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Sable Palace/Murchison, 12-14 April SY099LT

I must have passed out, as the next thing I remember was being awoken by a knock on my office door. I was still on the rug in front of the fire, and from the crick in my neck, I must have been using the arm of my favourite chair as a pillow. My head was still aching from the tender ministrations of whichever of Ebert or Walters had clocked me, and in the position I was in, my injured leg was folded under me and hurt like crazy. From the fact that I hadn’t bled to death, I either hadn’t been out for long, or my shifting had done its job: although that didn’t explain why I still had the headache. Maybe I was just still off my game after my disagreement with Rupert.

I glanced at the clock on my desk: 7am. Gritting my teeth against the pain, I hauled myself round, so I was sitting with my back against the chair arm, with my legs in front of me. My right knee was completely shattered – the bullet having entered it from behind, ripped through the cartilage, and blasted through my patella as it kept going. It was still oozing blood, and I realised that I’d probably left some of that particular bodily fluid on Rupert’s floor, as well as my own.

Crap.

Before I could respond to the knock, the door opened, and I was surprised when my little brother Michael put his head around it. Okay, “little brother” is unfair, given that he is a brilliant physician and shapeshifter, and a gifted artist, but I can’t help thinking of him like that. After all, I was the closest thing he ever had to a father, after he was almost literally dumped on my doorstep in a basket.

“A little help here,” I said, weakly.

“You look beat, big bro,” he said, as he stepped inside, and then took a proper look at me, “what the Hell? You’re bleeding.” He crossed the room and knelt beside me, snapping into physician mode. “Robert…who kneecapped you?”

“Long bloody story,” I muttered, but before I could say any more, I found myself drifting off again.

When I came around, I felt much better. I also noticed that we weren’t in my office any more. In fact, I had no idea where we were. Michael was sitting on a chair beside the bed I found myself in.

“I burned the rug,” he said, mildly, “I hope it wasn’t one of your favourites.”

“Where…?”

“One of the guest rooms at my house in the city,” he answered, “I figured you wouldn’t want the questions that dumping you in the Palace infirmary would have generated.”

“You have no idea,” I said, quietly, “how long was I out?”

“A day or so…”

“Shit, Claire’s going to kill me.”

“Never fear. I told her I needed you to consult on a case for me. She understood. But for that favour, alone, I think you owe me an explanation.”

“Yes, I probably do.”

“Think you can get up?”

I tried to flex my knee. Stiff, a little painful, but at least all the bits seemed to be in their correct places again.

“I think so.”

“Right then. There’s an ensuite through that door…” he pointed to one of the two doors out of the room, “ I put some clothes on the side for you, and there’s a stick by the door if you think you’ll need it. I’ll be in the sitting room downstairs, when you’re done. Want me to ask the cook for some coffee?”

“Please,” I answered, and he went out of the second door.

After a quick shower, I dressed in the clothes he’d left me, decided not to bother with the stick, and headed downstairs. In the entrance hall, I met a servant carrying a tray bearing what was probably the largest pot of coffee in the City of Sable, and two pint mugs. I also caught the smell of bacon sandwiches, and my stomach growled in response. Rather to her surprise, I opened the door she seemed to be heading towards. She stepped inside and put her burden down on a side table, before politely withdrawing.

It had been a while since I’d visited Michael’s place, but it looked as comfortable as ever. He was sat in an armchair which was part of a suite placed near the window. I saw a table in the middle of the group and brought over the tray.

“The sandwiches are all yours,” he said as he grabbed a coffee.

“And I thank you most humbly,” I answered. I devoured the first one with what was probably very unregal haste, then gulped some coffee before starting on the second and letting myself sink into his sinfully comfortable sofa, “Have I ever told you that you were always my favourite brother?”

“That’s probably not the compliment you think that is, given the competition,” he said, with a chuckle.

“No, I suppose it isn’t. Where are the family?”

He had got married in ’83, to an old friend from the medical community named Iris Ekkehardt, following the death of her husband in SY075. He and Iris had a boy named Laurence in ’86.

“Out of town this week, visiting some friends on Marin,” he answered, but I noticed a trace of sadness in his face.

“Is everything alright?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. Sometimes I wonder if we got married for the wrong reasons. But that’s my business, not yours.”

He shrugged, and promptly changed the subject, and I knew him well enough not to pry any further.

“You promised me an explanation of why you were bleeding on your office floor. So what’s going on?”

