Red Headed league

Well, That Didn't Work
An excerpt from The Tales of Fox

No sooner do I Alana and I finish talking about The Crone, than I sense the influence of The Talisman upon The Vale. Specifically, someone directly connected to The Talisman, and at his behest, had just blocked a Trump connection between Zarurra and another. Sense communication jamming generally precedes something nasty I decided to get to Zarurra as fast as I could. Figuring said something nasty could happen to Zarurra while I was gabbing with Alana, I decided that explanations could wait, and proceeded strait out of the ship with my sword drawn and ready. Naturally enough, Alana followed. Pat, perforce, followed her following me. Sparrow, saw the strange man onboard and, not knowing how he got there, followed him following Alana following me.

Quite quickly our little procession arrived at the front gates to The Castle of The Vale, where a set of guards proceeded to bar my way. I tried to just slip past them, but they were actually skilled enough to close off that maneuver. That’s… never… happened to me before. Of course, once I cam skidding to a halt, they demanded explanations of me. Since I was a totally unknown quantity to them, I had no idea how to give them a succinct explanation that they would be willing to act on immediately. I’m… not used to having to explain myself to peons at all either. Nor am I used to encountering guards that are both technically on our side and still alive. So, for a few precious moments I was somewhat at a loss for words.

Into this awkwardness arrived everyone else. Apparently, the guards new Sparrow and were willing to let her vouch for me, but she was, quite understandably I must admit, reluctant to let an armed ‘excited’ individual such as myself into someone else’s palace on her own head. At that point, Alana went off on me about my rapid response. Since forward progress had been halted, and a speedy response to whatever was happening with Zarurra was no longer possible, I went ahead and took the time necessary to explain to her that I sense Zarurra had somehow had a brush with The Talisman, and that I had felt time was of the essence in responding. She found this to be unacceptable. Regardless of how eminent or severe the danger to her sister was, I should always take the time to expound, even if I didn’t have any specifics to offer, before any attempt is made to head off such danger.

Well, since Alana didn’t need me to help her sister, I didn’t have any need to try and talk my way past the guards, so I went back to the ship until such time as it was fully determined that Zarurra was certainly in need of assistance. In the mean time Zarurra had made contact with someone else, and was in the process of ‘sending through’ most of her gathered clique. Alana and Sparrow arrived just in time to get in on the end of that, thanks to following my rapid response I might add. Not that any of them appreciated that. I felt Pat follow.

As I am walking back to the ship, I get a contact from Julius. Apparently, Zarurra and Co. have landed right in the middle of a boarding battle on a spaceship between the previously mentioned Cosmic Vampire Nazi Overlord and a pack of rebellious vampires, led by a young vampire from Amber named Ian, intent on wrestling control of ‘The Reich’ from its rightful Führer, this elder Vampire from Amber named Eric. According to what Julius told me, if Ian won, he’d use the resources of this vampire space empire to attack Amber and claim its throne. Not to mention we could both feel the influence of The Talisman in this. Julius felt that he needed to go cut this attack off at its source, but was concerned that there were individuals where he was currently who could thwart his movements. So, he wanted to use a combination of The Tao and Pattern to switch places with me. Trusting his judgment, I allowed him to proceed.

So now I was caught between two armies of space vampires.

Great… Just Great…

Zarurra’s contact here was The Führer’s granddaughter and Deputy Führer, a woman named Piper with the power of Pattern. I could sense that Eric was still alive, even though his Trump was not responding. I could also sense the presence of Rook, which indicated that Menelaus had some type of interest in this as well. We headed to the bridge to assist Eric. On the way, we ran into Jill of all people. Shockingly, she stated that she could not allow us to attack Rook. Most of us blew past her, but Sparrow and Inque stayed behind to distract her. I wasn’t sure if that would work since there were as many of her as she needed, but I had little time to worry about that. We quickly reached the bridge, where Eric was engaged in sword combat with Ian, and the multiple Rook corpse littered about them indicated that he would soon rejoin the fray as well. Our way was barred by two vampire Cardinals of The Talisman, who were penetrating all of our mental defenses to read our surface thoughts at range

I allowed the others to deal with the Cardinals, and focused my efforts through the Tao at the battle that mattered. I used the Tao to restrain Ian and leave him vulnerable to Eric’s assault. As I did so, I sensed that Ian had gained the powers of the Cardinals. The two other Cardinals did not possess the power of Pattern, but they had plenty of other abilities. When one of the opened up a gate right on top of Alana, I realized that this Alternate Talisman must have defeated the coalition of friends that had defeated the original Talisman back in the Burl. A quick scan of them confirmed this. There stolen powers included the creation and forging abilities of Zarurra’s uncle Lenard, and Onuban’s ability to duplicate any power he witnessed. Not good. Sparrow arrived with Inque, and they engaged the Cardinal who had gated Alana away. Zarurra and her dragon together tore the other one to pieces. Unfortunately, Piper managed to slip through the cardinals and interfere with Eric’s battle. Instead of allowing Eric to cut down Ian and thus end his threat, she used the Pattern to remove Ian from the universe. Then she initiated a Trump call to Eric right as Rook returned, distracting him at the critical juncture and leaving him open to Rook’s attack. I tried to compensate, but Jill had returned and through up and erected some type of abyssal barrier which being outside the confines of existence, the Tao could neither affect nor pass through. Thanks to his granddaughter, Eric was slain and Ian escaped. If I didn’t know better through the Tao, I’d swear Piper was part of the conspiracy against Eric.

After it was all over, Jill remained. I struck up a conversation with her to try and figure out why she had been helping Rook, and by extension Menelaus master of The Black Spiral which she had previously sought to destroy. For making this enquiry, Piper, the new Führer, swore to hunt me down and kill me. Damned arrogant, incompetent, Nazi, bitch. It seems we now have a female version of Rook to deal with. I’m going to have to do something about her before she can become a problem for me.

Anyway, Jill said she had fallen in love with a priestess named Cynthai, whom had asked her to look after Rook. She asked if I would like to meet Cynthai, and after consultation with Julius, agreed to do so with Inque and Sparrow in support. Jill took us to meet her new beloved. Cynthai turned out to be yet another high-ranking vampire in yet another vampire kingdom. Although the emotions of Jill and Cynthai matched their claims of mutual adoration… Their behavior was off… Jill, the proud, powerful, elder force of nature that went where and when she wished doing as she wished acted with the mannerisms of an abject slave. Although Cynthai never asked this of her, and indeed gave her tacit permission to not play servant in our presence, it did not counter the fact that Cynthai regarded this as normal. I could tell from the fact that she regarded us as equals, that this was off. If she had truly fallen in love with Jill, the proud, powerful, elder force of nature that went where and when she wished doing as she wished, who is a greater being even than Sparrow a true goddess, then she should have been loath to see Jill act in such a servile manner. But she was clearly not. Yet I can sense no means of coercion at all, nor is there a disturbance in the Tao that would indicate the abrogation of Jill’s free will. Something is defiantly very wrong here, especially sense I can sense the hand of Menelaus in this somehow. Cynthai had already admitted to an alliance with Menelaus, but had said she was helping him to en d the great evil represented by the Vampire Nazi Eric. That Menelaus was clearing the way for a greater evil with his removal was news to her, and she promised that if she could bring her proof of this, that she would recommend to her mistresses that their alliance should be terminated. I sensed that she was sincere in this, and that she honestly believed it likely that her queens would follow such a recommendation. However, I could also sense that he was somehow involved in the creation of this relationship between Jill and Cynthai, and that it continued to benefit him in some way.

While we were having our conversation with Cynthai, Zarurra was helping the spirit of Eric posses one of the Items of Power possessed by Piper. So when we reunite with them in Amber, well be hauling around to Vampire Nazi overlords. (No, Piper herself is not a Vampire, but she is their overlord.)

So, to recap: The individual we were trying to save was led to his death by his closest ally, whom we brought into the fray with us, and said individual also helped Ian escape to benefit from the death of Eric.

That little adventure just didn’t work out so well for us…

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So Much For My Nap
An excerpt from The Tales of Fox

As we were traveling to The Vale, Zarurra summoned her vampire servitor through Trump, and had him bring her the survivors from the booby trap Inque, the liquid man, had left for Tiberius’ pursuers. There were two. One was something called an Ood. I could sense the hive mind it was connected to, although it also seems to have limited functionality as an individual at the same time. Apparently, once it surrenders to someone, it “becomes theirs” and totally obedient to its new masters will. Since we had captured it, it felt fully obligated to follow all of our orders and answer any of our questions. From it we learned that the assassins were sent by Princess Solace herself, not to kill Tiberius, but merely to give the appearance that they were here to kill him, then escape after being “driven off.” So much for Princess Solace being a potential ally. Either she is trying to manipulate us into trusting Tiberius because he is serving an agenda of hers that she knows we will not tolerate, or someone else is trying to set her up in order to ruin whatever trust we might have in her. In the case of the former, actively working with her has become too dangerous. In the case of the latter… well it worked. Even if I were to assume it as a false flag ploy, that would mean that Solace herself was taken in by it which would indicate that her “chess” skills are wholly overestimated and totally inadequate for what I had in mind. Since that would contradict all the other considerable evidence I have of her tactical & manipulative skills, I consider that a most unlikely possibility.

