Exploring the Castle

Leaving the music room, it occurs to Desta that she's gathered a few more pieces of what appears to be a large puzzle, but there's almost certainly far more that she doesn't know yet. Even the pieces she has don't really make sense out of context. Why are she and the others in the castle? Where did everyone else go? What's the deal with the damned doll? Just what the hell is this bell she found, and why was it in her room?

Far too many questions, and nowhere near enough answers. Maybe a bit more exploration might help fill in some of the blanks.

As she wanders down the hall in the opposite direction of Aleric, she realizes that she has no real hint pointing her to a specific place to start her search. She's familiar enough with the castle in a general sense (though she obviously doesn't know it as well as those who've lived here for decades), so even though it's pretty large, she isn't likely to get lost… but she'll still need to decide where to start looking.

Though, for that matter, who says she has to stay in the castle? Perhaps she'll find more answers in the city. Or in Arden. If nothing else, heading back to the forest would leave her on her own turf. If some sinister plot is going on, let the mysterious enemy behind it all come after her in the place she knows best.

Still… while she might be safer there, would it hold the answers she's looking for?

Desta ponders these questions as she moves along the hallway, heading in a general sense towards stairs leading up. With Aleric going down… Desta feels a little chill. She isn't really sure she wants to go in that direction anyway.

The morning is advancing, either way. It occurs to her that it might not be a bad thought to try again to report in. Just in case. Pulling out her case, she shuffles Julian's out - second from the top. Finding a handy chair sort of out of the way, she sits and concentrates on the card.

She tries the Trump without success. Part of her figured that was going to happen, but nothing ventured, right? She covers the card with her opposite hand, more out of habit than anything else. She taps the edge, staring into space for a while. If this was a normal morning, that would be the end of it. Julian was busy or out of range or any number of other possibilities.

Desta would not classify this morning as normal. Not yet.

She fans her cards, looking at the other faces. She had been introduced to a handful of other Royals, at least in passing. It's possible someone else would recognize her. She pulls out Gerard's card and gives that one a try, but her luck with is about the same as with Julian's.

Next she pulls a card from the bottom of her deck. A place card, not a face card, because she's not sure she wants to take that much of a risk quite yet. When she focuses her will on the image of an icy stream in the midst of snow, she senses a difference immediately - whereas the other cards didn't even seem as if they were reaching at all, this one feels like it's reaching across vast distances. It feels like it's working, but at the cost of a strain she's never felt from the cards before. On top of which, the card seems to grow colder and colder, but that growing cold is interspersed with flashes of heat. Somehow, she knows deep down that this card and its fellows are not like the cards found in the "family" decks.

And then she almost feels an odd metaphysical lurch as contact is made, and she has a doorway to a frozen world hanging open before her. Of course, some sort of hellish eternal winter might not be much of an improvement over the current situation… Yet on the other hand, maybe it might be. Especially if stepping through frees her from whatever trap she's currently in.

Desta rubs her forehead when contact is finally made, relaxing a little and leaning back against the seat. It's tempting… but… she had found herself in the castle this morning, and she was getting more and more certain that wasn't where she had gone to bed. She was in the castle for a reason, whether that reason was a conscious plan on the part of some manipulator or something else.

Of course, it could be completely random, too, but no way to know just yet.

She covers the card to break the connection, letting the icy air dissipate before moving on to the next phase of her experiment. The connection breaks the way it's supposed to, so at least the card didn't turn out to be some sort of trap that would suck her in or anything.

She pulls out Andromeda's card and focuses her will on that one, instead. It seems to connect easily. Wonder what that says about the doll's theory that all the Amberite royals she remembers are just figments of her imagination…

"…who is it?"

"It's—" Desta realizes she never did tell Andromeda her name. "The one with the bell," she finishes the sentence instead.

"Yes?"

"First progress report," she says with all military precision. She can do it if she has to. "I haven't run into any other inhabitants of your castle. I am proceeding to the next phase. I'll likely be out of touch for a while."

Technically, not a lie. Andromeda's castle is probably peopled with dolls. The people Desta's met so far weren't dolls. Which inhabitants are real - or if that question is even valid - was something for later pondering.

"Hmm." There's a pause. Does Andromeda think Desta is lying? Is she just pondering the issue? Does the fact that Desta is wondering about the motives of a doll suggest she might need to consult with some sort of doctor? "Carry on."

"Thank you, m'lady," she says, and covers the card to break the contact.

Well.

A little more information, maybe. Desta mentally files the results as she tidies up her cards and puts them away again. Picking up her bell, carefully muffling its sounds, she stands and stretches, then turns around slowly and looks about the hall while visualizing the castle. She had already checked the servants' quarters, and Aleric was downstairs. May as well start at the top.

Desta finds the staircases that will take her to the topmost part of the castle, so that she can work her way down. Climbing as high as she can go, she eventually finds herself on the fourth floor. As far as she can remember, most of the rooms on this floor are just used for storage and the like, and don't see regular use. She also recalls that two towers can be accessed from this floor, taking her even higher - one to the east, the other to the west.

She decides to start with the eastern tower, going all the way to the top to view as far as she can from the vantage. She climbs up into the eastern tower, and stares out. Below the castle, she can see the city stretching out, spreading down the mountain and towards the coast. Granted, it isn't necessarily the best vantage point for looking down on the city, but from what she can see, there doesn't seem to be anything (or anyone) moving down there. No people, no animals, not even a bird wheeling through the sky.

If she didn't already think something strange was going on, this would be a major clue; even at night, the city isn't that still. Sure, there might actually be people down there, somewhere, hiding in a building or basement, but odds are, if there's no one on the streets, the city is just as empty as the castle seems to be.

Glancing towards the harbor, even that seems completely empty. No carters loading and unloading crates, no drunken sailors, and no ships. No, strike that - one lone ship docked, but no signs of captain or crew. It's a far cry from the packed docks, wharfs, and quays that you'd usually find.

Turning her gaze farther afield, she notices something odd about the lighthouse of Cabra - if her memory serves (and admittedly, she's never actually been there, or really looked out at it from a distance), it's supposed to be on an island off the coast. But from what she can see, it seems like a large tower rising up from a peninsula that juts out from the coast. Maybe it's just a trick of the view, though.

As she turns her gaze towards Arden, both the castle and the mountain blocks most of the view… though from what she can see, it doesn't seem radically different or anything.

Heading back downstairs, she gives a cursory glance to most of the storage rooms, and, unsurprisingly, she doesn't find anything. No ancient weapons, hoary magical artifacts, trunks filled with keepsakes from long-dead royals… just a lot of mundane crap probably stowed up here by various servants over the last few centuries. Considering the fact that most of the stuff is covered in dusty tarps, she could probably hide almost anything in one of these rooms and have it almost entirely hidden from anyone who didn't already know it was there.

