Train of Thought 06
Sable/Panenske Brezany/Manira, 22-28 June SY 105
It’s disconcerting to walk into your office one evening and find an unexpected visitor. It’s even more disconcerting when said visitor is the brother you haven’t spoken with for more than six years. About the only positive thing about his unexpected arrival was that at least he’d had the tact not to show up in uniform. In fact, he looked decidedly off-duty, dressed in a dark-blue button-down shirt and black jeans. He also seemed tired and pale, but that was still a bloody sight better than when I’d last seen him.
“Hello, Robert,” he said, from one of the chairs over by the fireplace, “I hope you don’t mind, but I helped myself to a glass of your Scotch.”
“What are you doing here, Rupert?” I asked, as much puzzled as annoyed.
“Call it a gesture of reconciliation,” he answered.
“Turning up in my office unannounced is a reconciliation?”
“Visiting your territory at all is a reconciliation. I had a feeling that you wouldn’t want to come to mine.”
“You’re right there,” I snapped, “you could have called first, though. The idea of you just arriving in my office isn’t particularly comforting.”
“I wasn’t sure you would take my call,” he replied, with a shrug.
“It didn’t go so well last time, for either of us,” I said, crossing to the decanter, getting my own drink and then sitting down opposite him, in my favourite chair.
“No, it did not. But the fault was on both of our sides, wouldn’t you say?”
“I can’t deny that.”
“And our annoying little brother didn’t help, either. Still, you’ll be pleased to know that I no longer wish to kill either of you.”
“Well, that’s reassuring.”
He just shrugged.
“Conrad said you were asking after my health the other day,” he commented.
“I was worried. You’re looking better though.”
“I probably couldn’t have looked much worse, by all accounts, and still be breathing.”
“There is that,” I said, more gently, “how do you feel?”
“Tired,” he admitted, “and I still don’t feel one hundred percent. My shifting seems to be being rather slow about getting me back into shape.”
“As far as I can tell, you were hit by an arcane explosion of something. That may be affecting it.”
“Maybe. Whatever THAT actually was.”
He paused for a moment, taking a drink of his Scotch, before continuing.
“I will admit, when Tristan and Dominik told me that you were the one who saved Joachim and I, I was surprised. “
“Yes, well, call it a moment of madness if you like,” I answered, with a shrug, “preferably not one that you share with the rest of my kin. There’s the little matter of the potential accusations of treason from my own side if what I did were to become known.”
“That does lead to an interesting philosophical argument of whether the Sovereign of a Realm can commit treason against either themselves or their country,” he answered, “but in general, I can understand that. I’m sure the majority of them would tell you that you should have let us die. Let’s be honest, some of my own side would probably have said the same thing.”
“You haven’t exactly made yourself popular with either Sable or the non-SS Reich this last few years.”
“No. I may have let my anger get the better of me,” he mused aloud, then looked back at me, “have you told anyone here what you did?”
“Just Michael…and yes, I’m sure that it won’t go any further.”
“From what I’ve learned of him since we met in Berlin, I’m inclined to believe you. What about Claire?”
“She may figure it out, but like Michael and I, she’s a doctor.”
“And the Aurellian Goddess of Healing, no less.”
“Indeed. Which if I understand things correctly means that she would have had to help you as well.”
“Well, whatever the reasons for your actions, I thank you, on both my behalf and Joachim’s.”
“I’m a physician. Plus you’re my brother and he’s my son,” I answered, then shrugged, “and on a similar subject, I assume Obersturmführer Gerlinde is my grandson?”
“The oldest in my charge.”
“He seemed particularly keen to rescue you, but his behaviour was…odd.”
“He’s my sworn vassal.”
“Oh, I mean that quite literally. About ten years ago he got himself into some serious difficulties. Sufficiently so that there was the distinct likelihood of a firing squad in his immediate future. He made me a bargain. If I spared his life, he would serve me for as long as he lived. I was curious as to how he would do that so I indulged him, at which point he got down on his knees and swore to become my vassal, complete with feudal oath.”
I had absolutely no idea how to process that particular piece of information, and from Rupert’s expression, neither did he, really. I decided to change the subject.
“I was surprised to see that you got married.”
