Session notes: 11-04-05
Future Dates 11/18, 12/09, 12/23
When last we met: Wu Fang, Megumi and Ohanzee were at Florimel's estate. Tyler and Val were in Arden with Merlin and Martin.
Tyler and Merlin's discussion of Trump continued as they rode. Merlin compared the ability to learn Trump to perfect pitch - "If you don't have it, you'll never get it."
Meanwhile, Martin engaged Val in conversation, leading from a discussion of how Val handles shifting shadow to a demonstration. It seems that the method Val uses isn't so much shaping a path, as envisioning an exit and finding it. His demonstration began with a sort of a lurch and the forest became a bit less healthy. To avoid any unpleasantness, Martin resumed control of the shadow walk.
Val seemed impressed. "My method has served me reasonably well in the past, but yours is much smoother. I must ask how you manage that."
"It's an inborn talent. It requires belonging to a particular family. The method you use merely requires that you have the power to survive using it."
"That explains why more people can do what I do. I'm sure not everyone I know who can Walk does it because they belong to a family."
"Well, there are different ways of moving through shadow. The Professor uses something called Trump. It's an artifact based method of travel. And then there are some creatures who can simply move between certain worlds based on what they are and how they have adapted."
"And I know there are some people who use machines. But then there are ones who do dimension walking, and they just walk. But not as smoothly as you do. It's more abrupt."
"There are ways and there are ways. Sometimes you have to search for the weak points between universes, and that slows things down."
"Quite interesting... Yes. So tell me more about this family."
The forest shifted gradually, getting more into the giant trees, and the sense that there could be large creatures lurking. There weren't, but it seemed more possible.
Val asked, "Is this a safe place to travel?"
Martin smiled. "I may not be Uncle Julian's favorite nephew, but I don't think he has anything against me either. Just be careful what you hunt."
"What sort of things do you hunt here? I haven't seen an animal yet."
Martin explained, "I've been avoiding them. I find talking stags annoying. And the Golden Hind has never appealed to me."
Val remarked it would put him off his feed to actually talk to things that he was hunting.
Martin pointed out that there are, of course, other things to hunt. Some of them rather dangerous. His uncle guards one of the borders of this country. The attackers and the defenders are both likely large and carnivorous. Or omnivorous.
At about this point, we heard a horn blowing, both up ahead and up in a tree. Someone was being a bit ostentatious. On the other hand, if the person blowing the horn hadn't chosen to announce himself, we wouldn't have seen him. It was a man dressed in browns and greens, fairly well camouflaged. Apart from the trumpet, of course. And the fact that he was standing up and waving.
"Prince Martin! Welcome!"
This was rather a surprise. When Martin had introduced himself, somehow he'd ommitted the whole "Prince" title. It had also been left out of subsequent conversation. He let the guard know that we're under his protection.
As an aside to us he said, "This just means don't do anything stupid. Uncle Julian has certain.. prejudices."
Val asked for a definition of stupid. It was mostly common sense, bearing mind that this place belongs to someone.
"Don't hunt anything. Don't kill anyone. Bar brawls are another matter, of course. Uncle Julian isn't a teatotler and he believes in letting his men blow off steam."
The bars it seems are in the city, which is beyond the forest. We've just now gotten to the forest proper. The forest itself seemed more... solid. Well established. Very certain that it is a forest. This is not a place that could be easily burnt or cut down.
Martin's body language had changed. His physical attitude indicated that his vacation is over. Merlin didn't seem to change at all. On the other hand, he seems to be the sort of person who could easily wander distracted by whatever shiny and interesting thing he happens across.
We continued to ride. There was a strong sense that we were being watched. Val looked around, spotting occasional glimpses of the observers. Martin asked Val what he was planning on doing when he got where he was going. Val was unsure, but he told about the strange dream he'd had (last session).
Martin was curious about what the man looked like. "Dark, with a beard." Martin pulled out a deck of cards and started showing the pictures of people to Val. One of them was the man from the dream. "That complicates things. He's kind of dead."
This struck Tyler as odd. "How can one be only 'kind of' dead?"
"Well, in his case we actually had a body and buried it, so dead. It's my Uncle Eric. On the other hand if you're having dreams of him and he's guiding you here, then there's bits of him in your head."
"But there's no room for anyone else!" Val protested.
This fascinated Merlin "You mean there's lots of other people in there?"
Val explained, "No. It's crowded enough with just me."
Merlin was disappointed at that.
Martin stuck to the subject "You don't remember ever meeting him?"
"Not that I could tell, no."
