While Shandrin waited for Sebastian, I decided to test out my new surfboard. I pulled out my trump deck, held them vertically with one finger bowing them outward, and then let them fly from my fingers like I was playing 52 card pickup. The cards stuck together in midair, hardened, and transformed into my surfboard. Or should I call it my wave board? The thing could still ride surf, but it could also ride any form of wave. Well, a name is just a name. I figured it didn't matter much.
I climbed onto the board. It was a little shaky, but surprisingly held my weight. I was half expecting it to fall the second I got on. Guess invisible waves were stronger than I thought.
It took a while to get the hang of catching the right waves. However, I soon figured out a pattern and could swoop effortlessly through the air. It was a good thing Sebastian was taking so long, I decided. I was getting in plenty of good practice. Oliver and Shandrin looked pretty bored, though. They had finished packing up the horses almost an hour ago.
Eventually, Shandrin pulled Sebastian through. I brought my surfboard to rest nearby and sat on it. Sebastian's eyes widened.
"Hey! Why does everyone else have cool toys?" He snapped. Shandrin just silently grabbed his hand and led him to where the horses waited.
There were only three mounts. I wasn't a huge fan of the concept of riding on another living thing's back, so I opted out. Luckily, I had an alternative.
"Can't we take the train?" Sebastian asked in exasperation. I sighed. I was not looking forward to traveling with this guy.
"There are no trains that go where we're going," Shandrin said as she led Sebastian to his horse, which was brown with white socks on its front hooves. Oliver had already mounted his horse, which looked almost identical to Sebastian's, though had a white star on its forehead. "Julian mentioned that you know how to ride."
"Yeah. Not really," Sebastian muttered as he struggled to pull himself into the saddle. Shandrin helped him and then mounted her own horse, which was a soft grey with white speckles on its flanks.
Shandrin led the way, followed by Oliver and Sebastian. I decided to take up the rear to keep an eye on Sebastian. I wasn't sure I liked him being so close to Oliver.
The four of us traveled down the mountain that I had learned was called Kolvir and into Forest Arden. Once we reached the forest, I started noticing slight changes to the trees. At first, I thought I must be imagining things, but the changes grew more and more pronounced the more I stared.
"This shit again?" Sebastian muttered.
"Hm?" Shandrin said without turning.
"The weird tree-changing nonsense," he replied. "It happened here before, right before Julian made me fight a bunch of flaming steroid deer."
Shandrin laughed. "Julian only ever seems to hellride to hunt. We're hellriding to find Caine."
"And the difference is?" Sebastian prompted.
"No flaming deer," she replied. "That's a promise."
Sebastian kept muttering. I ignored him and watched the changes. The further we got from Amber, the more obvious they became. After we left the forest, the sky started to change color almost constantly. For one instant, we were at a beach. A second later, we were on rolling plains. My head was starting to hurt.
"This is starting to make me dizzy," I said after a while.
"Is it?" Shandrin asked. "I'm sorry. I have to hellride by scent and sound, so I can imagine that the visuals probably are a little unstable. Do you want to take over?"
"I wouldn't know where to begin," I admitted.
"Just focus on finding Caine," she said. "While focusing on Caine, think about one or two constants that you want to keep the same. Everything else will change, but the constants you chose will stay the same and we'll move closer to Caine. Go ahead. Try it."
I grimaced, but decided to give it a shot. I kept Caine in the front of my mind as my goal and focused on keeping the sky the same shade of pastel orange. The landscape shifted around me, though the sky stayed the same color. I tried it again, this time focusing on keeping the grass. Again, the landscape changed. This was pretty cool.
"How exactly am I doing this?" I asked as I made another change.
"It's the power of the pattern," Oliver answered.
I remembered hearing that the pattern allowed people to walk through shadow. I guess this was what they meant.
"Lemme try!" Sebastian insisted. I finished another change and then reluctantly let him take over. We rode on like that, taking turns leading the hellride and only stopping once for a light lunch. Eventually, the four of us grew too tired to continue. Shandrin guided us to a shadow where it was evening, where we stopped for rest. While Shandrin and Oliver set up camp and made a light supper, I rode my surfboard on the gentle nighttime sound waves. Once dinner was ready, however, I collapsed my board back into a deck of trumps and went to eat.
After dinner, I expected to go right to bed. However, Sebastian piped up. "So, while I was visiting with Dante, he brought up this whole thing about using trumps to tell fortunes. Is that true?"
Shandrin nodded and pulled out her deck. "It's pretty easy," she said. "Jonah, you should try too. It's a good thing to know."
Even though I was tired, I went to her. I supposed it would be best to learn all I could about these strange little cards.