“It occurred to me that given how much the SS prizes family, I wasn’t setting a good example by remaining a bachelor or failing to reproduce, despite my obvious enjoyment of women. I’d been sleeping with Silvie for some years, so she seemed a good choice.”
“I imagine you’ve worked out that one for yourself. Yes, I took advantage of the fact that you bled all over my floor on Verrien. That’s what you wanted to know, isn’t it?”
“So what now? Are you going to come to my home and take him away?”
“Actually, no,” I answered, and was rewarded by a look of shock on his face.
“Really. On two conditions.”
“First. Never again. I’ll give you a pass this time, because perhaps you do deserve to discover the pleasures of being a father for yourself. BUT if you do something similar in the future, I won’t be as accommodating.”
“And second. I don’t know how much Silvie knows about Sigmund’s origins, but I’d like you to promise not to execute her once you’ve got no further use for her.”
“You really think that little of me?”
“These last few years, I haven’t known what to think about you.”
“I chose Silvie as Sigmund’s mother because, I care for her. As I said, we’ve been lovers for several years. It may not be what you and Claire have, but it’s the best I’m capable of. I have no intention of hurting her, and while I don’t believe we’ll be together for ever – I’m not built for a lifelong relationship, or even monogamy, really – I don’t intend to hasten the process in any way.”
I looked at him, wondering if this was a trick, but he seemed sincere, so I said: “Accepted.”
“Well then. Family gossip aside, I also came here on a matter of business. It’s useful to get a lesson in mortality, and this seems to have been mine. With that in mind, I agree we need to talk, and to come to some kind of agreement about future use of the information the young woman brought us.”
“Yes,” I answered, “starting with Manira. What actually happened?”
“I honestly haven’t got a bloody clue,” he answered, and he looked genuinely baffled, “the morning before we launched the assault, our sources told us that they’d seen movement on the island, but there was a settlement there, even though it had been largely abandoned, so that didn’t seem unusual. We’d just landed when the whole place exploded around us. Ebert tackled me to the ground and everything went black. To be honest, I’m not actually sure how either Joachim or myself survived. I presume Ebert did not?”
“No. I found his body shielding yours. Faithful to the end.”
“He was a good man…even if you may disagree.”
“My knee certainly does,” I commented, only half joking. Michael had done a good job rebuilding it, but it still ached when the weather changed, or if I forgot to consciously keep it under control, “in answer to your question, one of the landing craft ended up on top of your little group, which probably shielded you to a degree. Plus, I suspect the fact that you – and from what Michael told me, Oberstgruppenführer Peiper – can shift made the rest of the difference. I imagine there weren’t many others who could in your landing party.”
“Did Conrad manage to persuade your deputies to evacuate the Northern continent. The casualties there looked bad, as well.”
“Standartenführer Lange agreed that it would be the best course of action for now.”
“I swear that place is cursed. Do you intend to go back? Try again? Or is the fact that there’s nothing there anymore going to mean that you see sense and leave it be.”
He sat back, contemplating his Scotch for a bit, before continuing.
“What happened on Manira is what finally persuaded me that you may have been right, back on Verrien, when you said that we have to be careful what we changed. Despite my efforts, it seems as if history wanted to repeat itself…or perhaps pre-empt itself.”
“It’s possible,” I concurred, “I’ve spoken with Rallissa a couple of times…she’s the Aurellian Goddess of the Years.”
“She has a unique sense of what has, and is, and will happen, and what should have happened. She let me see the future as it used to be.”
“That must be disconcerting.”
“Very. You might benefit from the same information, by the way.”
“If I ever get to Aurellis.”
“You did before. You probably will again…but you won’t come out of it as God of Trumps, I’m afraid.”
“Because of the ALB again.”
“Annoying Little Brother. I’d heard he’d decided to pre-empt me on that one.”
“I like to think of it as correcting a mistake.”
“We should agree to disagree on that one.”
“Perhaps,” I said, with a shrug, “anyway, Rallissa told me that certain events are significantly more important than others, and therefore history does its best to make sure they happen. Somehow. Some when.”
“And you think the destruction of the Broken Pattern on Manira is one of those?”
“Either that, or whatever happened to the energy that was released. In the old timeline, a place called New Oceania was Created in Veil 50, because the energy was moved, rather than destroyed. What happened last week may have done something similar.”
