A Black Road Adventure By Catarina Rodriguez y Osuna (age 11)
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Diceless role-playing in four-star luxury.
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Copyright © 2015-2016 Marieke Krootjes; all rights reserved. Published with permission.
Katie’s journal, October 1986
The call through our crystals came when Victoria and I were in class. We both did the same thing, our hands shot up, and we said we needed to go to the toilet. Victoria was quick enough to change it to ‘I need to take Katie to the toilet’, which is kind of weird, but we got out anyway. It was Harryn who had called us, and as we hurried to the groundskeeper’s cottage Victoria realised we had a bit of a wait on our hands, so we could have stayed in class. It would be a while before Dave and Harmony would be back at the school.
There was a new boy at school, his name is Tony. Actually, there are two new boys, only the other one, James, has been here already, but he was kicked out. I wonder what you have to do to get kicked out of the Carlos Cory School for Gifted Orphans… It made me a bit scared. Anyway, Tony found something, and James saw him find it. It’s a cigar box, which was buried under one of the stones of one of the paths. Harryn says that path has been there for at least a hundred years, and when I ask the plants they agree that the box has been there for at least as long. Anyway, a cigar box is one thing. The poem and the old compass inside are something else. The poem is written in modern English, and at least at first means nothing to me. There is something six people (that would be us) will have to do, ‘from least to most’, so probably me first, as I’m the smallest and the youngest. After me comes Victoria, then it becomes murky by what standard the poem is measuring us. It also speaks of an ‘ebon line through Shadow’. We think that is the black bad thing that we followed, or which followed us through all kinds of shadow on our last adventure. Besides the poem is an old compass. It seems broken, as it is pointing South East. It is beautifully made, though. The needle is finely engraved with a lot of squiggly lines, which hurt if you look at them too long. I shake it, and everybody screams that I shouldn’t. I lick it, and they do so again. Tastes like brass and old, nothing else happens.
One refects three.
One in the Earth.
One in the Water.
One in the Air.
Three cast shadows,
And shadows of shadows,
To the end of Reality,
From that dark well,
An ebon road now runs,
Between all the Shadows,
Bringing Death to the One.
One that creates all,
Refects three with power,
Each shadow distorted,
Less true than the last.
A line drawn in blood,
Answers only the blood,
Estrange from the One.
Each one accepting,
More debasement in turn.
A line that is bright,
Dims at the last,
Lies broken and sullied,
Fit only to shun.
There step the shadows,
Between the bright line,
Gain some measure of Power,
Of use in their spell.
The Shadows of Shadows,
Where the light still burns,
Capture the Dark Stain,
And hold it a while.
Six walk a line,
Each one but once,
From Least to the Most,
As the perils increase.
Six walk a line,
And step onto the stage,
Prepared to defend,
The place they desire.
Harmony for some reason changes the car to a pink colour.
Tony seems to be able to feel and see things we cannot. That is how he found the box. The poem gives him an image of an old man with a long beard, bend over. The compass actually gives him a shock.
Tony, James, Victoria and I get into the SPV (Victoria drives) and try to triangulate where the compass is pointing to. We can’t find it, so we go off into Shadow. We find the Black Road, and the needle is pointing across it. We retreat a bit and try to explain to James and Tony what is happening. Tony seems to be in shock. Well, yeah, I remember when I first heard my parents were actually killed, and that we were all related. I wished Skye was there, she’s better at that stuff. Luckily Harmony and Dave arrive, so we can focus on getting on with our poemy mission. We discuss how to cross the Black Road as a squadron of tanks drive by. We really don’t want to be seen, they’ll attack us again. We think about flying across (after my plan to use pogo-sticks gets ignored), but decide it is too risky. What if the plane stops working when we’re halfway there? Besides, none of us know how to fly, and we don’t want to bring in someone else.
To gain a bit of time, we first go to the vault to get some blue crystals for the two new boys and we explain how to use them for communication. The others all get guns as well. I don’t want one. I decided I don’t like fighting and I know others keep fighting us, but… Maybe I’m just a coward. I always hide when there is trouble. I don’t want to let the others down, but even the thought of carrying a gun scares me. I’ll bring bandages and stuff, that I can do.
