merely a student, and then a designer of certain sorts of specialized machinery,” I told him. “Things were pretty uneventful until fairly recently. Then all hell broke loose — but most of it I understand, and much of it seems under control. That part’s complicated and not really worth your concern.”

He rested a hand on the bridge’s side-piece: “And the other part?” he asked.

“My enemies up until this point had been from the environs of Amber. But suddenly, when it seemed that most of that business was on its way to being settled, someone put a Fire Angel on my trail. I succeeded in destroying it just a little while ago. I’ve no idea why, and it’s certainly not an Amber trick.”

He made a clicking noise with his lips as he turned away, paced a few steps, and turned back.

“You’re right, of course,” he said. “I’d no idea it had come anywhere near this, or I’d have spoken with you some time ago. But let me differ with you as to orders of importance before I indulge in certain speculations on your behalf. I want to hear your entire story.”

“Why?”

“Because you are sometimes appallingly naive, little brother, and I do not yet trust your judgment as to what is truly important.”

“I may starve to death before I finish,” I answered. Smiling crookedly, my step-brother Mandor raised his arms. While Jurt and Despil are my half brothers, borne by my mother, Dara, to Prince Sawall the Rim Lord, Mandor was Sawall’s son by an earlier marriage. Mandor is considerably older than I, and as a result he reminds me much of my relatives back in Amber. I’d always felt a bit of an outsider among the children of Dara and Sawall. In that Mandor was — in a more stable sense — not part of that particular grouping either, we’d had something in common. But whatever the impulse behind his early attentions, we’d hit it off and become closer, I sometimes think, than full blood brothers. He had taught me a lot of practical things over the years, and we had had many good times together.

The air was distorted between us, and when Mandor lowered his arms a dinner table covered with embroidered white linen came into sudden view between us, soundlessly, followed a moment later by a pair of facing chairs. The table bore numerous covered dishes, fine china, crystal, silverware; there was even a gleaming ice bucket with a dark twisted bottle within it.

“I am impressed,” I stated.

“I’ve devoted considerable time to gourmet magic in recent years,” he said. “Pray, be seated.”

We made ourselves comfortable there on the bridge between two darknesses. I muttered appreciatively as I tasted, and it was some minutes before I could begin a summary of the events that had brought me to this place of starlight and silence.

Mandor listened to my entire tale without interruption, and when I’d finished he nodded and said, “Would you care for another serving of dessert?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “It’s quite nice.”

When I glanced up a few moments later, I saw that he was smiling.

“What’s funny?” I asked.

“You,” he replied. “If you recall, I told you before you left for that place to be discriminating when it came to giving your trust.”

“Well? I told no one my story. If you’re going to lecture me on being friendly with Luke without learning his, I’ve already heard it.”

“And what of Julia?”

“What do you mean? She never learned…”

“Exactly. And she seems like one you could have trusted. Instead, you turned her against you.”

“All right! Maybe I used bad judgment there, too.”

“You designed a remarkable machine, and it never occurred to you it might also become a potent weapon. Random saw that right away. So did Luke. You might have been saved from disaster on that front only by the fact that it became sentient and didn’t care to be dictated to.

“You’re right. I was more concerned with solving technical problems. I didn’t think through all the consequences.

He sighed.

“What am I going to do with you, Merlin? You take risks when you don’t even know you’re taking risks.”

“I didn’t trust Vinta,” I volunteered.

“I think you could have gotten more information out of her,” he said; “if you hadn’t been so quick to save Luke, who already appeared to be out of danger. She seemed to be loosening up considerably at the end of your dialogue.”

“Perhaps I should have called you.”

“If you encounter her again, do it, and I’ll deal with her.”

I stared. He seemed to mean it.

“You know what she is?”

“I’ll unriddle her,” he said, swirling the bright orange beverage in his glass. “But I’ve a proposal for you, elegant in its simplicity. I’ve a new country place, quite’ secluded, with all the amenities. Why not return to the Courts with me rather than bouncing around from hazard to hazard? Lie low for a couple of years, enjoy the good life, catch up on your reading. I’ll see that you’re well protected. Let everything blow over, then go about your business in a more peaceful climate.”