“It became a self-fulfilling prophecy?”
“Something like that.”
“So what does that mean for trying to stop the Machine?” he asked, “we cannot let that be Created in the form I saw in the young woman’s mind. I got the impression you believed that as well.”
“It scared the Hell out of me,” I admitted, “I don’t know, maybe building something else at the Centre may be enough to change that. Unfortunately, though, I suspect that whatever we do, both the Technocracy and the Machine will come back in some form, just not necessarily as full Powers.”
“We can hope,” he said, with a nod, “and at least we’re forearmed to the extent that it might not find it as easy to copy existing people this time, given that I have no intention of inviting that viper, Andreas Delatz, into my world.”
I paused for a moment, before continuing.
“I spoke to Andrew, shortly after our last meeting. You did a real number on him, and I’m not going to forgive you that.
He shrugged. “I did what I did for the good of the Reich, and I stand by it. I neither ask for, nor expect your forgiveness.”
“Unfortunately, as a result of that conversation, I’m afraid that I also have to concur with your assessment that he shouldn’t be the one to build the Centre Power.”
“So who should?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, shaking my head, “maybe between now and then, whenever “then” is, a solution will become apparent.”
“Perhaps,” he conceded, “in the meantime, what do we do about the mess that was left behind on Manira? Conrad said that conditions there are still unstable, and it’s getting worse.”
“You and I need to come up with a method of replacing the destroyed Broken Pattern.”
“Have you got any ideas?”
“I’m still working on it. I’m just not sure how to bring forth a Broken Pattern from either the Jewel or my own Creator abilities, and a full one could potentially destabilise things even further.”
“It’s a shame there aren’t any initiates of it left…at least, not anywhere we know about. If there were, we could use them as a source to re-inscribe it.”
Of course, there was still at least one, but as I thought of Nicholas, I didn’t want to let Rupert know about him just yet.
“How would you do that? If we could find New Oceania, assuming it now exists somewhere in Veil 50, and capture an initiate.”
“Why Robert, that sounds positively sneaky. I’m proud of you,” he said, with a chuckle, “but sadly, I doubt you’d agree to the option which came to my mind if we could get hold of one.”
“Cutting their throat and then bleeding them into the cracks where it used to be.”
“No, you’re right, I wouldn’t agree to that,” I answered, “and even laying that aside, I’m not sure there’s enough left to do that to, although I didn’t have a chance to study it in detail.”
“Perhaps we need to go on a field trip? You’ve seen the damage. I haven’t.”
“Now seems as good a time as any,” he replied, finishing his Scotch and getting to his feet. I did the same.
“Pattern jump okay?”
I brought the Pattern to mind and sent a lens out towards Manira. After all, given that I’d been monitoring that world daily, I knew the way by now. Once I’d located the ruins of the cavern, specifically the covered corner where I’d found Nicholas, I put my hand on his shoulder, and we transferred.
The place didn’t look any better than it had a week ago. In fact, given the amount of water on the floor from the hole in the cavern ceiling, it was probably worse. The corner in which we landed was about the only part of the place that wasn’t three inches deep in water. Rupert sat on a handy rock – which made me wonder how weak he really still was – and I felt him bring up the Pattern, although there was something tenuous about his grip on it which was concerning.
“I see what you mean,” he said, after a few minutes, “Joachim and I were lucky to survive this, weren’t we?”
“I shall take it as the wake-up call it was,” he commented, and he seemed to mean it, “well, first I suggest that we remove the water and rebuild the cavern. I thought I detected something below us.”
“There was empty tracery before, but I suppose something may have regenerated by now.”
The first step was to put an umbrella ward over the roof of the cavern, to stop any more rain getting in. That was easily achieved. Next, was getting rid of the water. Harder, but between us we changed it to ice and then teleported it away. Third, was the roof, but when I glanced at Rupert, he was already looking pale and drawn.
“There’s more wrong than just your shifting not dealing with things, isn’t there?” I said to him, quietly, crossing to where he was sitting, and perching on a rock beside him.
He looked at me, obviously considering whether to answer, but eventually nodded.
“I hurt all over, Robert,” he said, quietly, “I feel like I’m being eaten from the inside. I’ve tried both heroine and morphine – shift resistant, of course – but it doesn’t help.”