Climbing the western tower, she opens the door at the top, and steps into the observatory. Looking around, she idly wonders if this place gets more use from the Royals looking up at the stars, or trying to figure out on which nights Tir-na Nog'th will show up in the sky above the mountain…

doll2.jpg

…and then she notices the doll sitting casually in a chair near one of the telescopes. As she stares, its eyes flick open, and begin staring back. "I was wondering how long before you found your way up here."

Desta stops cold at sight of the doll, and feels a prickling chill on her neck as he - it - "wakes up" and begins to speak. She swallows and looks down at her arms, pulling up one sleeve and inspecting her elbow and hand closely to make sure…. Nope, apparently human. Or at least, as human as she had appeared every day since she could remember.

She looks around the observatory, hoping there might be another person hidden in the room who could throw his voice and make it appear as though the doll was, um, speaking. She'd seen puppets like that at the festival she'd gone to as a kid.

"You're—" She hesitates a moment, and clears her throat. "You were expecting me?"

"Of course." He rises, casually, walking over to one of the telescopes, resting a hand on it. "Did you think your encounter with Andromeda would go unreported? You've forgotten that the Royal Family of Amber rarely goes anywhere without our favorite set of cards."

"Ah," Desta says, nodding, not really having anything more inspiring to say. She stays near the door, but relaxes her instinctive tight grip on the crystal bell, not wanting to shatter it by accident. She gives him a bow. "I'm pleased to meet you."

"No, you aren't." The doll chuckles, and it's incredibly creepy coming from something lacking mobile facial features. "Though I suppose I should give you a few points for attempting to be polite, anyway."

She frowns. "You're right, though" she answers. If straight talk was on the table, she was totally on board. "Why do you think that is?"

"Because you think you're lost in some odd reflection of your own world, cut off from everyone you know." The doll waves a hand, languidly. "Of course, I'd counter that your memories are lies, forced upon you by some enemy of Amber, so that you'd make a nuisance of yourself here while they plot some sinister scheme."

The doll picks a glass sphere off a table, idly twirling it through his fingers as he speaks. "To what end? I have no idea. But it would not be the first attack against Amber. Perhaps you have been made to be a weapon, imprinted with hidden commands and imperatives, ready to strike without thought once certain conditions are achieved. Or perhaps you are merely meant to serve as a distraction, while other forces accomplish their work elsewhere. Which do you consider to be more plausible?"

Desta snorts. "I'll tell you what I don't find, um, 'plausible' as you put it - a world with no animals and no birds or other people 'cept for a few dolls. 'Course, it makes sense, since you don't seem able to eat; your mouths don't move. But then why is there food here?"

"Have you ever traveled through Shadow? I tell you now that things such as you describe are in no way impossible, or even implausible. Reality is what we wish it to be."

The doll wanders over towards one of the windows, looking out. "Food? There is no food here. But the castle is magical, and has a way of providing that which a person desires, or needs. Walk into the dining hall while wishing for a meal, and it will be there." He turns back towards her. "Why would demigods who live at the absolute center of the universe bother with cooks or servants when their tasks can be accomplished without effort?"

He walks back towards her, still rolling the glass sphere between its fingers. Desta backs away as he approaches her, staying out of reach and not letting him get between her and the door back downstairs. "Why is there a dining hall at all when gods do not need to eat?" he continues. "Occasionally, we have guests - and we would be poor hosts to neglect their needs. Why have such a large castle, and a city, with no one to populate it? When we choose for there to be people, there are. Like so."

At that moment, the doll casually tosses the glass ball straight up in the air, then snaps its fingers. In an eyeblink, the glass ball is gone, replaced by a dove. With a flutter of wings, it flies out the window.

"This world, like all others, exists solely to serve our whims. Everything's a stage, merely awaiting an author to shape a play." And then he pauses. "Hmm, perhaps that is the answer to your little riddle. Maybe one of the others conjured you up for some reason? Unlikely, to be sure, and odd, to give you such disjointed memories, but stranger things have happened."

"But why dolls?" she insists. "I've been into Shadow some, and Shadow things come into Arden. They're not dolls. And what about Chaos? We know that place exists, and they're not dolls. That makes no sense."

"Just how widely traveled in Shadow are you?" The voice seems almost droll. "I've been to worlds where the natives are sentient trees, or giant walking pillars of flame, or talking badgers, or even telepathic protoplasms. Why should any creature surprise you in an infinite universe?"

The doll walks back towards the window, leaning lightly on the ledge. "And if your memories have been tampered with, how can you trust your own confusion? How can you truly know what is "normal" and what isn't?"

"And as for Chaos…" He tilts his head - in what she can only assume is an amused fashion. "Have you ever been there?"

She shakes her head. "Not yet," she answers his last question. "But probably I will. Someday."

"I have. And believe me when I say that the diversity of form you'll find there will undercut any assumptions you might have about what is "normal" and what is not."

She is silent a moment, then says, "I'm Desta. May I know your name?"

He chuckles. "Some call me a warlock. Others say I am the sorcerer-prince of Amber. You may call me Aiden."

Desta nods. "Thanks." Turning, she heads back the way she came. Aiden was clearly enjoying his own smug company so much that she didn't want to ruin things for him. "I'll get going, then. I have a lot more castle to look through."

"I'm sure you do. Remember what I've said, however. I suspect that, the harder you look, the more you'll realize that I'm speaking the truth."

"No, you were guessing," she turns at the doorway to look back at the doll. "You don't know why I'm here any more than I do. That answer, and how to get away from here - those are the only two truths I'm looking for right now."

"Was I?" The doll wanders back to the table, drumming its fingers on the wood. "I don't know why you're here. That doesn't mean I don't know where here is, or how the universe works. And if your memories conflict with that… well… it doesn't take a genius to understand that your memories are wrong, somehow."

"Perhaps you were merely raised in a Shadow that had confused itself for the Real. Perhaps you were tampered with. Or perhaps you were created to believe the things you do. But this is Amber, and eventually, you will find that you can no longer deny the truth of that fact."

Desta shugs. "Maybe, but it makes no difference to me if this place or you are Real or whatever, or if my own home is," she says. "If this is the real Amber, you can have it. I'll be glad to leave. My home, even if it's a Shadow, is a lot better than here."

"Then I wish you luck." The doll shrugs. "Though the truth perhaps matters more than you seem to realize. If your memories are false, and you were brought here against your will, then the whys and wherefores are almost certainly related to whether or not you'll ever be able to find your way home. Or if you even have a home to return to."

