After taking care of some of the business in Amber, I went back to Arrakis to find Samba. We had more to talk about. I found him near my rooms in the sietch as I came in from the desert, sitting and poking at himself, watching his blood flow...and then be absorbed back into him. Hopefully I wasn't disturbing anything...important. "Have a minute or two?"
"Yeah, I'm just about finished." He put his shirt back on as we talked.
"What were you doing, or do I not want to know?" I suspected I didn't.
He smiled. "You don't wanna know." I sighed, he was right. "Shapeshifting stuff."
"Why do I associate with you, anyway?"
Samba laughed. "Once you go bl-*ahem* well, You were saying?"
I rolled my neck as we talked, stretching my weary muscles. "I had some interesting discussions lately."
Samba stood up, pointing towards the bed. "Massage? While we talk."
I smiled. From anyone else, the offer would have been an insult. From him, a pleasure. "Sure. If you insist." He smiled at me. "Let me change." The stillsuit I was wearing wasn't very conducive to relaxation either. I went and changed into a tunic and shorts. When I came back, I wasn't quite expecting the reaction I got.
"Jeezus! I mean, Hot out there, huh?"
I had forgotten, he hadn't really seen me since the battle. "I can thank Joan for that."
"Want em gone?"
An interesting offer, but not necessary. "For now, no." I think it was then he also noticed my leg.
"Jeezus! I mean, metallic out there, huh? er...well..."
It seemed now was a good time to ask him one of the things I had been meaning to, thought. "I was thinking about, maybe for the wedding..."
"It won't be my best of massages, since i don't wanna pop that leg off." It took him a minute before he realized what I said. "Oh. My. Unless we made that the theme of the event."
He was teasing me. "You know what I meant...not for the ceremony itself."
"Yeah, that could be the theme of the event."
"In some ways, they're almost...empowering."
Samba pointed at my leg. "Not to be rude, but I assume that... um... works normally in Fa- er.. Andrevo's place, right?"
"I walked the Pattern with it. It is a part of me now."
"Ah, I think I see whatcha mean. That which does not kill me and all."
Makes me stronger. "Exactly."
"Well, I guess we have something else to bond with. Did I tell you I held my own heart in my hand the other day?"
Interesting. I raised an eyebrow. "No...and you didn't know I lost my leg?" I thought I had told him what happened.
"I knew, remember? My not-well-received offer to... um...Well yeah, I just wanted to see if I could... anyway..."
"Oh, yeah." I thought he had known. "You wanted to see if you could. Interesting."
"For what it's worth, I can. So...are we gonna massage or what?"
I smiled. "Please. My neck is killing me."
He put his finger on my neck, and I could feel the pleasure of a deep-tissue massage start to wash over me. "Let me know if things start feeling weird."
Feelings like these could be addictive...and the reverse.... "Remind me never to let a stranger touch me. I'd hate to see what you could do if you didn't like me."
He laughed. "Last time I did this, either the magic that the person was using was conflicting, or they proposed to me."
"Well, you're in luck. I'm already engaged."
He laughed again. "Actually, I hate to keep harping on this. But I just walked the pattern recently, and I'm still getting used to how this all works. Does your leg feel... weird when I do this? I mean, since it's you, it shouldn't. And let me know if you want me to shut up and stop bringing it up."
He was one of the only people I was actually willing to discuss it with. "Yes and no. It's still a construction...so I can't really feel it. It's hard to explain."
"Ah. I think I know what you mean. When I lost my legs I turned the 'feeling' off. But sometimes I still felt them there, even though they were gone. Oh yeah, and don't let this spread I can do this."
I winked. "Only if you promise to keep doing it for me." He laughed, and the feelings in my neck increased some. "I can feel some things, or maybe it's just how my brain interprets it. After all, I can walk, and jump, and such."
"Did you have that there when you came to visit me and Grampa?" I looked over, and saw he was looking at where I had the jewel bound to my arm."
Had I? I thought for a moment. "No, actually. At that time it was in the possession of my men, a lucky move. If I had had it when Joan attacked me, I probably wouldn't now."
"Ah, good fortune. For a second I feared you had walked the pattern with it. Which, ultimately, wouldn't that mean our battle for succession would have been over?"
"*If* I had survived, perhaps." Grandmother didn't seem to think I could have.
"Siobhan seems to think I could have 'with enough faith in the pattern.'"
"Siobhan thinks a lot of things. Though I find it funny..."
"This is a subject about which she has some knowledge."
"Wasn't she the one you didn't want, when I did. Only now. It's different. Or am I wrong?"
"I still don't really want her."
"Now I am of the opinion that Paki is the best choice." Briefly, I felt a wave of pleasure pass over me. Very Funny, Samba. I smiled. "Hey there."