“How long have you been back on your feet?”
“Only since yesterday.”
“He hasn’t come round yet.”
“When I found you, I didn’t do a proper diagnosis. I was more concerned about you not dying on me. It sounds like I need to look rather more closely, especially given one or two thoughts I’ve had since then about what might have powered this mess, coupled with something that happened to Will after Verrien.”
“This place isn’t exactly a medical facility. Would you be willing to come to Panenske Brezany?”
I considered that for a moment, and then nodded.
“You made the first move and came to Sable. It seems fair to return the favour.”
We got to our feet, and then I felt him bringing a Trump to mind. Moments later, we were in the front hall of his country estate outside Berlin. From there, he jumped us up to what was obviously a guest room, given the lack of personal effects. I could understand that he’d want to teleport me into his own bedroom as much as I appreciated him appearing in my office.
“Here’s hoping none of the staff saw us…well, me.”
“If they did, they know to stay silent,” he answered, and sat down on the edge of the bed. I pulled over a chair and sat in front of him.
“I’m going to use a combination of shifting and the Pattern, but this may be intrusive.”
With a nod I set to work. After a while, what I found confirmed my suspicions that what might be ailing him might be akin to what I had seen when Will was injured by Philip le Bel. Six years ago, my son had been infected by some kind of Broken Pattern Blood Curse, which had acted on him like a virus. It had taken a purification ritual to get rid of it. Looking at my brother, I could see that while this wasn’t the same, it had similarities.
I’d suspected that Chartris had included either a Death Blessing or a Death Curse in whatever caused the explosion on Manira, which was the reason why it was so powerful. While what I was seeing wasn’t a traditional Curse, it looked as if the explosion had forced an imprint of the dying Broken Pattern into my brother, and it was trying to destroy his full imprint and take its place. Some kind of survival instinct, perhaps? It wasn’t succeeding, but it was persistent. This was going to need more than just a purification ritual.
“Have you done a Pattern self-check since you woke up?” I asked.
“Yes, but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” he answered, “why?”
So it was hiding itself from him? That was deeply disturbing, given that he was a Creation Alternate, but then Chartris had always preferred sneaking about and sniping from the shadows, rather than direct conflict.
“Let me show you,” I answered. I made a Trump link with him, and then pointed out what I’d found. Who knows what Michael would think of this if he realised what was happening.
“How did I not see that?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.
“I rather suspect, because it didn’t want you to.”
“Well, at least we’ve found a Maniran initiate to try to rebuild the bloody thing from,” he said, with a sigh, “if you can get it out of me, that is. I don’t particularly like the idea of cutting my own throat.”
“Michael would be able to do something like that…the getting the imprint out bit, not the throat cutting…much more easily than me.”
“No,” he said, firmly, “just because I said I didn’t want to kill our ALB anymore, that doesn’t mean I want to see him in person.”
“Then we’re going to have to work together to achieve the same effect. I’ll try to concentrate it into one area, and then hopefully I can keep it restrained there, while you get rid of it.”
“This is going to get messy.”
“Not if we’re careful,” I answered, “you know how to make blood creatures, right?”
“Theoretically. I can’t remember ever having needed to do it.”
“I can show you.”
“Do you think something like this is why Joachim hasn’t regained consciousness?”
“Probably. So once we’ve worked on you, you should be able to help him.”
“He’s not that good a shifter. About all he uses it for is self-healing and avoiding the women he sleeps with from getting pregnant.”
Well that was too much information.
“How good is Gerlinde?”I asked, “I don’t imagine he’d be in the Forstapo if he didn’t have some ability.”
“Not all members of the Forstapo are shifters, but yes, he is. Dominik is better than Joachim, but not as good as you… yet. I’m still getting used to being able to legally shift again, so I haven’t been able to teach him as much as I’d like.”
“Then what about Michael’s son?”
“Dirk? You know about him?”
“Michael mentioned that he’d seen him, and that the Kaiser had called him a cousin.”
“Yes, Dirk may be a good choice…”
“You can think about that once we’ve sorted you out, anyway. Now, we need some kind of cage or tank to trap the creature in, once it’s manifested. Something portable.”