The doll wanders over to one of the telescopes, beginning to sight through it, as if it has more important things to do and is losing interest in the conversation. "If you are someone's pawn, then knowledge may be the only key you have to take control of your own destiny."

Desta shakes her head, her expression turning droll. "Somehow, I knew you were gonna say something like that. Like I'm just supposed to figure an animated doll is telling me the truth either way. Far as I can tell, you and Andromeda and any other freaky dolls here're at the top of the list of suspects. Your arguments are just as easy to turn towards you as me. Create any number of fake Ambers and stick some people in them with you all here to trick and confuse us. Then whoever's behind it tries to destroy my home!"

She didn't even realize she was getting worked up and her voice was rising until the last two words come out nearly as a shout. She clamps her mouth shut and glares furiously at Aidan.

The doll chuckles again. "The truth is rarely easy to accept. Or to prove, for that matter. But I still maintain that, the harder you look, the more you'll realize that I'm speaking the truth. The evidence of your senses will inevitably overcome any mistaken beliefs."

And then it tilts its head, and she can almost sense it offering a wry smile (if its lips and cheeks were actually capable of movement). "Still, assuming that I'm wrong, and you're really from the true Amber, and someone has trapped you here against your will as part of a means of attacking the True City, don't you think you perhaps have better things to do than standing around here and arguing metaphysics with a "freaky doll"?"

That's all the invitation she needs. She disappears down the stairs without another word or backward glance, the bell clamped against her side so she doesn't give in to the urge to ring it in its smug face. Somehow, it seemed like she might be able to learn more if they were moving and relatively talkative.

She fumes the entire way down the stairs, and stalks the rest of the way through her search of the fourth floor before finally starting to calm a bit. She and doesn't find anything else that would seem to be out of place, or even interesting, unless she considers old chairs that are at least a few centuries out of style to be interesting. In which case, she should probably get out more.

Once she's finished her search, and brushed off most of the dust that's now clinging to her from rooting through forgotten rooms, she's ready to head downstairs and search the third floor. Of course, that leaves her with the question of where to start. The king's rooms (formerly Oberon's, now Random's) are on that floor, as are Dworkin's. There's something of a long-standing taboo in Amber that NO ONE can go into a Royal's rooms without permission, and those two are probably the last people she wants to piss off if they catch her in there and don't feel like the exigencies of the current situation justified that sort of thing. Then again, what if there's some vital clue or piece of evidence in one of those rooms?

There's also a sort of gym/sparring room on the third floor as well - though considering her luck, there's probably a crazed doll with a rapier in there, ready to run her through - and the upper balcony of the library.

Desta considers the issue of the royal chambers and the other rooms as she goes to check the library first. On the one hand, she is fairly certain this isn't the Amber she's known her whole life and she might be able to convince the appropriate authority figures that the need was enough to warrant a search. On the other hand, there were Royals here, strange though they might be, and utterly convinced of their own status. So she would have to try to convince them of the need for her to search the rooms…

She reaches the door leading to the library balcony before coming to a decision.

Inside the library, she can see most of it from her higher vantage point. It looks almost identical to the library she remembers - except for two significant details. First, there's no drums off to one side. She remembers there was a bit of complaint about that, when Random set up his drum kit in the library. Of course, he's the king, so while people grumbled, nothing really came of it.

Second, she remembers there used to be a sort of glass display case towards the middle of the floor, where some extra Trump decks used to be. That doesn't seem to be there anymore. In its place, she sees an odd sort of glass table looking thing, with a sort of crystal spire in the middle, and some sort of darker designs ringed around the outer edge. Some sort of new sculpture or something?

Desta leans on the railing for a couple minutes, studying the room and its new addition for a while. Definitely will need a closer look when she gets to the second floor. But for now, nothing else interesting means she next checks the gym. Cautiously. Her caution is not needed, though, as she finds the room empty. Well, empty of people and suspicious evidence, anyway. There's a number of weights off to one side, some weapons (practice and otherwise) hanging on the walls, and some mats piled up off to one side, but nothing that really draws her eye.

Desta sighs quietly to herself when she observes the empty room. Closing the door again, she tilts her head first to one shoulder, then the other, stretching the muscles of her neck. She rolls her shoulders and shakes out her arms. She'd become very tense in the past few hours, and she was beginning to feel it. On the other hand….

She turns away from the door and looks down the hall towards the Royal Chambers. There wasn't anything else to distract her from that decision now - one way or another. She rubs her left wrist a little bit, more out of habit than from any pain left over from the slight sprain of a week ago. She hadn't ever expected to miss Julian. More accurately, she hadn't really thought about it one way or another. Still, though he wasn't the warmest individual, she missed him.

As she walks towards the door to the Royal Chambers, she reflects that probably she just missed normalcy, not really Julian. Whatever.

Reaching out, hesitantly, she almost touches the doorknob, then pulls back. No, no. Hastiness wasn't required. She leans over instead, putting an ear to the door and listening for sounds from within. Nothing is stirring that she can hear, though. Of course, that could mean that someone is inside and just being quiet. And those dolls don't seem to be very active until someone sets them off, so for all she knows, there could be a dozen of them in there, silent like corpses.

Trying the door, she finds it locked. It's probably not an impassable barrier, though. She might be able to pick the lock somehow, and as a last-ditch attempt, she could probably smash the door in with a little effort. She stands in the hallway for several very long moments, indecisive. The place was so very quiet. Not even a distant call of birds. Squaring her shoulders, she squats down in front of he door, puts the bell carefully down on the floor next to her, and gets to work on the lock.

After a short time, a soft click comes from the lock, and the door is open. Fortunately, there didn't seem to be any poisoned needles or other traps set off by her tampering, though she probably wouldn't put that sort of thing past some of the elders.

The door opens without a single squeak from the hinges, and she's looking in on the empty parlor area of the king's rooms. It's somewhat sparsely decorated - a few comfy pieces of furniture, a couple of sculptures, a painting on one wall and a woodcut on another, a deep red carpet on the floor.

Desta peers around the room through the doorway first, not having entirely convinced her feet that she really did want to go inside. She sees nothing blatantly out of the ordinary; fortunately, there don't appear to be any killer dolls or homicidal monarchs waiting directly inside… but the possibility still remained.

Sneaking quietly through the room, she approaches one of the two doors of the suite, while trying to keep the other two doors in sight. After all, the last thing she wants is to get ambushed in here. Reaching the other door, she slowly pushes it open, and finds herself looking in at what appears to be a study. At one end of the room, a fireplace rests in the wall, cold and unlit. On the wall over the fireplace, a silvery sword rests on display pegs. At the other end stands a sturdy antique desk made of some dark wood with some sort of ebony box sitting on it. Along one wall rests a line of bookcases, each filled with countless books, and another deep red rug takes up most of the floor.