I took a small sip of the fiery drink.

“No,” I said. “What happened to those things you indicated earlier that you knew and I didn’t?”

“Hardly important, if you accept my offer.”

“Even if I were to accept, I’d want to know.”

“Bag of worms,” he said.

“You listened to my story. I’ll listen to yours.”

He shrugged and leaned back in his chair, looked up at stars.

“Swayvill is dying,” he said.

“He’s been doing that for years.”

“True, but he’s gotten much worse. Some think it has, to do with the death curse of Eric of Amber. Whatever, I really believe he hasn’t much longer.”

“I begin to see…”

“Yes, the struggle for the succession has become more intense. People have been falling over left and right — poison, duels, assassinations, peculiar accidents, dubious suicides. A great number have also departed for points unknown. Or so it would seem.”

“I understand, but I don’t see where it concerns me.”

“One time it would not have.”

“But?”

“You are not aware that Sawall adopted you, formally, after your departure?”

“What?”

“Yes. I was never certain as to his exact motives. But you are a legitimate heir. You follow me but take precedente over Jurt and Despil.”

“That would still leave me way in hell down on the list.”

“True,” he said slowly. “Most of the interest lies at the top…”

“You say ‘most.’”

“There are always exceptions,” he answered. “You must realize that a time such as this is also a fine occasion for the paying off of old debts. One death more or less hardly rouses an eyebrow the way it would have in more placid times. Even in relatively high places.”

I shook my head as I met his eyes.

“It really doesn’t make sense in my case,” I said. He continued to stare until I felt uncomfortable. “Does it?” I finally asked.

“Well…” he said. “Give it some thought.”

I did. And just as the notion came to me, Mandor nodded as if he viewed the contents of my mind. “Jurt,” he said, “met the changing times with a mixture of delight and fear. He was constantly talking of the latest deaths and of the elegance and apparent ease with which some of them were accomplished. Hushed tones interspersed with a few giggles. His fear and his desire to increase his own capacity for mischief finally reached a point where they became greater than his other fear — ”

“The Logrus…”

“Yes. He finally tried the Logrus, and he made it through.”

“He should be feeling very good about that. Proud. It was something he’d wanted for years.”

“Oh, yes,” Mandor answered. “And I’m sure he felt a great number of other things as well.”

“Freedom,” I suggested. “Power,” and as I studied his half amused expression, I was forced to add, “and the ability to play the game himself.”

“There may be hope for you,” he said. “Now, would you care to carry that through to its logical conclusion?”

“Okay,” I responded, thinking of Jurt’s left ear as I floated away following my cut, a swarm of blood-bead: spreading about it. “You think Jurt sent the Fire Angel.

“Most likely,” he replied. “But would you care to pursue that a little further?”

I thought of the broken branch piercing Jurt’s eyeball as we wrestled in the glade…

“All right,” I said. “He’s after me. It could be a part of the succession game, because I’m slightly ahead of him; on that front, or just plain dislike and revenge — or both.”

“It doesn’t really matter which,” Mandor said, “in terms of results. But I was thinking of that crop-eared wolf that attacked you. Only had one eye, too, it seemed…”

“Yes,” I said. “What does Jurt look like these days?”

“Oh, he’s grown about half the ear back. It’s pretty ragged and ugly-looking. Generally, his hair covers it. The eyeball is regenerated, but he can’t see out of it yet. He usually wears a patch.”

“That might explain recent developments,” I said. “Hell of a time for it, though, with everything else that’s been going on. Muddies the waters considerably.”

“It’s one of the reasons I suggest you simply drop out; and let everything cool down. Too busy. With as many arrows as there seem to be in the air, one may well find your heart.”

“I can take care of myself, Mandor.”

“You could have fooled me.”

I shrugged, got up, walked over to the rail, and looked down at the stars.