At Florimel's palace, Ohanzee's deportment lessions were beginning. Megumi had to leave briefly, due to some religious obligations. Princess Florimel was understanding, but perhaps not pleased.
Florimel decided that the best option was for Ohanzee to learn to dance, since Wu Fang was there to help teach. She left to arrange for musicians, leaving them to talk.
"So are you and the greenskinned woman a pairing?"
"Well, there are two of us."
"I mean, do you share house and duties? Do you have any pups?"
"No. And I think that pups would be a surprise for both of us."
"Can you talk to the spirit?"
"I'm not sure. I haven't encountered many of them here. Back where I came from, that was certainly something I could do."
"So, did you have to take a test as well, where you came from?"
"I suppose. It was fairly trivial as I recall."
"And then you needed to become a gentleman?"
"No, I already understood their ways to some extent. The ways here are similar enough to my own. I get the impression that they're very different from what you're used to."
"I'm uncertain. This doesn't feel like I expected it to."
"I'm sure that's true. If I understand what you're saying correctly, you're embarked on a spiritual quest which lead you here?"
"I was trained to understand the spirits in preparation for my testing with the One Spirit. You go through the spirit world and touch the One spirit. I assumed I'd either go back to my mentor or on to a different mentor of the Lord of the Land. But I expected to be learning how to control the spirits better. And I'm not sure why the spirits need me to learn to dance. I suppose it's a good thing if this is where I am and dancing is what happens."
"The culture is different. Dancing does seem to occur at social functions. What Princess Florimel is trying to teach you is what is likely to be the baseline culture you are likely to be interacting with while you are here. It's not necessarily the aspect tat you will find yourself completely comfortable with. Perhaps once you've found your bearings we can find something that strikes your fancy a bit better."
"How long am I expected to maintain this form?'
"Well, it's the preferred form of most of the inhabitants of this realm. It's generally expected. You'll have opportunities to assume forms that are more comfortable."
"After a while like this my head starts to hurt... This is the form for thinking, and one shouldn't be doing it for too long. It's very tiring."
"I understand. We may be able to find a more appropriate location for you to deal with your other interests. To let out aggression, or what-have-you. I think Princess Florimel is not fully comfortable with the idea. To the people here, these forms are normal, so she may not be taking into account your needs."
"Do you have a different form as well?"
"Is this your spirit form?"
"I'm not sure. I think the words we use are different. For your frame of reference, it would be my spirit form, so that's the term we'll use."
"Is this your natural form?"
"Do you ever feel like you'll become stuck?"
"Oh no... I'm far to comfortable in my natural form for me to ever forget it."
They compared the ideas of multiple forms. Ohanzee explained about her three preferred forms, spirit, normal and travel, which is more of a long distance running form. She can't demonstrate them without damaging her new clothing though.
"So did you wake up here after..."
"Oh no. I journeyed here."
"That's an interesting story. I was in my home realm when I heard that it was being attacked by a lone individual of great skill and cunning. I went forth to face this individual and found them to be a worthy opponent. He (I assume it was a he) decided to flee. He taunted me into following him, and apparently I pursued him outside my own realm. I found myself on a path and before he disappeared entirely he told me that the path would lead me to someplace far more challenging than the realm I currently held. I found that intriguing, so I continued, arriving here."
"So you're a leader then?"
"I find this place confusing. It does not feel or taste or smell like anyplace I've been before."
"This is a place called 'Amber'. From what I understand, the people here believe that because of an artifact in their possession that all the realms of possibility that exist are mere reflections, or Shadows, of this realm in some way. The realm where you came from for example is some aspect of this realm."
"I always thought where I came from was... It. Everything. And that the Lord was waging war against someone over the mountains or just farther away."
"It seems there is much greater space to the world than we thought."
There was some discussion of how the universe is like a blanket stitched together from many different skins.
"How do I know I'm on the right skin?"
"I'd wager to say that the one that you are on must be the right one."
"But I'm supposed to continue training!"
"Perhaps you're meant to continue training here."
"But the clothing prevents me changing. At least without damaging things. And the clothes are too nice for that."
"I had noticed that they fit well."
"So what is involved with becoming a lady?"
"Dancing. Tea. Dining etiquette."
"So why does priestess Megumi hold her tea this way?"
"It is the tradition of her path. Among my people there are those who perform various ceremonies involving tea. The significance is different here than it was."
"I'm used to tea being medicinal."
"That's the case sometimes as well."
"So how many others are there? You are my... cousin? Or is that like a pack cousin?"
"What does that mean?"
"We may not be related by blood, but by association."
