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THE DYING OF EMBER
(A Parody of Amber, with Apologies to Roger Zelazny)
I woke up slowly, the smell of beer meandering through my nasal
passages. I seemed to me that I had been in this position -- lying flat on
my back -- for quite some time: weeks perhaps. I opened my eyes slowly.
White tiles of a bathroom wall were all that I saw.
I knew at that moment: someone was out to get me.
My skull was pounding as I tried to sit up. I was only partially
successful in this endeavor, for my head crashed into a steel pipe, and I
was sent flying back into the cold tile floor.
Whoever it was, they'd have to stop.
There were beer bottles all around me. The ceiling was spinning slowly.
At last, I managed to stand.
"Corbin?" It was a woman's voice, and it penetrated to the very core of
my brain. I held onto my temples and stumbled backwards. "Corbin?" The
voice grew louder and more painful. I had to sit down on the tub. A
strikingly beautiful woman entered the bathroom just then. She seemed to
be unarmed, wearing only a thin robe. I continued to hold my head with one
hand, making a "shhh" motion with the index finger of my other hand. She
"I tried to move you last night, Corbin, but you seem to be much heavier
than you look. The bathroom floor must have been uncomfortable."
Corbin . . . Corbin. The name sounded familiar. But was it my name? I
"What happened just before I . . . lost consciousness?" I asked.
"Well, you told everyone to have a good time, and you told me I had
"Wait! Everyone, you say?"
"Everyone at the party."
Now I was getting somewhere! Yes, there had been a party. Several
people at the party had been out to get me, but I, being naturally
suspicious, had managed to eliminate them before they had a chance to do me
harm. But why was I there in the first place? Why was I naturally
suspicious? Where did I live? Who were my parents? How much money did I
make a year? Answers, I had none.
"Let me get some ice for your head," she said.
"No!" I grabbed the woman by the collar of her robe. "Tell me how I
got to the party last night."
She suddenly looked very afraid. "Your sister brought you," she said.
"I know that. Which one?" I tried.
"You only have one."
Somehow, I knew she was lying. I had six sisters, two of which were
"You're lying. I have six sisters, two of which are dead."
"Yeah, OK. Anyway, it was Florida. Can I make you some breakfast?"
I wasn't getting much out of the woman, and besides, I was hungry. So I
said, "Sure," and I let her go.
The woman's name was Jackie, I learned, and she made an excellent
omelette. While she was doing so, I sneaked a look through her address
book. There was an entry for Florida, and I memorized the address. During
breakfast, Jackie said, "You seem to be naturally suspicious. Why is
The first words out of my mouth were, "It runs in the family." It had a
ring of truth to it.
After breakfast, I tied Jackie to a chair and took all of the money that
was in her purse. I should have killed her, I know, but I had grown softer
over the years.
My first stop was a barber shop on Ninth Street. Afterwards, I bought a
new shirt and changed, because I hate it when little bits of hair get down
the back of my shirt, although I'm not sure why you would be interested.
I also bought a gun.
I didn't know much. Jackie had called me Corbin, but I was fairly sure
this wasn't my real name. I must have been using an alias. But why? I
looked at my gun. It felt light in my hand. I knew quite a bit about it.
I had used one like it before, I knew. Walking through the park, I broke
it down and reassembled it. What was my profession? Military? Antique
No! A spy, perhaps? It was starting to come back to me now. The name
'Jason' vaulted into my brain. That was it! I was Jason Bourne, master
spy, sent to Europe as bait for Carlos the assassin . . . I was shot during
a storm, on a boat off the coast of France. I was being used by the CIA,
hunted by the KGB and Interpol. I kidnapped a girl at an economics
conference, fell in love with her, found a Swiss bank account . . .
Then the thought came to assail me: Maybe not . It was familiar, almost
too familiar. I checked my body for scars. I had none. I had never had
microfilm sewn into my body. Someone else had, I felt, but that someone
I finally reached the house of my sister.
Her maid answered the door.
"Hello," I said, "I'm Florida's long lost brother, and I'd like to see
After a moment, a tall blonde approached. I recognized her vaguely.
"Corbin," she stuttered. "I'm . . . surprised to see you."
"And I you."
"But this is my house. Why should you be surprised?"
I was trying to fake it, but it wasn't easy.
"Mind if I come in?"
"No, please do."
I walked in. The place was well decorated, and I suddenly remembered
that my sister had a flair for such things. We sat down around a heavy oak
"Why have you come . . . here?" she asked.
It seemed that she possessed the same natural suspiciousness which I had
come to notice in myself.
"I think you know," I said.
"I don't," she countered.
"You're lying," I said.
We sat in silence for a moment. I needed facts, I wasn't going to get
them like this.
"I came because . . . I was hungry," I said. Which was true, actually.
I noticed that, in addition to being naturally suspicious, I seemed to
possess a voracious appetite.
"Oh!" she said, brightening up. "I'll have Carmel make us some lunch."
We sat in mutual suspiciousness until Carmel brought the meal. There
was bread, fruit, wine, and steaks as thick as I had ever seen.
Florida suddenly looked at me very seriously and said, "Corbin, are you
really going to try it?"
I looked at the steaks. They were pink and juicy. I was very hungry
indeed. "Are you kidding? Of course I'm going to try it," I said. I
reached out for the steaks with my fork and knife.
Suddenly she was kissing me. "Oh, I knew it! Good luck, Corbin, you're
going to need it. You'll get all the help I can give you. Erik is strong,
but maybe you can get at him through Boolean or Crane, and then Jerry would
come over and help once he saw what was happening. Ember needs you, and
I'll do everything I can . . ."
"Shut up for a minute, will you?" I told her. I needed to think.
Ember! It meant something big. Yes, that was the key! There was
something there, something incredibly important!
After lunch, Florida left on an errand. I strolled through the house,
looking for clues that would allow me to establish my identity. I started
in the library.
Florida books were mostly picture books. No voracious reader, she. But
I was more interested in her desk than her books. There were some papers
and bills and whatnot, but behind the drawer was a secret compartment. It
was locked and had wires running out to three separate alarm systems, but I
disabled it quickly. In the compartment was a deck of cards. I reached in
and withdrew them.
The cards were cold to my touch. I took them to the kitchen and put
them in the toaster oven for a while until they reached room temperature.
Then I began to go through them.