We tell Harryn to tell Miss Trees that we are following the Black Road. Victoria can feel currents in Shadow, and the current current goes left, just like the Black Road, and the compass. So I guess we go left. It’s a bumpy ride and when we take a break, it needs to be away from the Black Road, because there is steady traffic which seems to be bent on attacking us. When we get back to the cars, the needle of the compass is moving, now pointing more towards where we were going (as opposed to straight across the Black Road). We’re in a desert, and Harmony for some reason changes the car to a pink colour. On the road there is a Roman Legion. Our lives are once again absurd if you would talk about it, but living it feels very tense.
After a while we stop changing Shadows. Victoria stops driving, and James takes the wheel. In the distance, a city appears. All broken skyscrapers under a blue sky. Well, somewhat blue, huge columns of smoke make it a bit less blue. When we reach the outskirts of the city, there is rubble everywhere and we can’t get in. We look for another route, but this keeps happening. When we try to shift Shadow, it’s very hard, and bumpy, making us arrive in a city which looks like the other one, but is completely fine. We go out again and try to find the broken city, and we need to backtrack a whole lot. We finally decide we can’t get over the rubble using our cars, so we get out and start walking. We all have our bags with us, and yes, mine is still the largest. Nobody laughs at that anymore, though, because I always bring useful stuff. Food and medicine.
It seems to me that will come in handy in this city once again. There are stains on the ground, not red anymore, brown now. There are drag-marks. There is a left foot, still in a trainer, under a car. Tony walks up to it and touches it. “Teeth. Fear,” he says.
Something here is eating people.
In the centre of the city is a big, gothic looking, building.
Harmony climbs up a bit to keep an eye out and Dave takes point. Everybody else seems to want to be in the middle. Dave hands out guns, he wanted to give me one, but I let Victoria have two. Tony doesn’t want a gun either, but he does accept one of my knives. We can’t see anything yet, but there is movement around us. And the compass tells us to go to the centre of this city.
In the distance Harmony spots three men walking down the street in military formation, they are heavily armed. We scoot down a stairwell to remain unseen, but the middle of our party, which would be me, gets attacked by real zombies! All the others start shooting the zombies, and they die again. Once it’s done, I look at our attackers, and I can tell you, that is some very rotten meat. Nobody would eat them. They might want to eat us, though.
To make things even better, it’s getting dark. We can’t stay outside in this, and we can’t leave either. Not if we want to follow the compass. So we need to find a secure bunker, which Harmony provides in the form of an abandoned old bank. We set watches, eat (and you can tell how bad I feel by how I don’t want to describe the meal), and try to get some rest. That’s hard, because things are moving out there. We hear gibbering, screams, and something heavy being dragged away not too far from us. When we look outside, we spot zombies dragging a big bag down the street. After some indecision, none of us do anything about it, and I just have to cry. When I try to find a corner to do so, I see Victoria is crying as well.
The next day, we venture out into the street, trying to stay in the light. We have to go straight into zombie central. When Dave has to shoot a hand which was attacking him, the zombies are alerted, and we have to run.
In the centre of the city is a big, gothic looking, building. The compass points straight at it. When we get closer we see stained glass windows, a spire, and a dome. This is a cathedral. It will be dark inside, and the only thing keeping the zombies somewhat away is the light… Victoria and I want to do something with mirrors, but the others think it would take too long. James climbs high, and spots tons of zombies inside. And a blue glowy thing, different from the crystals.
After some false starts we finally get in through a side door. There is a great chittering and scurrying inside. Dave starts shooting, and there are explosions, and when we see them back up, we use a torch to scare them with the light. It helps a bit, but not that much, and these aren’t mindless creatures. They seem to be organizing themselves. So we put the pews on fire to create more light and fire, but now there is black smoke, which the zombies use to hide in. We couldn’t back out if we wanted to, we have to press on to the blue glow, which seems to be the only thing the zombies are trying to avoid.