"Sorry, sometimes my joy bleeds over. Oooh, which reminds me..." I could feel him stop, briefly, and wipe off my neck, then continue.
"What was that for?"
"Nuthin' You're not the only one who's training what they're already good at. Mine just has freaky-ass side affects."
I raised an eyebrow. "Ok. As long as you're ok. Although I'm not sure what I'd do if you weren't."
He smiled. "You'll be fine. But thanks. Did you hear about my little, uh, fainting attack?"
"No, I didn't."
"I figured it'd be all over Amber by now, what with Eathon finding me. Granted, it's probably only been an hour there since it happened." He over estimated me. It'd been longer than that.
"I haven't heard about it." Even when I spoke with Eathon.
"I passed out at a tavern."
Samba, passed out? "What happened? Are you alright?"
"Which is probably where my deck is. Oh, I'm fine, and glad it happened. It was a test of my limits."
I see. "Did you go try and get it back? You shouldn't leave those lying around."
"Two pattern walks, 3 vital organs removed, and I should probably nap."
"Two?" He'd stepped right into things since his first one.
"I will, but I haven't been back in Amber yet. Yeah, three total. I'm getting pretty good at it."
"When did this happen?"
"Uh. For me, the most previous one was about an hour before we met up. And the one before that was a couple days, but I was closer to The Courts then. I still can't get this time thing down straight."
"Why?" That was a lot of pattern walking for such a short time.
"Cuz it's confusing. I mean, it's so fast one place and slow in another."
"I have to admit I have considered testing Siobhan's advice." Oh, he miss understood me. "That's not what I meant, silly."
"And then there's all those places-Oh. I'm lazy and once I found out one could go anywhere for a slight moment of pain."
I suppose he had a point. "I see...Find anything...or anyone...interesting?"
"Well...I found the patrons of that tavern not too friendly to strange princes of amber who pass out in their midst. I admit, the last attempt was something of a test of endurance. And, in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have done it."
"Why did you go to a tavern?"
"To meet Eathon."
That explained why Eathon found him. "I see."
"Which I have yet to do, now that I think about it. Variables. See, m'dear."
"I spoke with him earlier." And he hadn't mentioned Samba. Oh."
"Oh. Well...dammit! Here I am thinking I'm covering bases we haven't."
"I talked to Paki. Go team us! You don't seem to be sharing your bases though." I pouted.
He laughed. "Sorry. Well, considering I've covered none. Wait...Two. And a half. But Paki..?"
I felt the pleasure in my neck increase again, and then subside. A conscious action, or merely a sharing of feelings? "Yeah, Paki. Besides telling him I would give him the jewel if he won, I did bring you up."
"How'd that go?"
"Well, he thought it interesting, that while lots of people have talked to me about the competition, no one has actually asked me to give the jewel to the person who wins. And he said he would talk to you, and implied that you would at least be alive at the end."
Samba laughed, and the feelings briefly stopped as he did so. "Oh, sorry." They resumed. "Well, I'm glad my lifespan has been successfully implied. Perhaps you're our new Pattern Priestess? Which would be odd, given things."
"I don't understand."
"Well, if no one wants the jewel, perhaps they assume it's yours. Actually, shit, if that's the case? Does everyone think they're competing for the whole Power Behind The Throne thing, with, well, you as Queen?"
"If they have, they haven't really consulted me about it." And I doubted that was anyone's plan.
"Unless they assume it will happen."
"I don't think Siobhan does."
"In my book, however, bonus points for Paki."
"She said I *could* have been queen."
"Really? My first question is: Do you think she's trying to kill you. My second, if she's not, ya think she's on to something?"
"If she were, why wouldn't she just tell me I could? That's what I have been pondering as well. But what if it does kill me?"
"Because she knows you mistrust those that are close you in family name."
"Not any more than any other."
"Then she knows you're, rightfully so, mistrusting of those of our family." How true a statement that was. "And, well, this might seem...uh...odd to you. Um...shit. Give me a second to explain, and it will all make sense." I nodded, and he continued. "The Jewel is a drain of one's essence...from what I know....and one's "essence" is a combination, of one's will and one's physical form. You seem more than, uh, wealthy in will. And. Well. If you have the will, your form can be changed. It'll take awhile, but it can be done."
What was he talking about. It sounded crazy. "What...you'll change me?"
"I never brought it up before, partially cuz I didn't think I could, but also cuz I know how you feel about people "robbing" you of your perceived weaknesses." Was I thought obvious sometimes? "I can try. I held my heart and brain in my fucking hands. I can help you master this Jewel...or...I might accidentally kill you. Therein lies the problem."
Could this really be true? Without weakness, infirmity, how much more could I accomplish? "What if you go, well, slowly?"
"Therein lies the problem. How slowly is slowly. We're talking about erasing you and restarting...more or less..."