The other survivor would also seem to reinforce that Princess Solace was indeed the orcastrater of this ruse. He is a follower of The Way, although his understanding of it still appears to be in the most basic stages. Just like mine. Julius suggested that we attempt to guide him to a better understanding. I promptly reminded him that my own understanding was still far too primitive to try and guide someone else. Julius amended himself, and suggested that we could at least find him a good trainer. But as for his role in the attempted ambush… It would seem that his place was to interfere with Julius and myself should we appear to be causing the Ood too much trouble through the Tao, especially with their retreat. While his own abilities are not sufficient to beat the two of us together, he could possibly have diverted us long enough to allow the successful escape of his taskforce. It would appear that the reason he failed was due to the environment. Apparently, he has some special environmental needs, and the form to which Backup Earth altered his containment suit was unsuitable to sustain his needs. It is quite possible that the “programming oddities” inherent in this backup copy of Digital Earth are unknown to Solace and were therefore unaccounted for. Then again, Dantalian had previously uncovered evidence that she had been monitoring the entire group directly through some gear she had given Tiberius. If that’s true, then maybe this fellow was supposed to be overcome, thus ensuring his capture and the revelation of this ploy as having originated from Solace and thereby marring her reputation… It doesn’t matter. No matter the truth behind all of these conundrums, the simple fact of the matter is that there is too much intrigue surrounded Princess Solace for her to be of use to us. We need someone capable of thinking in vast, overarching, Byzantine plots to help us sort trough and counter the schemes of Menelaus and The Talisman. What good is it to us even if Solace is capable of this, if we must become wrapped up in her own Byzantine political quagmire? That’s just trading one mess for another, or worse adding them together and thus compounding both problems. No, Solace is an entanglement we should avoid, but I fear that she will very much refuse to be avoided. This is all just one big cluster-f#@k. We should just dump Tiberius, but Zarurra can’t seem to bring herself to turn anyone away, no matter how dangerous they are to the cause.

As for what to do with our two newbies… I’m going to let Julius worry about this new follower of The Way. I’m not up to handling the kind of responsibility he represents. As for the Ood, he seems tapped out as a resource for the moment at least, and holds little interest for me at this point. However, I hope everyone has realized the security threat he represents to us. All that which he knows is known to his hive, and anyone who has access to at least one of them, say in the same way we have access to it, has access to everything he knows about us. Also, if anyone was to ever capture him away from us, then he would become theirs, and would just as readily tell them everything he has learned from us as he was to tell us whatever we wanted to know. On second thought, I think this Ood warrants more attention. I have a few more things to uncover on the specifics of the way in which its link to its fellows works.

After we arrived The Vale, I attempted to follow through with my plan to take a nap. However, my thoughts were still churning on our current situation and I found my mind drawn to my companions. Several of them met Rooks family, discovering that Eureka is pregnant with his baby. His father seems to be wise enough to realize the insanity inherent in the Pattern Blooded Royal Family, but not wise enough to prevent himself from becoming tangled up in it. Poor man. Rooks mother issued forth some sort of prophesy regarding Rook and Menelaus, but its mysteries are currently opaque to me. I’ll have to query Zarurra for the details later, and see if I can find the sense in it.

While I was attempting to nap, some Irish idiot used The Way to astraly project himself into my room. He said his mother had sent him to find the one who knew how to save the universe. I thought he was one of Zarurra’s fan boys at first, but he insisted the Tao brought him to me. Time will tell on that score, and I think I might just return the astral visit to his mother to see what’s exactly up with this. Then he proceeded to start hitting on me, reminding me that this cabin was currently functioning as my bedroom so I threw him the hell out.

Just a few minutes later Alana came barging in demanding to know about “The Crone,” who is the current Vale Empress’s great-grandmother Viviane, and therefore Rook’s great-great-grandmother. Apparently, Alana ran into Viviane at the Vale Pattern, and was informed through some type of chessboard symilcron that Rook was soon to assassinate some “Cosmic Vampire Nazi Overlord,” I think he might be somehow connected to Zarurra’s vampire servitor, and that his would be a very bad thing for us. Alana recognized my “guest” Pat. Apparently, he had previously been traveling with Zarurra and Co. before I had the misfortune to run across them. Pat acknowledged her recognition by hitting on her as well.

Sigh… So much for my nap…

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Politics (Excerpt from the Journal of Zarurra)

I don’t know what I’m going to do. And everyone looks to me for answers, I’m afraid they have not realized that just because I am a Champion of Truth doesn’t make me all knowing. So much has been happening and I’ve not had anytime to myself to sort through anything. Not that I’m going to complain about my current company, Julius has been a rock upon which I’ve been able to anchor myself in this chaotic mess that is trying to sweep me away.

Everyone has an agenda. Not all of them mesh. I’m looking at big picture stuff but I also know that the details can be important. Sometimes I wish I could blind myself to the truth…Rook I don’t fully understand if he has betrayed us knowingly or not, or was swept up in things himself. But damnit he has a child on the way. Eureka and I’ve not been the best of friends, she is entirely too bubbly for my taste but that doesn’t mean I wish her ill. I know that Rook is or was ,which ever maybe appropriate there, an honorable man despite any social differences he may have held with our compatriots. He was mainly a big picture guy and the details didn’t really apply for him. I hope that I can save or avenge him for Eureka and his child’s sake. An I swear his child will know that he was a great man.

Lorelai has an agenda or perhaps just some whims its hard to tell with her, I’m just trying to figure them out. If Rook had apologized I believe Fox would have not severed our connection and we might have been able to stop what happened, Red did the right thing without a making the vow, and I’ve though over and over about what she could possibly meant about sharing my love. The only thing that makes any sense at all is to insist that Julius marry Ratatos and I remain the Royal mistress or some such which I believe would be acceptable to the Golden Circle. I’m desperate to avoid fighting in another war, especially one caused by me.

Jill is strange. I respect her, should probably fear her but I think I’m all out of unneccessary fear right now. She has left me with someone to help protect me because I’m important. I fear that Inque is just a spy for her but he did help save Red, which endears him to me. My father was fearful of my being in her presence but I cannot tell if that is b/c I was truly in danger or Dad being overprotective. I’m important b/c of the children I will bear. WTF? I hate when I get around folks that can see into the future and they rattle bits off like that.

Alana & Knox boy are those two going to be the death of me either by my trying to save their asses or Mom and Dad killing me for letting them run head long into danger. Inque has said he would help train Alana is fighting so that we can get her to go for a kill instead of the hurt. I hate to take what little of her naivete remains away but I need strong allies that I trust completely at my back and my poor sister needs to become more pragmatic if she is to survive. Knox is a god send but he tends get himself into the thick of things even when I believe he is fray adjacent…

Tiberius is so naive and uncomplicated but forced into a commplicated situation. I will deal with his fmaily later. I fear there will be a reckoning between me and Frank or Pax.

Sparrow I believe her and I will butt head before long. I need to know why she imprisoned Caine…the entire reason. If I have to travel to the Isle of Mad Gods to find out I will. But this is something that can wait. I will bide my time.

Fox wants desperately to help and help she does very well at times. But she is not very aware that sometimes even if we know that its the wrong way to go we have to let people get lost so that they learn their lesson. Some people no matter if you tell them 100 times that fire is hot will have to touch it for themselves and get burned before they realize it. I would dead 3 times over were it not for her but then again I wonder if her going to all this trouble to save me when others were also in danger makes me think she knows more about my future as well.

Careck and the Ood, I have no idea what the hell to do with these two. I sometimes feel like a cosmic multiverse spannning pied piper…but according to Julius Careck is verse in the Way. Perhaps he can be swayed to help us of his own volition, however he is young and mouthy. I feel old and I’ve not yet reached 20 summers…The Ood I think will be helpful and may provide an opportunity to gain more allies or he may go nutty and kill us all.

And now I learn that Rook/Menalaus is planning to assasinate Eric and cause yet another war for us to deal with. I fear that I maynot be able to save Rook and help us all if Rook is in this voluntarily with Menalaus. I hate dealing with vampires but it seems I must. Although I don’t believe Fritz is trying to kill me now. I can’t figure out what is going on there perhaps I should read more of the Delphinian tomes b/c I honestly just sort of skimmed them growing up. I need to know if I can trust him and what all our bond entails…I know I should have done this before but I was distracted and big picture and all. I’m a bloody fool sometimes.

And Darix has become quiet since the incident with his memories being taken. I hurt for my dearest friend. And his council was previously a comfort to me but he is not himself and I need his jovial nature right now. I’d even settle for him teasing me about finally giving it up as he used to call it.