It turns out to be a blue line in the floor, sort of labyrinthine. Even though the light is clear, it doesn’t reflect on the walls. It doesn’t smell, so I decide to give it a lick (hey, this is Shadow, we saw some pretty strange stuff which turned out to taste great!). Anyway, I accidentally step upon the line and once I’m on it, I know I have to keep walking. Victoria follows me, and the rest of us are shooting at zombies. There is a smell of ozone in the air, and it is somewhat like feeling electricity. It’s also quite a long way around, but not particularly difficult. I’m not that graceful, but I don’t fear falling off the line. Except for, you know, the zombies. Even so, I can feel a tingle start in my feet, moving up my legs, by the time I reach the centre. …!
And then we’re all sitting in a diner. Just like that.
We wonder whether there is a time loss, and the compass is pointing again. All the others start fiddling with their watches. I just look around in amazement. I would never take us to a diner! Yet somehow it seems I did take us here…
We think we will have to travel onwards (per the compass), so we re-stock. Victoria picks up the local version of the Financial Times, and it is, indeed, local. We’re not on Earth. The paper is written, and people speak, a gypsy-like dialect. Victoria, Dave and I understand it, and somehow we know it’s called Thari.
So, after shopping, we follow the compass again, and it leads us to the business district, which is guarded by armed platoons. Victoria walks around like she owns the place, and she buys us clothing and sashes which make us look like we belong as well. We try shifting, and find this is a sticky Shadow, too. We just know that if we were to leave, we couldn’t find it again.
Finally, the compass zooms in on a very hoity-toity structure, the De’croit Building. Victoria does the snotty thing she does so well, but even she can’t get us in! She is mildly upset by this, this is her turf! But we really can’t get past the reception area, so eventually we leave.
We know where we have to go, and we know we have to get Victoria in. After all, according to the poem (‘least to most’), she’s next.
We rent a helicopter to take us to the building, since we can tell we have to be up high somewhere. The roof has a helipad and guards, but no blue line. I can feel living plants inside and try to get information that way, but it’s only mould, and mould isn’t that talkative. Dave sneaks around and finds information about all the floors, except the top two ones. So that’s where we need to go. Eventually, we decide to take the fire-steps. We know there are guards around, so we make a plan: once we are inside, we will wedge the doors shut. Victoria will follow the line, the others will guard the doors and I will hide.
Plan made, we get going. Up and up, it is very high. James takes my backpack, but we’re all knackered when we reach the top. We can’t hear anything through the metal door and hoping the other way around is the same, we decide to take a break and catch our breath. Tea-time.
Half an hour later, James climbs up to where there is glass, and peers in. He can see a glowy thing, and more people. We try and use the crystals to take out the alarms, and push open the door behind which we were sitting. There is a concrete room, with another door at the end. Again we ask the crystals to turn of the alarm, and we push the second door open.
I don’t know about the alarms, but there is a man standing there, who hasn’t seen us yet. He’s wearing a bullet-proof vest, but no helmet, which turns out to be as foolish as it sounds when James charges him and KO’s him before he can reach for his radio. Dave takes the radio and his security pass. With the security pass and the crystals, we can get to the double doors.
Behind them is the biggest office ever. The carpet is so luxurious and plush, it takes an effort to walk over it. And there is the expected blue line, which Victoria starts following. It isn’t easy, it looks harder than ‘my’ line did.
All of a sudden, we hear a *ping*! There is another guard coming up in the lift! More *pings*, the guards are here!
Suddenly, things stream out of one of the doorways! Catlike, claws, teeth…
We all move quickly, shoving a desk in front of the doors to block them. There is a big bang, and the doors are gone. We are all barricaded in, except for Victoria, who keeps walking. A gunfight breaks out, it is loud and smelly. I hide behind a bar and decide to take one of the fancy looking bottles as souvenir. If we can come here and shoot at people, stealing one bottle shouldn’t matter all that much, right?
I am biting my nails, watching the shattered glass which shows Victoria making it to the end of the line…
… And we are somewhere white and cold. Very cold. And louder than you would expect. We’re in a blizzard, and there are faint shadows in front of us. Ever more wise of the things we encounter in Shadow, we run for cover. There are squarish shapes in the distance, which turn out to be huts. Heated huts, we discover when we close the doors behind us. Then we see we are sharing this space with a dead man. A single gunshot, close range, while he was sitting… This man committed suicide. Poor man! Yes, everything we find is creepy and bad and very, very scary, but to take your own life… Maybe he was very alone. I at least am with my friends. My friends who keep busy, so I better join them again. Also, coming here wasn’t Victoria’s choice, so the diner wasn’t my fault. Which is good news, right?