"Not just changing parts?"
"No, that's the problem. Changing a part is easy, but it's fleeting."
"Would it last long enough to walk the pattern?" If I could do so, I could contain it in me, as I had done with the leg.
"Minutes? hours? depends on what's done. No. Well. I accidentally attempted to shapeshift on the pattern. I almost died. Shapeshifting and pattern magic don't mix. This is long-term Julie. I'd be re-writing you, and you'd...Well, not to sound dramatic, be touched by chaos. If that doesn't phase you, though, things would be okay."
This was starting to sound like something we could do. "In some way, aren't we all?"
He smiled. "True."
"Permanent is very tempting." Very tempting.
"It will take a long time, but it can be done."
"How long?" As much as I might wish to try this, I had other obligations which came first.
"I wish I could say."
"Do we have enough time before the meeting?"
"I've never done anything like this. Oh, no...Well..."
"I assume it would be bad to be interrupted. I can change time here." Maybe we could do it.
"No. What progress is made I don't believe can be un-made, unless by walking the pattern. The ultimate goal would be the new, uh, form you are in would walk the pattern, and therefore be you. I hope you kept your leg's coupon."
"You don't think walking the pattern will undo it?" That would make things...difficult.
.The problem is, only time will tell. If the effects fade, then they'll rapidly fade in the pattern. If what changes are made become you then they'll stay."
"But maybe it will be enough..." Maybe...maybe.
"Actually. Let me show you something."
"I...I am very tempted Samba...you don't know how much." There was no way he could know. My whole life, haunted by this...sickness. And to be rid of it? I had done so much to overcome it. So much more could I do if I didn't have to.
"Our bodies are fleeting. You remember when I said I held my heart in my hand?"
"Okay... don't freak out..." At this point, I doubted there was much he could do to faze me. He opened his shirt, then reached in and opened...his chest, showing nothing but blood inside. I raised an eyebrow. "It's...uhk..." He reached in again, and closed it. "Permanent changes can be made."
"It's easier for me because I'm a shape changer."
"Pain is nothing unknown to me." And how much I would endure if this could come to pass.
He smiled. "You probably have more experience with it than I. Oh, it won't hurt. That'll be the temporary fix. Have you ever been to a doctor in a place that uses Novocaine? Or is that a dumb question?"
He had not been in Amber much. "It's not dumb, and I have used anesthetics."
"That's what I'll be doing. My changes never hurt."
"Unless I'm not there for long-term, but the only person I've done long-term is me. But..."
"I would assume you have to be."
"I cannot make you any promises, Julie. There is a very good chance that this might make you something in agony and I- we would have to undo everything." I could endure agony. "Again, the pain factor is the first thing I try to eliminate."
"But I've never really, uh, truly 'shaped' someone aside from myself."
"I am not worried about the pain..."
"Well..." He smiled.
"But...I think I want to do it." It was only pain I was risking...and for so much.
"Since you dig it so much, I can keep the pain."
"I don't like it that much."
"Well, I hate to seem rushing. But, we are already in the perfect condition to start now."
"Let me change the time of this shadow."
I was starting to do so when Masamba spoke. "Wait."
I stopped. "Ok."
"Two things I ask. First, let your.. uh.. agents know that, if they do hear you screaming not to come. I cannot promise it won't hurt, much as I'd like to. Again, pain suppression is my first concern. Second, and don't think me weird...I have your femur. You beat me with it, remember?"
Yes, I do. You have to admit, you did something stupid." Indeed.
"Well, it'll help."
I smiled. "I see."
"Oh, I see that *now,* Ms. 'Keep my scars, I'm into that shit.'"
How did I put it? "I am much more...ok with it now."
"The problem is, your false leg will come off. I can't change you and keep it."
"Well, I could try, but that's more guessing I'd have to do. And keep in mind, I'm not trying to kill you, Julie, but I've never done this before."
"If it were anyone else...we would not be here." In so many ways, if it were anyone else...
"I also realized. Do you have an agent in Amber you can talk to about getting the bone from my room? We *can* try without it, but the more real-you here, the better."
"I can, it will take them a while to get here." Having one of my hawks travel the shadows to get here would be long.
"I can send an agent close to Amber, but not too close."
"I can get it to him then. Who is it? Where should they meet?"
"Uh...It's a big black circle with tentacles sticking out of it." I see.
"Just don't touch my agent, ok?" I know the pattern dispels my conjurations, who knows what the logrus would do.
"It won't. And it'll have to be away-away from Amber. Like, somewhere in the Circle."
"That's fine. My agent can shift shadow."
"Hrm. Your agent might be faster than mine."
"It travels at jet speed." I guess he hasn't seen them before.
"Oh. Shit. Yeah. Also. Here's how it will happen."