"It would seem likely I suppose,... Well, there's a test here to see if you're a member of the Royal Family. It was fairly trivial to me, but I'm told it can be taxing to some. In either case, depending on the results of that test, there's a chance that we are in some way related."
"Should I be preparing for this test?"
"It's a possibility for the future. I wouldn't worry about it too much now. You may not be fully recovered from the test you had taken earlier. And you seem to have found an ally in Princess Florimel, so it's unlikely you'll be..."
"I would not have spoken so directly, but that word serves as well."
As we rode along, Martin raised his hand and we slowed to a stop. He got a slightly distracted look upon his face and began to talk to thin air:
"Yes, I'm on my way home. No I hadn't planned on that. What? No, you've got to be kidding. You have got to be kidding. Well, I'm almost there. I'll see what I can do."
At that point, he lost his distracted look, and told us that something had come up. He looked at us a bit, then turned to Merlin and said:
"Merlin! Why don't you go talk to my grandmother!"
"Well, she wants me to stop by."
"Then why don't you? I can get these people to Amber."
Martin looked a bit skeptical. He examined Val and Tyler and asked, "How do you feel about water?"
Neither Val nor Tyler had any objection to it, in principle, but both were clearly unaware of exactly what Martin was planning. Martin's decision was made when Merlin said, "I can take them from here. What could possibly go wrong?"
Martin instructed Tyler and Val to breathe normally and the group headed off to Rebma through a Trump gate.
We arrived in Martin's private chambers, a room in a castle that was obviously underwater. Strangely, the books on the shelves were unaffected by the water everywhere. Indeed, many things seem to be perfectly normal... Still, Tyler needed to give Val plenty of personal space for his hair to drift and flow in the water.
We offered to accompany Martin to his appointment, since our presence might get him on his way faster. Tyler inquired about the appropriateness of carrying weapons. Martin replied that they won't be a problem, but cautions us that the society here was quite different... It's not that men aren't valued, inheritance and values tend to be more gynocentric though.
We actually got an honor guard almost immediately on leaving his quarters. There were about ten of them, focussed on escorting Martin. We were merely an afterthought entourage. We passed a lot of people who seemed to recognize Martin, and a number of them seemed to recognize Merlin as well. Their reactions to him varied from flirtation to eye-rolling. With Martin, there was a general sense of "Oh good, he's back."
We arriveed in the Rebman throne room. The queen was there, an attractive woman with a rather green appearance. Jade eyes and green hair. Pale green skin. Most of the people we'd seen here were green. Martin is not. He's blond.
On our arrival, there was a certain amount of courtly interaction. Bowing and such... Tyler watched carefully and made sure that he bowed slightly more than Merlin and Martin, slightly less than the honor guard. His bow is rather 19th century European, with overtones of military, or perhaps dueling academy, with clicked heel and hand on chest. Val's bow is more 18th century Parisian, with the hat flourish and minor coat curtsey.
The queen doesn't look anywhere near old enough to be Martin's grandmother. She insisted on private speech, despite his assurances that he'd be a poor host if he abandoned us. Nevertheless, we were left with the aristocracy and spent some time socializing. Merlin wound up with many women hanging on him. Tyler found himself deep in conversation with people who know a lot about the engineering, infrastructure and stresses of an underwater city. Val tended to move from group to group, circulating. Val and Tyler noticed that they've both acquired an observer from the guard.
Martin was gone for perhaps two hours. We were offered refreshment. Fish and various kelps. Sushi, but not with ordinary rice. Martin was looking rather grim when he returns. He gathered Tyler and Val, and didn't seem to be surprised that Merlin had wandered off with someone pretty. We adjourned to his room for a private conversation.
He invited us to sit. "I had intended to take a little more time, getting to know the two of you, finding out wether or not and where you fit in. Something has come up, however, that has rushed the matter from my point of view. I need to know if you are, in fact, a member of my extended family. Would you mind submitting to a simple blood test?"
Both Val and Tyler agree. Blood was drawn and a quick series of magical experiments were performed in his personal lab. The results were positive. Both Val and Tyler are Family.
He fills us in on some of the advantages that we have, being members of the family. We can both learn to use the method of travel that he uses. He explains what the Pattern is, and that it requires one be a member of the family to use it.
Val already knows something similar, but incomplete.
"Walking the pattern as soon as possible enhances your odds of survival. Either that or vanishing back into Shadow."
Naturally there are politics involved. Mystical forces are involved as well.
Ohanzee and Wu Fang have been dancing. It has certain appeal from the physicality involved. Ohanzee seems to have some trouble letting Wu Fang lead, at which point Florimel demonstrates. She doesn't exactly give up the lead herself, which is something Ohanzee can faintly discern. Florimel seems to use her perceived weakness as a strength, giving signals that make Wu Fang seem to be leading, but luring him where she wants him to go.