The huts turn out to be connected by corridors. We start searching them, and pretty soon we find warm clothes, which we put on. There’s paperwork as well, in Thari. This is an archaeological expedition, where they are looking for the source of a strange artefact. They are tunnelling through the glacier.
One of the next rooms is a lab. There is a cube, with strange blue engravings which seem to move when you look at them too long. It’s, I don’t know, even I don’t want to lick this one, my tongue just doesn’t want to go near it. Weird thing.
We check the compass, and it points towards the glacier. To where the expedition was going…. Again, the others look at their watches. I have no idea what I’m doing, but when I look at mine, it seems just fine. Anyway, we leave for the glacier. There is a huge hole, surrounded by floodlights, and a guide-rope leading in. We’re all a bit nervous, except for the dead man, we haven’t seen anybody. Who knows what’s around? Still we go in.
Pretty quickly, it gets warmer. There are lights, thank goodness, but they seem to be motion-sensitive, which I’m sure saves energy and all that, but it means they turn on when we get there and switch off behind us, leaving us in a bubble of light surrounded by darkness.
It gets warmer and warmer. Liquid water drips down, making tiny rivulets, then puddles. The left wall… there is something in it. Something large. It seems to be getting closer. Victoria speculates it’s the Black Road (which we haven’t seen in a while, so it could well be). The wall has changed from ice to stone, and it is slightly overhanging.
There may be something in the right wall as well.
We break through one of the walls, only to find a new one. We’re inside a double shell. The walls are straight, but the angles are all wrong. I like to draw, and I can tell these angles don’t make sense.
In one of the walls, there is a six-sided doorway (without the actual door). Inside we can see strange shapes. Again the walls are all out of true. The strange shapes look like functional sculptures, we spend some time looking at them. Apart from these ‘sculptures’, there is nothing here.
The older ones think the cube we first saw could be like an egg, which could grow into these things. I am forbidden from trying to make an omelette.
Eventually, we walk on. The passage becomes wider, and more six-sided doorways appear. The compass tells us to walk on, so we do.
We hear a strange sound, at first I think it may just be weird because after the dripping stopped we only heard ourselves for so long, but no, it’s really discorded.
The passage starts to rise, but the doorways seem to remain in a straight line, so now the floor we walk upon cuts them in half. Still, we walk on. The floor feels like rubber, by the way. Maybe it moved at one point? It doesn’t intersect any more doorways, they are at a normal angle again, so we seem to be on the first floor.
Suddenly, things stream out of one of the doorways! Catlike, claws, teeth… The sound of bullets and hissing fills the hallway. Then, Tony gets grabbed by a gelatinous pseudo-pod. More shooting, which doesn’t do a whole lot to the jelly. I poor salt on it, which doesn’t kill it, but does help, the thing shrinks, and we manage to pull Tony out. He is unconscious, because he couldn’t breathe. I hope, think, he might be all right, though. When we hear more noises, we start running.
And we’re running about 1,5 floor up. There is movement around us, we can’t see exactly what, but we can feel it! And then, a blue glow. We’d thought Tony might be the next one, but he’s still out of it. So Harmony dives towards the glow.
Actually, Tony has green foam at the mouth. That doesn’t look right at all. It seems soapy, so I use some vinegar (acidic) to wipe it away. Everybody seems shaky (and please don’t tell anyone, but I think Victoria wet herself). All we can do is hope Harmony gets to the centre before we get attacked again, and that we go somewhere else when she does. Somewhere where they can help Tony, preferably. I don’t know what else I can do for him myself.
Since we don’t have creepy black tentacles we must be good guys
Harmony gets to the end of the line….
… And we are in some sort of liquid. Thankfully, we have breathers at our belts, so we put them on quickly. We put one on Tony as well, although it almost looks like he’s breathing? So Victoria takes of her breather, and finds out that we can, indeed breathe here. Weird. It’s not water, around us, it’s more viscous. There also seems to be a ceiling above us. Wait a minute, we’re in a laboratory!
“Who the hell are you?”