"This spread is pretty straightforward," Shandrin said as she shuffled her deck. "You don't even have to ask a question or anything. It just tells you your current position and what's likely going to happen in the near future." She cut the deck and then slowly laid out a seven-card spread, describing each card's position as she drew them. She turned the last card face up, showing Caine. "These results mean that we're on the right track and that we're going to run into Caine soon." She said before returning the cards to her deck. "The final card represents someone who is either going to cross your path or cross you. You try now."
Sebastian and I both tried to mirror the spread she had done. About half the cards I drew were the same as hers, including the final one: Caine. I guess that meant I had done it right. Sebastian's, however, only had one or two of the same cards. The final one he drew showed a red haired man with sharp features and sunken eyes. Sebastian picked it up and held it out to Shandrin. "Who's this?" He asked.
Shandrin reached out to touch the card and then recoiled with a gasp. "Brand," she murmured.
"Brand?" Sebastian repeated. "Who's that?"
I remembered hearing the name at some point, but I couldn't quite place it. I was fairly positive I had heard the name from Dante, but he had rattled off so many names that I couldn't tie the name to any specific deeds.
"He's the man who tried to destroy the pattern," Shandrin said. "He was the force behind the Patternfall War. He died before I was born, thankfully. What position was his card in?"
"The last one," Sebastian replied.
Shandrin grimaced. "Brand's card means death, rebellion, treachery, and the unknown. It's not a good card to draw in the final spot."
Sebastian silently gathered up his cards. Guess that reading struck a nerve. I returned my deck to its case, chose a bedroll, and curled up. A few moments later, I heard Sebastian's voice again. "Who's this?" He asked.
"Oh, that's Aunt Fiona!" Shandrin said excitedly. "I haven't seen her since I was a young girl. Did you do another reading? What spot was she in?"
"The last one again," Sebastian replied.
"Well then, maybe you're going to meet her soon," Shandrin said. "She's a wonderful person. I'm sure you'd like her."
I sighed and shifted. These beds weren't very comfortable or warm. It would take a while to get used to them.
I wasn't sure how I managed to fall asleep. By the time I woke up, it was already morning. Oliver and Shandrin were both up and trying to bring the fire back to life. I yawned and stretched.
We took our turns wishing each other a good morning, and then I went off a ways to relieve myself. When I came back, I helped with the fire. By this time, Sebastian was stirring. "Ugh," he groaned as he shielded his eyes from the light. "Is there coffee?"
"Not yet," Shandrin replied as she started working on breakfast.
Sebastian got up and started to wander off. "Gunna go take care of business," I heard him say. After a few moments, he was back and rummaging through his bedroll. "Forgot something," he said as he held up his trumps. He turned and walked off again.
Ew. I could only hope that he didn't mean what I thought he meant.
Well, he was gone for a while. That definitely didn't help my suspicions any. He finally came back once breakfast was served and almost gone.
"Are you alright, Sebastian?" Shandrin asked. "I thought you might've trumped me earlier, but you didn't say anything."
Ew. Why was I traveling with this incestuous pervert? I sighed and finished off my food.
Once breakfast was gone, the four of us worked on breaking camp and packing up. As I hauled one of the bedrolls onto the back of Oliver's horse, I noticed a strange rumbling in the distance. "Do you guys hear that?" I asked, looking around to try to spot the source of the sounds. Off in the distance, I noticed a cloud of dust. Did that mean what I thought it meant? "Guys, I think there's a stampede aimed right at us!" I said as I rushed to grab the last few things that were still out.
The horses were growing nervous by the time they were mounted. I transformed my deck in record time and scrambled onboard. As we started the hellride, I turned to look behind me. A lone giraffe was charging, kicking up dust as it went.
"Can giraffes follow us through shadow?" I asked as the landscape started to fade.
"No," Shandrin replied. "Only other people who can walk through shadow should be able to follow us."
I felt relieved. However, when I turned to look again, the giraffe was still hot on our trail.
"It's still after us!" I called.
"That's impossible!" Shandrin called back. The landscape changed again. The giraffe came along with it. "Is it still there?"
"Yup!" I called back. The thing sure was persistent. "Just a sec. I'm going to try something!" I wheeled my surfboard around and went right at it. I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea. Maybe I thought I'd scare it off. Instead, the giraffe just stopped and stared at me. I stopped and stared back at it. This had been a bad idea.
The giraffe lowered its head and stared at my face. It was a little nerve wracking. It then pulled away and started to kick at the dirt. I looked down, shocked. In the dirt, the giraffe had scratched a name. Not just any name, my father's name. Martin.