“Won’t it just ooze out?”
“Not if you keep conscious control of it. And if you don’t think you’ve got the strength to do that, we can always ward it to stop the creature escaping. Locking down Trumps in it, for a start, as it’ll have your abilities.”
“Hmm. That’s not a comforting thought. Give me a moment.”
He concentrated for a short while, although the effort obviously tired him further, and soon there was a decent-sized cat basket on the floor beside him. I set up warding on it, such that once the infection was enclosed in it, it wasn’t going anywhere.
“Can we get on with this now?” he said, wearily, “before I pass out.”
“Lie back. Doze if you need to while I do this first bit.”
He did as he was bid, and moments later he was out for the count. That was probably for the best, as this would probably hurt him. Which was the moment at which point I realised that both of us had made a complete U-turn from outright hostility to trust. Probably a deeper trust than we’d ever had for each other before. This was going to take some getting used to.
Corralling the Maniran BP infection was harder than I expected: it tried to resist me with what bordered on actual intelligence. I found myself bringing my mind to bear to suppress it, in tandem with the combination of my shifting and the Pattern. I could also feel it trying to infect me, as well, as I interacted with it, but my defences were sufficient to stop it. Even so, it was probably an hour before I had it gathered in one place – his right arm, as it happened – and completely separated it from his full Pattern imprint. I held it in place and then roused my brother.
“Now it’s your turn,” I said, as I summarised what I’d done, “it’s concentrated, so hive it off into its own creature.”
Well this wasn’t something I’d ever expected I’d have to talk him through. But then, he’d denied his shifting for so long, even to himself, that it needed waking up again.
“Change its form and then detach it. A snake would probably work pretty well. Or something like a stoat or weasel.”
“So chop off my own arm, then?”
“And then extrude a new one. You’ll feel a reduction in body mass until you get some protein in you, but it’ll work just fine.”
He did as I’d instructed, with a little help from myself, and a short while later the creature was in the basket, acting decidedly pissed off. Still, at least Rupert’s colour had improved. I checked him over again with the Pattern, and was happy that we’d got it all.
“How do you feel?”
“Better,” he admitted, “I can feel the aching beginning to subside a bit.”
“It’s going to take a while for your shifting to get on top of it, but at least nothing’s stopping it now.”
“Back to Manira, then?” he asked
“Later. You need to rest and replenish.”
“Is that thing large enough to do the job? To redraw the Maniran Broken Pattern?”
“It probably needs a protein influx, much like you do. Plus, you need to do the same thing to Peiper, which will give it some extra fuel.”
“How long can it survive?”
“With nourishment, several weeks, probably. I assume you’ve got a lab around here somewhere?”
“Keep it there, well warded and well fed. Then take a couple of days to get healthy yourself before helping Peiper. When you feel you’re up to it, call me and we can go and deal with Manira. Once that’s done, we can discuss ground rules about using, or otherwise, the Lighthouse Data.”
“Thank you, Robert.”
“I need to go. Call me when you’re ready.”
I nodded, and brought a Trump of my office to mind, then jumped back through, hoping I hadn’t been missed.
It was the twenty-eighth when Rupert finally got back in touch, and when he did, I noticed that he was already standing in the cavern on Manira.
“You look almost back to your old self,” I commented, as I went through to him, “how do you feel?”
“Better. My fitness has taken a hit, but I’ll recover.”
“What about Peiper?”
“Still not fully up and about, but awake and improving. He asked me to extend his thanks to you as well.”
“Not something I would ever have expected to receive from him, but these are strange times.”
I looked around, and saw that the cage was much larger than I remembered, along with the creature within it. It was the shape and size of a panther now, but its disposition didn’t seem to have improved. I gestured to the remains of the design on the floor and crossed to it. He stood beside me and we considered it together. Now we were protected from the weather, and I wasn’t chasing a cockroach-shaped brother, I could concentrate on it fully. It was like looking at the rainbow effect of oil on water: a sheen on the surface of the rock in the shape of the former Broken Pattern. I reached out to feel for any power, but there was little more than a ghost of what had been.