And my parents who seemed to have al the answers I’ve learned are as fallible and guessing at times as the rest of us. I love them and I feel safe with them but I no longer can curl up into either of their laps and feel 100% safe or protected anymore.

Z

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One Cosmic Menace Down, How Many More to Go?
An excerpt from The Tales of Fox

All I wanted was a little rest, time to for us to recover from the recent shocks and regroup. Not to mention the fact that we had been up for a rather long stretch, and my loss of divinity in this realm was really starting to make me feel the fatigue.

But then Sparrow showed up.

I knew then that anything resembling an actual rest for us was impossible, but I was deep enough into denial that I tried anyway. Silly me.

Julius did get in touch with Empress Carawynne, but as we feared it was already too late. He did learn that somehow Menelaus had already manages to hook Rook into the Black Spiral. I thought that took some time, but apparently not. From the description, it also appears that new bodies for the souls can be generated near instantly. Great. Just great.

Right into the middle of this walks Jill, the abyss creature that destroyed Maelstrom’s original Black Spiral Network. I have to say, that despite her reputation as an unpredictable force of destruction, I was glad to see her. She’s a potent ally in this fight. She brought along someone else, this… thing. I don’t say thing in disgust or horror, only in that I don’t know what else to call him. He’s some kind of liquid life form, kind of an organic version of the T-1000. He’s all black, and seems to generally take the form of a bald black man. It still looks a little odd, since he’s absolute jet black.

And then, just to pile it on of course, shows up Arden Black, back from wherever Mrs. Mathews had stuck him. He said he was sent by The Talisman to help us destroy the “false” Talisman that was about to born from the Black Spiral which Menelaus had set loose to keep us “entertained” while he moves on to the next phase of his plan, whatever that is. Arden was even offering to bestow the powers of the Cardinals on us. Red came close to accepting, but in the end no one was foolish enough to let the megalomaniac’s right hand minion mess with their DNA. Arden can now copy powers as well as bestow them, and I have no doubt that his offer was a veiled attempt for his master to acquire whatever unique abilities might be present in our group without having to run us all down. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be surprised if that genetic manipulation cam complete with some type of leash for The Talisman to yank.

Liquid man went out on a scout about our perimeter, and discovered a group of heavily armed and armored assassins sent by (a) “opposing” faction(s) from the Rahnian Sphere to kill Tiberius. We decided to avoid rather than engage, and adjourned to Sparrow’s ship. There, she imprisoned Arden in some type of psychic proof stasis capsule while Zarurra and her friends debated what to do with him. Not having known Arden as they had, I abstained from the proceedings. Even Julius seemed to think that it was best for Arden to “move on” if he couldn’t be redeemed from his allegiance to The Talisman, and neither he nor anyone else could think of a way to inspire that to occur. So they killed him. Dantalian did the honors with that special dagger of his. It’s supposed to be able to kill all the copies of something it is used against at once throughout the entire multiverse at once, so this was expected to destroy all of his various clones as well. I didn’t think that would work, as Arden’s transformation into a Cardinal of The Talisman had fundamentally altered him both physically and mentally. I was right, but what I hadn’t realized, although I damn well should have, was that the uniform nature of the Cardinals and their ability to share all of the same capabilities made them essentially copies of one another. I could feel the dagger slaying them all throughout the web of the multiverse through the Tao. I could also feel the Talisman use the Tao to halt the dagger’s progress, and then to block it entirely. I think Dantalian got about half The Cardinals with that strike.

This was an incredible development. The good news was that I think Julius and I can together protect the fabric of the Tao around Dantalian’s dagger to stop the Talisman’s interference with its operation. What’s more, since the Cardinals are all essentially lesser versions of The Talisman himself, I think that Julius and I can, at the same time, use the Tao to guide the blade to him as well, we may need some additional help with that part as the Talisman has a fairly strong connection to the Tao with which to fight us. Last time, the Wardens had to get through the barrier of the Cardinals to get to The Talisman. Now instead of playing dodge the Cardinal, we can remove the whole lot of them if we can just get our hands on one of them. The bad news is that The Talisman is now fully aware of this possibility, and knows who Dantalian is. But that Talisman wasn’t our main concern at that precise moment. No, we had to worry about the one popping out here and now from the Black Spiral, along with a companion Maelstrom. While the others had debated the problem of Arden Black, I had been conducting my own little experiment. I had used The Myst as a back door to hack into the operating system running this version of virtual earth, and managed to force it to render me properly, restoring my full attributes and capabilities. It took a bit of focus to keep ahead of the anti-viral programs, but I was confident in my ability to use this technique to push two of our number up to full power in this place. With that capability in mind, we decided on an immediate assault upon the Talisman and Maelstrom, hoping to use the confines of this universe to weaken them and attack them with strength before they could overcome this handicap or escape to other places where they would be at full power.

We split into three groups. One group would stay onboard the ship to protect me as I enhanced our champions, one group would fake a fire and evacuate the civilians from the area around the Black Spiral Node we were assaulting, and then the third group, our two champions Dantalian and Julius, would enter and assault the Talisman and Maelstrom directly. Of course, nothing went to plan. Red’s fears of Fin having possessed his former pupil the Talisman proved true, and he sensed our coming. He also had minions. A potent group of meta-humans, which he had cloned multiple times so each of our groups got to play with a whole team of their very own. Their initial onslaught was threatening to overwhelm the ship, so Sparrow jumped it into a star, outside of the virtual realm, just as I slid into The Myst to protect myself. Somehow, The Myst was present inside this star, and connected to the virtual earth as well. I have no idea how this was possible, but I had not time at the moment to ponder it. Sparrow used the powers of her Key to protect her ship and her allies from the star’s heat. The enemies weren’t so lucky. A few of them managed to realize what was up and teleport away just in the nick of time. The rest burned. Back on the ground, Julius used his restored capabilities to take out a whole group of them on his own while Dantalian continued on. The fight outside was pretty heavy, but Zarurra managed to hold her own while Alana rampaged with Red covering her. The liquid man’s strange abilities provided just the edge to tip the balance.

Of course, Red used the chaos of the fight to charge in and confront her father on her own. This would probably have been disastrous had not Lorellai interfered. Fortunately, this time Red accepted her terms, and Lorellai was somehow able to enhance her similarly to what I was doing for Julius and Dantalian. Jill had already done something to her to protect her from manipulation by the Tao. I’m not sure how much my own enhancements mattered. Aside from being able to take on that one group of minions on his own, Julius was drawn out of position to help in the main fight. Dantalian was able to trash the cloning chambers where the minions were being re-grown, but I’m not sure he really needed my help for that. Fortunately Red, with the help of the liquid guy, got it done. Adam did something with his contractual powers to help, but I’m not sure what exactly he did. For curiosity’s sake, I’ll have to ask him when I get a chance. Liquid man was pretty impressive, molding himself on Red and literally holding her together despite the physical injuries Fin inflicted.

The good news for us was that even Menelaus feared the return of an actual Maelstrom, so while his body popped out, it had the personality of Joe Shmoe inhabiting it rather than Maelstrom himself. The bad news was that fin was able to use him as a puppet to attack the group arrayed against him. I think this was actually a blessing in disguise, as it drew off the rest of the people, such as Zarurra, away from the fight between Red and Fin, getting them out of the way of Fin’s powers. Zarurra had meant well in trying to help Red directly, but she just couldn’t cope with Fin’s manipulation of the Tao. One of her attempts to attack him had nearly killed her and given Fin the opportunity for his biggest blow to Red. The bad news was that this secondary fight was pretty tough. Alana was nearly killed, but I was able to use The Myst to spirit her back to the ship and place under the care of her brother the healer. I was also able to use The Myst to pull Zarurra out of her scrape with Fin. I think it was my services as a safety net that was ultimately my most useful contribution, inglorious though it were.

Eventually, Red took Fin Down. His soul was promptly placed in a new body, but Lorellai had somehow halted the growth process of the clone, freezing it in infant status, thus preventing the imprinting of Fin’s actual personality on it. Red and Adam have decided to raise the child properly, so he doesn’t turn into a monster. The Father has become the son. Jill has deposited the liquid man here with us to look after Zarurra as part of some cosmic level community service. Both Jill and Lorellai have made reference to Zarurra being important because of her son. She isn’t currently pregnant, I checked, so I’m wondering if this is a reference to a future development that they foresee, or perhaps some other surprise awaiting Zarurra out there. Time will tell. Having left us the liquid man, Jill collected the Maelstrom double, Mal Edwards, and departed.

Red and Adam are departing for the Burl to begin raising the new Fin, and my uncle Dantalian is going with them. He needs to lay low for a bit in some place that The Talisman can’t get to him, and he wants to try and reconnect with his old girlfriend.