"Can't you just, like, logrus it out or something?"
"Well, it might be faster. I dunno. I also don't want your aunt killing my logrus connection."
I hadn't thought about that. "Oh, true."
"But, this will, um..."
"Maybe I should just go get it. You can come with me. It might be faster."
"I also have a request, Samba."
"If...If I die. Tell Andrevo that I love him."
Samba, thankfully, was almost serious for the first time in his life, and didn't make a smart-aleck remark. We quickly trumped to Amber, and went to his room, retrieving the bone. I can't imagine what the guards thought we were doing. I started to leave when Samba stopped me.
"Before we go back, there is one problem. Julie...Since we're in the mindset of trust. In order to know what it takes. What it takes to do what we want, I need to know what it takes. When to finish...and...I wish I thought of this sooner. I might need to do what it takes. I don't want to. But, um, I won't know the requirements before I test the limits."
"We shouldn't talk about this here, and the stamina of someone born of the blood should be sufficient."
"Allright. I may ask again before we finalize. I don't want to destroy you, Julie."
"And I don't want to die, but we *really* shouldn't talk about this here." Who knew who was listening?
"You do not realize this, but when it comes to shifting, I am very complete and exact." He smiled. "I am done." A short, but fun, hell-ride back, and we were in Arrakis again. I gave my men my orders, that we were not to be disturbed no matter what they heard, and made sure they were completely clear.
I turned to Samba. "I'm ready."
"Julie, before we do this. I hate to say this so late in the game. But...I need to know what it takes to...Use it."
"I can't let you walk the pattern with it...not after that one time."
"We can always do this while you rest. I've walked twice since."
"But...if something happens, you will have the only thing we can repair it with."
"How hard would it be to kill me?"
"Very...as we've seen. I can use it, for a time, at least wear it." Maybe that would help in some way.
"Shit. Allright. If I do this, go to Otanashi. He will do what he can for Amber. And we both know he can destroy me in a moment's notice. I care not for the Jewel."
I didn't think he was trying to steal it from me...but the risk. It was too much. "I can't...I can't put Amber at risk like that for my own, selfish gain."
"The problem lies with, I'm bringing you to a certain threshold, and I don't know where that threshold lies." He paused. "We...we can think of another solution."
TO come so far, only to be stopped now. It was heartbreaking. "I'm sorry...I really am."
"Don't worry. I'm thinking. Okay. I will try this solution. I will do what I can to make you capable, in as much time as we have possible. But I cannot make any guarantees. I don't want to destroy you, but once you set foot on that Pattern..."
"I know. Once I am there, there is no going back."
"And...I hate to be the devil's advocate. You'd leave me with your corpse and the jewel lying the ground."
"You can leave before I start, if you wish."
"I wouldn't. Would you make a fire and leave before you see it burn? Especially if it's a fire you had emotional attach-okay, this is a shitty metaphor." I smiled, and he smiled back.
"I understand, and I'm not sure what can be done."
"But you do see the bind?"
"Anyone I told would try to stop me, I'm certain."
"Fuck it! Let's go. I'll build you up to what I can in the time. Pain will be minimal, that is my first concern."
I smiled wanly. "Not dieing in my first concern, but pain would be a good second."
He smiled back. "And if I sense I'm leading you down the wrong path, I'll stop and try to fix what I've done."
"Then, let's start." If we didn't start soon, I would change my mind.
"When I'm working on you, I'll know your limits. Turning off the pain, or consciousness, will be the easy part." I removed the Jewel, and placed it within easy reach, under a piece of cloth, so the casual observer would not see it. "Before we start. There will be times when it will be the best for all of us to rest. I will do what I can to make whatever resting time painless and quick."
"Thank you." I concentrated, speeding up the time here, relative to Amber, as much as I could.
"But this will drain me, and I will need to rest. This is weeks, if not month-long engagement, our time. Shall I stop if I feel a trump from someone at the confrontation?"
"I hadn't thought of it as a confrontation."
"Well, Charitable Meeting, then."
"If it is that time, then we must stop. I need to be there. I said I would be."
"Hopefully, it won't take that long."
"I just want you to remember that in case you wake up in agony and trying to kill me."
"I will. I have refrained from killing others while in agony before."
"Let's hope the primal side of you will." What was he talking about?
"Of course, I was restrained then."
"And were they the one causing the pain? Because there is something to regard with instincts."
"No, I was just in pain. I will be fine...and so will you." I smiled.
Samba smiled as well. I do have to say this. There will be times you will pass out. No matter what pain I suppress."
I nodded. "All right."
"I'll try to reduce the pain and keep awareness. But I am reshaping you, one or the other will happen." I nodded again, and he began. I saw him change into a strange, maroon creature with eight limbs, and felt his mind contact with mine, before I fell into unconsciousness.