“So my suggestion is this,” he said, “blood from my other self over there, used and spread in ritual to refill the lines where the power no longer flows, bound together with elements of the full Pattern from the person doing the ritual, but not so much that it unbalances the result. It would be helpful to have the Sable Jewel as a moderator, and potential starter motor. There’s also the small matter that I’ve personally never tried to Create something before, but I think it needs to be me who does this, as we’re using my blood.”
“Okay. Give me a second.”
I departed briefly, and returned with the black diamond that is the Sable Jewel.
“We’re going to need to be linked,” I commented, “I can bring out the Pattern within this as a template, and use that to force the Broken Pattern out of the blood and bind it to the ground, so what we’re doing is still to the right design. While we’re at it, I can also work on rebuilding the island we’re on.”
“Agreed,” he said, then paused, before continuing, “what sort of link? Presumably our ALB would notice if we were doing something like this down a Trump.”
“He has a name, you know,” I pointed out, but he just shrugged. Probably best to move on. “A straight mental one, if you trust me.”
He thought for a moment, then said. “I believe I do.”
He stared at the broken design, then at the panther, and then back at the design.
“I have one condition.”
“Once this is finished, let the Reich have control of the result.”
“On what justification?”
“If it’s my blood that’s fixing it, then the whole bloody thing is going to be one bastard of an arcane connection to me, which makes it a significant vulnerability to my humble self. I want to know that people who have my interests at heart are protecting it, rather than, say, your son Andrew.”
“That makes sense, but I’d want something in return.”
“Other than my abiding gratitude?”
“Oh yes,” I answered, “stop the assault in Veils Four, Five and Six.”
“Do we keep the worlds we’ve already taken? After all, even with the four Aussenhandel groups, the total number of worlds in our possession currently is still less than you have in the Commonwealth Veils.”
“Not all the worlds in the Commonwealth Veils belong to the Commonwealth,” I answered, “so your maths doesn’t work. Sable may agree to Veils Five and Six, but not Veil Four.”
“Even if I throw in a sweetener of not fighting your sovereignty over Khachuran, Teruel and Annency, plus Carlisle and Landsden. That swings the balance back your way.”
“You would still have two more Broken Patterns than you did before all this started, and Sable has lost one. Allowing the Reich to keep its gains in Veils Five and Six, excluding the Khachuran bloc, would still leave you with fifteen worlds you didn’t have before, equivalent to three new Aussenhandel Groups, and now they’re contiguous, rather than split.”
“True…but blood was shed for those Veil Four worlds.”
“On both sides.”
“Fine. If that’s the deal your willing to make.”
“It is. Plus you should also speak with the Kaiser. I understand you’ve been rather lax at that lately.”
“But you were doing it for me, Mein Bruder.”
“I’m not the one who’s running a separate sub-state within the Reich. It’s making him a little nervous.”
“Fine,” he repeated, ”I’ll set up a meeting with my nephew, and see where it leads.”
“And I’ll raise the issue with my government and see what happens. If they agree, though, that’s it for Reich territory in the first Six Veils. No approaches later for new Aussenhandel groups if you think either Sable or myself, personally, have pissed you off.”
“If that’s the only price you’ll accept for Manira, then I suppose I’ll have to accept it,” he said with a reluctant nod, “Are you ready?”
“As I’m ever going to be.”
We set up the link, and then I felt him release the creature in the cage. It leapt out with every intention of ripping us to shreds, but he quickly imposed his will on it, and it was back to growling angrily. I offered him my support to keep it relatively quiescent. Then he drew his SS dagger, obviously intending to use it in its secondary…or perhaps primary…purpose as an athame and set to work. I’d never seen it drawn before, and I could both see and feel the Pattern tracery on the blade: black on silver.
He worked quickly and efficiently, and his actions were assured and firm. That didn’t, however, disguise the fact that what he was doing was a blood ritual of a far darker hue than I’m comfortable with, even if he was effectively using his own blood. This was the side of Rupert that subjected my son to the Black Friday ritual. The one who forced his way into Michael’s mind in Berlin. It wasn’t the civilised version I usually saw, and it was disturbing.