Meanwhile… I’m stuck here with Zarurra and co. on Sparrow’s ship. I’d like to more fully explore the mysteries of this strange “copy” of Burl Earth. Seeing all of these vampires and the meta-human minions of Fin has given me some ideas on how to more fully integrate my true statistics with the program that governs that world, and thus retain my full normal self. I’d also very much like to explore the abnormalities of The Myst I have just encountered. However, I have no means of independent travel in these planes, and no one ever bothers to care what I want to do. In fact, if they run true to form, they’ll all split up on their own personal agendas and literally leave me standing alone by myself stranded in whatever place we are just as they did back in Amber. To make it really bad, we’re currently headed for The Vale. The place that spawned Rook is high on my list of location throughout the multiverse in which I do not want to be stranded all by myself.

Sigh… I think I’ll just stay on the ship and catch a nap…

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Damn Rook
An excerpt from The Tales of Fox

Damn Rook!! Damn him, damn him, DAMN HIM!!! I don’t know what his plan was, but it has resulted in him ‘giving himself’ over to Menelaus. The fool willingly allowed an ancient master vampire into his head. The DAMNED FOOL!!! Now Menelaus has his blood, Pattern Blood, coursing through his veins. Through the Tao, I can feel him using Rook as a puppet to take him to the Pattern in The Vale even now. Hopefully Julius can warn Empress Carawynne in time to stop them, but the feeling I’m getting from the Tao may mean it’s already too late… Have to try anyway…

That’s not all of the disasters, just the biggest. Menelaus has destroyed his counterparts in The Burl. The Pattern will change him, body and soul, cutting him off from his other parts as a separate being. They then become his most dangerous competition, so he eliminated them before hand. This, of course, means that no one is sending the ‘all clear’ code to the Black Spiral in the Burl to keep it from popping out more Talismans and Maelstroms. This means that all of the resources of the various guardians of The Burl must be dedicated to finding all of the nodes and the black vault servers, and taking them out before their failsafes trigger. Since it would be detrimental to Menelaus in the long run for these individuals to be re-spawned, I’m fairly certain he sent the code right before he self destructed his duplicates; the idea being to keep all of his greatest adversaries busy in The Burl for a significant amount of time, rather than actually allow new Talismans and Maelstroms to come into being.

And then there’s Arden Black. Apparently, he has somehow deliberately and willingly made it possible for a shadow Talisman, an alternate Talisman from a parallel world, to walk the pattern, even though that would normally not be possible, thus becoming ‘the Real’ Talisman. What’s worse, from what Zarurra said in her communion with The Pattern, I believe he has taken all of his Cardinals through the Pattern with him. That was one ability his cardinals lacked in the Burl, and it will make them, and therefore him, even stronger than before.

Lady Death has imprisoned ‘Cardinal’ Black in her mind somehow for now, so we’ll deal with him latter. Aside from that, the new Talisman has not yet made a personal appearance on our radar. I’m sure he will, and I’m certain it will be at the worst possible moment for us. Until then, we still have Menelaus to deal with. I knew we shouldn’t have let Rook lead us on this expedition. Whatever plan he had, if indeed he ever really had one, he was clearly not sharing. That is evident from his contradictory statements. He announced our little foray as a campaign to detain Menelaus for breaking his word, but latter said we were just going to ‘talk to him.’ It’s also clear that Red had her own plans for how this was going to work out, although I’m not sure what they were or even if she had thought it through enough to be sure herself. In the absence of leadership and a real shared objective or even strategy disaster was bound to befall us. Something I knew, and warned both Julius and Zarurra of, but even I didn’t foresee how bad it was going to be. We were walking into a trap the whole time, and it’s my fault for not seeing it. I saw all of the signs, but I underestimated Menelaus and misread them. I knew it was stupid for Menelaus to try and force Rook to try and turn against Zarurra by killing off or hurting people of value to him. Samurai are the most intractable of beings, and Rook more so than others. Rook would let his home burn to the ground, and everyone he loves die before he would allow an outside force, including his loved ones, to influence his behavior. Also, until he started trying to manipulate Rook, we were unaware that the Black Spiral still existed in any type of coherent form. It was also these attempts that alerted us to the fact that Menelaus had a presence outside The Burl. If he had just lain low, we would never have even known he was there, never would have gone after him, never would have sicked The Wardens on him. I thought he was simply not realizing the truths about Rook as a Samurai, and that he had made a typical Greek mistake in trying to halt an Apollonian prophesy.

Fool me; I should have known Menelaus was far smarter than that. He never would have survived the fall of his original masters if he were that dense. He wanted us to notice him. He singled out Rook knowing that Rook would be unable to ignore the slights against him, and that this would eventually bring Rook to him. He revealed his presence outside The Burl because that was the one copy of him that could actually get to a Pattern. Rooks blood was his target all along. He never gave a damn about Zarurra’s quest. Of the Pattern blooded in Zarurra’s group, Rook was the perfect target. He alone was impetuous, foolish, and arrogant enough to think he could total control the situation in a meeting with Menelaus. Anyone else would have been too cautious to let him into his or her mind. Plus, as a prince of The Vale Rook was the only one who had right of access to a pattern, the better to get Menelaus the opportunity to walk it before anyone realized what had happened. It was a trap from the beginning, and I should have seen it!! I shouldn’t have underestimated Menelaus! If I hadn’t, then I could have warned them and stopped this from happening. Maybe. Rook has the bad habit of only accepting facts that he likes. He might very well have refused to accept my warning, and done this anyway. DAMN HIM!!

So now Menelaus can manipulate the very flow of reality. That’s the biggest disaster Rook has caused, but far from the only one. Menelaus now knows everything Rook new about us. I’m fairly safe on that score, as Rook never bothered to pay attention to me very much. In fact, he often went out of his way to ignore me. He never had any clue what my true capabilities were, so he can’t very well reveal them to Menelaus. Not that that helps me much, as I’m clearly no threat to Menelaus, and my capabilities are actually rather puny compared to him. But he knows things about Zarurra and her group. I am particularly concerned for my Uncle Dantalian and Alana. I am very much afraid that Menelaus will covet my Uncle’s ability to manipulate, or perhaps enhance would be a more proper term, Karma. Also, Zarurra and Alana have a strain of undiluted DNA from Dworkin. I know Rook is aware of that much at least. Apparently, the Pattern will talk to Zarurra directly. I think Rook knows that as well. Zarurra has recently realized that the Pattern talks to her because it thinks she’s Dworkin, its maker. I don’t think Rook has heard this, nor do I think he has realized this on his own. The danger is whether or not there is enough information in Rooks head about Zarurra’s bloodlines and her ability to talk to the Pattern for Menelaus to put it together from the scattered fragments of what passes for Rook’s mind. If he figures this out, he may desire to acquire this ability for his own by walking the Pattern in Amber while filled with Zarurra’s blood. However, I suspect he will go after Alana first. Her blood shares the same characteristics as Zarurra’s, and she has already proven vulnerable to his mind control abilities. He can make contact and dominate her from across the room, without even having to get eye contact. Also, Alana is brash and reckless where Zarurra is cautious and methodical. Zarurra would take precautions to protect herself from Menelaus powers, but Alana would probably still just charge in without thinking. In their last encounter, Zarurra’s and Alana’s wererat servitor sacrificed himself in a vain attempt to save Alana from Menelaus. I can feel the anger overflowing in Alana over that loss. It’s already clouding her judgment, and she’s primed to do something stupid, and I fear Menelaus is calculating enough to realize this.

Then there’s Rook’s Trump deck. I’m still trying to get a handle on this Trump Card thing, but from what I understand, it allows users to create mental links from across the multiverse. Also, one doesn’t know who’s on the other side of the link until the connection is opened. This could be disastrous if Menelaus were to trick someone into making contact with him. I particularly fear for Red in this. I have seen her use Trump before, so I am betting that that can be used to bypass her mental defenses. If Rook had a Trump of Red, then Menelaus could very well use it to bypass her barrier, and I have no idea if her natural mental strength is sufficient to deal with that. What’s worse, she relies so heavily on her natural resistance to mental probes that I doubt it will occur to her that it could be bypassed in this manner.

So now were caught between two cosmic beings each bent on controlling the multiverse, all of the cosmic level beings that might be able to stop them are tied up in other projects making sure this situation doesn’t get worse, and our only hope for immediate survival is that we are so far down on the power scale from these guys that they might not consider us a threat worth bothering with.

We are all so screwed…

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What Else IS Going to Go Wrong?!
An excerpt from The Tales of Fox

Zarurra is sleeping with my great grand uncle. It’s kinda weird. Especially since he’s engaged to this other woman, Ratatosk. It’s a politically arranged marriage, and apparently Julius was never happy with it. He’s decided he’s going to be with Zarurra regardless. Ratatosk is very happy that she’s going to be queen of Amber, and doesn’t seem to mind the whole Julius & Zarurra thing as long as she gets that. I think anyway. Maybe. It’s all so complicated, and I don’t think even the principles, Julius, Zarurra, and Ratatosk, have really figured it out yet either, so all the likes of I can do is watch, wait, and hope my uncle doesn’t get himself buried in some type of emotional/political avalanche from this mess.