There is clearly no one inside.

Desta walks around the study, quickly perusing the layout and contents for later reference, if needed. Nice place. Stuffy. The red carpet is reminiscent of blood on the floor, a little lurid maybe. As she looks around, she doesn't see anything out of the ordinary or suspicious. For the most part, the books, decorations, and furnishings just look like what you'd expect from a royal with access to infinite Shadow and their own particular ideas about what is worth keeping.

As she gets to the desk, and flips the lid open on the dark box, a golden glow spills out. Inside, a yellow gemstone (topaz, maybe?) hangs on a silver chain. Idly, it occurs to her that, aside from the color, it looks a lot like the red gem she's seen Random wear on ceremonial occasions in the past.

Desta closes the lid of the box carefully, and with a last glance around, heads to the other room for a similar look over. She wants to get this done quickly before someone walks in on her. Sneaking into the other room, she finds the expected bedroom. King-sized bed (naturally), more evidence of red as the dominant color scheme here (red satin sheets, for one thing), and any number of personal items here and there around the room, like a silver hair brush sitting atop a dresser.

Taking a quick peek into the armoire, she notices a number of outfits. Oddly, they're all female, and they're all red. Suddenly, it occurs to her that she's been thinking of these as the king's rooms, but red isn't Random's color, and neither was it Oberon's. But Andromeda seemed to favor the color, and she did claim to be Queen…

Red. Too guady. Desta finishes her perusal and leaves everything as she found it. She checks to see if she can lock the door on the way out, so it's not obvious someone broke in. Either way, the doors are shut as she departs from the room.

She stands in the hallway for a time, pondering. So many more places to go, things to see, and possible trouble to get into. She gnaws on a thumbnail as she walks slowly down the hall, hardly noting where her feet were taking her. "Dworkin's" rooms… would there be an equivalent in this strange place? Some sort of alternate crazy old sage? Not that she knew much about Dworkin except for a name and some weird stories - the sorts of stories you heard on stormy nights in front of a flickering fire.

Looking up, she realizes she's back at the stairs leading up, the last remaining rooms on this level to be searched behind her. Even so… something was drawing her away, some residual curiosity, back upstairs.

Following the urge, she climbs, first to the fourth floor, and then she makes her way to the stairs to the West Tower. A little chill passes over her as she peers upwards again. But… well… there was only one way to tell. Setting foot to the stairs again, she heads back up. She wants to know, is the doll still there? Aiden, it said its name was. Warlock. Was he - it - still there? Was he doing anything? Or was it perhaps back in its chair, waiting for the next person to come along and… well… activate it? Activate seemed like a good word.

She climbs slowly and quietly back to the top and finds the door ajar. Did she leave it open behind her when she stormed off, or did the doll take the opportunity to slip away while she was gone? Followed by the awful thought - if these dolls are only "turned on" when someone interacts with them, and Desta's search keeps setting them off, what mischief might they be up to once she's out of sight?

Peering inside the doorway, she tries to see if the doll is still inside. After a few seconds, she notices that Aiden is still there, facing away from the door, hands clasped behind his back.

"I knew you'd be back eventually. Though I must confess, you returned sooner than I anticipated."

Desta shrugs, trying to appear nonchalant. "I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about the rest of your family," she says. Stepping through the doorway into the Tower, she's struck by an odd desire to… to touch it. Was he warm like a living creature, or cold like the dead? Was it hard like wood, or soft like flesh? Keeping her hands to herself, she edges around him, giving it a wide berth, going over instead to the telescope.

"Oh?" He paces through the room himself, almost like the two are binary stars, orbiting each other. An appropriate metaphor for this place, perhaps. "And what, precisely, did you want to know?"

"You said probably I'm here 'cause one of the others created me, or because someone wants me to be a distraction while they do…" she waves her free hand in a vague, circular motion, "whatever it is they do to attack Amber. Or something. So I was thinking… it'd be good to know where the others are in the castle, so I don't bother them accidentally. You've been real nice about it, and so was Queen Andromeda, but I don't want to push my luck while I try to figure out how to get out of here."

He chuckles. "I am not my sisters' keeper. Nor my brothers', either. Where any have taken themselves, I could not say." But then it tilts its head, looking almost thoughtful. "Though I suppose it's true that we all have our particular biases and habits… and some are more predictable than others. Leander is probably somewhere in Rebma. And Calandra is almost certainly somewhere in Arden. The others may be somewhere in the castle, in the countryside, or even somewhere in Shadow."

She nods, filing away that appropriately vague information. Leaning down sort of sideways, she looks through the telescope to see if there's anything of interest within sight. Like, is the lighthouse on a peninsula after all? Anything visible in the town (such as, um, people), anyone on the ship currently docked? Maybe her eyes just aren't sharp enough.

She turns a telescope out across the landscape. Apparently, Cabra is indeed a tower standing on a rocky peninsula rather than an island, but for that matter, it doesn't precisely look like a lighthouse, either. More like a large, jet-black spire. As she sweeps across the city, she still sees no real signs of life. As for the boat in the harbor, it seems empty of crew as well.

"Well, huh." She takes her eye away from the telescope and leans on it, looking out over the landscape again, not really at anything in particular. "Why do you have a city without any people in it?" she asks. "If you create the people whenever you want, wouldn't you just make up the city then? Can you not get rid of things that have been created?"

He chuckles. "Creation and destruction are not such casual things. Each takes a degree of effort - and the greater the act, the greater the effort. Would you build a new theater whenever you wish to put on a play, then tear it down again once you've finished? It is more convenient to leave the stage in place, then merely cycle through scripts and actors as required."

"Besides, the castle, the city, the kingdom - they tend to be comfortable in their familiarity. We've grown accustomed to the setting."

"And I thought my life was solitary," she mutters to herself. Straightening up again, she looks again at Aiden. "May I—" she breaks off, looks down, flustered all of a sudden. "Never mind. I'll go now." She skirts the edge of the room back to the door.

"Hmm?"

"Thanks again, highness," she tells Aiden when she reaches the stairs and begins down again. Her next destination is the library on the second floor.

She hurries downstairs, ultimately finding herself outside the large doors on the second floor that lead to the library. Once inside, she finds it looks much the same as it did from the third floor - which itself looked much like she remembered it looking from before (assuming her memories are real, of course).

Desta scowls a little bit at the idea of faked memories, as though to keep in practice. She has no doubt that her memories are real. Whether or not the Amber she knew was the "true" Amber… that might be up for debate, and was probably a question for more discerning minds than hers. But she refused to even consider the fact that she herself wasn't real in some way, that her life really existed, even if only in Shadow.

