From: Matt Greenwood 
Subject: [AM] Brandi's Tale Chapter 11: "Spice Up Your Life"

Brandiís Tale Chapter 11: "Spice Up Your Life"

Brandi faced the first morning of her so-called imprisonment with a
characteristic smirk. It was dawn outside. The self-titled Bard of Amber
sat on the stone railing of her balcony and looked out at the city of Amber
and Mt. Kolvir. A lute sat untended in the chair beside her. Lauraís note
rested in her hand; it was the subject matter that had caused her to smile,
but the smile was not one of pure amusement.

Jokara. The wench had always rubbed her the wrong way, and Lauraís
suspicions did nothing to further endear the maid to Brandi. It did seem
that they had something in common- a fondness for men who had a habit of
destroying shrines to the Unicorn. Hmm.

Brandi looked at the note again. Laura wanted to meet her in the gardens
later this morning. It looked as if Brandi had gained an ally in Amber;
Laura had proved herself a steadfast companion, and Brandi was certain that
any show of support for Brandi, even just a meeting in the gardens, would
not be looked on in favour by the elder Amberites. Then again, Laura seemed
to have an irreverent disregard for the opinions of her elders, something
Brandi could not help but approve of.

The Bard of Amber had not lasted long after dinner the night before. She
had come up against a wall of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion
sometime during dessert, and even her stubbornness could not overcome it.
She had retired, her new retinue following, and she was asleep before her
guards could settle themselves outside her door. The night had flown by
during this deep, dreamless sleep, until her mismatched eyes had greeted the
dawn.

Now, dressed in a white blouse, brown leather vest and pants, high red
boots, fiery red hair loose about her shoulders and back, she exited her
chambers. Two guards flanked her door, different men from the previous
evening, and they quickly snapped to attention.

"Good morning, boys," she greeted them cheerfully in a husky, syrupy voice.

To their credit, their cool demeanour did not fall apart completely, but
they had to fight hard to keep it in check.

"Morning, milady," said the shorter one, after clearing his throat. The
other just nodded, blushing.

"I must meet with our King, but afterwards, shall we take a stroll in the
gardens?" Brandi asked, and walked off without waiting for a reply. The
guards followed in suit, two steps behind her, keeping pace.

Brandi hummed lightly to herself as she walked down the hall, mindful of
the presence of her escort. It was comforting, in a strange way; these men
were assigned to watch over her, to make sure she didnít try to leave or to
do anything to endanger Amber, but they also functioned as her bodyguards.

They made their way down the stairs to the War Room, adjoining the throne
room itself. 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.

The moment she fully opened her mind Brandi knew she was in trouble. It
overpowered her, stunned her, drowning out her surroundings until only
herself and whatever she struggled with remained. Then, suddenly, it was
gone, and she was back in Amber. But she had a new problem, and it was
glaring at her with thousand-faceted ruby red eyes.

Still reeling from the force of the Trump gate, for that was surely what it
was, she mutely witnessed her escort ruthlessly and effortlessly eliminated
by the thing, as surely as a wine glass shattered on stone. Then it turned
again to her.

She snapped out her scimitars. She hadnít had time to refresh her spells,
but she still had some stored in her magical weapons. The creature was
huge, and amazingly quick. Itís black scales pulsed a faint red, as if
dying embers were embedded beneath its skin. She held one arm out, the dark
blue of her scimitar a counterpoint to the sinister red of its eyes, and
pointed a finger at it.

It lunged an instant before Brandi released a bright white beam of energy
from her finger. The beam burned across its chest plates as she dove to one
side, barely avoiding itís charge. As it flew past her she stabbed at the
back of itís leg with her other scimitar, sparks snapping from the impact.
She whirled and took a step back, as the creature righted itself. The
opponents squared off once again. She saw that her beam had dug a furrow in
its torso, but no serious damage had been done. There was a cut in its leg,
bright red blood leaking from it, smoking and popping as it hit the floor.
The trace of blood on The Devil also seemed like magma.

"Brandi, what is it?" someone screamed. Brandi glanced away and saw Laura
there. She suddenly feared for her younger cousinís safety.

"Laura, get out of here. I don't know, but I think it's a creature of the
Abyss. Your arrows won't pierce its hide and you can't help. Run!"

Brandi turned her attention to the beast again, deftly parrying a quick
rake by one of its blade-sharp hands. Suddenly the corridor was flooded
with brilliant white light, forcing her to squint. The creature before her
took advantage of this, lashing out again, but Brandi managed to barely
parry it out of the way again. The thingís inhuman strength was startling.