Then there’s this whole assault on Menelaus thing that His Royal Assholeness Rook has cooked up. He has enlisted Lorellai’s aid in this, although I’m not sure she’s really here to help him. I can sense through The Tao that she has her own agenda, and that it has three individual centers around Rook, Red, and Zarurra. The Universe advises that what Lorellai has in mind cannot be avoided, and that while it may be traumatic, it is not adverse, at least on her part. The Universe advises that Zarurra be warned ahead of time, but that Rook should be left to find out on his own. Like I’m ever going to make the mistake of disseminating information to him again! Of course, it was going to fetch Zarurra from my Uncle’s bedchamber that ran me into this whole love triangle thing…

Zarurra wanted to fetch her dragon before we left, but when she tried to contact him, it seemed that he was in some distress. We tracked him down to the basement where this Pattern… ‘Thing’ is stored. I didn’t know what it was at first, though I could feel (and see) its pulsing power. When I asked Julius what it was, he told me, and said that it was calling out to me… Ugh!!! The place was a mess, and the guards were all dead. At first I was afraid that Derricks had done something stupid, but it became readily apparent that the place had been attacked by something a lot nastier than he. Whatever it was had literally ripped the memories from the helpless dragon’s mind. Whomever or whatever had done this had taken these memories into the center of The Pattern from whence, Julius informed me, he/she/it could go anywhere in the multiverse. The Tao was left in tatters in this beings wake, and I’m very much afraid that this was perpetrated by a powerful Yama Lord. Taoists like myself seek to understand the subtleties of the universe, and then interface with it in order that the universe my more easily accommodate our needs as we seek to become more in sync with it as a whole. A Yama achieves just enough understanding of the Tao so that that can touch the fabric of the universe and twist it to become more in sync with his/her/its twisted desires. The level of disturbance in the Tao indicated a very powerful distorter of The Way, and I very much fear that it is a creature far beyond my capabilities to handle. Zarurra did something with The Pattern, I have no idea what, and said that this had been done by someone know as Cardinal Pujols, which Lorellai identified as one of The Talisman’s old principle minions, but stated that he had been killed in the war that eventually brought down the Talisman. Apparently, that was either incorrect, or he has been brought back. I fear this has a direct connection to the potential resurrection of The Talisman himself. Time will tell. I just hope it will do so in our favor…

I do have to say, that Derricks is a very amusing creature. I can’t really put it into words, but the way in which he… dealt with his injuries, memory loss, and the intoxicating effects of the healing treatment applied to him had me almost rolling on the ground laughing.

Since there wasn’t much more we could do about this right now, we decided to get on with things. Julius decided to come with Zarurra, and Arden Black showed up to go with us. He seemed fine, but I still had this sense of him being caught in the center of mortal peril. Rook/Lorellai had us divide up into three teams. Rook took Dantalian and went to find the Menelaus outside of the Burl on the copy earth, Red took Zarurra’s siblings, Knox and Alana, into the dreaming to locate the original, and Zarurra, Julius, Arden, and I were left to track him down in the earth in The Burl. Lorellai has the ability to listen in on anyone who agrees to ‘be her friend’, and she piggybacked this power on my abilities with the Tao to expand her network to allow all of us to hear each other. Zarurra asked Rook what exactly he had in mind about this assault, to which Rook insisted we were not assaulting Menelaus, merely going to speak with him. This was news to me, as he had definitely organized it like a military assault on several strategic positions (i.e. the multiple copies of Menelaus) that had to be taken simultaneously in order to prevent warning the others. Also, he had been referring to the plan when he was organizing it as us going to ‘detain’ Menelaus. If talking was our only prerogative, then why did we need to split up and speak to him in different groups in different places? Surely it would be easier for us if we just tried to talk to one of his copies together? Since they were all part of the same being, talking to one or multiples would have no bearing on Menelaus’ perceptions.

During our discussion, Rook found the opportunity to throw out a rather cutting insult about me not having all the answers, and therefore being useless. It came straight out of left field, as we hadn’t even had one of our usual argumentative spats yet. It hurt. A lot. I was very surprised at this, as usually beyond the normal irritation I don’t particularly care what Rook thinks about me, but for some reason the unexpected and deeply personal insult really cut me. I don’t know why, but it did, and since then a caustic tumor of what I can only call hate has begun to fester inside me. I may have claimed to hate Rook before, but I think that was just an exaggerated cry of frustration with having to put up with his caustic nature. But now, I fear that I am coming to truly know hate, and I do not like the feel of this emotion. It is a deep, festering feeling of rage that is caustic against my psyci and the rest of my emotions. I don’t like it, not at all. As I dropped out of the conversation to ponder this, Lorellai finally began to reveal her purpose. She declared that she would only help us in this venture if Rook, Zarurra, and Red would each make a vow for her.

Rook, she asked to apologies to the people he had offended. He objected. Vigorously. He explained, metaphorically, that if someone was going to offend him, he called it a kick in the penis, then he was going to offended them back, i.e. punch them in the face. Of course, what he refused to acknowledge is that the reason that people are walking up and ‘kicking him in the penis’ is because the first thing he does when he walks into a room is step on everyone’s toes. Of course, from his perspective they’re the ones sticking their toes under his feet, so they deserve what they get. When they insist that it is he who is treading in their space, he takes this as an insult/false accusation his ‘kick in the penis,’ and then proceeds to up the ante with his ‘punch to the face.’ Basically (in her own way), she was asking him to stop being such an asshole, and to realize that some (well most really) of the things he was doing were highly offensive from the perspective of other people even though he didn’t intend them that way, and that many of the things he was taking offense over were not intended that way by the people he was resenting. He flat out refused her, declaring that he had the right to enforce his perspective on things and act accordingly as he saw fit.

Red, she asked to give up on revenge against her father Fin, and focus on doing the right thing. Red also refused her, although she tried muddle the waters some by saying that she just wasn’t ready, and that she would probably do that in the future (especially if her vengeance was achieved first). Her offer of potential future acceptance didn’t negate her current refusal however.

Zarurra she asked to share her love. Zarurra asked for clarification, which Lorellai was unable to really provide, since she wasn’t entirely sure what she was asking herself. I’m not entirely certain, but I believe she was referring to the situation between herself, Julius, and Ratatosk. I think what Lorellai was asking was for Zarurra to be willing to share Julius with Ratatosk and her political allies, and not try and insist that he marry her and her alone. Although, this is certainly not clear that I have it right. In the absence of understanding, Zarurra declined to give her absolute word, but said she would try to the best of her ability. Honestly, I cannot blame her for that, it’s almost always disastrous to agree to a promise you don’t understand, especially if the person to whom you are making your oath hasn’t fully decided what they’re planning on asking from you either.

Two refusals and an ‘I’ll try’ were understandably not sufficient for Lorellai, and she departed, although she left the lash-up between us as a parting gift. This didn’t last long, thanks to Rook of course. Zarurra once again questioned him on what exactly we were all supposed to be doing. He didn’t really answer this. I get the feeling that he and Red each have their own agenda for this ‘conversation with Menelaus’ and that they aren’t particularly interested in what the rest of us want or are attempting to do. We’re following the plan of a man who hasn’t really thought this out, and doing so in multiple groups with cross-purposes and unshared agendas. Why do I feel like this is going to be a huge disaster? In the middle of all of this ‘discussion’ Rook pontificates that we have to do this because the Warden Gods and the Burl Key Holders, my family, dropped the ball. I don’t remember his exact phrasing, but the wording, whether he intended it to or not (and I rather think he did) implied that my family knew the Black Spiral was still functional, and just got tired of doing their duty in its regards, and decided to kick back and leave the mess for someone else so they could goof off. Naturally, I felt compelled to specify that they had stopped pursuing The Black Spiral because they had honestly thought it destroyed. Rook said that was what he said. Clearly he hadn’t said exactly that because his words were different, and when I said so he insisted that he had, and before I could explain that his phrasing carried a different connotation than mine he exploded at me, cussing at me and calling me a liar. I got so mad that that I lost contact with the Tao, and the link Lorellai had established between all of us shattered.

I was so mad I could barely see straight, and I had to drop Zarurra, Julius, and Arden off at her uncle’s sop in Detroit while I went off to cool down. I cannot abide Rook, and by extension his compatriots, any longer. I’m done with him and them. They can just get along without me, which appears to be exactly what he, (and probably they as when anyone else has bothered to speak up when he goes after me, they always display sympathies towards him), wants anyway. However, the influence of the Yama and Rook’s lack of planning and coordination are likely leading them to disaster, and with my uncles Julius and Dantalian caught up in this mess I can’t just leave them to their fate. Even Zarurra… Not that I have anything against her, it’s just that saving her from her own stupidity is not important enough to me to motivate me to subject myself to Rook and the trouble he causes. However, she is important to my Uncle Julius, and it would cause him great pain if anything happened to her. I am unwilling to allow that to happen. Not to mention that if she did something stupid to put herself in danger, like say… blindly following Rook into an unknown confrontation against a majorly evil ancient badass without any sort of coherent strategy, he might do something equally stupid, like going with her into certain death, just to try and pull her bacon out of the fire.

