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Sable City/The Sable Mountains, 1 April SY153

It’s about 2.45pm on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in early spring, and I’m sitting in the garden of my house in Sable City, digesting a rather good Sunday lunch and reading a book. Sofia has taken the twins to the park, but it’s been a long week, so I decided not to go with them. I’ve just taken a drink from the glass of home-made lemonade on the table beside me, when I feel someone trying to Trump me. I identify the caller as my nephew, Andrew, which takes me by surprise.

I suppose a little context may be in order here. Following my Ascension as God of Communications, as I’d promised Andrew, I’d spent quite a bit of time with Martin Carragher, his comms chief and all-round genuinely nice guy. I’d taught him how to act as an answering service for my nephew, and done some work with him on improving his mental defences.

During that time – I suppose it was about six months –Andrew and I had inevitably bumped into each other, and always been cordial. I’d even mended the picture of him and his brother Lucien, which Robert had been so upset to see damaged, for which he seemed genuinely grateful. After I’d finished teaching Martin what he needed to know, Andrew and I fell into a pattern of chatting every couple of months. He even started talking to Robert a bit, as well.

Unfortunately, the business with the Creation of Elementis and my nephew’s exclusion from the process rather put the kibosh on that. On the one hand, I understood why Robert and the others made the decision they did. I even supported it, to a degree, although given that my daughter was one of the Four Sisters who eventually built the Power, I wasn’t completely unbiased. At the same time, however, I could understand Andrew’s pain and anger at what he considered to his be unfair treatment.

After he finally built the Technocracy, he thawed a bit towards me. I think he believed, or chose to believe, that I had been led on by the three Rs – Robert, Rupert and Roland – rather than having any say in their decision. We slowly got back to meeting for dinner once every three months or so, and I even did some consulting for him with respect to the Communications aspects of his new Power. I was, and am, painfully aware, however, that no such rapprochement has ever developed between him and Robert.

Where was I? Oh yes. As I identify my caller, I’m surprised. We only had dinner about three weeks ago, so I’m certainly not expecting to hear from him today. He really isn’t one for random social calls. Curious, I open up the link..

“Good afternoon, Michael,” he says, quite formally, “may I come through for a word?”

I put down my lemonade and my book, then stand up, and bring him through to me. But I forget to warn him before I do it. Big mistake. He’s immediately in fight mode, and the dagger at his belt is resting beside my kidneys in an instant, the blade denting my skin. Stupid, Michael: you forgot that you should never, ever bring Andrew through a Trump unexpectedly. I freeze until he relaxes. It takes several seconds longer than I might have liked.

“Do you ever get tired of being the God of Fucking Trump?” he asks, angrily, stepping back and he puts the dagger back in his scabbard. An apology would have been far too much to expect from him, but maybe that should fall to me.

“I should have remembered,” I answer, regretting my lapse, “I’m sorry.”

He turns away from me, and heads pointedly towards the chair I’ve just vacated. I grab another one, and pull it over to the table.

“Do you want some…” I ask, gesturing to the lemonade jug, “I can get you a glass.”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

I open a link to the kitchen, grab another glass, and pull it through, putting it very carefully on the table. Andrew takes it and fills it to the brim, then downs half of it before looking back at me.

“It’s good to see you,” I say, “but even though it’s Sunday afternoon, I assume this isn’t a social call. How can I help?”

“It’s the first of the month.”

“Of April, no less. There was a particularly good mock story in the Sable Examiner this morning, about harvesting spaghetti from trees…”

“I don’t care,” he snaps, and I shut up. This does not bode well.

“What’s this about, Andrew?” I ask, quietly.

“Have you talked to my father today?”

“Nope. Should I have?”

“I suppose not,” he concedes, with a shrug. I wait for him to continue, which he eventually does, “yesterday a group of Grey’s people interrupted a ritual on Mount Anglia, led by an individual with ties to the Germanenorden.”

“Germanenorden…” I repeated, thinking aloud, “one of the anti-Sable right-wing extremist groups, right?”

Mount Anglia – or Mount Vanaheim as Rupert’s lot prefer to call it – is the highest point on Magica Superior. If a ritual was being done there, I rather doubted the location was a coincidence.

“Indeed,“ he confirms.

“I didn’t even know it was possible to get to Mount Anglia. But then, I’ve never really been into mountaineering.”