On the first card was a portrait of a tall man dressed in brown. His
name was Benedictus. I got the vague impression that he could beat the
shit out of me. He was my brother.
From the second card, a man dressed in white armor looked up at me. He
was my brother Boolean. I could beat the shit out of this one.
On the next card was Erik. He had dark hair and a wet beard. I thought
very hard, but I could not remember why his beard was wet. I knew he could
beat the shit out of me, because he had done it once or twice. I hated
Then came Blaise, another brother of mine. Memories flooded into my
head. Blaise was very much like myself, so I concluded that neither one of
us could beat the shit out of each other, although we might enjoy trying.
Next I saw Randy, Band, and Crane. Randy played the drums and was a
card player, I remembered. Band was into magic, and Crane had ambitions of
his own, albeit long-term ones. Ambitions? Toward what end? I didn't
Then I saw myself. I was dressed in black and silver, with a clasp for
my cloak in the shape of a silver rose. I looked strong, confident. I
felt then that should be with my brothers, in Ember!
A heavy-set man was depicted on the next card. This was Jerry, slow but
strong. I could spell words that Jerry couldn't, but that didn't change
the fact that he could really beat the shit out of me.
The next four cards were of my sisters, Florida, Lou Ellen, Didi, and
Felona. I could beat the shit out of all of them, but I wouldn't, because
that would just be mean. Besides, Didi, I remembered, was my favorite
sibling. Felona was some sort of sorceress. Lou Ellen had green hair that
looked a bit like seaweed.
I realized that we were all one big family, an important family. I
needed to get back to the center of things, to Ember. Ember was where we
The phone rang.
I watched it ring. Then I picked it up suspiciously.
"Hello?" I tried.
"Hello. Is Florida there?"
"No," I said. "May I ask who is calling?"
"Who is calling?"
"It's Randy. Who's this?"
There was silence.
Finally, "It's been a long time," he said.
"Yes," I replied.
"Well, I was just calling to ask Florida if I could come by tonight with
a few of my friends. We need a poker table."
"You got an extra chair for me?" I asked.
"Sure thing, brother," he said.
"See you at eight."
Was Randy out to get me? Was he working for *them*? I didn't think so,
but I felt for my gun just in case. Then I heard some noise from the front
of the house. I hastily returned the cards to their secret compartment. I
greeted Florida at the top of the stairs. She looked weary.
"The Road to Ember is . . . unpleasant," she said, avoiding my eyes.
"Of course it is. You seem to be missing some cards," I said.
She looked at me and her face turned red. "You took them, you thief!"
"No, sister, I put them back," I told her.
"I don't know." I wished I hadn't. "In any case, we're having company
"Randy. He's bringing some friends over for a poker game."
"No he isn't."
"Yes he is."
"No, he isn't," she said.
"Yes, he is," I said.
"Last time he was here, his buddies wrecked the place and left it
smelling like cigar smoke for two months."
"That's not my problem."
She sneered and strode away.
"What's for dinner?" I called out after her. I heard her lock herself
in her room, and that was the last I heard from her for quite some time.
I fixed myself dinner as I waited for Randy to arrive.
The knock eventually came, and I answered it. A young man, short, with
shifty eyes, stood on the doorstep. He looked genuinely shocked to see me.
I had to play it cool, had to be very general in my remarks.
"Nice jacket," I tried.
"Thanks," he said.
"Randy," I said, "tell your friends to go home. We're going to go for a
"Okay, brother. Beat it, guys. Where are we going?"
"You want to go back?"
Maybe, I thought.
"Maybe," I said.
I grabbed some car keys from a hook on the kitchen door. "Florida?
Mind if I borrow the car?" There was no answer, so I took that to mean
yes. We hopped into Florida's Mercedes. I let Randy drive. I'd probably
remember how to get to Ember once we got on the highway, but I wasn't sure
whether to turn left or right out of the driveway.
"Are you with me?" I asked him.
"I am always able to detect the quarter of the wind. I'll not sail
against it," he said.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"It is a nautical analogy I learned from Crane. It means, 'yes', but it
sounds a lot better."
I looked out the window. The sky was green and the trees were a pale
shade of blue. I watched Randy's face. The more he concentrated, the more
the environment changed.
We had to stop to fill the car with gas. When the tank was full, Randy
pulled out a gun and shot the attendant, the manager, and two women at the
Coke machine. I was puzzled, but said nothing. It seemed to be rash
behavior under the circumstances, but then again, the years had softened
"Randy," I said. "I have a confession to make."
Suddenly his .44 magnum was in my face.
"If you are planning anything funny, I will blow your brains out."
He was my brother. It may seem strange to you that we go around
threatening to blow each other's brains out, but that is the way of our
"I do not know who I am," I said flatly.
The car screeched to a halt.
"What?" he asked.
"I have lost my memory. I have been faking it. I do not know who I
"It is no joke. Where do we go from here?"
"Well, there is a way for you to regain your memory, but it may be
dangerous, especially if you are not who you think you are."
"I will do it."
"You must walk the Design."
The Design! The word alone struck me with fear to the very essence of
"In Ember?" I asked.
"No, Erik has the Design under guard there. We must go to Rebme, the
undersea kingdom. Queen More will likely help you, although she would feed
me to the fishes. I can accompany you to the shore, but no further."
"Let us go, then, brother," I said. Randy started the car.
"We are travelling through Shade," he said. "Do you remember what that
"No clue," said I.
"Ember casts an infinity of Shades," he said.
"That sounds like an axiom," I replied.
"All roads lead to Ember," he said.
"Another axiom," I said.
"A penny saved is a penny earned," he said.
"I *have* heard that one."
"We are in the Forest of Garden now, very close to Ember," he said.
"Who's the guy on the horse?" I asked.
Outside the window of the Mercedes, a man dressed in white, with long
black hair, rode a mammoth horse, keeping pace with us.
Randy looked out for a moment and said, "That is Boolean. You once
shattered his almost legendary self-control."
"Stop the car," I said.
We slowed and came to a halt. Boolean dismounted and we got out.
"Corbin?" he said. "Is that you?"
"Indeed, it is I. I have returned to, to . . ."
". . . to seize the throne of Ember!" finished Randy.
The throne of Ember? It sounded like a good plan, and besides, I didn't
have anything better to do.