To pile it on, it has been revealed that Tiberius Flint, who has joined up with Rook and Dantalian, is trying to acquire the Black Spire for the Rhanian Sphere rather than destroy it. Julius, whom I remain in communication with, has informed me of a conversation between Zarurra and Rook which he facilitated that discussed this. Now, as I understand it, the three of them are in the copy earth, which is so different from the earth in The Burl as to be near unrecognizable. The fantastic differences reported in the time line were… unexpected to say the least. When I get a moment, I’m going to have to look into how that happened just for curiosity’s sake. But of greater immediate import, is the fact that the rules of this realm negate divinity, rendering Dantalian a mortal. Since Menelaus is under the same constraints (except for the vampire thing, but that’s countered by the fact that Dantalian still has his powers, they’re just not at deific levels anymore) I would not normally be that worried. The problem is Tiberius. He still has his powers as well, and that speed of his is the problem. Although his fighting skills remain far superior to Tiberius’, Dantalian no longer has the deific level perception and reflexes necessary to counter that speed. If they have a physical confrontation over the fate of The Black Spire, Tiberius will tear him to pieces. Not to mention Tiberius’ loyal goon squad of rifle armed troops he brought along. Rifles which Dantalian does not have the divine reflexes to dodge in this universe. I’m going to have to do something about all of this…

And then there is this Yama running around. Somehow, it’s connected to both Menelaus and, somehow, Arden Black. Some great danger flows from it through Arden, and I am very concerned. There is a trembling in the fabric of the Tao… A sense of pressure building up to a sudden and massive release. Multiple powerful destinies hang in the balance, and I can feel something powerful and malicious, the Yama I think, waiting in the wings to pounce on this conflagration to harness the released potential to its own ends. Something terrible is about to happen, or be born into the multiverse, or something along those lines…

…And I am very, very frightened.

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The Truth Come Out...

“Julius, can we talk…privately.” Zarurra asks.

((They go to a private area))

“Look I know this might be the time for this but I might not get another shot at this so here it goes. I’m not good at not being honest even if its by omission and I need to be focused and clearheaded for the road ahead. I’m not sure if you are aware of my feelings towards you. I know we both have lots of responsibilities but my mother said I should be honest with you…and she is rarely wrong. ((takes a ddep breath)) I’m violently in love with you. If you don’t feel the same way I will understand and I value your friendship and insight and I need you as an ally. I think about you more than I should and it confounds me. I’m not easily distracted. I trust very rarely…but I trust you. I feel for you even when we’re literally worlds apart. If you want we can just forget this whole speech and act like it never happened and go on with our military and state duties. But I’m also afraid now that I’ve admitted as much to you these people that we’re up against come at us through our friends and loved ones. So by admitting my feelings I may also have placed you in danger. I can’t stand the idea of anything harming you…especially b/c of me. So take this for what you will.”

Julius turns and looks at her silently for what seems to be an eternity with his clear blue eyes.

((And she waits))

And then he reaches out and takes her arm, pulling her to him, and he kisses her.

((Zarurra melts))

((after a long kiss)) “Okay so you summed that up better than I did.” ((less of a blush than normal))

“Zarurra” Julius says. ” How can I not feel anything but desire for you? “

((Julius leads her to to a table set out on the large balcony you are on under the stars))

“You are one of the most caring and noble women I have ever met. And I am drawn to the elegant simplicity of your beauty.”

((He sits her down on a chair by the table)).

” I had hesitated… showing my feelings. I had thought you would find someone… more suitable, with less of the burdensome baggage than I . But now…” ((He leans to kiss her again.)) ” Now, I can not deny what I feel in my heart. But…” ((he frowns)). “This path will not be easy. For either of us. This is a trail full of trials for you and I , My Heart.But enough of this. You have been too full of pain and doubt these past days. I can do something about that at least…”

And the King of Amber kneels at her feet.

Smiles up at Zarurra while he removes her boots.

And rubs her feet.

((Zarurra clears her throat)) ” Well now I’m completely won over and for once my brain has stopped going in a thousand different directions. I’m just still completely baffled how a simple genealogical inquiry could lead to the possible destruction of half the known universe.” ((sigh))

((He continues))

“Also I, uh, lost my train of thought. I know we could all offer the bad guys foot massages then they wouldn’t be able to fight us off. ” ((she smiles genuinely as she closes her eyes))

“So is there anything else threatening Amber or the known worlds…I need to update the big board?”

Julius says “I’m sorry…I guess I’m more concerned with us. and I suppose that actually bears on your question.” ((He finishes and comes and sits next to Zarurra and holds her hand)) ” I’m afraid that whatever we do. Whatever path we choose will have wide consequences. Like ripples form a stone dropped in water. And we to together will have that much more of an impact…”

((Then he smiles at her. And she feel his love for her)) “But I am willing to weather anything for you.” ((And he kisses her again)) “Tell me Zarrura, Tell me how you want “us” to be. How shall this particular tale bear out? And if it is in my power I shall make it so.”

((very dreamily she answers)) “Well the “us” kissing is good…

((a little more focused)) “Julius I’m a big girl I know that the dashing young King sweeping me off my feet and marrying me and having lots of beautiful little princes or princesses is probably not in the cards no matter how much I want or daydream about it. I don’t know want to cause you any problems politically or otherwise. If we were just two regular people I would say lets go make a life and family together. But you’re a King and I know there are certain expectations for a partner for you. I don’t want to be a weakness for you either. ((running her hands into the back of his hair and looking him in the eye)) But I can’t not love you…I’ve tried. It didn’t work. And looking at you now I just want you to make love to me make me forget about war and assassinations and worrying about my sister for a little while. But I’m afraid there will be no going back for either of us.”

“Is there any going back now?” He says. “I don’t want there to be.” ((He kisses you again. Harder)) “But yes … There will be difficulties. Political dificulties. But I don’t want to face them without you in my life” He smiles at you and touches his forehead to yours. ” I need a partner. An equal by my side. who will tell me the truth.”

((Zarurra looks deeply into his eyes)) “I will always tell you the truth…even when it may not be what you want to hear.((caressing his face)) I’m yours for as long as you’ll have me. ((smiling and said with a freedom she has never felt before)) I’m yours then King Julius, heart, body, mind, & soul.”

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Why do I Even Bother?
An excerpt from The Tales of Fox

After my talk with Thad I went straight home to Shion, gathered Claire and Atalanta, and told them everything. Claire went to go check on the Chicago node of the Black Spire to link up with Zururra’s recon group headed by her sister Alana. At my urging, she took her friend Scarecrow, who gives new meaning to the term computer genius. Atalanta took me back to Arbor where I was able to use the Trump my great grandmother gave me to contact Julius, and allowed me to explain everything to him through a sharing of the minds. He had some additional information which allowed us to piece together an even more comprehensive picture of the shape of things (see previous journal entry: Discussion topics for the 10/16/09 game. Julius asked me to come to Amber and help him explain things to those who were gathering there. I asked Atalanta if she wanted to come with me to represent the Key Holders and the Wardens of the Burl, but she instead asked me to be an open line of communication through The Way between her and Amber so she could join Shion at the conference of the Wardens. I agreed, and allowed Julius to ‘pull me through’ the Trump into Amber. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.

We brought everyone else up to speed, and then Julius opened the floor to suggestions. No one else seemed to want to speak, so I decided to put forth terms for reaching a new accord with Menelaus that I thought everyone could live with and thus avoid what was bound to become a frenzied and potentially very costly war. Silly me. No one else had any immediate ideas, so they contented themselves with shouting me down before I was even halfway through my proposal. Especially Rook, who acted like he had known everything all along, and decided that he knew the terms of the treaty better than I did, and that his opinion of its interpretation was the only one that mattered (naturally) even though he was not involved directly in the treaty itself nor did he represent any one who was. Red helped shout me down, mainly by talking over whoever was speaking every thirty seconds or so to insist that our main priority had to be to eliminate her father Fin from existence. Julius got tired of the bickering, and called a break, then vanished for some alone time with Zarurra (which was probably his primary motivation, but it wasn’t like we were accomplishing anything anyway.) Everyone else scattered and left leaving me alone.

Having nothing else to do or anyone else to talk to, I began wandering the castle at random until I bumped into this nice lady who offered to show me around. She gave me kind of a tour of the castle and told me the history of Amber, which was interesting, along with a complete genealogy from Dworkin on down which was insanely boring once we passed the part where my own line had split off, which was very quickly and actually before the founding of Amber itself.