There are, unfortunately, limited examples of femininity. The maid and Megumi are very different. Eventually dancing is abandoned in favor of riding lessons. Dana, the maid, helps Ohanzee change into her riding habit.
Riding lessons are difficult at first. Ohanzee seems confused by the horses, since they aren't the prey. She's never ridden lunch before. Wu Fang explains that the horses prefer that he doesn't ride. He explains that the horses are used as conveyance, and that they are ridden while hunting.
Ohanzee takes some convincing to not eat or damage the horses. They instinctively fear her and it's difficult to get them to let her mount.
"Do you have one that's less frightened? It's very exciting, but I imagine one with more spunk would be more... entertaining."
The grooms get another horse out. This one actually attacks her. She instinctively shifts to a wolfman form to defend, ripping the riding habit to shreds.
She gets the impression that she's being challenged to protect the rest of the herd. Leaping on its back and riding it around while it's really scared seems fun! This is something she'd never have thought of...
Florimel begins berating Ohanzee for a lack of self control. The grooms flee, releasing the horse. Florimel isn't scared of either the horse or Ohanzee, although from what Ohanzee can tell the horse could kill her. With the grooms gone, it's just Florimel, Ohanzee, Wu Fang and the enraged horse.
Florimel asks Wu Fang, "This looks like it could be difficult. Any advice?"
"Well, what is your goal?"
"She needs to be presentable as soon as possible."
"You may need to redefine what is meant by presentable."
"Well, we don't have much time. And where she ends up will depend on what skills she learns."
"I'm unfamiliar with the options. My own acclimatization was somewhat different."
"Let's put it this way, there are those who are still deciding if she's a great convenience or a great inconvenience."
Meanwhile, Ohanzee is trying to stay bareback on the angry horse. She tries tiring it out a bit, dodging lunges.
"Why would she be considered an inconvenience?"
"Why did you and the priestess actually come to call?"
"Incited by whom? I could guess. I'd say Moire."
"That would be a good guess."
"You could try to extrapolate a little bit about who might interest her quite so much."
After a few attempts to land on the horse's back without inflicting damage, Ohanzee decides that the spirit form may be the better option for gripping ability. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of way to think in this form, and acting in the other form is potentially damaging, so she shifts back and forth a while.
Florimel comments, "You really ought to wear clothing while you do that."
Ohanzee replies, "I have come to the conclusion that this creature cannot be ridden by me without damaging it."
"I think this one is a better candidate for dinner."
"It is considered gauche to eat horseflesh."
"Yes. You may feed it to your dogs."
"Do you like horseflesh?"
"Well, it's got meat on it..."
"We raise other animals for meat."
"Can you hunt them?"
"It's generally not necessary."
"Well, let's get you back home and get some clothes on you."
"Are there any clothes around here that can withstand shifting?"
"No, not really."
"A pity. I bet that horse would have tasted good too. Spirited animals often do, but I will refrain."
Ohanzee has no problem wandering around stark naked. Wu Fong doesn't seem to mind her doing it either... Florimel's objections seem more etiquette based rather than moralistic.
The notion of going hunting is offered something of a reward if Ohanzee manages to learn to ride. Julian would be glad to have her company.
Wu Fang and Ohanzee discuss the physical and social aspects of hunting. How it's done, what is hunted, why it's important for social interaction.
Meanwhile in Rebma, Martin asks "So, what's in it for me? Why should I assist you?"
There is a discussion comparing self interest and the merits of alliances. Tyler and Val have the potential to be powerful allies, if they can be trusted to be his allies.
Val enquires about oaths of fealty and how they are sworn here. Martin explains that any oath may be suspect, simply because there's no guarantee that the person swearing has the same notion of honor. And even if they do, there's the possiblity that there is a pre-existing oath that they may feel justifies them breaking any subsequent oath.
Tyler explains that his willingness to undertake the Pattern is because of the potential it offers in defending his friends. If Martin can help him with that, it will place him deeply in his debt. Tyler is also willing to wait until, in Martin's assessment, he's ready and has earned Martin's trust.
Martin reveals that he has a daughter. This is likely the news that his grandmother just gave him. This complication is especially serious, given his parentage and his potential for inheritance.
He tells us that it is time we meet one of his aunts. He gets out his deck of cards, and after a brief discussion, an extraordinarily beautiful woman brings us through her Trump to someplace, formerly, drier. Tyler and Val are provided with changes of clothing, and are invited to dinner. Martin does not introduce us as members of the family.