"Yeah!" I said.
Boolean squinted at me. He did not smile or frown.
I struck an aggressive pose.
I stuck my tongue out at him. I poked him on the shoulder. I teased
him about his long hair. I called him names. But he did not move.
At length, he spoke.
"Corbin, I see you are bent on testing my almost legendary self-
control. It is useless."
"Oh well, it is fun to try," I said. "Who is in charge around here?"
"I rule in the Forest of Garden," said Boolean.
"No, no, I mean in Ember."
Erik is in command at present."
"Well, you tell Erik that I'm coming to get him, you hear?"
"I'll do that." With that, Boolean mounted and rode off.
Randy said to me, "We had better get to Rebme before he tells Erik that
you're coming to get him. We will have to walk from here on out."
"Gunpowder is inactive in Amber," he said.
"Oh. Is there a book where all these axioms are written down?" I asked.
"It will come back to you," he said.
We hiked through the woods for a while, then came to a clearing. I
could see the beach in front of us. Randy led the way. Off to the left, I
saw soldiers in red approaching.
"Eric's men!" yelled Randy. "Follow me!"
I followed him to the shore, and down into the water. We were on some
sort of stairway. I felt heavy in the water.
"Br-br-br-ea-ea-th-th-e-e naturally," bubbled Randy.
I found that I could breathe easily in the water. It took fifteen
minutes to reach the bottom of the stairs, which I remembered were called
the Fellow-Bionics, for reasons which escaped me. We were greeted by two
aquatic soldiers and taken to the throne room of Rebme. Randy bowed. I
"You may rise," said the woman on the throne.
"Queen More," started Randy, "I know you hate me, but I must ask a
favor. Corbin here has lost his memory, and he needs to walk the Design to
get it back. What do you say?"
"How dare you come here!" she boomed.
Randy looked at me glumly.
"I said I was sorry," he mumbled.
More turned her attention to me. "Corbin, is this really you?"
"Yes, my lady."
"My highness, not my lady," she said.
"What's she talking about?" I asked Randy.
"Call her her highness, not her lady," he suggested.
"Who's her lady?"
"Enough!" cried More. "Randy, I will consider your request, but do not
think that you have escaped punishment. Corbin, I will see you in my
I bowed and followed her to her room.
"Corbin! At last, we are alone."
"Have we met?"
"Oh, yes. Last time we talked, you said you loved me, that you would
never leave me, and that you wanted me to have your baby."
"Yes, don't you remember? You were going to depose Erik and make me
Queen of Amber."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure. Come sit on the couch, and let me refresh your memory."
I knew she was lying. But I went to the couch anyway. You're probably
interested in the details, with us being submerged in water and all.
The next morning, I found myself in a large room, looking at a floor
brightly etched and glowing. It was the Design. Random and More stood by
my side. Next to my right foot, there were two words cut roughly into the
stone. They read, "START HERE".
"Once you start walking the Design, you cannot turn back," said Randy.
"Why not?" I asked.
He shrugged. "I don't know, maybe you can. I'm just trying to make it
more scary. It's supposed to be scary."
I turned to More. "What is to become of Randy?"
She smiled and said, "He is sentenced to remain in Rebme for six months.
During that time, he will look after a member of my Court. Her name is
Vial. She is a fish."
"A fish?" I asked. "What was Randy's crime, that he now be condemned to
care for an aquatic vertebrate for half a year?"
"He made an awful mess," said More.
"Oh yes. He and his stinking poker buddies."
I shook my head. Randy looked away.
Now I took a long look at the Design. "One small step for man," I said.
I set my foot upon it and began walking. There was little resistance at
first, but it grew as I walked further. Soon, small blue sparks appeared
around my shoes.
Memories! Ember! The Golden City atop the mountain Rivlok . . .
Memories! The Forest of Garden, the River Poisen, the histories, the
stories, my life in Ember . . .
Memories! I saw myself putting a spike in Randy's sandwich, many years
ago. Blaise and I had locked him in a closet . . .
Memories! I had walked the Design before, long ago. Dorky had given me
a Deck and instructed me in its use.
Memories! I suddenly remembered that Randy and I had had the same
mother, which was not true.
Memories! Erik and I had fought, and I had lost. He put me on Shade
Earth, to die in the plague. Damn his eyes! I burned with hatred. All
those years on Earth, not knowing . . . not knowing . . .
By the time I reached the center of the Design, I remembered who I was,
and I remembered my purpose. I also remembered that by virtue of being at
the center of the Design, I could transport myself to any place in the
universe, simply by an act of will. I saw a fleeting shade but ignored it.
I closed my eyes and willed myself to Ember.
I stood in the middle of the library of Ember, a stately room with many
more books than Florida's library had. I immediately noticed several Decks
in a glass case near the far wall. I broke the case and took one. On the
wall above the case hung a longsword. I drew it out. It felt light in my
hand. I swung it about in practice. Yes, I knew how to use the thing.
Suddenly I heard a voice behind me.
"How fare thee, brother?"
I wheeled about. It was Erik. He drew a thin blade from his belt.
"I have come to . . . to . . ." I started.
"To seize the throne?" he suggested.
"Yes, that is my plan."
"You'll have to kill me first!" he yelled as he lunged at me.
I parried his lunge, and he parried my parry. I tried a riposte, but
just then, he came in with a feint in quarte. After a sixte riposte and a
repositioning, I held the edge. I lunged. He backed off, however, and I
failed to make contact. Erik struck for my arm. I had to pull back, and I
almost lost balance. It was too late to pursue the feint-lunge-riposte I
had planned just seconds ago, so I held my ground.
"You seem to remember many technical terms of fencing," Erik said,
sweating pouring down his face.
"You have indeed met your match, brother," I answered.
Our blades clicked again. I maneuvered him around a table.
"Even now I press on," I muttered to Erik.
He was cornered. If I could get a small opening--
There was a pounding at the door!
"My guards," said Erik, as he parried my assaults.
I didn't have much time. They would have crossbows . . . I backed away.
Erik did not pursue me. I fled through a back entrance. By the time I
heard the door crash, I was safely away.
I reached for the Deck at my belt. I had to flee Ember at once. But
who could I trust? I could not go to Rebme, for Erik's guards would be
there. Boolean hated me. I hated Crane. Jerry? Band? Blaise? Yes,
Blaise! He hated Erik as much as I did: he would get me out of this. I
pulled out his card.