We are not alone! There is a man in a grey coverall, wearing several badges. Victoria replies: “We are a bit lost.”
The man says we’re in Neptune World, and that no-one can just enter Neptune world. Victoria says: “We are very lost.”
He seems to agree, and takes us to see the boss. Tony, in the meantime, is not getting any better. Carrying him is much easier than it was before, though there is some inertia. The sign on the wall says we’re in Neptune 1. The whole complex is smaller than the set of huts in the snow was. Outside it’s dark, and there are fish. Victoria greets them, and the fish look as if they understand her. Somehow, this freaks James out. Dude, Victoria can talk to fish, okay? Don’t worry about it.
We drop Tony off at a medical lab, while the rest of us try to explain where we came from. I look at what the doctors are doing. Nothing much seems to be happening, so I poke him with the compass. It seemed like a good idea, he reacted to it before, and I thought the shock might wake him up. Not really. Instead, he goes into convulsions.
I hand the compass back to James. Quickly.
Thankfully, through the blue stones we can communicate without the grown-ups hearing us. We decide to say we were exploring a strange blue line, and then we were suddenly here. So, the truth, basically.
So when the boss asks us how we ended up here, we tell him the story. We hope he will say ‘Hey, we have a strange blue line as well, wanna check it out’? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. He doesn’t believe us, but he tells us ‘since we don’t have creepy black tentacles’ (like when we were grabbed and brought to Dara’s place?) we must be good guys… We are left free to wander around a bit.
Victoria goes outside to talk to the fishes some more, and they tell her there are no blue glowy things around.
Dave goes to eat.
I want food as well, but I also want to take care of Tony, so I go to the medical lab first. He seems to be sleeping, so I join the others in the mess hall, where we get taught how to drink under water.
Meanwhile, Victoria finds a whale, and it tells her there is a Blue Glowy thing after all, outside Neptune’s walls. But before we can do anything, we have to wait for Tony, who does seem to be getting some more colour. So we all get some rest.
Tony is out for 12 hours, then too weak to do anything but recuperate for 12 more. We eat, cook, heal and sleep for a whole day. Victoria talks to the sea creatures, and asks them to protect this place, so there is warning when black tentacles appear.
While we wait, we find out that this is an archaeological mission to Atlantis, which is about 10 minutes swim from here. We are allowed to check it out, and can even borrow breathing gear, as long as we bring it back. Not that there’s anywhere to go but here, so we have little choice. Is what they think. We just laugh and agree.
Then, finally, we go to Atlantis! We start out swimming, and the whale Victoria spoke to before decides to swim along. He lets us hang onto him, which is super! Before we have to say goodbye, I give the whale a big hug. I can’t talk to him like Victoria can, but that was sooooo cool! She has a great gift!
Atlantis: the ruins of an ancient city. We follow the compass to an open plaza with a recognizable design on it. This seems to be the only place without any rubble on it…. It seems too easy. There is writing on the buildings, in modern Thari.
Tony lands near the start of the design and just goes for it. As he starts moving along, sparks begin to rise. This is usually when the scary stuff happens, so I hide.
Tony is having a hard time of it, visually slowing down. In the water, he is sharply leaning, pushing himself, working hard, but slowing down, slower, slower…..
… *POP* We are all coughing as our suits explode. We are in a small metal environment. The writing on the sign says ‘airlock’. Uh-oh. Especially since we seem to be in the outside-facing part. And outside is only blackness.
The compass points inwards. Given these circumstances, we head in.
Pretty soon, we get stopped by a guy in uniform. “Stop right there!”
We can see everything here looks military, with lots of stars on the insignia. The man takes us with him, and he won’t answer any questions. Instead, he puts us in a cell. It was a bit of a walk, this thing is larger than the Neptune 1 ever was. Luckily, we’re all in the same cell. The guns and stuff are taken away.
We decide to talk using the crystals, so we can’t be overheard. We think they are leaving us here to sweat a bit, and to stick to our story. Which, once again, is the truth, so remembering it is easy enough. It’s just the getting people to believe us, is the hard part.
After an hour or so, the door opens. A man enters, and he points at Victoria. This is scary, and we all grab each other, and hang on. The men try to pry us apart. Victoria bites them, I kick some shins, but when we get tazered, the fight is over quickly.