“A member of the Family can do it if they want to. So can some mortals if they’ve walked a Broken Pattern. Working the Mountains is a kind of Shadow manipulation, although mortals can’t normally get as far into them as this lot did.”

“Okay. So one of these extremist types was Family?”

“A bastard son of Theodor König, no less, called Siegfried Hagen.”

“And he did…what exactly?”

“He decided that Valhalla was to be found on the top of Mount Vanaheim, and that he was the chosen one who could find it.”

“Did he manage it?” I ask, lightly, not entirely sure where this was going.

“Worse. He made it.”

“I don’t quite follow.”

“Remember I said that navigating the mountains was a form of Shadow manipulation?” I nod. “So this wacko believed so strongly that he could find Valhalla, that he brought it into being. Shortly thereafter, Grey’s team, including a man named Alex Gibson, in whom I have a vested interest because of the Nexus, found where he was doing his weird shit and interrupted him. The other Germanenorden morons were killed. Hagen was severely injured and they took him into custody.”

“So he’s probably going to be on my patient list tomorrow,” I comment, “and…?”

“Gibson asked me to help with clean-up. It took a while, but soon there wasn’t much left of the city Hagen had been trying to bring into being: just the ruins of a temple, which seemed annoyingly unwilling to cease to exist. I sent the group back to Sable, but as I stood there, I got to thinking. Wouldn’t the Ruins of Valhalla be the ideal location to have a heart to heart with Uncle Rupert.”

“Well that’s a first,” I answer, and then I remember the date again, and smile, “Oh. Okay. Good one. You almost had me going.”

He looks at me in disbelief for a second, and then a very odd expression crosses his face. Truth be told, the intensity of it scares me.

“Oh no, Michael, this isn’t a joke,” he says, and I can hear something akin to menace underlying his tone, “I’m telling you this because I want you to help me arrange it, using your thing with the cards. You can pull me through without thinking about it, whether I want you to or not. I’ve seen you do it to my father, too. So presumably the same applies to Delatz. I want you to intercept my father’s call to him this afternoon, so I can have a word.”

What the heck?

“Do you hear me?”

“I hear you, but I don’t understand how I can help. It’s not like I have Rupert in my rolodex…well, okay, I do… but even if he took my call, which I doubt he would, he wouldn’t listen to any request I’d make. He and I don’t get on.”

“If you’re going to be intentionally dense, then let me explain it to you in words of one syllable. I…want you…as God of Trumps…to bring Rupert Delatz to me…whether he wants to come or not.”

“So you can have a heart to heart with him,” I clarify. I decide not to point out that some of those words had multiple syllables, as by now I was getting seriously alarmed.

“Exactly.”

“Is this heart to heart going to involve sharp pointy objects?”

“After what he did to me, and then the shit that my own father pulled over Elementis vs. the Technocracy, I think I’m due some payback.”

“Elementis happened forty plus years ago, and what Rupert did to you was much earlier than that. Why now?”

“Because I’ve never found such a perfect a place to do it.”

“This is a very bad idea.”

“Your point?”

“That pretty much is my point. This is a VERY BAD IDEA.”

“They owe it to me,” he answers, firmly, and I see a disturbingly fanatical light in his eyes, “my father and Rupert fucking Delatz both.”

“Think this through, Andrew,” I reply, “even if I could intercept Robert’s call, Rupert’s good enough with the cards that he’ll know something’s amiss. Plus, as I said, he and I have a pretty rocky relationship as it is: if he sees that I’m involved in this, that’s not going to get any better.”

“You’ll not only be intercepting it. You’ll be taking control of it.”

“Um…in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not Robert.”

“No, but you’re one of the best shifters in Sable. You can shapeshift the shit out of anything you put your mind to, and you know it, so becoming Robert should be a doddle for you. Plus…God of Trumps.”

“Absolutely not,” I insist, “this is crazy.”

I don’t add “you’re crazy”, but it’s close, and I think he hears the omission. He looks at me for a moment and shakes his head.

“I’m disappointed, Michael. I thought you, of all people, would understand just what Rupert’s really like. As you said, you have a rocky relationship. Isn’t that because he tried to mind rape you at least once.”

“That’s not the point. What you’re proposing…it’s genuinely nuts.”

“I’m really so very, very sorry to hear that you feel that way,” he says, gently.