“So much you wouldn’t believe,” I answered, with a sigh, “an unexpected encounter, leading to so many potential problems it isn’t true…”

“Is this connected to why William’s in the Palace infirmary.”

“It is, and Francesco is as badly hurt as I’ve ever seen him because of the same thing. I don’t even know how he got involved in this whole mess.”

“He’s at home, presumably?”

“Yes. I haven’t heard a prognosis from Roger yet, though.”

“I’ll stop by their home a little later. See if I can help.”

“You do know what Francesco is…”

“Of course I do,” he answered, with a shrug, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t help him.”

I looked at him, trying to read from his expression whether he was joking, but I just couldn’t tell. Which is why I never play poker with him.

“You were saying?”

“Right. So I tried to cut Rupert’s throat last night.”

The advantage of being a shapeshifter as good as Michael, is that you manage not to choke on your coffee when your big brother says something like that.

“You did what?” he asked, with surprising calm, although I noticed that he carefully put down his mug, “yesterday wasn’t the 1st, so why were you meeting with him at all? Let alone attempting to murder him.”

“Oh Michael,” I said, with a sigh, “we have a problem that I have absolutely no idea how to deal with, and I may have screwed up any chance of getting him to co-operate in fixing it.”

“Hmm.”

He concentrated for a moment, warming his hands on his coffee cup for a minute or so, before continuing. “well, let’s start with the three things that need the most explanation.”

“Only three?”

“To start with. First, what’s this insoluble problem; second, what the Hell button did Rupert press which caused to you try to kill him, when you usually try not to damage each other particularly seriously; and third, which is related to number two, was he responsible for the bullet?”

“That’s the easy one. Not him, but the commander of his Honour Guard. One Obersturmbannführer Ebert.”

“Now what about the first two?”

So I told him the whole sorry tale, from the arrival of the young woman from the future, through having to deal with Will’s injuries, the meeting in Verrien, and finally admitting to the embarrassment of being Trumped back to my own office at gunpoint: a trick which, incidentally, I was unaware that Rupert could do, even laying aside the fact that he HAS a Trump of my office, which isn’t comforting, either.

After I finished, he sat back in his chair, legs crossed and up on the table, and looked at me with a worried look.

“Well this appears to be a right pickle.”

“I’m less worried about myself, and more about…you know…the entire Sable universe discombobulating as Rupert does successively stupid things to upset the future.”

“And you’re worried about Andrew.”

I looked at him, and then nodded.

“I assume you have a copy of the young lady’s memories. May I be permitted to study them?”

I transported the memory gem I’d had thrown in the drawer of my desk into my hand and duplicated it, making sure that I set a trigger for him to access it, as he isn’t Talented.

“To be honest, after my performance last night, you’re probably the best person to have them. I know you’ll think first, and act second.”

“I’m flattered,” he answered, as he took the gem from me, “so what IS first?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well then, if you’ll accept some advice, from my observations, our middle brother’s temper has a habit of blowing hot and cold. Give him a week, and he may well have gotten over the whole incident…or else he’ll have devised a way to punish you for it to his satisfaction, so you can both move on.”

I looked at him in surprise.

“How come you know so much about how he ticks? I didn’t think you’d even met him that often.”

“Oh, there are reasons,” he answered, firmly.

“Christ, he didn’t kidnap you, as well, did he?” I asked, suddenly concerned.

“No…no…nothing like that,” he said, with a shake of his head, “but I’d rather not discuss it now. Just some personal business.”

Now that was unusual. It felt like Michael was hiding something from me, and I’d never consciously noticed him doing that before. I decided to let that pass for now, but wondered if the answer might be in the memory gem.

“Sadly, I think that a few days isn’t going to fix this one between us,” I said, returning to the problem at hand, ”this might be it for good.”

“Is there any chance that Rupert was just pushing your buttons? About Andrew?”

“I don’t think so. He just seemed too pleased with himself.”

“I’m sorry, Robert,” he said, and really meant it.

“What makes everything worse is that if Rupert wasn’t lying, then I failed Andrew even more deeply than I’d realised after the whole business with Regan and Chartris.”

“It sounds to me as if you need to talk to him, to find out his side of the story.”

“But how. How can I face him after this?”

“Simple.”

He paused for a moment, and I felt Trump energy stirring in front of him. And then he looked surprised.

“Huh. His Trump feels strange.”

“Define strange.”