After a long while he called out to me, “Have you got any better ideas?” but I didn’t answer him because I was thinking about that very matter. I was considering what Mandor had said about my tunnel’ vision and lack of preparedness and had just about concluded that he was right, that in nearly everything that had happened to me: up to this point — with the exception of my going after Jasra — I had mainly been responding to circumstance. I had been far more acted upon than acting. Admittedly, it had all happened very quickly. But still, I had not formed any real plans for covering myself, learning about my enemies or striking back. It seemed that there were some things I might be doing…

“If there is that much to worry about,” he said, “you are probably better off playing it safe.”

He was probably right, from the standpoints of reason, safety, caution. But he was strictly of the Courts, while I possessed an additional set of loyalties in which he did not participate. It was possible — if only through my connection with Luke — that I might be able to come up with some personal course of action that would further the security of Amber. So long as such a chance existed, I felt obliged to pursue matters. And beyond this, from a purely personal standpoint, my curiosity was too strong to permit me to walk away from the unanswered questions which abounded when I could be actively seeking some answers.

As I was considering how I might best phrase these matters in my reply to Mandor, I was again acted upon. I became aware of a faint feeling of inquiry, as of a cat scratching at the doors of my mind. It grew in force, thrusting aside other considerations, until I knew it as a Trump sending from some very distant place. I guessed that it might be from Random, anxious to discover what had transpired since my absence from Amber. So I made myself receptive, inviting the contact.

“Merlin, what’s the matter?” Mandor asked, and I raised my hand to indicate I was occupied. At that, I saw him place his napkin upon the tabletop and rise to his feet.

My vision cleared slowly and I beheld Fiona, looking stern, rocks at her back, a pale green sky above her.

“Merlin,” she said. “Where are you?”

“Far away,” I answered. “It’s’ a long story. What’s going on? Where are you?”

She smiled bleakly.

“Far away,” she replied.

“We seem to have chosen very scenic spots,” I observed. “Did you pick the sky to complement your hair?”

“Enough!” she said. “I did not call you to compare travel notes.”

At that moment Mandor came up aside me and placed his hand upon my shoulder, which was hardly in keeping with his character; as it is considered a gauche thing to do when a Trump communication is obviously in progress — on the order of intentionally picking up an extension phone and breaking in on someone’s call. Nevertheless…

“My! My!” he said. “Will you please introduce me, Merlin?”

“Who,” Fiona asked, “is that?”

“This is my brother Mandor,” I told her, “of the House of Sawall in the Courts of Chaos. Mandor; this is my Aunt Fiona, Princess of Amber.”

Mandor bowed.

“I have heard of you, Princess,” he said. “It is indeed a pleasure.”

Her eyes widened for a moment.

“I know of the house,” she replied, “but I’d no idea of Merlin’s relationship with it. I am pleased to know you.”

“I take it there’s some problem, Fi?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered, glancing at Mandor.

“I will retire,” he said. “Honored to have met you, Princess. I wish you lived a bit nearer the Rim.”

She smiled.

“Wait,” she said. “This does not involve any state secrets. You are an initiate of the Logrus?”

“I am,” he stated.

“…And I take it you two did not get together to fight a duel?”

“Hardly,” I answered.

“In that case, I would welcome his view of the problem, also. Are you willing to come to me, Mandor?” He bowed again, which I thought was hamming it a bit.

“Anyplace, Madam,” he responded.

She said, “Come then,” and she extended her left hand and I clasped it. Mandor reached out and touched her wrist. We stepped forward.

We stood before her in the rocky place. It was breezy and a bit chill there. From somewhere distant there came a muted roar, as of a muffled engine.

“Have you been in touch with anyone in Amber recently?” I asked her.

“No,” she stated.

“Your departure was somewhat abrupt.”

“There were reasons.”

“Such as your recognizing Luke?”

“His identity is known to you now?”

“Yes.”

“And to the others?”

“I told Random,” I answered, “and Flora.”