I relax slightly, thinking that maybe this particular crisis has been headed off at the pass, but I’m wrong. As I refill my lemonade and sit back, he catches my eye. Then he says, quietly but firmly: “I pray with all my heart to the God of Communications, that he use all the powers at his disposal to aid me in my rightful vengeance this day.”

I stare at him, gobsmacked, and then feel the power of his prayer as it enfolds me.

“No,” I say, “you can’t make me do this.”

“If I understand Aurellian Aspects correctly, not having one myself – something else I’ve been denied by my beloved father and his new best friend apparently – I most definitely can.”

I try to resist, even knowing how bad that could be for me, but he’s implacable. Normally, I have him beat on mental strength, but this is backed by his connection to the Nexus as its Creator. I feel the trap close around me and I know I have no choice. I stop resisting and try to catch my breath.

“In what way is what you just did to me any different to what Rupert did in Berlin that time,” I answer, shaking, “why are you doing this?”

“Because I don’t see another way.”

Looking at him in horror, I realise that the fanatical gleam in his eyes is accompanied by large doses of jealousy and obsession. I wonder about invoking my other Aspect, but I know it won’t work. Right here, right now, I’m not sure which of us it would consider to be the Lesser Sibling that needed protecting.

“I think I can safely say that in answer your earlier question, right now I’m most definitely tired of being the God of Trumps,” I comment, quietly.

“I’m sorry, Michael. I didn’t want to do it this way, but you gave me no choice.”

I try to figure out if his apology is genuine, and on balance I think it is, but that does not change the fact that he did it in the first place.

“How may the God of Communications aid his Humble Petitioner?” I say, through gritted teeth.

“At 3.45pm, you and I will go to the Ruins of Valhalla. I can handle that bit. At 3.50pm, you will change your form into the closest approximation of Robert de Lacy that you can manage. At 3.58pm, you will start monitoring my father’s Trump so that you know the second he starts calling Delatz. At that point, you will block that call, insert yourself into the contact instead…”

“I’m not sure I can even do that.”

“Oh, I firmly believe that you can,” he replies, with a slight stress on believe, “you will then bring Delatz through to us, and make sure that Trumps no longer work at that location. I will do the rest. Do you understand my wishes?”

“I do.”

“Then let’s have some more of that lemonade, shall we?” he says, switching back to the genial nephew I knew as a child, “how are Sofia and the twins. They’re what, six months old now…?”

And that’s the point at which I realise Andrew’s sanity has absolutely, positively, one hundred percent, left the building.

*  *  *  * *  *

At exactly 3.44pm, my “guest” stands up and gestures for me to do the same. I feel him bring up the Pattern, and moments later we transfer. It’s cold at that altitude – the ruins of Hagen’s temple are at about 14,000ft, by my guess – and the oxygen is getting thin. That probably won’t bother me too much, but maybe it might slow Andrew down. I hope.

I look around and see that we’re in the ruins of some kind of structure: the temple he mentioned. It looks about the size of a large parish church. I can also smell the tang of blood in the air, from the direction of the altar stone, towards which Andrew is striding purposefully. He stops in the what was probably the sanctuary and turns back to me.

“Your turn,” he says to me.

Unsure what else I can do, I start shifting into the best copy of Robert that I can manage. My brother’s a little shorter than me so I deal with that first, then redistribute the extra mass evenly. At least I know him well enough that this is a relatively simple job. All the while, I’m trying to figure out how I can get out of doing this, but if I even consider it, I feel sick to my stomach, and I start to shake.

When I’m done, Andrew nods his approval, and gestures for me to join him. The smell of blood is stronger here, and off to one side I see red on the broken tiles. I identify it as belonging to a member of the Family: Siegfried Hagen, I suppose. He looks at his watch, and then back at me. I take the hint and start monitoring my mental Trumps of Robert and Rupert. It takes enough effort that I lose track of where my nephew is in the process.

Bang on 4pm, Robert’s trace becomes active. I shunt it over to hold, then pick up the contact as it goes through to my other brother.

“Guten Tag, Mein Bruder,” he says, pleasantly, as the link opens, and he sees someone he believes to be Robert.

“Herr Reichsführer,” I answer, in the hope that it might put him on his guard.

He pauses a moment, and raises an eyebrow.

“Do I detect a lack of bonhomie this afternoon, Robert,” he says, mildly, but thankfully it’s put him on edge. Maybe he won’t be an easy target for my nephew, after all. “Is there a problem?”

