A/N: Posted this one just to make it look finished. I mean, I do have a continuation in my mind, but... it might just stay in my mind for quite a while. After all, the way I write it, every chapter is a stand-alone episode.
More tea, You Majesty? Nice bust - Gerard's, I mean. So, where was I...
"I didn't hear you come in," I stated. "Did you trump in?"
"Sort of..." he repeated, sounding slightly hesitant. I decided to press the issue.
"What does your 'sort of' mean? You Corwin or not?"
"Corwin. That's my name," he smiled, and I knew something weird was going on, with him, at least. His smile wasn't a typical amberite smile of a person who knows something you don't. Instead, it looked like he was ready to laugh at himself - or at the whole world. I'm not sure if it was meant to irritate me, but it did.
"I've spent lots of time with Fiona lately, you know, so I'm pretty much fed up with ambiguities," I complained, which earned me a sympathetic look. "What brings you here?"
"I came looking for Merlin, but then," he added, pointing to the hand in which I had the spikards, "something else came up".
"You have zero sensivity for such things. How did you know about these?"
"My Pattern found them. Two spikards that close gave it signal strong enough to figure out exact location, so, out of curiosity, it sent me to investigate."
"You're talking like it has a will of its own," I said, feeling that I'm about to learn some disturbing news about the universe I live in.
"Feel free to use the word 'sentient', brother," Corwin nodded.
"But if it is," I noticed carefully, "then so are..."
"...Dworkin's Pattern and Logrus. Yes."
I argued with myself a little on whether to get sentimental over the stuff I'd just learned, then convinced myself that I had more practical things to figure out. "Sent you?" I repeated. "So you're working for your own creation now?"
"Ironic, isn't it? Especially considering that my creation is my creator at the same time."
"Creator... You mean, it created you? How?"
"I could've answered that, but you probably mean 'when' and 'where'. About a minute ago, in this room," he said, waving around.
"So, you're not Corwin," I stated.
"How can you tell? I act like Corwin and I have his memories up to the moment when I-he created that Pattern."
I had a feeling I had finally understood what this was all about.
"It copied you," I claimed. Corwin winced at that remark.
"I prefer calling myself a ghost."
"Right. I can see you have an interesting idea on your mind."
I wasn't really surprised that he knew what I had been considering. When it comes to mischievous ideas, two of us are quick in the uptake. "If you mean switching the spikards, forget it. This shouldn't even be considered seriously."
"Why, isn't it the best possible option at the moment?"
"Best? I'd rather keep it for myself, then I could..."
"You could what, Bleys?" Corwin interrupted. "Go to the other side of the universe and try to sort things out on your own?"
"Why not?" I asked, raising my hand with the spikards. "It has all the power I need."
"One thing I learned during the Patternfall War," Corwin said, shaking his head, "is that no power can compensate for the lack of information. Initiative is all that matters right now."
"Okay, maybe you're right here, but if we do it your way, we're sending Merlin right into the eye of the storm, and I'm not sure he's the right man for the job."
"He has an advantage over everyone else caught up in this mess, Bleys. He can see and evaluate situation from both sides."
"Heh, we don't even know which side he is on, for he I bet he doesn't know himself!"
"Don't worry. I know."
"You do? Enlighten me, please. Which side is he on?"
"His own." Corwin stated with a confidence that was getting on my nerves.
"Cool! Now stop being a smart-ass and explain."
"That's your problem, Bleys. You classify any conflict as two-sided."
"It usually becomes sooner or later," I shrugged, "especially major one."
"I hope it won't this time. Some wars better left unfinished."
"Right, so here's the picture: there's Amber ready to feed lead to any unwelcome visitors, there are Courts with all sorts of monsters at their disposal and there's Merlin with... er... nothing?"
"I wouldn't call this nothing," he said, looking at the spikard.
"With all his inexperience, you think this tinkertoy alone will be enough?"
"Of course not. The element of surprise is neccessary as well."
"I could just give it to him, then," I said thoughtfully.
"You'd have to explain how it got to you and why you are giving it to him just like that," Corwin objected. "That would make him suspicious about his chaos connections, and Merlin acting suspicious might spook some people we don't want to be spooked. As funny as it sounds, we want him clueless on this one."
I looked at him examiningly. Something two of us had learned long ago: plans never work out perfectly, whether it's an innocent prank or a full-scaled assault. Some improvisation is always required, and the best plans are those which foresee that improvisation and leave some freedom for it. But now, I was wondering if this one had too much freedom.
"We have no idea what he'd have to go through. Why do you think he's capable of it?
"Because he's just like me. He'll go with the flow till the very end, but at the last possible moment those who believe he has no will of his own will be greatly surprised."
I just kept looking at him for a while, thinking of how much his sympathy for Merlin might affect his objectivity.
"well," Corwin finally asked. "What have you decided?"
"What if I say you aren't convincing enough?"
It was hard not to make that sound provoking, so I didn't even try. Corwin's gaze shifted towards my sword, and I instinctively started studying his garments for hidden weapons. Corwin shook his head.
"We're on the same side here. What if I say I'll keep an eye on Merlin?"
"Boy, ring and ghost," I smirked. "Just enough for a fairy-tale."
"Does that mean yes or no?"
"I'll do as you say, because of your guarantees. And because I owe you."
"You mean your little fall from Kolvir," Corwin smiled; I shuddered.
We were silent for about half a minute. I'm not sure what Corwin's ghost was thinking about, but I was replaying that miserable ascension in my mind.
"One question I never had a chance to ask you," I broke the silence. "Why did you do that? Why did you throw me your only way out of that mess?"
However, by the time I had finished my question, his eyes were looking past me, concentrated expression on his face. Trump call? "My Pattern says there was a large explosion in a shadow in the area of Merlin's whereabouts," Corwin explained. "And it's not TNT."
"Explosion? Looks like they are having real fun..."
"The bad news is, my Pattern is not the only force that noticed it."
"You mean Amber Pattern - or Logrus?"
"Both, I'm afraid. I must go now."
"Why? What can you do?"
"I'll try to get Merlin somewhere safe."
"I have a good place to hide, you know. Nice house with lots of guards..."
"Pattern can reach any place you can reach," Corwin reasoned. "There's only one thing I can think of."
A miniature whirlwind took him away before I could ask anything else. I sighed. Time, time, time. It didn't let me find out where real Corwin was, why he had saved my life back on Kolvir or what Corwin's ghost was planning to do. But, after all, it didn't matter, wasn't important, and he wouldn't have told me the truth, correspondingly. I looked at the spikards and realized they had probably mixed up in my hand. I took one of them, probed it with my wand and put in my pocket.
Now the clean one. I rolled it in my hand and looked at the wand. Not that I expected Delwin to try something like this on me, but... As soon as the crystal ball entered the ring, it started flashing all colors of rainbow. It was strange and unusual, and I had no idea what it meant. However, due to absense of obvious signs of danger I had to conclude that it was nothing but a bizarre side effect of the spikard itself. I put it in place and left the room, trying to figure out whether I'd just done right thing or wrong thing and coming to conclusion that these terms have little use in Amber anyway.