Where had the light come from? Before it flashed she had noticed Laura
making some gestures, and assumed she had cast it as a spell. Brandi
reminded herself to congratulate Laura if she made it out of this alive.

So intent was she on her opponent that she barely noticed Laura cry,
"what's happening to me?" and turn away, moving in a strange, automatic way.

Her fear increased.

Brandi was unnerved by the beastís total silence. No words had the
creature uttered, no cry of pain or rage, she couldnít even hear its breath
or its footfalls. The shorter guardís sword had not pierced its hide, but
evidently a weapon of power, such as her scimitars, could injure it. And
her spells seemed to have some sort of effect. Not much, though. Still, as
an ancient war philosopher once said, "if it bleeds, we can kill it."

She raised The Devil in mocking salute. A creature from the Abyss?

Probably. Only one explanation for that. "Hey, tall and silent. Did daddy
send you?"

Its only response was a second deathly silent attack. She waited until its
swordlike claws were about to close on her head and dropped to the ground,
her blades arcing outwards simultaneously, slicing into its arms, and more
bright blood started leaking from the wounds. She expected the beast to
tumble over her, but it stopped its powerful lunge in mid-stride, forcing
her to dive to avoid the droplets of corrosive blood. It brought a powerful
leg forward and kicked Brandi, a forceful blow that threw her against the
wall. Then it came on again.

Brandi scrambled to her feet again. She wondered how many ribs were broken
from that blow; she had to use the wall to drag herself up. As such she had
to dive again before the thing impaled her to the wall.

She swore and scrambled backwards. The creature came at her again. This
time she altered her strategy, and rolled past it on the right; it stopped
again, but another, deeper slash appeared on its leg above the first one.
It threw a vicious backhand swipe at her, which she barely missed.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw guards assembling. "Stay back! Your
weapons wonít hurt it!" she cried. The troops halted their advance,
confusion and uncertainty clear among them. The creature seemed not to
notice the others, its attention firmly fixed on Brandi.

She launched a Death By Broken Mirror spell at it, and razor-sharp shards
of reflective crystal embedded themselves in the groove created by her
earlier spell. -That- seemed to create a reaction, as it snapped backwards
with the impact, but it came on again, silent and relentless as Death
itself.

"Donít you die?!" Brandi cursed. It responded by crouching and leaping
straight at her, all in one impossibly swift movement. She raised her
blades in a futile defensive gesture and triggered a Prismatic Barrier spell
from one of them; it crashed against the magical barrier and pressed her
back against the wall. A battle of strength ensued, Brandiís stubborn
desperation matching the monsterís greater strength and size.

"No, father, it wonít be that easy!" Brandi snarled and kicked it away from
her. She raised her weapons and followed, inside the reach of its powerful
arms, and drove The Devil deep under its overlapping plates, then fell back
before it could hit her again, her blood-red scimitar still embedded in it.

It began another ruthless charge when suddenly it began to burn. It buckled
and fell, still soundless, revealing Bleys standing behind it, his
Pattern-born sword drawn and smoking as well. His smile had no warmth.

"You certainly have resourceful enemies, Brandi," he said calmly over the
flames. She silently wondered whether he included himself in that category.

"Two guards have already paid for that. Youíre not endearing your cause to
your elders."

Brandi stood up and retrieved The Devil from the smouldering corpse. "Oh,
you can see how enjoyable it is for me, at least," she retorted
sarcastically. Her side throbbed. Perhaps nothing was broken after all,
and that was good.

"You donít seem to have suffered from the attention. Conveniently." Her
uncle rounded the flames and stopped before her.

"You would have preferred I get killed in the process, to make it more
Ďplausible?í" Brandi snapped.

"The King awaits your presence in the War Room," Bleys said, though the look
in his eyes answered her question clearly enough. He gestured for her to
proceed ahead of him, and followed her to the War Room.

--------------------

Random, Benedict, Julian, Gerard, and Fiona were present. They turned as
one to regard her as she entered the War Room, looking quizzically at the
state she was in.

"An attack by an apparent denizen of the Abyss, in the very halls of Castle
Amber," said Bleys by way of explanation.

Random brought his hand to his forehead in a look of pure exasperation.
"Explain," he commanded Brandi. She told those present of the Trump she
received and the ensuing battle. Fiona seemed to be listening especially
closely at her description of the Trump contact.

"Brand seems to have upped the ante," said the King. "And I, personally, am
sick of being on the defensive. Iím sending you with Benedict, so you can
show him where this army of Daltís is." He leaned forward. "And be
absolutely sure of where your loyalties lay, Brandi. If you even think of
turning coat, you wonít live to do much about it."