“Something like that,” I reply, trying my best to sound frosty and unwelcoming.

A couple of thoughts go through his head as he takes my hand, at least one of which relates to whether he should bring his on-duty Honour Guard with him. I try to encourage that train of thought, but it doesn’t work. He’s still got me beat in terms of mental ability. He shakes off his concerns and steps through.

“The Sable Mountains?” he says, with surprise, “quite high up if I don’t miss my guess. Isn’t April a little early to meet at this altitude?”

I’ve lost track of where my nephew is , but as Rupert arrives, I feel the second part of Andrew’s compulsion hit me, and I find myself unable to avoid blocking the cards.

“Rupert, I’m sorry,” I say quietly, and suddenly he’s on guard. He concentrates for a moment, and I feel him try to Trump away. Which, of course he can’t.

“Michael Fucking de Lacy,” he says, angrily, putting two and two together and unfortunately getting four. At what point did “fucking” become the common middle name for the sons of Delwin? “What the Hell are you doing here? Where’s Robert?”

Before I can answer, Andrew moves, and I realise he’s holding a Powers blade. Probably the one connected to the Nexus.

“Duck!” I cry, although it hurts like crazy to do so as I fight against Andrew’s compulsion. I try to push Rupert out of the way, but my nephew’s too quick. There’s a flash and a smell of ozone as my brother’s shields go down, despite him being God of Protection. Then Andrew’s blade appears from his abdomen, stopping short of my own by millimetres. Instinctively, I step back.

“Got you, you fucking psychopath,” my nephew says, viciously.

I see the end of the blade repositioning as he cuts upwards towards Rupert’s ribcage. It goes straight through and into the flesh of his lungs. Andrew doesn’t look like he has any intention of stopping until he’s reached the heart. Then my brother is collapsing to the ground, leaving a trail of blood on the blade as he slides downwards. Finally, the power of the prayer my nephew hit me with fades, now its conditions are fulfilled.

My physician’s instinct kicks in and I move to try to help my brother, but before I can do more than kneel beside him, Andrew’s blade is at my throat, cutting into my flesh.

“Don’t…you…fucking…dare,” he says, screams, madness burning in his eyes.

“Are you going to try to kill me as well,” I answer, and reach towards Rupert. I feel the blade cutting deeper into my neck, and realise that unless I stop, he’s going to do just that.

I freeze. Then I realise that my shifting isn’t even attempting to deal with the cut.

“What was on the blade, Andrew?”

“A shifting inhibitor. I got it from a contact of mine.”

“He’s going to die.”

“That was rather the point,” he answers, and for a second, I think he’s going to giggle at his own joke. Literally giggle.

How to play into Andrew’s madness? Think Michael. Ah, like that.

“Isn’t that too easy?” I say, trying to keep my voice steady, which is no mean feat. I think the last time I was this scared was back in Berlin in ’99.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if I understand things right, if he dies, won’t he just regenerate in a year or so? He probably won’t even remember what happened here. Surely, if you really want your revenge, he needs to suffer, and he needs to remember.”

I feel the pressure on my throat lessen, as he considers what I’ve said, and I hope to God that he doesn’t consider for too long. I can see far too much of Rupert’s lifeblood draining out onto the tiles of the sanctuary, and his pulse is weakening alarmingly. I try to get hold of Rupert’s shifting, but it’s too sluggish to react. Then I realise that I have another option. The compulsion has run its course, and I’m no longer obliged to lock out Trumps. I let the block drop, and Robert is immediately in my mind.

“Michael, what…?”

“Rupert’s dying.”

“I couldn’t even get through to Rupert…”

“We’re in the Sable Mountains, and I need you here. Dive right when you arrive. Andrew’s gone complete nuts and I’m not sure he cares who he hurts right now.”

I draw on my Trump abilities, and my other brother joins us. Taking my advice, he executes a surprisingly credible parachute roll to the right, avoiding slipping on Rupert’s blood and giving himself some space to work with. It’s just as well. If he hadn’t, the strike Andrew executes at him would probably have taken off his head. I curse myself for an idiot for putting Robert in danger as well.

Then my nephew is moving towards him, with murder in his eyes. I move as fast as I can to get between them, while Robert’s still trying to figure out what’s going on. Andrew cuts towards me, but thankfully he hits the bottom of my rib cage, rather than anything more delicate. It hurts like Hell, but better me than his father.