"Blaise?" I said.
A tall man with flaming red hair appeared to me. His eyes widened.
"Corbin? You are alive?"
"Yes, barely. Pull me through."
He did so. I stood with him on a cliff.
"Thanks. I just dueled with Erik in Ember. He still lives, however."
"A pity," said Blaise. "I would very much like to see that one dead."
He wiped the sweat from his brow and spoke again. "I have a proposition
for you, brother. Let us join our armies and bring the battle to Rivlok.
Ember will fall to our combined might!"
"But I don't have an army," I said, and I felt foolish saying it.
Blaise sighed and turned away.
"But I can get one," I said.
"Right," he said quietly.
"Okay. You get an army and come back."
I turned. You may think that we treat each other cruelly, but I must
tell you one thing: that is the way of our kind.
I knew that I needed an army in any case, so I left Blaise's camp to
travel through Shade. I needed a large force, perhaps a whole world at my
feet. Yes, that was it. I would seek out a shade in which I was a
Messiah, come to lead its inhabitants to a holy war against Evil. I set
out at once.
I shifted shades, changing the environment as I walked, adding features,
subtracting them . . . a green sky . . . a blue sun . . . no, that's ugly,
how about a purple sun . . . no, not quite . . . a red sun, yes . . . trees
grown higher, forming a canopy far above me . . . no, that red sun clashes
with the green sky, so I change the sky to blue . . . better. I am there,
I saw a city off in the distance. I began walking for it.
"Hey, scumbag," someone said.
A tall, thin man regarded me. His hair was spiked in the center of his
head, which was hairless on the sides. He wore a long glittery earring on
his left ear. He wore leather armor, but seemed to be carrying no weapons.
"Why dost thou accost me so?" I asked.
He only glared at me.
"Look," I said, "isn't this a land which has been waiting hundreds of
years for a Messiah to deliver them?"
"No, this is an anarcho-communist punk metropolis. You want the next
"Oh, thanks," I said. I started off in that direction.
"Hey," he called. "Are you an Emberite?"
"No," I yelled back. Ember's enemies in Shade are legion. Another
I concentrated on my destination as I walked. The shades passed me on
my left and right. I stopped. There was a group of people in front of me.
They were standing on a streetcorner, eight or nine of them.
I drew my sword and started to speak, "Greetings. I--"
They all pointed to the west and said in unison, "Next shade over!"
I smiled weakly.
I put my sword back into its scabbard. I was close.
At last, I came to a world with deep green forests and wide green
plains. I stood atop a hill, and all around me were huddled thousands of
pathetic shade beings. Each one looked up to me eagerly.
"I am Corbin!" I yelled.
The multitude burst into applause. They screamed. They burned their
homes. They sacrificed virgins. I was their god.
For many months, I trained them for their mission. They were eager to
leave, to fight the Evil One, but I had to organize them first. At last, I
had a fighting force I was proud of. I felt a little bad about duping them
like this, but I remembered the words of my father Obelisk, King of the
Golden City: "Never provide a naive individual with information that would
lead to his competition with you on an equal basis."
I decided to play a little joke on my brother Blaise. I took my forces
to his shade and surrounded the valley where his army was camped. At dawn,
I ordered my men down into the valley. I also advanced, but kept myself
As we got close, I saw a figure clad in red silk pajamas come out into
the field. He held a lantern and a sword. He looked sleepy.
"Who goes there?" he called. It was Blaise.
My captains advanced, and Blaise was quickly surrounded by twenty
soldiers. He dropped the lantern and took up a fighting stance. Blaise is
foolish and rash. The joke could not continue. I stepped out into the
"It is I!" I exclaimed.
"Damn you, Corbin!"
We embraced and he slapped me on the back. "You made it," he said. We
walked to his tent. There we made plans to attack Ember. This planning
went on for several days. We opened an old bottle of wine to celebrate our
"So which of us gets the throne after we win?" Blaise asked.
"We'll flip for it," I suggested.
He smiled. He was thinking the same thing I was, and that was this: if
I actually watched the coin fly through the air and reach its peak,
Blaise's dagger would find its way into my bowels before I would have time
to call heads or tails. That is the way of our kind.
"It may not matter, for only one of us may survive," he said somberly.
"This is true, brother. But we are both valiant, exuberant, and rash,
and this increases our chances of success greatly."
"It is true that I am valiant, exuberant, and rash, but I would not
characterize you as such," Blaise said. "I should rather say that you are
a thoughtful man, but also a revengeful one. Also, you are undergoing a
character transformation due in large part to the long years you spent on
Shade Earth, years that have softened you somewhat."
"That is a fair characterization," I said. I jotted down a few notes
based on Blaise's words, for I was planning to write a book about all this
one day. But if we didn't make it to the top of the mountain Rivlok, that
book would never be written.
Finally, the fateful day arrived. Columns of soldiers stretched back as
far as the eye could see. Blaise's troops and mine seemed to get along
very well. I found out later that all of my troops were male and all of
We marched, Blaise and I leading the way through Shade. I wondered if
Erik could sense our presence yet.
Apparently, he could.
Monsoons and lightning storms accosted us at every step. There were
forces working against us. We slogged through hellish swamps and crawled
through infested jungles as densely matted as the hair of a mongrel dog.
The Road to Ember was tough indeed, and Erik wasn't making it any easier.
We lost fifty thousand men in a sandstorm, and another fifty thousand died
as they walked off a cliff that wasn't on the map.
Blaise and I maintained contact via the Deck, coordinating the march and
tallying the deaths. We had but a quarter of our troops when we crossed
the River Poisen. There we bivouacked for two days, in preparation for the
final march to Rivlok. Blaise and I traded deep concerns which we dared
not share with our officers.
In the night, the river flooded, and most of our camps were destroyed.
I knew the river had never flooded before, so I suspected Erik. He had to
have some control over the elements -- the lightning storms, hurricanes,
floods. Where did he obtain this power?
Blaise and I gathered up the thousand men that remained, and we started
toward the base of Rivlok. We had come too far to give up now. We would
make a go of it. Boolean's patrols began to attack, but we beat them off
with minor losses. At last, I could see the mountain and the golden-spired
Along the Eastern Face of Rivlok, from the base to the peak, lay the
Escalator of Ember. Its base was our destination. From there, we would be
borne magically up into Ember itself. We had to make it.
