…At least for most of them. While Zarurra and her group were fighting the battle in Amber, Brand was back in the Burl murdering my Father and his various spouses. Jay managed to protect Penny with some type of super-grade temporal stasis, but he and Lewis were wiped out. Brand stole their souls as well, forcing me do something about it. Also, unfortunately for Penny, without Robin Jay, we may not be able to release her, so recovery of the souls is paramount to her survival as well. Fortunately, Dantalian was finished killing Diedra, so he was available to help me go after Brand. This was fortunate, as I certainly couldn’t have done anything to him on my own. Somehow, I managed to get conned into bringing Rook’s sister Magdalyne along. She ended up getting left behind with my father’s family consoling them while Dantalian and I left to deal with Brand. I’m not sure if this is such a good thing to have brought another stranger into The Burl, but I’m too overwhelmed to be too concerned about that right now.
My estimate of the situation was pretty accurate. I was fairly useless against Brand. I did manage to keep his attention long enough for Dantalian to sneak up on him, and then suicide himself. I’m not sure exactly how it worked, but apparently by proving that he could strike Brand, and then leave no trace (i.e. “First rule of assassination, kill the assassin,”) he killed the part of Brand that was the archetype of The Assassin, taking it upon himself, and thus leaving Brand bereft of purpose. At least with the shock Dantalian delivered to Brand, I was able to pierce through his momentary shattered mental guard and snatch the location of My father’s and Lewis’ souls. He had sent them to his daughter, the head of the Maelstrom Empire. I returned to my Father’s family with this news. By this time, The Council of the Moon had arrived as well. Upon my release of this information, nearly the entire council charged off to declare war against her and her little empire too. I must admit, while I was very interested myself in joining the charge, I had to worry about this being exactly what Brand had in mind when he initiated this. Atalanta was the exception to this, so I was able to speak with her a bit on my concerns. She agreed that she would keep this in mind, and to try to keep her “sisters” from getting too out of hand. She suggested brining Sparrow or Onuban for Dantalian. This sent me back out to Amber, where it was all over but the healing. I was able to expedite this by rounding everyone up and bringing them to one location, which I judge may have saved a few lives, so at least I wasn’t totally useless. Namely among them are Artax, Derix, Ratatosk, and possibly Zarurra who might just have burned her own life force out trying to keep the latter two alive. And of course, the two unborn children. Yes, I noticed Zarurra’s and Ratatosk’s pregnancies at our strategy session before the battle. Personally, I think getting pregnant right before you knowingly enter into a titanic battle for the fate of the mutliverse to be the height of irresponsibility, but I’m sure the three of them were thinking more along the lines of now or never. I’ve always said Uncle Julius thinks more with his balls than his brain where Zarurra is concerned. However, it wasn’t my decision to make, and since it had already been done, I refrained from comment. So it looks like there’ll be a baby carriage along here eventually as well. Both Onuban and Sparrow were willing to accompany me back to The Burl, and Sparrow brought Dantalian back. Now, I believe only this new Talisman is left on his list. Good for him. This was the point he was able to explain to me the whole, killing the assassin and becoming the assassin it I mentioned previously. He was still pretty shaken up from his ordeal, so I left him with Aquia back at Atlantis.
This left me with something of a quandary. I very much want to take part in the search for my father’s soul, but both my logical analysis and my feelings in the Tao would seem to direct me to dealing with the Talisman and Menelaus. The Council of the Moon and the Walker Clan is surely sufficient to deal with this mission, but being denied participation is soul wrenching. Of course, I can personally feel the danger of letting The Talisman and Menelaus run free, and if I abandon that necessary cause, even temporarily, for reasons of personal gratification, no matter how important the actual mission, the guilt will tear me apart even more surely than my grief and frustration. It is a loose-loose proposition, and I feel certain that The Talisman foresaw this when he helped Bran come up with this tactic. I’m quite certain that The Talisman and his forces had a hand in spurring Brand into taking this action in order to prevent me from interfering in the war at Amber, especially sense Ian made sure to personally inform me of Brand’s activities. I don’t know how much was Brand, and how much was The Talisman and/or Menelaus, but I hold them all responsible. Of course, I can’t let that dominate my thinking as I pursue them, lest I remove the Talisman only to take his place.
Before leaving The Burl for my outside quests again, I stopped by the 1000 worlds to drop off a few “gifts” for the Maelstrom Empire and its Empress. Having received Onuban’s blessing, I scattered Spike and Dawn’s little biological concoction for the Arden Blacks. I tried to find and speak directly with the Empress, but she is deliberately dodging me. The 1000 Worlds aren’t as well crafted digital realms as Digital Earth is, so my powers of persuasion with the stars were of little use here as the stars here have almost no substance beyond that of a shallow computer graphic. However, this did make the program’s interface easier to hack. I’ve set up quite a few unpleasant surprises for the Maelstrom Empire. Nothing that will make the average citizens life too difficult, but it should drive its administrators, including the Empress, up a wall. A small bit vengeance, but it was the best I could do with the time I had available to devote to the project. And who knows, if my experience with the Tao has taught me anything, it’s that the smallest actions can have the greatest consequences. Perhaps what I’ve unleashed will one day lead to major consequences that will do significant good. But that, if it happens, is far into a future which is too heavily shrouded for me to see at this time. For now, however, it’s just a plink in the pond, and it’s just as poor a release of my frustrations as well.
There was much I could have done if I had been able to help in the battle. I could have accomplished something, my skills or abilities could have made a significant difference in several of the fights that went on. As it was everyone else managed to scrape by entirely without my help. Even Piper managed to be of critical use. I was diverted away by an engineered crisis which I was helpless to deal with. If it hadn’t been for Dantalian, I’d have failed utterly. The others are catching their breath after their horrendous ordeal, but they are flush in the face of their hard won accomplishments. I, however, have done nothing of note. Yes, I kept the fleet at bay long enough for preparations to receive it to be made (not that anyone other than the bad guys noticed my efforts), and yes I managed to save a few lives after the fact by brining everyone together, but I made no direct contribution to the fight itself. I’ve spent all of this time trying to master my developing abilities, and I missed the main event. Not only was I not a factor in this war, but my own family has been dealt a crippling blow which I am powerless to avenge, unable to correct, and which was impossible for me to prevent. I now truly understand what the phrase: “A hollow victory,” means. I feel empty inside, weighed down by pain, grief, frustration, and helpless rage. I am utterly wretched.