Note to self. Don’t make a habit of getting hit by a Powers blade, even with the best of intentions.

Then I hear Robert yell: “Get away from us, Andrew.”

There’s a massive flash, and suddenly his son is flying backwards. He hits the altar, there’s the ominous thud of flesh and bone connecting far too fast with stone, then he lands badly and I hear a sickening crack. Necks breaking make a sound all their own.

“Oh Jesus,” Robert says, going completely white, and I know he heard it too.

I check Rupert. He’s slipping into a coma, due to blood loss at a guess. I don’t think Andrew got to his heart, but I’m not sure.

“Get him out of here,” I say, drawing Robert’s attention back to me and Rupert, “Somewhere safe. Anywhere safe. I’ll deal with Andrew.”

“The Wewelsburg,” my brother says, taking a firm grip of Rupert’s arm, “I’ll be as fast as I can. Think you can maintain a Trump link with me through a Pattern jump? I may need pulling out in a hurry.”

I nod weakly.

“Good. I’ll be back.”

I feel him bring up the Pattern, and then he’s gone. Through his eyes, I see him arrive in the crypt under the North Tower of the Wewelsburg. I’ve only ever seen the place in person once, when he was helping me hone my skills with his Pattern, a few years after he and his brother had started talking again. Rupert had been there to observe that day, and had glowered at me for all he was worth the entire time. It‘s lit by ever-burning torches and hung with Sigrune banners. In the centre, a stone balustrade lets into a lower area of floor, about a foot and a half below its surroundings. Then I hear the alarms go off.

I’m already pretty sure that I know what I’m going to find when I go over to my nephew, but I don’t need Robert to have that confirmed right now, given that he’s deep in Rupert’s territory. I tweak the Trump feed so that I can see him, but he can’t watch me, and shunt it off to one side. I can monitor it while I deal with the here and now. I cross to where Andrew is lying in an ungainly heap, trying to ignore the fact that my side still hurts like crazy where he hit me.

Robert takes a moment to get something out of his pocket and pins it to his jacket lapel. I can’t make out what it is, but it seems an odd thing for him to do there and then. Then he drops down beside our brother. I can feel him drawing on the power of the Pattern: the one below him, not the one he usually uses, trying to feed its energy into Rupert. I can feel that it’s hurting him.

When Robert pushed Andrew away, he flew backwards and hit the altar stone head first, with more force than I would have thought possible. His neck is twisted at an unnatural angle, and the back of his skull is pretty much caved in. I feel for a pulse, and to my horror, I find one. I put my hand over his heart and can feel a weak, thready beat. Even more disconcertingly, his eyes are open and he seems to be staring at me, but there’s nothing behind them.

If I try, I can probably repair the damage, but for the first time in my extensive career as a physician, I have doubts about whether I should help him. Whether I even want to help him.

Back in the crypt, I hear running feet, and I see a young man come into view, wearing the uniform of an SS- Obersturmbannführer. He has short, dark-blond hair, blue eyes, and there’s something familiar about him. After a moment, it clicks: he reminds me of Conrad Berthelmes. Two other men are hot on his heels. As he slides to a halt, he takes in the scene before him in a single glance: the instant assessment of a professional bodyguard. One of the Honour Guard, then. Maybe even the one who Rupert thought about bringing through to the Mountains.

“Your Majesty?” he says to my brother.

“Thank God it’s you, Rikart,” Robert answers, “he needs to get downstairs and I can’t get any further than this. Can you get the bloody staircase open?”

“Yes, sir,” he answers, and crosses to one of the stones. I’m startled that he’s following Robert’s orders without question.

Still without arguing, the young man draws the Honour Dagger at his belt, and slashes the blade across his hand. As he does, the other two come to a halt. One of them draws a pistol, while the other one tries to figure out what’s going on. Rikart’s blood drips over a certain point, and I hear the grinding of machinery.

“Friedrich, put the pistol away,” Rikart says, turning back to his companions…subordinates? “he’s here as a friend.”

I switch my focus back to Andrew. I’ve never felt so conflicted. I know Robert had to deal with something like this back on Manira, when he found Rupert and Joachim Peipler, and chose to help them. I’m not sure I’m as strong as he was.

Robert’s voice cuts into my deliberations again.

“Call Dominik. He may be able to help.”