Shaking off those thoughts, she walks up to the odd crystal table and stares into the glass, trying to divine some purpose in its design. From close up, it's easy for her to see that its some sort of round table. The spire sticking up from the middle doesn't seem to have any purpose other than decorative. What draws her interest, however, is the table itself. From above, she could see what looked like dark markings ringed around the table, but from here, she can see them for what they are - Trumps. It seems like, for whatever reason, this table was designed as a sort of Trump display, with about a dozen (give or take) cards ringed around the circle like spokes on a wheel. They seem to lay just below the surface of the glass, like they were frozen in ice, with no visible means of getting them out.

When she looks at the Trumps closer, she realizes something else - every card seems to show yet another doll.

Desta circles the table slowly, looking at each doll image. She runs her fingers over the glass, to see if she can feel anything from them through the barrier, but if the cards are cold, like normal Trumps, it doesn't seem to transmit through the glass. A display case of Trump… Well, perhaps not any more strange than a display case full of Trump decks. Perhaps. And perhaps more useful.

Finding Andromeda's card amongst the others, she pauses to stare at the card, concentrating on it as she would a Trump in her hand. She feels the faint sensation of connection. Apparently, these Trumps work normally. Passing her hand across the face, she breaks contact before it's fully established. What luck - if she wants to have even more annoying conversations with irritating dolls, now she's got an easy means of doing so.

Swell.

She stands back a few moments, pondering the table of Trumps. She circles it again. It was handy… and not. Still bizarre.

Getting closer again, she inspects it minutely, but does not find a seam in the glass or a means to open the table and gain access to the cards. Whether it involved magic or some really sophisticated technology, it seems like the Trumps are sealed away fairly well. Tapping the glass (if glass it is) with the pommel of her knife, she notes that it doesn't scratch or mar the surface. Thumping a bit harder, she notices there's still no change. Finally, she gives it a really good hit, smashing it down - and nothing. No cracks, no spider-webbing through the glass, not even a scratch.

Okay, looks like the cards are staying where they are, unless she can think of something potent enough to shatter this thing without taking the Trumps with it. It also looks like they've solved the problem of having unruly princes breaking in and stealing decks out of the library display case by not having decks there to be stolen, but still retaining the ability to contact the others if you lack a personal deck. If this had been in place in Amber back when Eric was still in charge, he might still be alive and sitting on the throne.

Clever.

Maybe.

Desta leaves off with that for now, and goes over to the shelves. Pulling a book down, she flips it open, and sees that it's apparently completely blank. Hundreds of pages, no writing of any kind. She moves on, but the next book is exactly the same. Moving to a completely different bookcase, same story. And again. And again. Just when you think this place wasn't creepy enough…

It would literally take days to go through ever book in the library, but it seems like it might be fairly safe to say that they're all going to be like this.

Desta leaves the books scattered on some tables. Surely, this magical wonder castle could clean up its own library books. She checks the rest of the room to make sure there's nothing else out of the ordinary, then heads out again to the next phase.

This leaves us at the rooms of the Royals - probably both the locals as well as the living "extras" - not to mention "Dworkin's" rooms still upstairs. And she realizes that it's been a while since she put anything in her stomach besides some bread. She looks down the hall at the doors to all the rooms, and decides to test out the castle. There was a smaller dining room on the second floor in the castle in her Amber… She heads that way now, imagining a hefty supply of cold water and a tasty spread of food unaltered by drugs or magic.

…not that she'd be able tell one way or the other…

She finds that the upstairs, "casual" dining room is indeed there - and there is indeed a supply of food and water sitting on it, as if waiting for her. Desta wanders around the room, looking out the windows, inspecting the art on the walls and generally avoiding the table for a while. On the one hand, there really wasn't much to be gained in poisoning her at this point; obviously simply killing her wasn't the immediate object of whatever plan was in motion. At the same time, it was possible her encounters with walking, talking dolls was due to something in the bread she had already unwittingly eaten. In which case, should she really have more?

She circles the room twice before deciding she wasn't all that hungry, actually, though the water sure seemed like a good idea. Leaving the room and food behind, she goes back to the hallway. Time to decide what to do about the rest of her investigation. Surveying the hall, she starts first by testing doors to see if they are locked, starting with the one closest to her and just trying them in succession.

Once she begins her search, she finds the first few doors locked. Not entirely surprising, considering how paranoid most of the royals are (at least the ones she knows, anyway). Eventually, however, she comes to a door that seems to be unlocked. Slowly opening it, Desta peers around the doorway first, taking in the sense of the room and its contents before venturing any farther. She sees it is a parlor that looks only sparsely furnished, as if the occupant rarely spends much time in the castle. What furniture can be seen tends towards shades of grey and black, shades of violet, and lavender. In one corner is a large mirror with an ornately carved amethyst frame.

In for a lamb…

Squaring her shoulders, she slips through the door and props it open with a nearby chair before checking out the inner room. She passes into the bedroom area, which appears to be similarly empty of both people and dolls. It also seems to be just as sparsely furnished, and decorated in the same colors. There are some decorations on a dresser, including a white-jade figurine of a dancer, and what looks like a Venetian Carnevale mask (not that Desta's ever heard of either Venice or Carnevale) made out of some sort of iridescent stone-like material.

She takes a turn around the room, stopping to look with curiosity at the decorations. Very nice. She's careful not to touch anything unless necessary, and doesn't dig through the drawers. Everything here seems just a little odd anyway; it's hard to pick out the odder from the general oddness unless it's glaringly obvious.

Like… well, never mind.

Remembering the Royals' thing about personal colors and such, she mentally reviews the images of the Trumps in the library as she head s back into the parlor, identifying a probable match with the owner of the room. Pausing in the doorway between the two on a whim, though, she brings her bell up and rings it - once - to see if anything happens. As far as she can tell, though, nothing happens.

Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Muffling the bell against her clothes again, she unprops the door and pulls it shut before continuing with her survey of the castle contents. She makes sure it latches.

She reflects as she walks to the next door to test. It would seem as though that "person" didn't visit the castle often. Of course, that tells her very little, unless her guess on the identity of the occupent is accurate. In which case, it still says little. She shrugs mentally to herself. This was the nature of survey and scouting - usually a bunch of nothing, but hopefully more at the end of the foray than you had to begin with.

She is brought out of her thoughts when, surprisingly, the very next door she tries is unlocked. Peeking in, she sees what can only be described as a primal opposite to the room she was just in. While that room seemed barely lived in, this one looked like the occupant spent a large portion of their life there - and never bothered to clean up after themselves.

