From: Christopher Ackney 
Subject: [AM] Into the all concealing shadow

Scene: The Pattern

"Heading off so soon?"

Orbus spun, hand falling naturally to his weapon belt, but he relaxed just
as quickly. He first noticed that Argent gave no warning, and then saw who
the speaker was. "Prince Zachary." Orbus said in way of introduction.

The Crown Prince remained leaning back against the wall near the entrance.
"So formal now?" Zachary paused as he appraised his older cousin. "or
perhaps planning things more carefully?"

"I have to. Things are happening that I won't get a second chance at."

Zachary nodded as if he understood everything; he always managed to give
that impression at least. "And now you leave by the quickest, and most
private, means possible in the dead of night. It leaves a little to be
suspicious about."

Orbus' eyes narrowed. "Are you saying you don't trust me?"

"_I_ trust you." Zachary emphasized, finally righting himself up from the
wall. "There was a time, long ago, when you trusted me."

"Things have gotten a lot more ... personal now."

Zachary turned his gaze to the Pattern in the brief silence that followed.
"You've been away for a very long time, longer than we realize." It
sounded more as if Zachary were thinking aloud than him asking a direct

Orbus simply shrugged. "Time is what you make of it." He paused. "What
brings you here, in the dead of night?"

Zachary gave a weary smile. "Oh, you know me, always trying to get some
questions answered. Only the one I'm asking doesn't seem to want to talk."

Orbus at first thought that Zachary's comment was directed at him, but as
he followed the prince's gaze out over to the Pattern, realization sunk in.
"You would think it would answer you, especially with such a threat
against it."

"Mmm." Zachary replied. "The answers I'm seeking are ones that it does
not want to talk about."

They stood in quiet thought for a while, then Zachary glanced over to
Orbus. "Would you like for me to leave?"

Orbus gave another shrug. "It doesn't matter, really." With that, he
took his first step onto the Pattern.

Scene: Dalt's encampment

"To think that I trusted her with the likes of you." The Robed One hissed
as he paced back and forth before them. Dalt was seated at the war-table,
hands clenched before his jaw in thought. Borel stood across from him,
eying the Robed One's erractic pacing. "She could have been useful to me."
The Robed One continued.

"As I hear it," Dalt said evenly, "Even you could not stop her from

The Robed One came to a sudden halt and whirled to face Dalt. Two glowing
red eyes peered malevolently out from the dark shadows of his hooded robe.
"She escaped because she had help from another, not through some imagined
fault of mine." He growled.

Borel moved to one of the standing maps of Amber, hand resting upon the
hilt of his sword. He had instantly noticed the change in the Robed One's
demeanor; his calm, eerily mysterious presence had cracked into an even
more frightening erractic state. The Robed One moved constantly, obviously
agitated, and his mood swung from near calm to reckless outbursts. It
seemed to Borel that either Dalt hadn't noticed this, or that the large man
enjoyed playing with fire. Given what he knew of the man, Borel couldn't
discount either theory.

Dalt smirked beneath his hands. "Brandi has always been like that. The
day you get her to do as you say is the day I die."

The Robed One leaned in close to Dalt, red eyes glaring into Dalt's
defiant ones for a very long, quiet pause. "Both can be arranged, I assure
you." The Robed One said in a sinister whisper. Dalt felt a chill run
down his spine, but refused to let the Robed One think he was intimidated.
The Robed One then turned with a flourish of his black robe as he headed
back towards the entrance. "Have the army ready to march within the hour."

"They'll be ready in half that time." Borel turned to the other two,
relieved that the situation seemed to have diffused. "If Brandi does tell
them where we are, Benedict will soon have an army down upon us. We'll
need another Shadow to encamp safely."

The Robed One stopped, turning back to face the others. "Oh no," He said
in a surprisingly light voice. "No further encampment is needed. We march
for Amber." He seemed to gloat in the stunned looks on both their faces.
"Besides, the attack has already begun."

Scene: Castle Amber

Brandi hummed lightly to herself as she walked down the hall. The two
guards assigned to her walked a respectful distance behind her, and yet
were close enough to ensure she didn't make a run for it. Not that she had
any plans on going anywhere but for a bath, probably her last one for a
very long time, so she intended to enjoy it.