Once again, the young man doesn’t argue. He draws a Trump from his pocket, and I feel him make contact with someone whose face I knew all too well. Dominik Gerlinde, commander of the Forstapo. How the Hell does Robert have such familiarity with these people? I mean, I know he goes to Panenske Brezany for tea every other month, but still…

I suppose it was easier for him. On Manira. While Rupert and Peiper were enemy combatants, they hadn’t been trying to kill him two minutes before. Also, I imagine he thought there was hope. Here, in the Mountains, Andrew’s heart is beating, albeit weakly, but looking into those eyes, I’m pretty sure he’s already braindead.

Could I fix that? Probably, but then…what if I bring him back and he’s still utterly, batshit crazy? I know I’m not strong enough to go another round with him.

Now Gerlinde is in the crypt, along with another man who I don’t recognise, although he seems to be another SS general. The latter is regarding both Robert and Rikart with suspicion. As far as Gerlinde is concerned, I get the impression that he’s going to say something either cutting, or sarcastic, or both, until he, too, sees the two figures on the floor.

“Oberstgruppenführer von Worcester,” he says, coldly, looking down that them, “what have you done?”

Oberstgruppenführer von…what the heck?

“It wasn’t me, Dominik,” Robert answers, “I swear on my honour.”

I can’t do it. For the first time in my life, I can’t do it. Beneath my hand, Andrew’s heart flutters, and finally stops.

“Why should I believe you?” I hear Gerlinde say, “after all, this is the second time we’ve been in a similar position.”

Far too late, I realise that my feelings should have been irrelevant. I should of thought of Robert and how this is going to affect him? After all, he threw the bolt that send Andrew flying..

“We can argue about this until we’re blue in the face…later,” Robert answers. He sounds exhausted. “Right now, just get him downstairs. Please. He’s dying.”

Gerlinde considers for a moment, then turns to his companion.

“Max, please keep an eye on our guest. You…” he indicates the Honour Guard with the drawn pistol, although currently it’s held at his side rather than pointing at anyone, “make sure Oberstgruppenführer von Worcester doesn’t go anywhere until I get back.”

Then picks up Rupert with one smooth motion and heads for the stone circle, Rikart and the other Honour Guard flanking him. Robert gets slowly to his feet, hands out to the sides.

“Obergruppenführer Hauer, this is ridiculous,” he says, quietly, “if I’d done that to him, why would I have brought him here?” Then he snaps another order. “Hauptsturmführer Linden, put away your weapon.”

Desperately, I try to grab hold of my nephew’s pitiful shifting to try to get his heart beating again. Nothing

“Hauer, I order you to stand down,” he says, firmly, while at the same time, I catch his mental call. “Michael, bring me through.”

I ignore him. I keep working on Andrew to try to rectify my selfish mistake, but however hard I try, it’s as if he keeps slipping from my grasp.

“I don’t believe you have the authority to make me do that,” I hear the one called Hauer say.

“Right now, I absolutely do,” Robert answers, firmly, “because here, now, I outrank you.”

“That’s debatable.”

“If you disagree, then take it up with the RFSS.”

“Who isn’t currently in a position to say anything.”

“Give him time,” comes the reply, but even down the link I can tell that Robert is bluffing for all he’s worth, “and now, I am going to leave and you aren’t going to stop me.”

“Now Michael,” I hear him repeat, rather more desperately than before, “please, before they arrest me. Rikart I trust. Even Gerlinde, to a degree. Hauer not so much.”

I finally abandon my attempts to help Andrew, and reach out to Robert, positioning his arrival so I’m between him and the body on the floor. The strange scene in the crypt disappears, and he arrives back with me. As he does, I notice some kind of insignia pin on his lapel. He immediately removes it, and slips it into in his pocket, as if he’s embarrassed.

It’s only then that he sees Andrew, and all the confidence he was putting on in the crypt drains away.

“Oh no…no, no, no, no, no.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, quietly, “I took too long.”

He drops to his knees on the ground beside me. As he does, I notice that my nephew looks less corporeal, as if he’s fading. Unlike me, Robert apparently knows what that means.

“He’s being recalled to the Nexus,” he says, his voice a monotone.

“That’s good, isn’t it?” I ask, “I mean, that’s why you took Rupert to the Wewelsburg?”

“If I wasn’t too late, and all goes well, Rupert should be fine in a couple of weeks. Andrew’s going to be gone for at least a year. Warn Helena-Maria. Tell her to batten down the hatches.”