There are no pictures of the aliens themselves, but we do see black alien star-ships.
Victoria gets taken to a bare room. There is a floodlight blinding her. A voice asks who she is, and who she’s working for. “I’m just a school-girl,” Victoria says, telling them about the Blue Glowy thing.
She gets told it’s a stupid story. Victoria eventually tells them there are multiple worlds, and we follow the Blue Glowy thing, because it makes the black tentacle things go away.
“What is your citizen’s ID-number?”
Victoria says again there are many worlds, and she’s not from here. The man tells her that means she’s an illegal alien.
“No!” Victoria says, “I’m from Greece!”
“Not our Greece, so you’re an illegal alien.”
Victoria just tries to tell them that she can’t be expected to know their laws….
The man orders her to tell her more about our world, and about tentacles.
Victoria just starts babbling, telling him about the tentacles, and the Black Road, and the corruption which is everywhere, and that the tentacles can grab you, and that there is an attack coming, and that the tentacles seem to be aiming to corrupt something on the other end of the Road, whatever there is on the other side, so we are trying to get there, too, to help, and that the Blue Glowy things might take us there. “I really am fourteen,” she ends, sobbing.
She gets taken to a different cell, all alone.
Clearly they haven’t figured out we are communicating (through the crystals), so we know exactly what she’s told them.
Tony is next. The thing is, he’s just new to the Carlos Corey School for Gifted Orphans, and he hardly knows what’s going on (I still feel that way myself a lot of the time, so I can relate). So he starts telling them the same thing Victoria has told them. His name is Tony, there is a Black Road, there are many worlds…. Then he starts babbling too, a whole long, confusing stream of consciousness about everything he’s been through and I was there and even I can’t follow it.
The interrogator zooms in on one detail: “Which school, where?”
“The Carlos Corey School for Gifted Orphans, in California,” Tony answers.
One by one, we all get interrogated, but we can coordinate our stories. So we all tell them the same, more or less. This completely confuses the interrogator. Yeah, it’s a strange story. And children breaking only a little bit must be even stranger.
When we ask him about the blue thing, he says he doesn’t want to take us there. So it is here, too!
We are taken out of our cells, and put into a locked stateroom. There is food, but we don’t get our guns back. We finally hear we’re on a spaceship called the Pegasus.
Victoria turns on the television. There is a news show on, showing war preparations. Apparently there are nasty, evil, aliens coming. There are no pictures of the aliens themselves, but we do see black alien star-ships.
Suddenly, there is a red light, and sirens sound. We try to get to the corridor, but the door is still locked. We try the vents, and we are small enough to make it work. We make our way to the corridor and follow the compass.
There’s a thump on the hull, and the whole place starts to shake. Luckily, the compass points in, so we get away from the portholes. We find our locker (because it has the spare blue crystals) and get our stuff. Pretty soon we can hear a fight going on within the spaceship. Not long after that, we encounter a large tentacle-monster. It shoot, but misses. Dave returns fire, and hits! The thing immediately shoots back, with a sort of phaser-like gun, and Dave is hit! But the next shot makes the monster topple over. While I clean and dress Dave’s wound, the others pick up the alien gun. They soon figure out it takes too many arms to use it, so we just leave it.
There is fighting everywhere, and we try to get around it, but if we follow the compass we have to pass through it at one point. We try to use our crystals to avoid being hit, but we end up having to retreat, with the aliens in pursuit. Then, since they are following us anyway, we turn around and dodge and weave so we at least are being pursued in the right direction. My pack gets shot, which jolts me forward, but somehow we get through! It helps that the aliens are now being shot at from two directions.
There is a big door, with a security lock, and a card slot. What we have on us doesn’t work. We use communications to ask the captain to let us in, but he doesn’t. What now? Harmony decides to sneak back and try to find a security card on a body, however creepy that sounds. She succeeds, and we try it in combination with the crystals. The lights flash red, then green, and we’re in!
There is a big blue thing of glass and metal, not just a line. It’s in the floors and the walls, too. We can tell it’s the power source of the station. Also, there is a great ray gun pointing down at us.
So cool, seeing the herbs they use, the ice cellars, and the long spoons they use
James goes for it, while the rest of us take up defensive positions. Sparks start coming of James pretty quickly, and his hair is standing on end.