It could have been worse, she supposed, much worse. She had heard of
Corwin's imprisonment during Patternfall, and she was certainly glad to
have avoided that fate. She wasn't so sure in her own ability to grow her
eyes back.

As she turned the last corner, she felt the slight tingling of a Trump
contact. 'Random already? He sure does want to get an early start.' She
thought to herself. It dawned upon her as she began to open herself to the
call that the King would have most likely just sent a messenger to fetch
her. But then, perhaps this was of immediate importance.

The moment she fully opened her mind Brandi knew she was in trouble. The
first thing she noticed was that there was no one at the other end of the
contact, her vision filled with an inky blackness. A cold chill ran
through her, as if her whole body had become as cold as a Trump card
itself, and she found herself shaking uncontrollably. She heard voices
about her, but the blackness that surrounded her seemed to absorb the
noise, muting it to incomprehensibility. She tried desperately to break
the contact, going so far as to close her eyes and shake her head
furiously, but to no avail.

A pinhole of light appeared in front of her, nearly blinding in the
darkness. It suddenly swelled in size, threatening to engulf her before
stopping. As it grew, the light dimmed, as if only that amount of light
existed on the other side. A large shape moved forward, eclipsing the
light, then continued to lumber forward.

Brandi was suddenly back in the corridor of Castle Amber. Before her
stood a creature of deepest black. It was covered in scales, traced by a
slowly pulsing deep red colour, as if the creature were made of fire
beneath the scales. Hardened plates stretched across its back and
shoulders, as well as smaller plates covering every supposedly vulnerable
part of its body. The creature towered over Brandi, standing at least
eight feet in height, though it appeared hunched over even then, and it's
true size Brandi could only guess at. Fearsomely clawed hands stretched
nearly to the floor, and a huge mandibled jaw opened and closed silently.

The creature surveyed its surroundings with baleful red eyes. The two
guards were reacting now, drawing swords and rushing past Brandi as they
charged the creature. Even so, the creature seemed to take no notice, eyes
pausing upon Brandi, as if to assess how dangerous she was.

With sudden speed, the creature lashed out with one massive hand, four
inch claws rending the closer of the two guards, throwing him to the floor
in a ragged heap. The second guard gave a mighty yell as he swung his
sword hard at the creature, and stared mutely as the hardened steel snapped
with a loud *ping* across the creature's arm. The soldier remained
stunned, even as the creature reached out and snatched him from the ground.
The guard struggled briefly, until the creature's mandibles crunched down
on his skull.

Brandi stepped back, still disoriented from the Trump contact, and more
than a little worried at the ease with which the creature dispatched the
two guards. A realization struck her, one that made her even more worried.
The creature made no sound. No animal growlings, no sentient speech, no
clacking of the claws or mandibles. Brandi could not even hear breath
being drawn during the brief moment of silence between them. No sound

The creature stepped towards Brandi as she brought the Devil and the Deep
Blue Sea into existance. Even it's steps were devoid of sound. Shouts
were heard from both behind her and the creature, but she was fully
concentrating on the creature before her. She wasn't sure if she was up to
this fight, hell, any fight really. But it was either fight or be chop
suey, and Brandi was never very fond of chinese food.

Scene: Dalt's Encampment

"Are you insane?" Borel gasped. "We're not ready for an assault on Amber
itself. We need more troops, more time to train, more ..." Borel fell
silent as the Robed One's gaze slowly turned to him.

Then the Robed One chuckled, a sound that send shivers down both Borel's
and Dalt's spines. The chuckle turned to laughter, and the Robed One
tossed his head back, his hood finally falling away from his face. His red
hair was long and unkempt, almost seeming to have a life of it's own.
Bending over slightly, hands on his thighs, the Robed One soon caught his
breath. Green eyes surrounded by glowing red fires looked back at the
other two. "Me? Gone mad? I should likely think so." His smile slowly
disappeared, and he took a step towards Borel. "Or, to be more precise, it
is all of you who are insane, living as you do with this life of yours,
eeking out what small pleasures you can before your time here is done. If
insanity is determined by the majority, what happens if the insane become
the majority? Do they become the norm, and those thought normal become
insane? It is all a matter of perspective, and what one knows."