Lightning without rain assaulted the troops. Hundreds of men were
transformed into to smoking shells of life. Damn Erik's eyes! By the time
we reached the Escalator, Blaise and I were accompanied by only twelve of
our fighters. We made them go first. Each one in turn stepped onto the
moving stairway, and as they were carried upward, they drew their swords,
for we could see Erik's men coming down toward us. We would meet halfway
up the mountain.
I too loosened my blade, which I had named Graceland years before, when
I had forged it out of Shade. Blaise lifted his own, finely inlaid, sword.
I grasped the hand railing for safety.
At last, those of us going up the Up Escalator met those coming down the
Down Escalator, and much blood was spilled. Our vanguard slashed at Erik's
troopers, and Blaise and I finished them off as they came down to us. In
three hours, we would be at the top. But things did not go well. Erik's
men scored several hits, and our fighters were knocked off the Escalator.
Soon, it was down to me and Blaise alone. But we worked with precision, my
friend! They fell and fell, and I could see the fear in the eyes of those
who had not yet reached us, for they knew that they too would die.
I looked down behind me, and I saw the dead bodies being carried away.
At the bottom of Rivlok, the pile of Erik's soldiers was growing larger.
Even as Blaise was beginning to tire, fresh soldiers began appearing on the
Down Escalator. One of them managed to hit Blaise on the side of the head
before I took him out with a thrown dagger. But Blaise was reeling
"Hold on to the hand rail!" I yelled, but it was too late. Blaise fell
backward and over the edge. I saw his death coming, and I had to stop it.
I hurled my Deck to him, and he grabbed for it. I don't know what happened
next, because someone brought a sword crashing down on my left shoulder.
I wheeled and lunged, killing two with a single thrust. I smashed the
hilt of my sword into the next man's head, and left a dagger in the throat
of the next. I kicked the next one over the side. My fist connected with
the face of my next victim, who fell back onto the man behind him. I
killed them both with a slice of my blade. I removed my boot and hurled it
at the man behind them. The boot struck the side of his head, disorienting
him, giving me enough time to deliver a death blow. The next man I
strangled with the shoelace from my remaining boot, and then another fell
beneath the heavy belt buckle I swung at him.
They died and died like that, for at least two hours. I poisoned them,
I hung them, I impaled them with each of the nine ballistic weapons I
carried on my back. And still them came. Erik seemed to possess an
unlimited supply of warriors. But I could see the top! Just then, I fell
forward. The Escalator had stopped, and was now reversing itself! I
scampered upwards, but could make no progress.
I was now convinced that Erik had powers far beyond the ordinary. The
Escalator had never reversed direction before. But there is always a way.
I jumped over the guard railing to the Down Escalator, which was now going
Up. Erik's soldiers were also going up, but when they saw me jump, they
started walking toward me.
After a few minutes, the Escalators switched directions again, and I
jumped again. I would make it to the top no matter how often Erik tried to
stop me. And make it to the top I did.
I almost wished I had not.
At least fifteen thousand of Ember's finest warriors stood to meet me at
the Palace gate. I steeled my nerve and raised my sword. This wasn't
going to be easy.
Let me be brief: I lost.
I sat in the darkness of my cell. The smell of dead animals wafted back
and forth over the mildewing pools in which feet soaked. The place
reminded me of the squalid shade where Erik had left me to die, all those
years ago. Of course, I had grown to love that place, and so any reminder
of it made me feel at home.
Why had I come to Ember anyway?
All the trip had gotten me was a few bumps on the head and a life
sentence to the deep dark dungeons. I searched the room for implements of
suicide, but found none. We Emberites would rather die than accept life in
prison. This is primarily because we live for a very long, long time. I
sighed. I knew I should have stayed home.
After three days, men came to get me. I wondered where they would take
me. To the torture chambers? To be drawn and quartered? To have my eyes
burned from my head with HOT COALS? No, my friend, none of these. They
dragged me instead to the famous Fashion District of Ember.
At first I was pleased, but then I grew suspicious. Why would Erik have
me taken here? A change of heart, perhaps? Of had he been deposed already
by a friendly power?
I showered, and then I was taken to the barber, where I was blindfolded
and strapped into a chair. While my guardsmen taunted me, the barber went
to work. After a quarter of an hour, he removed the blindfold.
"What the hell did you do to my hair?" I yelled.
The barber grinned, and then I noticed: he wore black and red, which
were Erik's colors.
Under heavy guard, I was pushed around the District. We stopped to buy
clothes several times. Again, I could do nothing. They purchased for me a
pair of pre-Renaissance leggings, a Dracula cape, and boots like the ones
my father had worn when he was young. They forced me to wear the things.
I was at least four hundred years out of fashion. A voice inside my head
kept reminding me that Erik was behind it all.
It was not until I saw a sign on the street that I finally understood.
The sign said, "CORONATION WEDNESDAY. DRESS ACCORDINGLY."
I was to be present at Erik's coronation, I knew, dressed like a fool.
This thing came about.
The Great Hall was filled to capacity. I was chained to a chair several
hundred feet down the table from Erik. Boolean was seated on my left. To
my right was a pretty girl, whom I immediately engaged in conversation.
"Would you pass the salt?" I tried.
"Sure," she said. Then she took a long look at me. Stifling a giggle,
she said, "Nice, uh, cape."
Boolean said, "Corbin, I think the lady finds you obnoxious and poorly
"Oh yeah?" I snarled, "what's she said to you all evening?"
"She said that my white reinforced porcelain armor was both stylish and
functional, and that she always found men in uniform very attractive."
"Oh," I said. I stirred my peas.
Music rose up. It was the same music they always play on those medieval
documentaries on PBS.
Boolean stood up and boomed, "Long live Erik!"
"Long live Erik," said everyone but me. I was tired of this party
A guard brought something to Boolean. It was a green cushion that held
up the crown of Ember. Boolean placed it before me and said, "Take this
crown and give it to Erik."
"No," I said. He scowled.
"I said, take this crown and give it to Erik."
Boolean slapped my face with the back of his hand.
"OK," I said. I took the crown and quickly placed it on my own head.
"I crown myself, King Corbin!"