A black leather recliner sits towards the middle of the floor, a number of books piled next to it. A bookcase stands against one wall, gaps and irregular spaces punctuating the places those other books must have originally come from. A writing desk sits at one side of the room, covered with crumpled up papers. An easel sits on the other side of the room, a half-painted canvas resting upon it, apparently showing what was intended to be some sort of cave-like room, filled with bookcases, strange alchemical-looking bottles and flasks, and a few skulls from various species of animal (including a few that look fairly human, and some that look like no animal she's ever seen before). A number of finished paintings lined the walls, all seemingly by the same artist (at least, as far as she can tell). A black carpet with dark grey designs on it covers most of the floor.

This room is much harder to match with an owner, at least from initial impressions. There was a lot of black on those Trumps. When she steps in this room to check it out, Desta picks up a book or two and checks inside for writing, both on the table by the chair and also on the shelf. Inside, again, there is nothing but blank pages, and she tries to put them back just as she found them after looking inside.

The cave painting on the easel draws a long look. A curious subject. Not that she was an art critic or anything, but it seemed to her that an empty cave wasn't very interesting for a portrait. It looked unfinished, though; maybe the finished product would have more to recommend it. Staring at the painting, she half-expects to feel the sensation of a Trump operating, considering how closely the royals seem to identify with that particular form of art. Still, if it was meant to be a Trump, it seems like it wasn't finished to the point where it would function. And perhaps it wasn't meant as a Trump - none of the other paintings seem unusual, either.

Moving into the bedroom, she notices that the mess continues. The bed is unmade, a number of burned-down candles and what looks to be incense lie around the room, and a black dress lies tossed over a chair in one corner.

Apparently this was what happened in a castle without servants. The owner of this room, if in fact it actually was "owned" in the way Desta thought of the term, didn't wish hard enough for the room to tidy itself. Not that Desta worried too much about tidiness in general; she didn't even have her own house. Of course, some of the royals even back in "her" Amber were paranoid about their privacy - it's entirely possible that, even in a castle full of servants, there were rooms that none would be allowed in to clean.

On top of the dresser rests a black metal dagger of some kind, carved with some form of runic writing. Her fingers itch to test its weight, and she picks it up without really thinking much about it. She can tell it's decently balanced for throwing, but she also realizes that's probably not what it was made or used for. She inspects it for a few seconds before putting it back and going back to the doorway and ringing the bell, just out of curiosity, but again, nothing seems to happen.

Desta closes the door behind her when she leaves, making sure it latches. She'd never had much interest in the arcane arts, much to Alima's occasional disappointment. Now, of course, it'd be nice to know a bit more than she did. The search is far from over, and though due diligence demanded she continue, she wondered what she would actually find that would be of use. And what more she might find otherwise. Well, at least she had covered a fair bit of the first floor already. Sighing quietly to herself, she continues on for now. The next door is locked. As is the next, and the one after that.

She's about a half-dozen doors down the hall before she finally finds another one that's unlocked. Slowly opening the door and peeking in, she sees a room comfortably furnished in shades of black and grey. Almost nothing is visible apart from the furniture, however - either the owner is extremely tidy, or they don't spend much time in the castle. There's a bookcase and writing desk off to one side of the room, though odds are that it's just more blank white paper.

The bedroom is, if anything, more neat than the parlor. A smooth black vase rests on one dresser, and a silver hairbrush sits next to it. A black dress with silver trim lays on the bed, as if the occupant was planning to wear it, but hasn't yet returned to put it on. There are no signs of anything unusual in this room. In fact, there's barely any signs of use. Even the last room, messy as it was, seemed more like a mess caused by neglect rather than any sort of catastrophe.

If there are any real clues to her particular mystery to be found in the royal's rooms, she has yet to find them. Though as she starts assigning the rooms she finds with the Trumps she saw in the library, it is starting to seem like she really is in their Amber, rather than them simply having been dropped in hers.

Hmm. In their Amber…

That's a nice thought… except that this doesn't actually seem much like a real place. Desta never had a dollhouse, but her friend Felda had a plain one. The concept seemed very similar. She shuts the door behind herself on that room, moving on to the next. It would be interesting to find out if there were 12 unlocked rooms on this level belonging to the doll Royals.

Along she goes, past some more locked doors. The next one she comes to that opens, her peek inside shows her a cascade of earth tones - multiple shades of brown, tan, and green. Oddly enough, in a way, it almost reminds her of Arden. Though the large tapestry of an arboreal scene complete with a stag rearing near a stream probably doesn't hurt that illusion.

Glancing around the room, she notices two overstuffed chairs, both medium brown, and a dark brown thick pile carpet. A wooden coffee table sits between the two tables, and another table in one corner holds a dish filled with brightly-colored marbles of various shades and hues.

On a shelf, there sits a perfectly clear glass sphere, somehow containing a carved jade ship, resting in a black wooden base.

If Desta made it a habit of smiling, one might have crossed her face when she looked into this room. As it was, she felt herself relax a bit as she stepped through the door, the tense muscles of her neck and shoulders easing. While it made sense for the mystery probably being centered around the castle, looking at the tapestry made her realize her deeper fear of visiting an Arden that wasn't. The castle with walking, talking dolls was strange enough, but it at least wasn't her home. An Arden with no animals was just too wrong to contemplate.

She drifts around this room a little less quickly than the others, eventually pausing to look at the crystal with the ship. Picking it up after a few moments, she slowly tips the sphere, and as the crystal tilts, so does the ship. Apparently, it looks like it's just a decorative object, and not some mystical artifact. Well, at least it's not a mystical artifact that keeps the ship always right-side up, anyway.

Desta puts the orb down again, a little disappointed. It would be far more interesting if the ship stayed upright. Heading into the bedroom, she finds a room that continues the same color scheme. The bedcovers are particularly fluffy, there are a number of pillows, and - dead god - it actually has a cute little stuffed dog in the bed.

Here's a question - if you're in a kingdom of dolls, is a stuffed animal their version of wildlife? Or do they see them the same way normal people do? Does Desta have to worry about the thing coming to life and biting her leg? The stuffed dog warrants a closer look, and she sits on the bed next to it to touch the plushy fabric.

Nothing seems to happen, though. The dog doesn't leap up and start moving when she pets it… apparently, a stuffed animal is just a stuffed animal here. Raising her eyebrows in some bemusement, she shrugs and gives the thing a pat before standing again. Glancing around at the rest of the room, she decides she hasn't missed anything really important, and feels like she's probably seen everything worth seeing in these rooms.