Brand stopped and splayed himself out as if a cross, even lolling his head
briefly to one side for added drama. "After my fall from grace, I thought
myself surely dead. And yet, I didn't die, I just kept falling.
Eventually I healed, and eventually I learned. From what I learned, I
took. From what I took, I used. And now I know, I know just what keeps
this universe of shadows together. I know how it came to be, how it will
end. The Abyss was there from the beginning. From it spawned Chaos and
the Courts, which in turn spawned the Pattern and it's own court. And
everything from everywhere dies, eventually, and eventually all things
return to the Abyss. That is the order of things, the undeniable truth,
the one unalterable thing in this whole blamed universe."

"So you're back." Dalt said distastefully, rising from his chair. "I
would have helped you destroy Amber, but I won't be a part of your crazy
attempt to take over all of Shadow."

Brand gave a humourless laugh. "Have you not been listening, boy? There
is no point to having anything at all. Everything will end up in the
Abyss, and I do mean everything; you, me, this shadow, even Amber and the
Courts will fall over the precipice." He paused briefly. "I'm here to
make that happen."

"You are totally out of your mind insane!" Borel blurted out. "Do you
have any conception of what you are saying? You're gong to kill us all."

Brand gave a sideways glance to the armsmaster. "You're right, I am ...
beginning with you. Deirdre!" He cast the shout over his shoulder. "Come
to me." The tentflap opened, and a woman stepped inside, eyes cold and
dead. She walked straight to Brand and stopped, not saying a word. Dalt
recognized her, but not her name, for she was simply one of many who had
the skill to belong in his elite squad of soldiers. But could this be the
same Deirdre that Brand pulled into the Abyss with him?

"Now then," Brand said, turning in place. "Enough with this."

Outside, everyone turned at the sound of the explosion, and the pluming
ball of flame that erupted skyward from Dalt's tent. Jareth turned to his
squad-mate, Masel. "What the ..." His words fell away as a dark shadow
appeared over the other man.

Masel stared curiously at Jareth. The humanoid shadow behind him plunged
it's hand into his back. Masel gurgled, his body going rigid. Pulling
it's hand out, the shadow reached around and forced Masel's head back, and
gave what Jareth could only think of as a deep kiss. Masel's body jerked
once, twice, and then the shadow pulled away. Jareth turned his shocked
gaze from the shadow to Masel, who still stood, and looked at him with
soulless eyes.

"My God." Jareth murmured, as the shadow moved towards him. Around him,
screams rose up throughout the camp. Hundreds of screams, thousands. Then
all Jareth knew was cold, then nothingness.

Scene: Palace of Kashfa

Jezhbyn gazed about him as he entered back into the main dining hall. He
didn't like leaving Julianna alone here, but he had needed to meet with one
of his own. He had not been summoned in a long time, and it was certainly
strange for it to occur so close to Amber.

But now he had to find Julianna. This was something she definitely would
want to know. He spied her talking with Luke, the lord of the land they
were in. Jezhbyn didn't know by what title he went by, the fact that he
ruled here was enough. Jehzbyn waited until they were finished before
pulling Julianna aside.

"There is a matter of import that I need to tell you." Jezhbyn said in a

"Oh?" Julianna replied, raising an eyebrow.

Jezhbyn simply nodded. "What do you know of Soul Reapers?"

"Soul Reapers? I can't say I've even heard of them. Demonic, I take it?"

Another nod. "They rend souls from the body. Very useful if you want
someone killed irrevocably. But it takes a lot to bring one out from
Chaos. An entire clan left Chaos some time ago."

Julianna placed a hand on her chin in thought. "A lot of what? I can't
imagine something like money would interest them."

"Power. They feed off the souls they reap. The stronger the soul, the
more tempting it is to them. But if they have been offered something else,
it is possible for them to return a fragment of the soul back to the body,
leaving them with utter control over it."

"But an entire clan left, you say? That would seem to indicate a vast
amount of power."