A bright flash of light goes upwards…
… And it’s windy. We’re on a hillside. In the valley below is an army, and on the opposite side of the valley is a walled town, on another hill. On the hill is a castle. It’s all very medieval, I love it. Dave is more into sci-fi, and he checks his gun. It works.
On close inspection, the army doesn’t look very human, they are sort of furry1. We can’t tell anything about the besieged town, but we assume we have to go there.
We walk around, scouting and trying to think of a plan. We can feel it will be very hard to control probability around here… In the valley there is lots of army (bows, arrows, spears). The hills are more spread out. A small stream enters the city through iron grating. There is a gap between the vegetation and the wall.
Unable to think of anything better, we just try creeping past the enemy. We’re trying to use the crystals to make them look the other way. We might be in full view of the castle, but we’re okay with that. When we reach a tall tree, James climbs it, and then he uses a mirror to catch the attention of one of the guys on the battlements. Now the archers there are looking at us, and we see a runner go down. We are all waiting for them to bring up a spy-glass, so they can see we’re not part of this army. But then, the attention the castle-guys are showing this tree attracts notice of the army around us.
We cry for help and run for it. From the castle walls a rope ladder comes down. We run and run, and again Victoria has to drag me. I hope I’ll grow a bit, next year, so I’m not always the smallest. I hope I live to see next year. Arrows fly around us, but we reach the ladder. We climb up, Dave is last. He’s being pulled up while he’s still returning fire. Only when we’re all up do the furries stop shooting.
We’re brought up to the captain. He’s obviously human, and they seem glad to see us. “Why come to a city under siege?” they ask.
We tell them we need a Blue Glowy thing.
They will consider helping us, if we take out the ballistae. WHOOSH. Dave takes out the ballistae with his ray gun.
Thoroughly impressed we get off of the walls and go up to the castle, where we are brought to the War Room. There is a king there, who gets told about the ballistae. “Can you do that some more?” he asks Dave.
“Yes,” Dave says, “I can. But we need to get to a Blue Glowy thing. We’ve come a long way, and there is war everywhere. If we get to the Blue Glowy thing, we can help in all of them.”
The king tells us the Blue Glowy thing kills people.
Dave says he wants to try anyway. He will give his gun to Harmony, in case he dies.
But first we rest. Everybody gets chocolate. Dave gets to shoot some more, but I’m not there to see it, as I’m checking out the medieval kitchen as it actually was. So cool, seeing the herbs they use, the ice cellars, and the long spoons they use…
The king takes us to the basement, where they keep their Blue Glowy thing. He calls it a Pattern, which fits and is perhaps a better name than Blue Glowy thing. Dave hands Harmony his gun, and, with a face like he has to eat a wholesome home-cooked meal, starts walking the Pattern. Sparks fly, there is a smell of ozone…
…. And we’re under water again, salty, but we can breathe. We’re on a staircase, inside an archway. Way below, on the bottom of the sea, is a city, and a castle. The city is lit by flames on poles.
Up, the staircase disappears into blackness.
In the city, we can see a lot of topless people, and their flesh is pale, kind of greenish. Their hair has tints of pastel.
There are other things too, tentacled and chitinous things. There is a battle in the city.
There is a loud ping from the compass. The needle has split, and there is one part buried in each end. That’s ominous.
We zigzag into the city, since a city under attack seems familiar, and it’s better than climbing into darkness. Of course we try to avoid the worst, but troops form on us. This is the tail-end of a battle. Our guns work, though, and we’re forcing the tentacles that were pressing on the castle out. We fight a bit more, but we are running low on ammo as we press on towards the castle.
Someone riding a saddled dolphin comes our way. Of course, why wouldn’t there be greenish people riding dolphins under water? What a pity Skye didn’t come… The rider is female, and greets us with a hearty: “How the hell did you do that?”
There are a lot of herbs I’ve never heard of, and I get some samples
She means the guns, so we show them to her.
“Earth-standard?” she asks. She tries to fire one, but it doesn’t work. Victoria tries, and shoots.
Yeah, yeah, guns, whatever. “Hello, I’m Katie,” I introduce myself. “Hello Katie, my name is Llewella,” she answers. We all bow.