Moving on, she returns to the hallway, and tries a few more locked doors. She's getting to a point where she's running out of doors; she's tried nearly every bedroom on the second floor. With just a few left unchecked, she finds one last door that isn't locked. Peeking inside, she sees a suite that looks ornately decorated - a number of sculptures (both stone and gold) stand around the room, a bookshelf off to one side holds a number of small statuettes and tiny figurines carved from various metals and gemstones, and a few elaborate paintings hang on the walls. In the center of room, two black chairs with gold trim and a white loveseat with gold trim sit around what appears to be an ornately carved table. A dark grey plush carpet covers the floor.

Funny how the messiest room in the castle also seemed the most natural of the bunch. Most of the rest of the rooms didn't have any sort of lived-in feel, though given the nature of the residents… Well, maybe that wasn't too surprising. Desta walks slowly through this room, glancing curiously at a couple of the sculptures. Black, white, and gold.

"Well, well, well. What luck I appear to have, that such a vision of loveliness would deliver itself to my door."

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The voice is unmistakably male, husky and sensual. A faint lilt of amusement colors the words. When Desta turns to see where the voice is coming from, she sees the elegant-looking doll coming from the bedroom.

"Ah, I beg your pardon," Desta says, backing away a couple steps towards the outer door as the doll approaches. "I'm sorry to intrude." She gives him a little bow, keeping her eye on it the entire time.

"Oh, come now. No need to be nervous around me… I don't bite." He chuckles, leaning languidly against the doorframe. "In all things, I am a perfect gentleman. Unless, of course, the lady I'm with prefers otherwise." His head tilts, and his eyes play over Desta. She gets the odd suspicion that he's undressing her with his eyes.

This would definitely not be Desta's department, and she looks away nervously, her cheeks reddening. A couple more steps and she's even closer to the door. "I doubt you'd bite, since your mouth doesn't really move," she comments.

He chuckles again. "On the other hand, the rest of me moves quite effectively." He stands straight once more, raising a hand to his mouth. "Ahh, but I forget my manners. I am Prince Prospero." And with that, he bows floridly, eyes never leaving her face. "And does the vision of loveliness I have the honor of addressing have a name?"

"I'm Desta," she answers. Once she is close to the door and feels able to escape at need, she stops, more comfortable with the situation. At least he's seemingly not annoyed by her intrusion in the room. "It's nice to meet you, your highness."

"Desta… such a beautiful name. Fitting indeed, all things considered." He walks to the center of the room, sitting down in the loveseat casually, arm draped across the back. "So tell me, oh siren, what brings you to my warm and inviting rooms?"

"I'm searching the castle for clues as to why I was brought here, and how to get away," she answers, still not quite looking at Prospero. She realizes that she's gripping the bell much too tightly again, and forces her fingers to relax. "Queen Andromeda seemed to be concerned as well."

"Andromeda can be an overdramatic ass at times." He shrugs. "I'm sure there's nothing to be overly concerned about. And why would you want to leave, when there are so many pleasures to be found here?" He tilts his head, and she can almost imagine him smiling wryly. "Why, I'm sure if you'd just relax, you might find that you don't actually want to leave after all. If nothing else, I'm certain I could make you feel more… comfortable."

"Um, I'm not done looking through the castle yet," Desta says, color creeping into her cheeks again. Just when she was getting a little used to the castle doll thing - just a little - then she runs into this… guy? Thing? It's not like she hasn't taken an amorous admirer down a peg or two before, though never a Royal of course. But the whole doll thing… wow… She tries not to shiver visibly.

Taking a breath, she looks at Prospero, trying to be professional. "Do you have any ideas about who might have, er, summoned or created or whatever you want to call it, me here?" she asks.

"I haven't the faintest idea, but clearly, they have excellent taste. Should you ever discover it, feel free to let me know as well - I'd like to compliment their work. But come - surely, your search can wait for a time. Amber was not built in a day, and haste makes waste, as they say. Sit, rest, stay for a while. The castle will still be here later." He gestures towards the empty seat next to him.

Desta shakes her head. "You're, um… Thanks for the compliments, highness, but I can't stay. I don't really belong here, you see."

"Oh, I don't know. I'd say an attractive young lady will always belong in my rooms." A faint laugh, and he rises once more, holding a hand out towards her. "And if you do not know why or how you are here, how can you say you don't belong? Perhaps this is the proper place for you after all. With me."

She frowns in a sort of gauging, thoughtful way as he holds out his hand. Her eyes narrow a little as she considers the doll. "I'm curious, though," she admits finally, very quietly, looking down again, and color floods her face. "If you're… you're… what… whatyouallfeellike." It all comes out in a rush, and she backs up another step. "Could I… I mean, would you mind if… You know, like your hand."

He - It? He? - chuckles again, and its hand is still extended, invitingly. He says nothing, merely tilting its head, slightly. She has to think about it for a couple seconds before stepping forward and touching his hand first with one finger. She looks at the doll carefully while she does so, rather like a wild creature watching for sudden moves.

As she makes contact, she doesn't feel the ceramic cold she expected, but warmth equal to her own. The hand seems solid and unyielding - more or less what she'd expect from a statue, yet definitely smooth and warm.

"There… that wasn't so hard now, was it?" he says. And then, before she can react, he takes her extended hand, and raises it to his lips, as if kissing it.

Desta's hand twitches in reaction, but she's not entirely surprised by his action and so doesn't pull away immediately. It seems a fair exchange. "Thanks," she says, not answering his question directly. "I was just curious. I'll be going now."

"Oh come now. Don't rush off. Not when things were just starting to get interesting."

She shakes her head, expression squinching up in discomfort. "You've been real nice and all, and I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but… I just can't see it. 'Cause… well, you know, you're uh…" She trails off, unable to finish the sentence.

"Hmm?"

Desta pulls her hand out of his, stepping back to the door again. "You're a doll, okay? I'm not. Please excuse me," she says, and slips out the door into the hallway again.

She rushes away, half-expecting the doll to chase after her, or try to stop her from leaving. It doesn't, though - it doesn't even cry out or call for her to come back as she makes her escape. She walks a ways down the hall quickly to give herself some space. But then she slows, shaking her head ruefully. So much for coolness under pressure. She takes a deep breath and comes to a stop, looking up and down the corridor. What next?

Well, there was a suite of rooms upstairs still unchecked, as well as a good number of rooms on this level. All were behind locked doors, though. She could try to break into all those rooms, or she could continue with all the unlocked and come back later. Or…

Going to the approximate center of the second floor - and theoretically close to the center of the castle, maybe - Desta finds a spot to lean comfortably against the wall. It's possible all this footwork wasn't completely necessary. Taking a relaxing breath, she focuses her awareness out around her, extending to see she encounters any sense of wrongness or irregularity.