“I can get a message to her,” I answer, and do so. She wants to know what’s happening, and I promise I’ll tell her when I can. When I even know.

“Christ, I was just trying to get him away from us,” he says, his voice almost a whisper, as the body continues to fade, and for the first time in my life, I see tears welling in his eyes “I didn’t mean to…to…”

His distress is overwhelming my empathic senses, and my guilt at hesitating increases.

“You didn’t do this,” I say, trying my best to convince him, “I did. I took too long.”

“I just wanted him to get away from us…” he repeats, “I must have tapped into the energy of the Mountains. And then there was the blood. Oh Jesus. No wonder…”

There’s barely a ghost image where Andrew was now.

“We need to go,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder, “you’re in shock.”

“I killed him, Michael,” he replies, so quietly that I can barely hear him, and I realise that he seems to fading in on himself, “I killed my own son.”

“No, you didn’t,” I repeat him, “I swear to you that you didn’t. Please believe me.”

But it isn’t working. He’s rapidly heading towards catatonic, and he feels a bit…thin…too. Something is seriously wrong. I have to get him away from here before Valhalla claims him as well. I bring Claire’s Trump to mind and try to focus on it.

The first thing she asks, when she opens the contact, is: “Where’s Robert? Something really bad is happening to him. Please tell me you’re with him.”

“I am. I need to bring him through to you. It’s not going to be pretty”

“Is this Rupert’s fault? I know they were meeting.”

“Only tangentially. Get somewhere private, then I’ll bring him through and explain.”

She cuts the link, and I look around us once more. The mortal shade of my nephew has faded completely, and there’s nothing left to show that he was ever there. Robert looks even paler, if that’s possible, and even thinner. I try to feed him the energy of his Pattern to keep him rooted. A few seconds later, the link to Claire is up again and I see she’s in their bedroom. I make the connection and pull us through.

“Rupert’s,” I say, quickly, as I see her taking in the blood that’s liberally splashed all over the pair of us, “Andrew tried to kill him.”

“That’s…”

“Insane?” I suggest, as I lay my brother on the bed, “you don’t know the half of it.”

“Where is he?” she says, her entire body language changing, and suddenly she’s a tigress, protecting her mate, “I’m going to wring his neck.”

“The universe had beaten you to it,” I answer, “he’s been ‘recalled to the Nexus’.”

“Andrew’s dead?”

“Believe me, it’s probably the best possible outcome, for now.”

Even now we’re back in Sable, Robert still feels less substantial than he should. This is bad. The Mountains are still affecting him.

“There’s no time to debate this,” I snap, rather to her surprise.

His instinct was to get Rupert to the Wewelsburg. By the same token…

“We need to get Robert to Millbank. He needs to be at the Primal, or we’re going to lose him too. When he saw what had happened to Andrew, he…started to fade, for want of a better description. It may just have been because we were in the Sable Mountains, but if it wasn’t…well, we can’t let him do that. Millbank is the only place I can think of…”

“I can’t get there. It’s locked except for the Pattern…unless you can do something with Trumps?”

Of course it is. I’d forgotten.

“Give me a second. I’m a bit out of practise.”

I bring the Pattern to mind. His Pattern. I send out a lens until I find their old room, and then take hold of them both and jump, trying to orient myself so Robert transfers from one bed to the other. Success.

Bloody Hell that was more tiring than I remember. Give me Trumps any day.

I slump into the nearest chair, and I realise that my fatigue is not just because of the jump: I can feel fresh blood soaking into my shirt from Andrew’s tender ministrations. She notices about the same time I do.

“All Rupert’s blood? Let me…”

“No,” I answer, “there was shift inhibitor on Andrew’s blade.”

“Michael, this is looking and sounding more and more like a Tarantino movie,” she says, her expression hardening, ”What the Hell is going on?”

“I’d really rather only tell this story once and Will and Francis need to be here when I do.”

“Then call them,” she says, firmly.

“Claire, I’m tired, I’m hurting and I look and feel like I’ve spent the day in an abattoir. Can you just give me fifteen minutes to clean up, and then I promise I’ll explain.”

She looks at me intently, and then her expression softens.

“Of course, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

“While I’m doing that, take a look at Robert. It may be that things aren’t as bad as I think they are, but I’m not hopeful. You, on the other hand, are the Aurellian Goddess of Healing. Chances are that you can find out exactly how bad or otherwise things are.”