“Try for yourself.”

I brought my own mental Trump of my son to mind, and immediately saw what he meant. It wasn’t warm, which meant that Andrew was certainly still alive, but it was as if it no longer connected to the right person. And then I realised that I’d never drawn a new Trump of him after the events that fateful afternoon by the beach. Apparently, neither had Michael.

“Hmm. I wonder if I can fine-tune it,” my brother suggested. He got to his feet, crossed to the sideboard and unlocked a draw. Then he reached inside for slightly longer than I might have expected, and brought out his physical Trump deck. It was rather larger than I’d expected. He shuffled one out, put the rest back where he’d got them from, then came back to the chair and poured himself another coffee.

“Have another sandwich, while I take a look at this,” he said, waving vaguely towards the plate. I did what he suggested and as I did, I could feel him concentrating on the card. Fascinated, I watched him work, but it didn’t take long to realise that I had absolutely no idea what he was doing. Apparently both my brothers were better with Trumps than I was.

“Aha!” he said, triumphantly, about fifteen minutes later as the link opened, and then his expression changed to one of surprise. As I looked, a blade came out of the open link, and rested against his neck.

“Um, hi Andrew?” he said, sheepishly, “any chance you could put the sword away?”

The blade disappeared, and Michael got to his feet.

“Mind if we come through to you for a word…me and Robert…thanks.”

Then he gestured for me to stand as well. I thought about refusing, but then I saw a look on his face that reminded me of when he was a child, and determined to get his own way, and gave in.

“Just don’t mention the memory gem,” I said, quietly, to him, “this is going to be hard enough without having to put that on his shoulders as well.”

He nodded his understanding, and then brought me into the link and we went through. We appeared in what seemed to be the command tent of an active battlefield, although at least we were some distance from the action. Looking outwards, I could see forces dressed in uniforms that were somewhere between WWII British and Sable ones, engaged with another force in not-quite Waffen-SS fatigues. The battle seemed to involve swords as well as guns.

I turned back from the view to my son, and my first reaction when I saw him was shock at how much he’d aged. Plus, there was a mostly-healed gash down the side of his face. Which of us looked older had varied in the past, depending on how things were between us (and with the rest of the Family), but right then the difference was startling. I could also see a coldness behind his eyes that I didn’t remember being there before.

“Robert…Michael,” he said, warily, “how did you get that Trump to work?”

“I had to do a bit of extrapolation,” Michael answered, “although from your reaction when I got through, you didn’t seem very pleased.”

“I thought they were busted, and I had no desire to fix that. I’ve been burned by Trump before, and I have no desire to be so again.”

“General?” said a young man, coming towards us, “is everything okay?”

“It’s fine, Joachim. Thank you.”

Another Joachim? Come to think of it, the man did look like he’d come off a Nazi recruiting poster.

“Sir,” he said with a salute, a Sable one thankfully, and he returned to the table where a group of senior officers were studying a map.

“Perhaps we should adjourn to my quarters,” he said, and he gestured towards a small building off to one side.

He headed off at a rapid walk, obviously expecting us to follow, which we did. I found myself lengthening my stride in an attempt to catch up, which hurt my newly-reconstructed knee more than I expected. Once inside the building, he opened a door to the right. Inside, it was sparsely furnished: a camp bed; a couple of folding tables and canvas chairs; a portable gas ring with a kettle and a handful of tin mugs; and a couple of steamer trunks. The sort of things that could be picked up and moved in a hurry. There was also a single window, under which a travel desk had been placed, on which I could make out a folded map.

Very few personal effects were in evidence, except for a couple of small, easily portable paintings: one was of the Scottish highlands, specifically his estate at Trislaig on Terra Magica; and the other was one I’d painted of him with his younger brother, Lucien, in the garden at Millbank Manor, just after the outbreak of WWI. Both were in uniform and they looked so proud and happy that seeing them gave me a lump in my throat. Two years later, Lucien had died on Passchendaele Ridge, having barely reached his thirtieth birthday: murdered, rather than a casualty of war. I never had found the culprit. And Andrew…

“My humble abode,” he said, with a shrug, taking off his jacket and throwing it over a chair, “make yourself comfortable. I haven’t got much to offer you, but I could rustle up coffee, tea, brandy…oh, and whisky. I’m pretty sure I have a bottle of that around here somewhere, but it won’t be The MacAllan, I’m afraid. That’s rather too hard to find out here.”