Victoria tells Llewella Corwin’s army is coming here to invade from Earth.
Llewella says it doesn’t surprise her.
We show her the poem, and tell her that we just want to make things better.
Llewella says we have. “About an hour ago,” so around when we arrived, “the reinforcements of the Black Road stopped coming in.”
We tell her about the Blue Gl Patterns, and that they became more and more difficult. Mine wasn’t hard at all, I’d like to try again. Llewella says it is right I didn’t, it would kill me. Something about diluted blood. Bah, I’m no worse than Dave! My blood isn’t more diluted than his! Llewella thinks the real Pattern might kill us. There is a real Pattern! But, I don’t need to try a new one, I just want to do the ones the others did, I want to be the same as them. And I want to show that I can do whatever Dave does.
They are talking about Shadows, but I’m sulking, so I miss it. Nobody even notices I’m feeling bad, so I start listening again. Llewella is just saying how “It is unpolitical to say we are a reflection of Amber.”
She feels like I do! I say: “It could even be the other way around. You’re not worse than they are.”
“Exactly,” says Llewella, “We both might reflect something else, after all.”
“Is there something beyond this?” I ask, wondering whether this isn’t the last Pattern at all.
“I don’t know,” Llewella answers. Well, that isn’t much help.
Victoria tells me I’m just as good as the rest of them are, jumping on the first line (even if it was sort of by accident) was the right thing to do. That makes me feel better. “And you saved Tony,” she adds. Tony seems surprised, and I am too, a little. Maybe I did, at least I helped. Tony thanks me, and we hug.
We ask whether we can take a look at the Pattern, since we’ve come this far…. Llewella decides that since we’re Royals, we can (being Royal sounds fancy and good, but having a family is better). We’ve all realised by now that the inscriptions on the needle of the compass seems Pattern-like. This Pattern is big, much more powerful than the once we saw before. I get a bit closer, but realise I don’t want to get too close.
Next, we go to the kitchen. An underwater kitchen!!! It is amazing! The cooks let me look around as much as I want, as the others talk. There are a lot of herbs I’ve never heard of, and I get some samples, and the instruction to keep them wet. Keep them wet! Herbs! I’ll have to use them quickly!
Anyway, Llewella tells us Erik is dead, and Corwin is regent. The others explain about Corwin, and the ES. We wonder whether we can safely leave. We want to go home now we’re done. Llewella says the ES will be staying in Amber, with their guns.2
We tell her about Dara as well. Llewella doesn’t know her, so I go to the table and show her the Trump. She takes it, and tells us to wait. Fine by me, this kitchen is amazing! The other children talk about the ES some more.
After a while Llewella returns and hands me the Trump of Dara. She hasn’t trumped her, she says, but she has found out Dara has just walked the Amber Pattern and has threatened that Amber will fall. “Was the attack merely a diversion to get Dara to the Pattern?” Llewella wonders. “But why would Dworkin rearrange things so you could intervene?”
Next she takes the poem, and wanders off again. When she returns she confirms it was written by Dworkin. We ask who this Dworkin is. Llewella thinks he is family, since ‘the redheads’ call him grandfather. With the six parts of Pattern we apparently empowered, the Black Road was contained enough that something changed in the battle.
Uh, okay. Whatever it all means, we did well!
We don’t have a Trump of Misty, so how do we get home? And then…. Llewella gives me a whole Trump Deck. She tells me to take care of it and be careful. The pictures are beautiful. My dad was a painter, I love art…. I can tell these portraits are exquisite. We only recognize some. There’s Mrs Flaumel, and Julian, but no Misty. Llewella Trumps Julian, and we go to him. Wow!
Once we’re with Julian, our crystals start working again. We contact Misty, she has a Trump of Julian, and another hand-holding feast later, we’re all home! That was a lot quicker than the way here…
We tell Misty all that’s happened, and she warns us not to go into Shadow now, as there are still armies about. We also find that although we still need the crystals for communication, we can now walk Shadow without them (though it’s easier with them).
So, all that’s left is to figure out what we’ll tell Dara when it’s time for her update. I wonder if she’ll tell us about her adventures. It sounds like she’s been busy.3