It was at that moment that I realized something very important, a thing
that would haunt me throughout my future travels. As I stand here on the
edge of the Courts of Chaos, abruptly but temporarily shifting my
point-of-view in order to tell you, the only one present to hear, my story,
I -- well, the thing is this: I suddenly realized that "King Corbin" sounds
like the name of some breakfast cereal, and that for this reason, among
others, I would never wear the crown of Ember.
Oddly enough, Boolean bowed before me.
An angry voice came from the other end of the table. "Stand up, you
legalistic wretch! He's not the king! *I'm* the king! Take that God
damned crown off his head and bring it to me!" Erik was screaming and his
face was beet red.
"But," Boolean started, "I mean, I can't really, I mean, if he's wearing
the . . ."
Erik stormed over to us. He snatched the headpiece from me and placed
it on his own head. "I crown myself King Erik of Ember!"
There were shouts all around. 'King Erik' . . . now, that actually
sounded regal, not like breakfast cereal. Boolean bowed to Erik. Erik
called the guards on me. As they dragged me away, he commanded: "Take
Corbin to the dungeon and have his eyes burned from his head!"
Eyes burned from my head?
Eyes burned form my head?
I must have fainted, for I awoke in my cell. Darkness hung about me,
not the darkness of the dungeon, but the darkness of my two eyeless
sockets. I realized that my other senses were somehow heightened, however,
for at that moment, I smelled Lord Reign, my old friend, approaching my
cell from down the hallway. His characteristic footsteps grew louder and
louder. He spoke.
"I brought you some pizza."
"What kind?" asked I.
"Sausage and bell pepper," respondeth he.
"I don't like bell peppers."
"You can pick them off."
And so I picked them off, tossing them onto the dank floor of the dark
cubicle that was my home. Rats came intermittently to cart off the
wretched peppers. Reign came to visit me several times, until I made him
promise never to return, lest he be caught by Erik and tortured. Thus did
I dispatch Lord Reign of the Bad Pizza Toppings, my last friend in the
I had nothing to do but wait.
"Wait," I muttered.
"Time passes," came an ominous voice, but there was no one there. I was
hallucinating already. Three hundred and sixty-five sleepless nights came
The guards brought me out for the first anniversary of Erik's
coronation. A year's beard's growth and a year's foul stench, both swept
away in a day.
"Wait," I muttered once again.
"Time passes," came the Voice.
"Open door," I tried.
"You can't do that," said the Voice.
"Why the hell not?"
"I don't know the word 'hell'," it said.
I thought for a moment. Then,
"Wait," I said.
I was stuck.
They brought me out after another year, then after another, then
another. Four anniversaries came and went, and this was my only way of
keeping track of the time.
"Get key," I tried.
"I don't see it here," said the Voice.
"You are in a dank, dark cell in the dungeons of Ember. On the wall
"I'm blind," I suggested.
"Oh, well, we can fix that," said the Voice. This time it came from
right behind me.
I wheeled around. I heard the snap of a finger, and suddenly my sight
returned. In front of me stood Dorky, Master of the Line, Delineator of
the Deck, Keeper of the Kingdom, Guru of Garneth, Swami of Shade.
"How the hell did I get here?" he asked.
"I don't know the word 'hell'," I tried.
"Very funny. Got a smoke?"
"Are you kidding?"
"Well, been nice knowing you. Gotta go," he said.
"Wait!" I cried. "Take me with you!"
"OK," he said simply. "Come on."
I followed him through the cell wall, out into the open air. We stood
on a wooden pier. Rivlok rose up miles behind me. I had escaped! Dorky
stepped into a boat and beckoned me to follow.
"I'm headed for the Isles of the Sun. I hear they got cheap VCR's
there. You wanna come?"
"No, thanks. But would you mind dropping me off at the Lighthouse of
Dorky revved up the engine.
"I thought gunpowder didn't work in Ember!" I shouted to him, over the
din of the outboard.
He shouted back, "This is a special kind of gunpowder! It's a Plot
Device! You can get it in the Shade known as Revlon!"
The rest of our journey was uneventful. Dorky left me on the rocks of
Carba. From there, I could walk to any Shade I so desired.
I would have my revenge on Erik, and that revenge would start in Revlon,
where I would gather enough of this Plot Device to make me King of Ember.
I felt strong again. I summoned a yellow bird of my desire, and it sat
upon my head. I wrote out a note and attached it to the bird's leg. The
note read, "Erik -- Fuck You, Asshole. Signed, Lord Corbin the Terminator".
The bird flapped its way to Rivlok.
I began to shift Shade.
My destination: Ember. My goal: the crown and the throne. My mode of
transportation: walking in Shade. My name: Lord Corbin.
First stop, Revlon.
Ah, fair Revlon. A Shade world I once knew so well. I had ruled there
for many years in the Old Times. Revlon was my home away from Ember, and
through my presence there, I had built it into a mighty power. Rolling
hills, deep forests, men of honor, fair maidens . . .
Fair maidens with heavy makeup. Strange as it may sound, the makeup of
Revlon would enable me to launch a massive attack on Ember and win back
what was rightfully mine. Years before, you see, I had brought a case of
Revlon rouge to Ember, as a gift for my sister Didi. She didn't like the
stuff, and in my anger I threw it into the fireplace. It exploded, very
prettily and very noisily. My first thought was: I was lucky that Didi had
spurned the gift, for she sometimes smokes. My second thought was: wait a
minute, nothing explodes in Ember! And so I formulated a plan to build
weapons based on this chemical, weapons which would one day make me the
most powerful man in Ember.
Unfortunately, this plan had slipped my mind last time around. Blaise
fell off a cliff and I got four years in the slammer because of it. Not
this time, brother.
I shifted Shade for Revlon.
I came upon seven men, six dead and one slouched against a thick oak. I
hated to see so many dead men, so using my power as Prince of the Blood, I
walked to a nearby Shade where there were also seven men, but only one was
dead. The other six stood laughing. They noticed me as I approached.
"Wot's this then?" said one.
Their shirts were thin and ragged, probably from the battle that had
resulted in the death of the one who lay plastered on the ground.
"Warriors," I said. "Does any of your number know the way to Revlon?"
They looked at each other quizzically.
"For whom do you fight?" I asked.
"?" they tried.
"Who . . . is . . . your . . . leader?"