“Brandy’s good,” Michael said for us.

“Where is here?” I asked, trying to keep my dismay at his living quarters hidden.

“Murchison, Veil 77,” he answered.

“But those look like Reich troops?” I said, surprised.

“Of a kind. Not directly working for the Reich in this case, but Shadows of those who do.”

“Out in Veil 77?” Michael asked, obviously as puzzled as I was.

“When Robert, here, Created Sable and gave one of the Patterns to Bloody Rupert, it also meant that at least a quarter of ALL Sable Shadow was given to the Reich.”

“Even this far from Sable, itself?” I asked, incredulous, “How did I not know this?”

“Because you didn’t want to?” he answered, with a bitterness that shocked me, “Because you never bothered to come this far out into Shadow? Because you were too busy having monthly tea parties with that psychopath to look too closely at what he was up to? All of the above?”

He crossed to one of the steamer trunks, opened it and pulled out a couple of bottles of brandy. Then he poured hefty slugs into three of the tin mugs, and handed two of them to Michael and myself.

“So what was that business with the sword?” Michael asked him, sitting down on one of the chairs and making himself comfortable. Andrew and I looked at each other, and then did the same.

“It’s a long time since I willingly took a Trump call,” he answered, “I have no way of telling who’s calling, and that has cost me dearly in the past. So I usually opt for a total block. You’re the first one who’s ever got through to me.”

“You know,” said Michael, “if you can find a Trump artist you trust, I could probably teach them how to be an answering service for you. If they were willing.”

What the Hell? Oh Michael, apparently you’re a real dark horse where the cards are concerned.

Andrew seemed to think about that for a moment, then nodded to himself. “There’s one person who might agree. He’s been working with me out here for about five years, and I know he’s a decent artist”

“That’s a risk, isn’t it?” I asked, “presumably he’s not related, so what if one of the Family…”

“What do you care, Robert?” he snapped, but then relaxed slightly, and I could see him consciously trying to put on a mask of sociability, “sorry, it’s very strange you being here. How are the family? Do I still have children?”

“Oh yes,” I answered, “everyone’s alive and generally well. You have grandchildren, too.”

“What about Dominic?”

“He’s well, but he obviously isn’t happy. He’s never really felt that he fitted in, and spent quite a bit of time Outside, before I closed the doors. He’s been talking about going to live in Thelbane for a while, once he can, so I’m not sure how long he’s going to be around for.”

“That’s going to make the succession interesting.”

“As I’m not planning on dying any time soon, that has been one of the least of my concerns,” I answered, “then Will had a bad day yesterday, but he’s on the mend, and James and Sarah are in good form.”

And we segued into the general family gossip that our kin have a habit of indulging in whenever we meet together.

“I’m glad everyone’s well, or at least recovering,” he said, finally, “anything else new?”

“Other than the fact that Robert here tried to cut Rupert’s throat?” Michael said, lightly, and to my surprise, Andrew actually laughed.

“About bloody time,” he said, and looked at me, “have you finally seen the light?”

“It’s complicated,” I answered, although I knew it wasn’t going to be a sufficient explanation for him. This was confirmed when I saw his previous bonhomie draining away from him, to be replaced by a cold, dark anger.

“No, it really isn’t,” he replied, shaking his head, “Rupert Delatz is a psychopathic, fascist monster who practises the blackest of black magic. You spent your entire life before Creating Sable stopping people like that, usually with no quarter given. What’s complicated about that?”

“Please, we didn’t come here to argue with you,” I said, shaking my head at the old, inevitable argument.

“So why did you come?” he almost growled.

“Because we were worried about you,” Michael replied for me.

“You don’t seem to have been worried about me for the last thirty years. Why now?”

“I was worried,” I protested, “very worried. But you told me not to contact you. I was respecting your wishes.”

“Well that’s a first,” he snarled.

“Andrew, you said you wanted time,” I said, quietly, hurt by his attitude, “I tried to respect that. But now I know that I should have gone against them earlier.”

“Why?” he said, warily.

“Because the other day I found that Rupert grabbed you after you left Sable.”

“Ah, crap,” he answered, deflating somewhat, and taking a hefty slug of brandy from his mug.

“Let me refill that for you,” Michael said, standing up and getting the brandy, and Andrew nodded his thanks as my brother sat back down.

“I never thought he’d ever tell you,” Andrew said, finally.

“From the way it came out, I don’t think he ever did, either,” I replied.