Jezhbyn gave a curt nod. "As you say. The number that left is the most
interesting point. They leave in small packs to gather their food.
Usually for themselves, sometimes in the employ of another. But an entire
clan. This speaks of many souls."

Julianna gave Jezhbyn a hard look. "Stop being evasive, how many is
'many'? A hundred? A thousand?"

"Tens of thousands."

Julianna remained quiet for a few moments. "You were right. This is of
some import."

Scene: Dalt's Encampment.

"I want them all, and I have an exchange in mind." Brand gazed out over
the throng of Soul Reapers before him.

One moved forward, gray eyes staring back impassively.

Brand stepped to one side, revealing the warrior-lady Deirdre. "Her soul,
for all the ones you gathered this day."

The Reaper hissed, obviously not pleased with the offer. With a sudden
lunge, it reached for Brand.

Stepping aside, Brand reached out and snatched the Reaper's wrist, hand
glowing with eldrich power. The Reaper hissed and screamed, struggling in
Brand's grasp. "You think me unprepared? And no use going for her, she's
warded to the rafters. Now then, the exchange. I suggest you accept, or I
shall hunt each and every one of your clan down and kill them. And should
you kill me in turn, my blood curse will be upon you and your kind for all
of eternity. You know of the curse my brother Eric gave, and how it
defeated the entirety of the Courts. Do you doubt that I have no power
over you?"

The Reaper gazed back behind it and then to Deirdre. Brand pulled himself
up close to it. "Imagine. You've never had a soul like hers, of the power
it holds. It could last each of you at least a dozen years. How long for
the ones you've gathered today? Five, if rationed? Not even one if gorged
upon. A fair enough trade, I believe."

The Reaper hissed. "Where to put them. A deal is struck then?" Another
hiss, shorter than the first. "Good. You see, I knew we could do business
together. Now, back away, if you will."

Brand closed his eyes briefly, and behind him darkness coalesced. Slowly
at first, whisps of shadow and darkness swirled about each other. The
whisps took shape, gathering themselves into a spherical shape, swirling
faster and faster as more tendrils of darkness were pulled towards it. The
ball of darkness hummed quietly behind Brand, tendrils of whispy dark smoke
snaking around it. "In there, if you please. Don't get too close,
Ragnorok isn't too picky about what he devours." Brand watched
triumphantly as the blue whisps of souls streaked towards the sphere. "Ah,
those Vikings, they sure had a proper view of the world." Brand mused.

The lead Reaper moved foward again, giving another hiss.

Brand smirked. "I get my souls first. It's only fair. I'm getting near
two hundred thousand, and you have only one to take in return. Wouldn't do
for you to take your one and then leave me with only half, now would it?"

The Reaper hissed, but did nothing more. A few minutes later, the lasts
of the souls plunged into the inky sphere. With a simple wave of his hand,
Brand nodded to the Soul Reaper. It approached Deirdre cautiously. Her
eyes stared back at it with no emotion, merely waiting. It's hand slipped
through the material, plunging into her heart. The Reaper quivered, then
pulled itself away. Deirdre slumped to the ground.

"A deal is a deal. You're free to go." Brand said with a dismissive

A second later the Reapers disappeared, and Brand listened to the silence
about him, except for the hum of Ragnorok. "You can breath again, if you
like." Brand said to the open air.

Dalt stirred himself from beneath the rubble he found himself in. He
didn't see anything after the explosion, except to see Borel be burned to a
crisp by the firestorm the erupted around him. Dalt had only stirred while
Brand held his negotiations. "How ... how could you?"

Brand turned his gaze towards him. "Hmmm? Oh, with Deirdre? Quite
easily. I needed what the Reapers could give me, and I had something to
tempt them. She was dead already. I don't think she took the Abyss as
well as I did. She had been like that ever since we plunged in. And now I
have an unstoppable undead army of my very own. I've always wanted one."

"And will you kill me now?" Dalt asked, wincing in pain.

"No point. Your death will come soon enough. I have an army to gather.
Ragnorok will stay with you though. He'll find this shadow very tasty when
Benedict arrives." Brand took in a deep breath of air and smiled. "See
you on the other side."