Closing her eyes, she concentrates on the world around her, bringing her heart-rate down, making sure she's completely calm after her last experience. To an outsider, it might even seem like she's meditating. Of course, closing her eyes isn't strictly necessary, but cutting out extra visual distractions helps her other senses to extend farther, be more sensitive…

…and nothing. While she believes she managed to sense nearly all of the second floor (and quite a bit of the area both above and below it), there doesn't seem to be anything radiating that tell-tale sense of wrongness she's learned how to look for.

Which, of course, doesn't mean that everything here might not be incredibly wrong, but it doesn't seem like the source stems from Chaos. Or that, if it does, whoever was responsible was damned good at covering their tracks.

She opens her eyes and stands upright again, stretching a bit. Ah, well. That would undoubtedly have been much too easy. Well, then. May as well finish the job so she can go on to something else. With that resolved, Desta goes back up to the third floor. There was a suite of rooms she had not yet checked on, with her name on them, so to speak.

Getting to the door, she finds it locked. All things considerd, not surprising, but she sets about changing that circumstance. Soon enough, she's managed to unlock the door. Peeking inside, she sees a sparsely decorated parlor room, with a few wooden chairs and a threadbare rug. Compared to the opulence of some of the other rooms, it almost seems like she's stepped into a peasant's hut. There's a door off to the right, and another directly ahead. Both seem to be set off with stout wooden doors, and the one straight ahead actually has another lock on it.

Another puzzle piece.

Desta hesitates in the doorway, her feet still not entirely on board with this idea. But when nothing jumps out immediately, she steps into the room to finish the search on this floor. She props the outer door open and passes around the outer chamber, looking everything over. She doesn't find anything of interest in the outer room - indeed, it barely looks like anyone even lives in these rooms. Cracking the unlocked inner door open, she peeks inside, and realizes that it's a bedroom. It's an incredibly messy bedroom, at that, complete with tons of stuff on the floor, clothes thrown around the place, and even a few stains here and there on the bedding, carpet, and walls.

Desta's heard rumors that Dworkin either used to be insane, or still was. This room certainly looks like what you'd expect from an insane person's bedroom. Aside from spending some time cleaning the room - something she's not very interested in - it doesn't seem like there's much she can do in there. She does wander through it, picking her way carefully amongst the flotsam, but nothing catches her eye - if there's anything interesting in this room, it's probably buried under years of clutter. Thank heavens for small favors that the occupants of this castle don't seem to eat. Otherwise she would likely be finding month-old half-finished meals perched here and there in the mess.

Leaving that room, she examines the other lock. It doesn't look extremely complicated, nor does it appear to be magical (not that she's an expert on that sort of thing, though). She's almost certain she could pick it without anything exploding in her face.

Desta crouches down in front of the door and begins to work on the lock, being as careful and patient as she is able. The thing about lock picking is the patience with the little hitches and details, something she had had to work on quite a lot after Julian accepted her into his care.

Funny what the mind brings to the fore in times like this, though. It wasn't memories of lessons in weapons or scouting or even lock picking that drifted through her thoughts as she worked. It was a stray memory, one she hadn't thought of much recently, of the first gift she'd gotten from someone who wasn't her adoptive mother. Felda had given her a doll, a worn and faded, much loved rag doll. Desta had once admitted to not having any dolls, and Felda had gifted her with her own favorite doll that she'd had since she was a baby. Desta wondered if Alima's house existed in this Amber, with the attic room where she'd grown up, the doll sitting on a shelf, waiting for her.

She frowns a little. No surprise to find herself thinking about dolls right now. The real question was, if the dolls are running around like they own the place, what would she find if she actually went looking for a doll? Hopefully, it wouldn't be something disturbing like finding a miniature Desta or something. Creepy.

More creepy than a miniature Desta would be a full life-sized one. Maybe.

Maybe not.

She finishes with the lock and the door swings open, her other thoughts vanishing as she looks curiously around the newly revealed room. What she sees is another sparsely decorated room, where utilitarianism has clearly replaced fashion. Two walls are lined with bookcases, which are themselves crammed full of books at odd angles and sitting in piles (and a number of books lay in heaps upon the floor as well). The other two walls have a number of shelves containing odd-looking curios and strange unidentifiable bottles and jars.

In the center of the room stands a massive desk, covered with papers, books, and assorted writing and drawing implements. Towards the back of the surface area, there are two small drawers, and a third larger one sits beneath it. A wooden chair sits behind the desk, with a ragged tunic draped over it.

Another wooden door stands closed in the right side of the room, though it doesn't appear to have a locking mechanism like the other two. It does, however, have some heavy-duty metal bindings on it, as if whoever built the castle foresaw a need to reinforce this door for some reason.

Something compels her to check these books and the papers on the desk… just in case. There are a lot to choose from, both on the floor, the desk, and of course the shelves. Unsurprisingly, the books are yet again blank, like all of the others she's seen in the castle so far. The same can be said of the papers. While she's going through the papers on the desk, though, she discovers something else: Trumps. About a dozen of them scattered across the desk.

She sits down in the chair and gathers the cards together, looking them over one by one. All of them appear to be places, and none of them look familiar to her.

…a jet-black tower, framed by a pink sky…

…a small oasis surrounded by a vast desert…

…a stained glass window, depicting some sort of fiery angel…

…a port city under a twilight sky…

…a ring of standing stones in a dark and brooding forest…

…a stone fortress, flying a flag - pink rose on black field…

…an outdoor temple, circular and seemingly made of obsidian, standing upon a rocky plain…

…a tree-top city built in the depths of a closed-in jungle…

…an oddly-shaped seaweed formation, seemingly under the sea…

…a dark ruined castle upon a scorched and barren plain…

…stone columns overlooking a green river valley, mountains in the distance…

…a delicate tower of gleaming crystal, rising upwards into a starry sky…

…a dark underground cavern, filled with strange grey mists…

Hmm… the same number of Trumps as there were in the Library. All of them have the cool chill she's used to. The backs, however, look different - they show a golden star with thirteen points centered on a field of blue.

On a whim, she pulls out her own Trumps. Most of them show a white Unicorn rampant dexter on a green field. Her own "special" Trumps show a silver serpent twisted around upon itself, on a black background. Interested now, she examines the card given to her by Andromeda, and notices that the back of that card bears the familiar white Unicorn on green of Amber.

…a ring of standing stones in a dark and brooding forest…

Desta holds this card and concentrates her will on it. The card grows colder, the sense of connection, of presence, grows stronger… and she feels the card bridging the distance between where she now stands and the forest depicted, so that all she needs do is step forward and be there…

It was only a matter of time before impulse took over.

First straightening the stack of all thirteen Trumps and adding them to her own collection, Desta steps through the picture made real.

Discovering Arden.
Back to list of Desta's game threads.


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