“Out of interest, was the attempted throat cutting in response that little revelation?”

“Yes, it was. Sadly, I got kneecapped for my troubles.”

“Hmm. I thought I detected a limp that I didn’t remember. Do you intend to try again?”

“Do you want me to?”

He thought for a moment, and then shook his head. “No. But believe me when I say that I would finish the job if I had the opportunity.”

“That seems counter-intuitive,” Michael commented, with that deceptive mildness that I was beginning to be very suspicious of indeed.

“Not really,” came the reply, “joking apart, while I hate everything Bloody Rupert stands for, part of me still understands that bad relations between him and Robert would be potentially fatal for all concerned.”

“Yes, well after the other day I rather suspect that we aren’t going to be talking for some time.”

“That does not sound good. So, he told you what he did to me.”

“He implied, but didn’t go into details.”

“What else?”

“He accused you of being a butcher who has committed as many war crimes as his own people have,” I said, quietly.

“And he’s probably not wrong, from his point of view. The only way to fight the Reich, and especially the Waffen-SS, is to fight LIKE them. That’s what I’ve been doing out here. Trying to mop them up my way, while the likes of Will deal with the more civilised war closer to home. Out here the gloves are truly off in a way they aren’t within ten veils of Sable.”

“That wasn’t the case with Black Friday assault. That wasn’t even remotely civilised,” I commented…and then I stopped dead as I saw him go absolutely still, and realised…”Oh…oh fuck.”

“Apparently that’s one detail he didn’t go into,” he answered, his voice barely a whisper.

Michael looked from me, to Andrew, and back to me, confusion on his face.

“Okay, what am I missing?”

“You’re not missing anything,” I answered, “I never told you. I wanted to protect you.”

“From what?”

“You’re my little brother, and there are certain things that I never want you to bear the weight of on your shoulders.”

“Not that little,” he answered, surprisingly tartly, “it’s not as if I haven’t clocked my first century…”

“Don’t take it personally, Michael,” Andrew said to him, “you’ll always be his little brother. Hell, you’ll always be my little brother, too, despite being my uncle. Do you want me to embarrass you with baby pictures?”

“That won’t be necessary,” he replied, darkly, “and if you try, you should be aware that I can protect myself. From embarrassment and many other things. I don’t need you to do it for me.”

“That might not be true in this particular case,” I said, quietly.

“Why?”

“Because I’m guessing that Robert just figured out the truth about the Reich offensive on Good Friday, ‘75,” Andrew replied, and looked straight at me.

“It was always supposition,” I answered, slowly, “we could never prove anything, and we still can’t get to most of those worlds. They’re firmly in Reich territory even now. We managed to recover Jena in ‘91 and Eschewege in ‘93, though, and while most of the evidence was gone by then, Grey, Francesco and I found enough to come to the conclusion that the Reich’s phenomenal success in that assault was supported by some kind of very black ritual indeed. It was just that none of us could figure out what kind of sacrifice could possibly have fuelled a ritual so powerful that it affected thirteen Shadows.”

This time it was Michael’s turn to go pale.

“Black Friday was when I died the second time. Stabbed through the heart with his ‘Honour’ dagger. I can show you the scar, if you want…”

“The second time…?” Michael stammered, and I hadn’t thought that my little brother could look any paler.

“Has my dear father ever told you exactly what happened before I left, Michael? Or has he protected you from that, too?”

“I know it was something to do with Regan’s death and Chartris,” he replied, looking over at me, warily, “but not much more.”

“Obviously, I don’t remember the details, but I’m told I blew my own brains out.”

“What?…How?”

“How am I still breathing? I still don’t really understand that bit. My memories are missing from the couple of weeks leading up to it. But whatever it was, Robert did something which brought back my soul and bound it into a body created by the Pattern. Then, when I left, I wasn’t planning to come back.”

“Andrew, I…” I tried to stammer.

“You see, the trouble with the agreement at the root of your ‘civilised relationship’ with him, that you won’t hurt your respective families – not that he even has one – is that it only works if someone is going to be missed. I wasn’t going to be missed. I didn’t even want to be missed. I was hurt, and angry, and I never wanted to see anyone from the Family again. Even you. Especially you.”

“But after…”

“After I escaped from Bloody Rupert? Well, you aren’t going to like this, but to put it simply, I don’t trust you as far as he’s concerned, and I couldn’t face your platitudes about contact with him being necessary.”