Right in the middle of this Lorellai pops in and informs me that Rook has gathered together the others except for Zarurra and me, made ready to launch an assault on Menelaus and The Black Spiral, and would I be kind enough to go grab Zarurra and go back with Lorellai to the Burl and help them find the copy of Menelaus that resides there. Oh, according to Lorellai, Rook also believes the Black Spiral has achieved consciousness and actually assembled its own soul from choice parts of the many souls in its memory files and, understandably, does not want to die now that it is a living entity. Not that he bothered to inform every one of his theories and plans when we were having a group meeting. No he had to wait until he was in a position to force a plan of his own designs before he acted.

Sigh…

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Discussion topics for the 10/16/09 game.
A summary of Doom

First off. All this information will come out during the talk around the “round table” in Amber with King Julius. Fox will have brought it to everyone’s attention. Congrats to Stephen for poking around obscure NPCs until he had the crushing realization of the truth. NOw On with the story:

There have, since time began, been attempts to make life totally immortal. Not just never dying, but literally incapable of death. And the path of the Black Spiral has been discovered and lost many times over the eons. But the most recent time was by a creature called Maelstrom.

Maelstrom was an aberration, a god, and a brilliant geneticist. He found he could clone forms for himself that had the best parts of creatures he discovered. And when he encountered Amberites he knew that power was worth having. He took the form of Rigel, An advanced pattern wielder and a master trump artist, and then went and took the pattern himself. NOW Maelstrom had the keys to the universe. And like so often happens once he had access to everything NOTHING was satisfactory. And in his journeys he fell in with a “bad. In this instance the ” Bad crowd” was one Oblivion. An entity that had as a goal not only the snuffing out of all life everywhere, but the destruction of all matter everywhere. Only with the ultimate heat death of the multiverse would the pain cease. Oblivion said. And Maelstrom was convinced.

BUT of course that was a monumental task. How could one entity possibly succeed? One would have to become truly immortal, NOt be able to be destroyed in any way. And it didn’t hurt that it might be a way to outlast the destruction of everything literally.

Thus Maelstrom made the Black Spiral. And a great evil was born. Those nihilists that came to serve Maelstrom and by extension Oblivion were inducted into the Black Spiral as well. And as a group were responsible for all sorts of destruction and death. Finally the powers of the universe had had enough.

A abyss creature was enlisted to infiltrate the Black Spiral. Once inside the organization she worked to gain Maelstrom’s confidence and eventually was inducted into the Black Spiral itself. Once She had been joined to the system she used her Abyssal powers to manifest at every node and growth chamber. All at once, across the entire multiverse the Black Spiral was being destroyed. Those that died were transferred to another Black Spiral Location only to find that under attack as well. In one massive attack the Black Spiral was destroyed. OR so it was thought.

Maelstrom of course was smarter than that. He had a back up system. In The Burl. Where the Abyss creature was not able to go. And there he started over and rebuilt.

Now we should talk a bit about the Black Spiral device itself. The device that actually transfers souls from one place to another is relatively simple and small. The growing the body at the other end is the hard bulky part.

The device itself replicates most of the 7 parts of the soul of any individual that is connected to the system. Because of this any curses or impositions are removed with the death of the body and the regrowing of the next. If a part of A Black Spiral member is tainted in some way that part of the soul is replaced by a backup copy of the part of the soul in question. This makes it VERY hard to permanently ensorcell any Black Spiral member. and of course death is no issue at all. The soul is sent to the nearest Black Spiral regrowth chamber and the individual simply steps out.

The system itself works like a hub and node system. almost like a cellular phone system. with the information from the individual constantly being uploaded to the nodes as the individual passes by. But this poses some problems. Any system like that is capable of being breached, of being perhaps hacked. Or having someone at least following the signals back to nodes and from there to the hubs.

So what is an enterprising nihilist cosmic supervillian to do? why.. build backup systems. Entire systems. And then back ups of those systems that only check periodically with the main system. and then even deeper backup systems that have to be manually uploaded to. And finally Black box systems that are NEVER in contact with the other systems , but have back up copies of all those who are in the Black Spiral brought to them physically say once a year, a decade, whatever.

But what triggers such systems? A kind of a reverse dead man switch. If the member doesn’t check in once a decade or so… the machines assume the main system is compromised and will regrow the individual from the latest copy it has. This of course could lead to there being multiples of the same individual and since the soul itself is copied. these individuals would be… proto abyss creatures themselves with access to all of each duplicates thoughts.

So Back to Maelstrom he rebuilt. And in exchange for protection allowed the Talisman to become part of the system. And conscripted an ancient vampire known as Menelaeus to his cause as well.

Fast forward 2000 years. The founding of Harmony. The rebellion against the Talisman succeeds. Partly because of the Defection of the Vampire Menelaeus. Menelaeus gave the forces of Harmony the locations of the nodes and hubs of the PRIMARY system of the Black Spiral in exchange for his banishment to the world of the Dreaming instead of his own destruction. The Talisman was thrown into the sun and without the black spiral working was not reborn. Maelstrom was killed in such a way as to preclude his soul from leaving to fly to any of his machines. ( thank you, Death) The good guys win! Menelaeus goes off to exile, Happily, cheerfully, he sends Harmony a fruit basket..

The leaders of Harmony are satisfied. The Black Spiral machine can’t be built in the Dreaming, the reality there is too malleable. So no more Black Spiral ! YAY!

BUT

There is still “digital” earth. And there ARE Black Spiral machines there A whole hidden system of them. A system the Menelaeus knows how to “game”. AND there is still the Black Box Black Spirals in the 1000 worlds and the 12 spheres. Which will pop out a brand new Maelstrom and Talisman as soon as they don’t get the “I”M STILL OK” code. Codes that coincidentally Menelaeus has.

OH look, I’m beginning to see Jennifer go into apoplexy.

SOOO Menelaeus, The KING of Blood. Lives in the Dreaming. Rules a vast empire of vampires there. AND Menelaeus, King of Blood ALSO lives on Earth. But ruling in secret. Lest the Wardens of the Burl Object to his reawakening of the Black Spiral technology. Effectively absolutely UN killable.

And still. He lives up to his promise. He IS still banished. He will only ever work for the good of Harmony. He makes NO play for ANY type of power in the 1000 worlds or the 12 spheres.

And if the Warden gods DO object. he can bring up the fact that without him the black box, Black Spiral Units would pop out New versions of the Talisman, new versions of the Maelstrom. possibly multiple versions. Possibly versions of the Talisman that Maelstrom altered to be even tougher and perhaps programmed to be loyal to Maelstrom.

Wouldn’t that be a shame…

BUT that still means the “damage” is confined to the Burl. the rest of the multiverse is safe. There would HAVE to be Black Spiral units somewhere outside the Burl for the Black Spiral to be able to be used. Indeed even in that case, a creature killed in the Burl could not travel to the Black Spiral machines , IF there were such things, Outside the the Burl to be resurrected.

BUT there is demonstrably Black Spiral minions and Servants of Menelaeus outside the Burl and killing things. HOW?

5000 years ago 12 spheres time/ 20 years ago “Digital” Earth Time The Wardens of the Burls met a great threat, Defeated Rhan the Remorseless, and staved off Ragnarok. Remaking the “digital” earth at that time. The battle was a close thing. Many died. But One Goddess did what she felt was needed to save earth. Ioun/Amelia copied “digital” earth. all the souls that were there . everything about it. And when the “real” ” digital” earth was saved. she left her copy outside the burl as a permanant back up.

Everything was copied…Including the Black Spiral machines. Including the Black box Black Spiral machines. Including Menelaeus.

And because it was his SOUL that was copied. he was twined with his counterparts. IN the dreaming, On earth. And his promise never included ANYthing outside the Burl… What is an enterprising Nihilistic cosmic supervillian to do?...

BUT WAIT< THERE’S MORE!

Red’s father… THe Amberite SITH LORD…Named Finn was killed by the Talisman. There is reason to believe that he attached his soul to the Talisman’s seeing that the Talisman had a chance of being resurrected.

IT could be that in defeating Menelaeus you could not only bring back Maelstrom but multiple Maelstroms, and Multiple Finn’s…

HAve a nice day.