I watched as he distributed the panther’s blood into the various gullies and lines where the Broken Pattern had formerly burned, saying a few words on each occasion in a language I didn’t know. Probably one of the Norse Germanic derivatives, knowing his favoured tradition. His part wasn’t a Creation, in the way I use the term. It was more that he was Channelling the energy out of the blood, and back into the ground. I could also feel him moderating it with his own life force, and the pain it was causing him to do it. I sent him energy from the Jewel to try to relieve the pain, as well as using it to bind the Broken Pattern energy back into the ghost instance that remained. At the same time, I could feel the island – maybe even the whole Shadow – being rebuilt around me.
I’m not sure how long it took, but eventually the lines that made up this particular faulty reflection were burning again, with the strange ultraviolet afterglow I’d only seen occasionally, in the basement of the Wewelsburg. If I had to describe it, the closest would be blood under black light, which wasn’t a particularly comforting similarity, given the method used for its restoration. It was as if it was drawing light into itself. Rupert dropped to his knees in the centre, and what remained of the panther was absorbed into the dead areas between the lines.
“It’s done…” he said quietly, and I could hear exhaustion and pain in his voice, then he looked up, “is it me, or is it brighter in here?”
He got slowly to his feet, and turned around on the spot. Then, completely out of the blue, a smile like that of a child on Christmas Day lit up his face.
“Oh Robert,” he said, almost clapping his hands together with glee, “you shouldn’t have.”
I hadn’t really been concentrating on our surroundings, but now I looked around. What had previously been a natural rock cavern had become a perfect replica of the Pattern Room under the Wewelsburg. It even had the same magical torches burning in sconces on the walls, their flames reflecting eerily on the smooth white of the marble. Above us, the walls curved up to a great domed ceiling. The only difference was that the design in the centre was incomplete.
“Oh, I think this one was all your doing,” I commented.
“You were doing the building.”
“You were doing the bleeding, and it was a Black Broken Pattern.”
And then I realised something else. What there didn’t seem to be, was a door.
“Any bright ideas how we get out of here? Nothing personal, but this isn’t really my style of décor.”
He concentrated for a moment, before answering. “A Pattern lens will work through the barrier. Trumps and magic won’t, although they are functional if both parties or destinations are within the chamber. It seems to have natural protections.”
“Probably your inner paranoia, given what you said about it being an arcane connection to yourself, and I’ll guess blocking Trumps was your subconscious wanting to keep Michael out.”
“You may be right. Why don’t you jump us back to the surface so we can take a look.”
I put my hand on his shoulder and did as I was bid, and as we arrived, the contrast to when I was last here couldn’t have been more different. We landed in the central square of a new, stone-built town, which appeared completely deserted. To one edge I could see a massive building: it looked like Mont Saint Michel for real, this time.
I let go of him, and then sent the lens further upwards to get a feel for the geography. The town was no longer in the centre of the island: instead it was close to the shore, and surrounded by a high, fortified wall. Below that was a sandy beach, where gentle waves were lapping. The climate felt decidedly Mediterranean.
As I climbed, I could see that the island was significantly larger than it used to be: probably about the size of the Kingdom of Sable, rather than the Isle of Wight, with no other signs of habitation. Just wild grassland and forest. Further up still, and I could eventually see the two continents, but they were much further apart than previously, and had steep cliffs against the strait which contained the island.
At that point, I snapped the lens back and let it drop, and gave him a summary.
“I like it,” Rupert said, quietly, “I don’t know which of us built the chamber downstairs, but this is definitely your handiwork. If I’d made it, it would have been more…”
“Gothic?” I offered, “Gloomy? Germanic?
He smiled, albeit that the exhaustion was still visible on his face.
“All of the above, I suspect. Are we done here, Mein Bruder?”
“I believe we are. If I look anything like as tired as you do, we both need to sleep for a week.”
“Before I can do that, I need to organise garrisoning this place. We wouldn’t want the Brotherhood to realise that there’s something here to come back to. But after that, yes. Sleep. Rather than a week, though, why don’t we make it…three days. Until 1st July. Around 4pm.”
“Your place or mine?”
“If I remember correctly, July always used to be at mine,” he answered, “and, in the spirit of what might be a new accord between us, I feel I should introduce you to Silvie and Sigmund.”
“That’s…unexpected,” I answered, wondering if he had any intention of going through with that.
He looked at me and shrugged.
“Perhaps my son needs his Uncle Robert in his life, as well as his parents. Until the first?”
“Until the first.”