He looked at both Michael and I, and then took another slug of brandy before he continued.

“Uncle Rupert is very good at being charming, until the gloves come off. With me the gloves came off. He picked me up the day I left Sable. Trumped me somehow, grabbed me and locked me away.”

“He was still taking a Hell of a risk,” Michael said, his voice still a little uncertain, “what if Robert had decided to ignore your wishes?”

“Why does Rupert Delatz ever do anything? Power. As I understand from reading between the lines at Rupert’s delightful Black Lodge meetings, which I attended in a starring capacity at least four times a year for getting on for a decade, whatever Robert did to me left my body flush with arcane power, and he took full advantage of that. And then, on Black Friday, he literally sacrificed me for the good of the Reich. I remember my heart bursting as the blade went in. I couldn’t even Curse the fucker, as he’d done something to me that prevented it. Then he must have thrown some kind of stasis over me, as next I knew, I was back in my stinking little cell, with my heart literally in his hand as one of his Forstapo goons rebuilt it, and me with it. “

“How did he know where you’d be?” I asked.

“I imagine he had an agent somewhere in the Palace, although I suspect they’ve been rooted out by now. I doubt Grey has become any less efficient in my absence. It probably doesn’t even matter who it was now. Rupert  found out, and he acted on it, and I was his prisoner for at least ten years.”

He was looking as pale as my brother, now, and he looked like he was hanging on by a thread so that he could finish his story.

“Robert, I can see you mulling it over in your head,” he said quietly, “‘Why did I listen to you? What if I’d called…’ Well, stop it. As I said, I never intended to tell you any of this, because I always figured that once you got through denial and guilt, you would get angry and do something stupid. And by the sound what happened the other day, I was spot on, even before you put together what happened on Black Friday. I suspect that if you were to confront him again today, you would kill him, or he would kill you, or both. And if that happens, we’re going to be picking up the pieces for a long, long time, assuming there are any pieces left to pick up.”

“If he really did kill you that day, why do you think he brought you back?” Michael said, quietly.

“Because he wasn’t done with me,” Andrew answered, “but in that he was disappointed. Apparently, whatever it was about me that made me so desirable as a ritual subject truly did die on Black Friday. So in that, it really was a sacrificial murder. But I was still a source of Family DNA on tap, and he took continued to advantage of that. I have no idea how many children I have in the Reich, but as time passes, it will be interesting to see how many of those who are promoted to SS High Command were born between ’70 and ‘80…”

He paused a moment, and then added “Come to think of it, the Forstapo goon who rebuilt me after Black Friday looked a lot like you, Michael. Maybe you have children in the Reich, as well.”

Michael obviously didn’t like that particular barb, and even to me, it seemed unnecessarily cruel.

“I always hated Rupert,” Andrew said, looking at me, “and I always hated that you didn’t feel the same way. And then, on the other hand, I had to weigh my feelings about your relationship with him against the fact that deep down, I understood why it exists. At least, apparently, until the other day…Is there any more brandy left in that bottle?”

Silently, Michael handed it over to him, and he poured some more into his mug, then asked “How did you escape?”

“I was busted out of there, by a Waffen-SS man with a conscience named Joachim Berger. You saw him in the command tent when you first arrived. He got me medical treatment, and he made sure that I talked to someone about what had happened. I even spent a few months with Adam Sinclair, and its him I have to thank for my even being as functional as I am now.”

Functional? I suppose in some ways, but I wasn’t so sure about sane. I could even understand why Rupert felt that he was far too unstable to Create.

He downed his drink, and then looked back at us. “Anyway, that’s the nutshell version of why it’s so much worse now. Why I’m out here bringing their own kind of war to Reich troops and their Shadows.”

It looked as if he was going to say something else, when there was a monumental crash outside, and the building shook.

“Fuck, that one was too close,” he said, instantly jumping to his feet, and I heard him mutter a sobering up spell under his breath, “you need to go.”

“Let us help…” I began.

“No. You don’t know the situation here. It would too long to explain it, and that sounded like it was far too close for me to have the time.”

“Understood,” I answered, as a second explosion followed the first, and Michael and I got to our feet, “will we hear from you when this is done? Even if it’s just to say you’re still alive.”

“And if you want me to teach your artist a trick or two,” Michael added.

“My work out here is never going to be done,” he answered, somewhat harshly, but then his handsome features softened, “but I like the sound of your answering service idea, Michael. I’ll be in touch with you about that.”