"Tha' would be me, bloke," said one of the tall ones. "You innerested
in joinin' us? Headin' for Revlon, we are."
"Fine, fine!" I said.
"What instrument do you play?" he asked.
"I play some guitar, but why do you ask?"
"We're a Heavy Metal Band, boy! And Lord knows we need another
"We only got three," piped one of the short ones.
"You're in!" said the leader, and he slapped me on the back. I wasn't
really interested in hanging around with a burned out metal band, but I had
to admit I was out of practice, and a few jam sessions would be just the
thing to get me back into top form. I would travel with these men to
"I've been in the slammer," I explained.
They murmured to each other in their heavy foreign accents. I could
only pick out the words "pigs" and "drugs".
I slept, and in the morning I found that my sword Graceland had
transmuted itself into a silver Stratocaster. I picked it up and played a
C chord. Then a G. The guitar was in tune. I cradled the neck and pulled
up on the distortion bar. Yes, I knew how to use the thing.
Outside, the men in the band were tuning their instruments. The two
drummers were dueling. The bassist/vocalist was running through some
scales. I stepped out and roared into a Stones riff. The other guitarists
were taken aback. They jumped in with some rhythm, and one of them
contested me for the lead. I was able to squeeze in more notes per second,
however, and he quickly conceded. I switched to some of the heavier stuff.
After an hour, two of the guitarists put down their weapons and had a
smoke. The other one played with me for another hour, but he too grew
tired. I was just starting to feel back in shape, though, and I wanted to
push myself. I played a few songs with the drummers, then engaged the
bassist/vocalist in an extended version of Stairway to Heaven. That night,
I ate a huge meal and slept for ten hours.
I repeated the same routine for the next few days, as we drew closer to
On the fourth night I met Lauren. I would like to tell you that we met
an a patio overlooking a lake, with the full moon highlighting her hair and
her silvery dress. But that would be crap. I had seen her several times
before, first with the bassist/vocalist, then with one of the guitarists,
and later with the two drummers. The first time I ever spoke with her,
though, was after a gig. She came by my dressing room and asked me if I
wanted to do it. I said, yeah, sure. She said she loved me. I said,
crap. But she started hanging around me anyway. We spent several nights
together, and she told me many things.
"I've seen you play. You're good," she said.
"I've seen better," I replied.
"The guys in the band respect you. They also fear you."
"Why? Because I can squeeze a few more notes out of my Strat?"
"They think there is something supernatural involved. They're Devil
Worshippers, you know."
I had not known this, but as I reflected upon the human skeletons, the
pyrotechnics, and the hell-inspired lyrics that made up our show, pieces of
the puzzle began to fall together. Perhaps it was no accident that I, a
man who had been called a demon more than once, should fall in with such a
crowd. I laughed aloud to hide my thoughts.
"I'm no demon," I said. " I'm just the second best guitarist around,
"Who's the best?
"Benedictus of Ember, if he is still alive," I replied. Benedictus had
once upstaged the Moonpeople of Ghinesh by doing four encores in a single
night. We are a very musical family.
"Wanna do it?" she asked.
"Yeah, sure," I replied.
"I love you."
There was something sad about Lauren, though I enjoyed my time with her,
and vice-versa. One night she told me that she was going to die. I asked
her why. She said that soon the band would break up, and without us, she
was nothing. I was silent, for I knew that the band would indeed break up.
I would be the first to leave once we reached Revlon. I had no choice. My
destiny was to become King of Ember, not Bandleader of Devil-people.
With a few gigs under my belt, I felt better than ever. I no longer
felt the physical and psychological strains of my four years in the Big
Lauren lay next to me, sleeping. Suddenly, her eyes grew wide.
"You are in trouble," she said flatly.
Before I could formulate an answer, the door to my hotel room flew open.
On the threshold stood an inhuman beast, six feet tall, gray and unclothed.
It wore a fake arrow through its head, in a low grade imitation of the
Comedians of Ember. In its right hand was a long silver blade that I liked
not at all.
"My name is Strygalldwinnirdrillbinir. Conjure with it, and I shall eat
"Conjure with it? I can't even say it," I lied.
"Who are you?" it demanded.
"Misli, gammi gra'dil, Strygalldwinnnirdrinbillir," I said.
"No, it's 'Strygalldwinnirdrillbinir'," it said.
"Sorry. Misli, gammi gra'dil, Strygalldwinnirdribblnir."
"No, not '--dribblnir'. It's '--drillbinir'."
I never was very good at foreign names. One more try:
"Misli, gammi gra'dil, Strygalldwinnirdrillbinir."
"You seek to drive me away with such a simple spell? I am not one of
the wimpier ones. I must ask you again, who are you?"
"This isn't fair. My name is much easier to pronounce."
"Three times I must ask you--"
Those were its last words, for just then, a man slid up behind the beast
and put a dagger through its throat. The thing died silently. The man
entered the room.
"Lose the bitch," he said. Lauren pulled the sheet around herself and
"My thanks, sir," I said. "What is your name?"
"Look, I won't conjure with it, I promise," I promised.
"The name is Galenon, and if I may offer you some paternal advice, I
would transmute that guitar back into a sword. The times they are
I chuckled and snorted and did this thing, and we stayed up most of the
night talked of our respective travels. Galenon was also on the road to
Revlon, as it turned out, and I decided to split the band and join him. I
packed my things and left in the night.
I was forthright with Galenon, for I trusted him. I told him of Ember
and of my plans to take the throne. He had heard of Ember and asked to be
my lieutenant in the upcoming battle. I accepted his offer.
We reached Revlon at last. I wondered if its inhabitants would still
remember me, their ruler of five hundred years past. At the border, a
guard stopped us.
"You look familiar," he told me. "You look just like that guy on the
"George Washington?" I tried.
"No, no, that other guy."
"Kennedy? He's on the half-dollar," I suggested.
"Forget it. You may pass."
"Was it Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson?"
Galenon nudged me. "I don't mean to sound like your father," he said,
"but don't you think we ought to be getting the explosive rouge?"
"Right," I said.
We made it to the city, where we were approached by the local cops.
They insisted that we see a man known as the Defender, in City Hall. We
travelled to this place. Inside, I was surprised to see that the man
behind the desk was my own brother, Benedictus of Ember. My eyes widened,
and so did his.
"Brother!" said he.
"Brother!" replied I.