“Okay. You go, I’ll assess him, and I’ll meet you down in the library in…half an hour? If you can have got Will and Francis here by then, so much the better.”

“Agreed.”

I get slowly to my feet. While I do, she goes over to one of the side units and opens the top drawer. She pulls out a substantial-looking medical kit and hands it to me.

“Pax?” she says, quietly.

“Pax. See you in half an hour. ”

I head back to my own room. It’s been a while since I was here, but I find myself enveloped by the familiarity. Life was simpler before Sable. I throw the first aid kit on the bed, and then go into the ensuite. I turn on the shower, strip off my bloodstained clothes and step into the warm water. Time to make myself feel human again.

* * * * *

Half an hour later, I’m down in the library, wearing clean clothes over the now-dressed wound. I don’t feel like another Pattern jump to try to get Francis and Will, so I sit in one of the armchairs and start playing with Trump energy, tailoring it to work around Millbank’s defences. Got it. I send two separate links back to Sable. Will answers first, then Francis. As soon as I’ve got them both, I pull them to me without waiting for their permission.

“Has anyone ever told you how bloody annoying…” Will begins.

“Frequently,” I answer, “but we can argue about that later.”

“What are we doing at Millbank?” Francis asks, looking around him. About that time he sees Claire come in, “Grandmother? What’s wrong? You look awful.”

“What’s going on?” Will asks, looking at me.

I grab a bottle of brandy and four glasses from the sideboard, and then suggest we sit.

“Will,” says Claire, “I believe Robert gave you time flow control privileges for Millbank.”

“Yes…”

“Could you rack up the clock?”

Will stops still for a moment, and I feel him bring up the Pattern and concentrate. About two minutes later he nods his head. “Done.”

Then he looks back at me.

“Michael? It’s the first of the month, and last I heard my father was setting off to meet Rupert. Now we’re at Millbank in what seems to be some kind of council of war. What the Hell happened?”

I pour and down a brandy, then pour a second. It’s been a very long day.

“Okay, bullet points,” I answer, looking at him.

  • One. Andrew tried to murder Rupert Delatz this afternoon, with my unwilling assistance. I tried and failed to stop him.
  • Two. Robert came through and Andrew tried to murder him too. I got in the way, but as I did, Robert struck back at Andrew in self-defence.
  • Three. Robert took Rupert to the Wewelsburg. I have no idea if he’s dead or alive.
  • Four. I failed to help Andrew, who’s now regenerating.
  • Five. Robert rejoined me and jumped to the erroneous conclusion that he’d killed his own son, and had some kind of breakdown. Erroneous, as I probably could of saved him, but I was too afraid of what he’d do to help him nd I hesitated.
  • Six. I got Robert home to Sable, and then Claire and I brought him here, but he’s going to be out of action for a while…“

“Possibly months,” Claire interjects, “Michael, you were right. The Primal is already working on him physically, but he’s going to need more help than that with the mental scars. I think I can help him with my Aspect, but you might want to call Adam Sinclair, as well.”

“I wish I’d been wrong,” I reply, meaning every word, “so,

  • Seven, it’s highly likely that first time in its history, Sable is going to formally need a Regent, and, that’s where you come in Francis.”

“Wait a second,” my great-nephew protests, “He’s been out of things before. Claire and Will…”

“I need to stay here with Robert,” Claire reminds him, gently.

“Okay, I get that, but…”

“Which brings me to eight ,” I answer, “if Rupert dies – and maybe even if he doesn’t – then there’s a chance that the SS is going to come after Robert and arrest him. Will is going to be needed to make sure that doesn’t happen. ”

“Oh boy,” Francis says, and downs his own drink.

“Michael’s right,” Will says to him, “if I’m going to have to put Sable on alert, then you’re going to need to do everything else. It’s what you’ve been trained for as Crown Prince.

“And if he doesn’t recover…” he begins, then realises what that means, “oh Hell.”

“I know it’s a lot to take in,” I say, sympathetically.

“And we’ve only heard the highlights,” Will says, with a wry smile, but then his expression becomes more serious, and he looks at me. “Okay, Michael, no more bullet points. Start at the beginning.”

I down and refill another glass of brandy, then sit back and look at the three of them.

“It was about 2.45pm, and I was in the garden when I felt someone trying to Trump me. It was Andrew…”