Brandi sighed, and nodded in agreement. In a family that was short on trust
to begin with, she was really getting the business end of it. Not that she
blamed them, really. She wouldnít trust herself either under the
circumstances.

For the better part of an hour Brandi told them what she had discovered
about the army threatening Amber: troop composition and formation, size,
supply lines, and other details as demanded by Benedict. The leadership
situation was reviewed in detail: Lord Borelís Logrus-Ghost, Dalt himself,
and the one truly in charge, Brand.

"Did you see any more of those creatures?" asked the taciturn defender of
Amber.

"No," Brandi responded. "Today was the first time Iíve ever seen anything
like them. I saw none at the encampment."

"Perhaps theyíre something Brandís holding in store for his family," mused
Gerard. "Or just for his daughter."

"Perhaps," echoed Benedict.

Random looked at him. "Is this information enough?"

"For now."

"When do you plan to leave?"

"Noon."

No time wasted, thought Brandi.

"All right, people. You know what to do," said the King. Gerard and Julian
turned immediately to leave, surely back to the fleet and to Arden,
respectively. Benedict also made as if to go, and turned to Brandi.

"Be at my quarters at noon," he said, and left without waiting for her
response.

----------------

Brandi walked around the garden. Again. Behind her were two different
guards, one a short, muscular woman, the other balding with a hairline scar
across his chin.

Laura was nowhere to be found. This was not good, Brandi thought. Laura
had obviously thought this meeting to be important, so she wouldnít just
"forget" about it. Something was wrong. Brandi looked up at the sky; it
was almost midday. She had perhaps an hour, maybe less, before she had to
report back to Benedict.

"Feetalís Gizz," she muttered. She drew her Trump deck and pulled her
beautiful cousinís card. She focused on the steel-grey eyes, willing them
to life, imagining her voice. "Laura," she called.

Nothing.

Brandi pushed the contact. The card turned cold, as expected, then
suddenly became infernally warm, and a foreboding feeling that echoed
Brandiís earlier lethal Trump contact hit her with almost palpable force.

"Laura!" Brandi focused, fashioning her will into a diamond-hard point that
she drive through the card in her hand. It began to tremble and hum, the
corners curling inward as wisps of smoke arose from it. Still no response.

"Laura!!" she yelled. The card cracked and burst into flame; she wove a
quick spell around it and kept the shards in contact with each other. The
fire seemed to pierce directly into her skull as she pushed further with her
psyche. Still no response.

She suddenly reached her limits, and the card burst into a ball of fire as
she quickly let it go, staggering backward. Her head was pounding. Damn.
Brandi turned to the guards, who stared at her apprehensively. "Go tell the
King that Princess Laura is in danger," she said to the woman.

"Milady, we were ordered-"

"Now!" She spat, and the woman hurried off. She turned to the other guard.

"Go to the stables, see if her horse is there. Tell Mikal Grube to ready it
if he is there, and to ready my horse. Have them brought around to the
front of the castle."

The man looked indecisive, but a glare from the Bard of Amber sent him
running as well. Brandi ran back into the castle herself, clearing three
steps at a time on her way up the stairs. She banged once on Lauraís door,
then kicked it open and jumped in. Empty. She looked quickly around, saw
no sign of struggle, and exited again.

She turned a series of corners, aiming for the main stairway, and passed by
another room. She paused a moment, then opened the door.

And stepped into her fatherís quarters. She looked around the still space,
unused for years, but still containing a lingering presence about it. It
chilled and fascinated her.

"Another time," she breathed, her voice strangely loud in the silence, and
exited.

As she descended the stairway, she had an idea. She strode through the main
entrance to Castle Amber, and saw the guard and Mikal Grube, Tovarich and
Moonghost saddled and in tow. Both of them shuffled eagerly. She also saw
Sarah walking towards them from the direction of the main gates. Brandiís
fellow redhead tensed, seemingly aware of the fact that something important
was happening.

"Be ready for anything," she said to her cousin and the guard, and the
horses tensed in their own unspoken response. Then Brandi closed her eyes,
and focused on the swan ring she had asked Laura to guard for her.
That ring had saved her life. It was an item she had carried for so long
and yet understood so little about. Her mentor, the ancient dragon Drokk,
had forged it for her with magic and dragonfire. She had carried it with
her on her first Patternwalk, and again when she first walked the True
Pattern. But its abilities were still a mystery to her. Evidently, it had
some sort of Trump power hidden within it, but Brandi had not known of this
until that frantic moment when it transported her from certain death at the
hands of her father to Amber scarce days ago. It was this innate Trump
ability that she was counting on now. Would it work?

Brandi focused on the image of the minute swan, wings outstretched, rising
above a sea of clouds.

"Come on, Laura. Answer..."