I noticed that he didn’t say he’d be in touch with me, though. Then he was grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair where he’d hung it, and was out of the door. Moments later, another crash shook the building again. The window broke, and I watched as the picture of Andrew and Lucien fell to the ground, the glass shattering. Just in that second, the thing I wanted to do most was pick it up and put it back together again.

“He’s right, Robert, we need to get out of here…”, Michael said, and he put his hand on my shoulder. Before I could argue, he’d Trumped us back to his front room.

“Dammit, I’m getting tired of that!” I exclaimed, angrily, “first Rupert, and now you.”

“You wouldn’t have come if I hadn’t,” he answered, “and you know it. You’d have gone into that battle, despite spending most of your time behind a desk nowadays, and probably forgetting that you have a dodgy knee and you would have ended up getting very badly hurt. Maybe even killed.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know you better than you think I do, big bro.”

I found myself sinking into the chair.

“He’s so broken, Michael,” I said, quietly, “I hardly recognised him.”

“I know,” he answered, gently.

“You know, Rupert was right about one thing.”

“What?”

“As you’ll see when you look at the gem, about twenty years from now, Andrew is supposed to Create, and it doesn’t go well. Rupert’s view was that he should never have been allowed to do it, and that I only let him because I felt guilty. After today, I find myself agreeing with my brother.”

“But maybe, given time, we can help Andrew get through this…now we know.”

“Only if he lets us.”

“Then here’s hoping that he gets in touch with me about his artist friend. Because if I’m in the same room as he is, I can be very persuasive.”

I looked at him, and managed a weak smile.

“From the tricks you’ve been pulling today with Trumps, I don’t doubt that for a moment. Why did you never tell me?”

“A man has to have his secrets,” he answered, with a smile, then looked more serious, “although I suppose I have to admit that some of them might come out by the time you finish going through that gem. I don’t know if we ever discussed what I’m thinking of.”

Oh, I so wanted to ask him about that, but he intercepted me, “Do you think it’s possible that I have a son in the Reich? I mean, before I married Iris and we had Laurence, I had relationships, but to my knowledge there were never any children.”

“Sadly, I think it’s very possible,” I answered, “the same happened to me when I was young. Delwin used to play games like that. Manufacturing children for his own purpose, either using test tubes or by dangling pretty women in front of me. Then he’d either buy the mothers off, or threaten them so they didn’t contact me. I’m still finding out about some of those children – in fact, Rupert identified a couple of them for me the other day, just before the whole, sorry throat-cutting incident. He did it to Andrew, too, for that matter…and other people.”

“And sometimes he dangled himself in front of pretty women, and out came the likes of me.”

I cursed inwardly. “Sorry. That was tactless.”

“I asked,” he answered, with a shrug, “but I see where you’re going. Given that father and Rupert are far more on the same wavelength than either of us will ever be, it’s quite possible that our brother might have used similar techniques. Hell, father may have taught him. Certainly, from what Andrew said, Rupert was interested in his DNA as well, so I can’t believe he wouldn’t have tried to obtain mine.”

“And mine, the other day.”

“When you were shot?”

“I was bleeding on his floor for a good minute before he banished me, and I didn’t have time to make it non-viable. Right now, Rupert is winning hands down.”

“Well then we need to think outside the box,” Michael answered, “give me some time to look at the memory gem and see if I can come up with any good ideas. You do the same, and then we can compare notes and see what we can salvage. Although it would be great if, in the process, you could figure out a way to let me walk your Pattern, as that would mean I could be a lot more helpful.”

“You’re not of my bloodline, so I’m not sure if you can, but I’ll put some thought into it.”

“Thanks. On which note, you probably should go. Claire’s going to be tapping her foot and waiting for you by now, and I imagine Grey is going to be concerned about your absence, if he knows anything about what’s going on.”

“Some of it. But there’s no way I can let him see what’s in that gem. He’s my friend, and I trust him with my life, but he’s not of our kin, and I don’t want to dump that on him. Especially as I imagine he’s going to be exceptionally busy in the next months and years until we can figure out a way of corralling Rupert and getting him to see sense.”

“I can understand that. So it’s going to be you and me against the world, is it, big bro?”

“That it is.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” he said, with a mischievous grin, “now, go, and I’ll talk to you soon.”

I nodded, and then I thanked him again, brought a Trump of my office to mind and stepped through.

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