“Then everyone knows,” she said. “I departed quickly and took Bleys with me because we had to be next on Luke’s list. After all, I tried killing his father and almost succeeded. Bleys and I were Brand’s closest relatives, and we’d turned against him.”

She turned a penetrating gaze upon Mandor, who smiled.

“I understand,” he stated, “that right now Luke drinks with a Cat, a Dodo, a Caterpillar, and a White Rabbit. I also understand that with his mother a prisoner in Amber he is powerless against you.”

She regarded me again.

“You have been busy,” she said. “I try.”

“…So that it is probably safe for you to return,” Mandor continued.

She smiled at him, then glanced at me.

“Your brother seems well informed,” she observed.

“He’s family, too,” I said, “and we’ve a lifelong habit of looking out for each other.”

“His life or yours?” she asked.

“Mine,” I replied. “He is my senior.”

“What are a few centuries this way or that?” Mandor offered.

“I thought I felt a certain maturity of spirit,” she noted. “I’ve a mind to trust you further than I’d intended.”

“That’s very sporting of you,” he replied, “and I treasure the sentiment…”

“…But you’d rather I didn’t overdo it?”

“Precisely.”

“I’ve no intention of testing your loyalties to home and throne,” she said, “on such short acquaintance. It does concern both Amber and the Courts, but I see no conflict in the matter.”

“I do not doubt your prudence. I merely wanted to make my position clear.”

She turned back toward me.

“Merlin,” she said then, “I think you lied to me.”

I felt myself frowning as I tried to recall an occasion when I might have misled her about something. I shook my head.

“If I did,” I told her, “I don’t remember.”

“It was some years ago,” she said, “when I asked you to try walking your father’s Pattern.”

“Oh,” I answered, feeling myself blush and wondering whether it was apparent in this strange light.

“You took advantage of what I had told you — about the Pattern’s resistance,” she continued. “You pretended it was preventing you from setting your foot upon it. But there was no visible sign of the resistance, such as there was when I tried stepping onto it.”

She looked at me, as if for confirmation. “So?” I said.

“So,” she replied, “it has become more important now than it was then, and I have to know: Were you faking it that day?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Why?”

“Once I took one step upon it,” I explained, “I’d have been committed to walking it. Who knows where it might have led me and what situation might have followed? I was near the end of my holiday and in a hurry to get back to school. I didn’t have time for what might have turned into a lengthy expedition. Telling you there were difficulties seemed the most graceful way of begging off.”

“I think there’s more to it than that,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I think Corwin told you something about it that the rest of us do not know — or that he left you a message. I believe you know more than you let on concerning the thing.”

I shrugged.

“Sorry, Fiona. I have no control over your suspicions,” I said. “Wish I could be of more help.”

“You can,” she replied.

“Tell me how.”

“Come with me to the place of the new Pattern. I want you to walk it.”

I shook my head.

“I’ve got a lot more pressing business,” I told her, “than satisfying your curiosity about something my dad did years ago.”

“It’s more than just curiosity,” she said. “I told you once before that I think it’s what is behind the increased incidence of Shadow-storms.”

“And I gave you a perfectly good reason for something else being the cause. I believe it’s an adjustment to they partial destruction and recreation of the old Pattern.”

“Would you come this way?” she asked, and she turned from me and began to climb.

I glanced at Mandor, shrugged, and followed her. He came along.

We mounted toward a jagged screen of rock. She reached it first and made her way onto a lopsided ledge which ran partway along it. She traversed this until she came to a place where the rock wall had broken down into a wide V-shaped gap. She stood there with her back to us then, the light from the green sky doing strange things to her hair.

I came up beside her and followed the direction of her gaze. On a distant plain, far below us and to the left, a large black funnel spun like a top. It seemed the source of the roaring sound we had been hearing. The ground appeared to be cracked beneath it. I stared for several minutes, but it did not change in form or position. Finally, I cleared my throat.

“Looks like a big tornado,” I said, “not going anyplace.”

“That’s why I want you to walk the new Pattern,” she’ told me. “I think it’s going to get us unless we get it first.”

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