(GM smiles sweetly)

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Oh S*&#!
An excerpt from the tales of Fox

I have now been in Shangri-La for a little over a decade in my attempts to improve my understanding of The Way. I believe that I have learned all this place has to teach me at this time, or rather I have absorbed as much as I can in this stint here. The universe would seem to agree, as the moment I thought about leaving I began to receive visions, mostly concerning Zarurra. One of them was a vision of a conversation between her and my great grand uncle Julius. Apparently, the Black Spiral assassinated an associate/employee of Rook (not entirely sure just what the relationship is.) It would appear that the Black Spiral has a means in and out of the Burl. The rest of my Zarurra visions dealt with her plans to set up reconnaissance on a Black Spiral Node that the Wizard Tad had located in Chicago, and to rally the rest of her group in Amber to set up a coordinated attack upon the Black Spiral as a whole with the full help and resources of Amber. During one of these visions, Zarurra indicated she thought that one of the Key Holders had betrayed the others, and was in league with the Black Spiral. I also saw a vision of Zarurra being surrounded by writhing darkness, laced with a sense of impending doom. My final two visions concerned a strange dark haired almost elfin woman. In the first she was surrounded by an oppressive aura of might and claimed that she had been around since the dawn of time and that her mother had spread her to thin over the cosmos. She was admonishing someone that they didn’t understand the true meaning of immortal. Her gaze was on me the whole time, but I wasn’t sure if she was actually looking at me, or gazing beyond. For some reason, a wellspring of fear rose up in me during this vision. It wasn’t so much that it scared me, as if some sixth sense was telling me that it should scare me. The second vision was one of the woman dancing with a tall, handsome, blond man. The guy was right off of an SS recruitment poster. She declared her intention to destroy the Black Spiral, and he said that it would be a shame if she went down that path because it would put them at odds. She agreed that it would be a shame, and then kissed him; end of vision. I could tell from her tone if she was acquiescing to him, or resigning herself to their opposition.

After the visions were over I was briefly concerned about the fact that the Black Spiral had found a way to breach the Burl. Of course, once I got over the initial shock and calmed down my brain began to kick in and I realized how it was done. Through my studies of The Way, I have learned of the interconnectivity of all life. The Burl does not, has never, and can never block the passage of souls. To create such a barrier would create a zone of nothingness where all life would be impossible, a place more void than the abyss. Life exists in the Burl, therefore souls my pass freely. It was never an issue before, because previously the only way to reconstitute a soul was through the cycle of death and then birth. But the Black Spiral Nodes could pull in an errant soul and construct a new body for it. A single node constructed outside the Burl would allow for fee passage out, and also in as long as one of the nodes inside the Burl remained operational. I quickly realized that Zarurra was once again jumping to conclusions about a Key Holder betraying the Burl. All that was needed was for one member of the Black Spiral capable of building a node to trick their way outside the Burl once. Once a single node was constructed outside the Burl, all of the members would have access to it, and new personnel could then exit at will and construct new nodes as the network saw fit. Well, perhaps I am being somewhat unfair to Zarurra. She lacks even the most basic understanding of The Way that I have labored so long to acquire. Without that understanding of the workings of the Burl’s barrier, a treacherous Key Holder is one of the most logical conclusions. Of course, there is also negligence, or trickery to be considered. For a few seconds I considered going to discuss these things with Zarurra. That inclination lasted about ten seconds before I realized how stupid an idea that was. Zarurra hates visions. From her point of view, all they do is complicate her life. From my previous experience in relating such things to her, she will either get made at the vagueness of them (which, admittedly they are), bitch me out, and not give them the full consideration necessary to recognize the clues they hold when the time comes, or she will have already discovered even more detailed information than is available in my visions, rendering them unnecessary. I don’t care enough about her vendetta against the Black Spire to get screamed at or lectured to thank you very much.

I was however, concerned for my great grand uncle. He was understandably concerned about the murder of one of his retainers, but I was afraid he might, with Zarurra’s encouragement, be blowing things out of proportion. The Black Spiral was trying to influence Rook to side with them against Zarurra, and their method of doing that was to slay those he cared about until he acquiesced. Not a method I approve of, but I do understand the concept behind it. I owed it to my kinsman to make sure he understood that this was a personal vendetta between the Black Spiral, Rook, and Zarurra, and not a direct attack on him and his kingdom. If he felt the need to view it as such, then that would be his choice, but I didn’t want him stampeded into this fight by Zarurra’s panicky view that the Black Spiral was a cosmic threat. While I have no doubt that the Black Spiral’s members are small-scale troublemakers on an individual level, the organization as a whole has behaved itself for the last 5,000 years. I was also concerned about the nodes outside the Burl, as my family line is involved in securing the Burl. I doubt it would please my mothers or their fellow Key Holders that the Spiral has, in effect, created a new key without their consent. So, I resolved to discuss this with Shion, or perhaps Claire, and then to resume my studies in arbor with Aunt Adalanta. Once I got there with her, I could take a moment to use the ‘Trump’ of Julius my great grandmother gave me and explain things to him. If he still wanted to help Zarurra take down the Black Spiral, I would tell him how to do it. Since each node is tied to each other on a network, it would only be a matter of getting Bobby Fay Roberts to one of the nodes (like the one that had been discovered in Chicago,) and she could then follow the ties to the others.

But before I did that, I decided to go and see the Wizard Thad again to clarify a few points about the function of the Black Spiral itself before I tried to brief Julius. Originally, all I had been interested in was the range of any individual node for collecting souls. I’m sure that I asked him that the first time we were there, but that was over a decade ago for me, even if it’s only been a day for Zarurra and her friends, and I was having trouble remembering. My hope was that I might be able to tell Julius whether or not there was a node actually situated in Amber itself. There was good news in bad news on that score. The nodes themselves had no range limitations. The limiting factor was how long the souls could maintain their cohesion along their journey to the nearest node. Dimensional borders did not restrict the ability of a node to draw a soul in, so it could even be the case where a trans-dimensional node would actually be considered closer than a node on the same plane. The good news was that that meant there wasn’t necessarily a node located in Amber. The bad news was that there wasn’t a node in amber that could be destroyed and thus bar access to the place by the Black Spiral. Once he thought about it, after I told him about nodes being located outside of the Burl, he realized how it had happened. Long ago the Burl earth had been destroyed. The Warden Gods had seen it coming, and had made preparations to restore it. In case these plans didn’t work, Ioun/Amelia created a copy of the earth outside of the Burl, down to the last person and structure, including the Black Spiral nodes that were hidden there. That was how the Black Spiral had gained access in and out of the Burl. It was a complete accident, unrealized by the Wardens or the Key Holders and neither anticipated or solicited by the members of the Black Spiral. I asked if the Black Spiral organization would have proceeded to build nodes in other realms outside of the Burl, or if they would be content with just those nodes on the copy earth for their access in and out. Thad indicated that the current administrator of the Black Spiral, a vampire named Menelaus also known as The King of Blood, would almost certainly have expanded the network once the opportunity existed. This was somewhat disturbing, as it meant the task of physically destroying them all would be a lot more involved.

As we delved more and more into the working of the Black Spiral, Thad explained to me how it was very similar to a computer network hooked up to a series of fax machines, sending their data (the souls) out through the network, and then printing it out onto the faxes (sticking the souls into cloned bodies). From this I realized that the Black Spire Nodes could probably be destroyed altogether with essentially a computer virus. I mentioned this idea to Thad, and recommended my Aunt Claire’s friend, known as Scarecrow, as the perfect executor of this plan. Thad agreed that this could work, for the primary and perhaps the secondary network, but probably not the tertiary one. That explained that, knowing Menelaus, he had probably designed a series of backup nodes in case someone destroyed the first set. The secondary nodes would be set up to check in periodically, and take over any functions if the primary node(s) they were associated with stopped functioning. There was also likely second set of backups, a tertiary system, that remained unconnected to the network unless someone who knew they were their dialed in to transfer data to them. This would make it impossible for someone to trace the tertiary nodes down through the rest of the network as they would be stand-alone. Kind of like isolated back up servers for a computer network. If the whole network goes down, you reformat, and then reinstall the data by transferring it from the back up hard drives which are protected from the initial catastrophe by the simple expedient of being somewhere else. Through our discussion, I was able to surmise that these, what I began to call black vault servers, where probably rigged to spit out duplicates of their primary network members if they did not receive check-ins at regularly scheduled intervals. The idea being that if the whole network and its members have been taken down, then there isn’t anyone left to remote activate the tertiaries, so they need to be set on something resembling a dead-man’s switch.

As we talked Thad realized that this was probably how the Black Network had escaped complete destruction during the battle against The Talisman and Maelstrom. Menelaus had been one of their allies and top minions. When he had realized that the Talisman and Maelstrom would eventually fall, he betrayed them, and gave those who were to become the wardens the locations of the Black Spire Nodes so they could be destroyed rendering the Talisman and Maelstrom mortal. However, he had probably withheld the existence of the backup network from the future Wardens, merely shutting them down temporarily while the Talisman and Maelstrom were defeated. It was the perfect scenario for him. The Talisman and Maelstrom would naturally assume that the entire network had been destroyed by their enemies with Menelaus’ help, and said enemies would have no idea about the backup units to go after them. This left Menelaus in control of the entire surviving Black Spire Network with no one the wiser. It was just a matter of slowly rebuilding the primary network quietly over time. That was why no one thought twice about copying the earth, Black Spire Nodes included. No one involved in that bit actually knew the nodes were still there!

About that time I had a very disturbing thought. If the current secondary network was a survivor of the original system, didn’t that also mean that the black vault servers were too? And if so, would that mean that they held copies of both the Talisman and Maelstrom?

Oh. Shit.

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