"How fare thee?" he asked.
I dared not tell him of my plans.
"Fine, and you?" I said.
"I am tired, and as you can see, I have no arms."
This was true, he had no arms.
"This is true, you have no arms. How did this thing come about?"
"It is a long story. But at last I have re-united Revlon and driven the
demon creatures out."
"Demon creatures? DEMONS OF EMBER?"
"No, demons of Revlon. A particularly nasty race of beings known as
Housemaids. Cold, icy, stubborn beasts, they refuse to do windows, and
worse, they always put stuff back in the wrong drawers. Their attacks
began three years ago. As you can imagine, they caused great confusion in
the land. In an effort to resolve the conflict, I met with their leader, a
woman called Linda. Unfortunately, I was forced to kill her after she
lopped off my arms. Much later, I made love to her and then began
counterattacking her troops. Only in the past month have we driven them
from the city. I will continue the patrols for the next two hundred years,
however, for we may have missed one or two of them."
"Prudent," said I.
"But enough about me. I hear you escaped Erik's dungeons. I would like
to know more about this."
"Tunnels," I said.
He raised his eyebrows. He knew I was lying, but he dared not accuse
me. Had he accused me, though, I would have been forced to challenge him
to a duel of the blades, and this was a thing I did not want to do.
For even without arms, he could still outfence any of us. I feared him,
"You are free to stay in my house, Corbin, of course. But if you are
planning to use Revlon as a staging area for an attack on Ember, then you
have come at the wrong time. I will not permit such a thing."
"No problem," I said. "I appreciate your hospitality, Benedictus. Live
long and prosper." I wanted to ask him more about Revlon, and about the
Housemaids and their leader Linda, whom he slew and later loved. But there
was no time.
I sent Galenon to search for the explosive rouge. For my own part, I
began to mentally organize the weaponry and personnel I would require. As
I walked through the forest, I decided where and how I would gather the
necessary materiel for my war against Erik.
Suddenly, a woman appeared. She was thin and freckled, and she held a
thin and freckled blade in her right hand.
"Wanna do it?" she asked.
Not again, I thought.
"Let's fence first," I said. Her blade rose.
She was good. Very good. I came on strong and aggressive at first, but
she deflected my advances with ease. I decided to be more formal. We went
through a series of standard exercises, after which I felt I knew her
style. I closed with her. Our blades met at eye level, our faces nearly
touching. I grazed her cheek with my sword. She pulled away, but I
advanced. I forced her back into a thicket. She gasped. I lunged. She
did not parry. I lunged again. Again. Again. She screamed, and so did
I. We both fell to the ground.
"So you wanna do it?" she asked again.
"Give me a little break here."
She gave me a break, and then we did it. I asked her name. It was
Darla. I told her everything about Ember. Why? I do not know, for I am
not a trusting person by nature. What was the reason for my loose tongue
of late? Perhaps it was that annoying character change of mine . . .
"Will you take me to Ember?" she asked.
"Please, please, please?" she pleaded.
"I don't think you understand the danger involved. Awaiting my coming
are the DEMONS OF EMBER."
"What DEMONS OF EMBER?" she asked, but I did not answer. I did not know
myself. I bade her farewell, and promised to look her up.
I found Galenon in a department store, haggling with the woman behind
the perfume counter. He held a knife to her throat.
"Hello, sonny," he said to me. "The bitch says she doesn't know
anything about any exploding makeup. Should I kill her?"
I saw the fear in the woman's eyes, and I called my partner off.
"It doesn't explode *here*, Galenon, it explodes in Ember. Look, I see
some of it over there."
We bought two hundred and twelve compacts of the stuff.
Galenon and I departed into Shade that day. I found a Shade close to
the Earth I had inhabited for so many years, but one which was subtly
different from my old home. To wit, the ground was littered with automatic
weapons. We collected these weapons and took them to a more familiar
Shade, the place where I had collected my army so many years before. You
might think that the inhabitants would be angry with me, for I *had* taken
their youth from them and caused them to die uselessly in a foreign war.
But these people revered me as a god, and thousands of them would volunteer
again. I had only to ask.
Galenon and I arrived. A multitude waited below us. An old man with a
crown came to greet us.
"I have returned!" I boomed.
The man look displeased. His eyes went back to the multitude.
"Don't take it wrong," quoth he, "but, uh, you *did* take our youth from
us and cause them to die uselessly in a foreign war. What do you, uh, want
"Soldiers!" I boomed again.
"Soldiers," muttered the man. "Are we going to, uh, win this time?" ]
"Of course! But it won't be easy, for awaiting my coming are the DEMONS OF
"DEMONS OF EMBER?"
"Indeed! But I have brought new weapons!" I took an automatic rifle
laced the crowd with bullets. Many fell, my friend, but the rest cheered
and cheered. Their god was back.
Recruitment went smoothly. I only needed twenty men this time. I
picked the best and trained them well. Before we left, I inspected the
"Who is Erik?" I asked one of the men.
"Beats me," he replied.
I ran him through with my sword. There was much blood.
"Who is Erik?" I asked the next one, who began to sweat.
"Erik is the Lord of . . . Lord of . . ."
"Yes? Yes?" I provoked.
"Lord of . . . Ember?" he tried.
"NO! NO! LORD OF EVIL! LORD OF EVIL!" I ran him through. "Who is
Erik?" I screamed.
"THE LORD OF EVIL!" they all exclaimed, elated that I hadn't run them
Galenon and I made some final arrangements, and then we set off for
Ember. By now, I had mastered the Axioms of Ember. I knew that All Roads
Lead to Ember, for instance, so I picked a road and followed it, and my men
followed me. Erik did not notice us this time. I figured this was due to
the small size of our force.
"Corbin?" Galenon said.
"Yes?" I answered.
"Often you have mentioned the DEMONS OF EMBER which await your coming,
but I myself know nothing of such beings. How do you *know* they await
"It's on the cover of the paperback," I replied.
"THE GUNS OF REVLON. The one with the goofy picture on the front."
"But book covers are notoriously unrelated to the the text that lay
between the pages. I would wager that there *are* no DEMONS OF EMBER," he
"Hmm, you may have a point. But if you are right, then it is quite
possible that THE GUNS OF REVLON is neither a HUGO nor a NEBULA AWARD
WINNER. Good God, Galenon! I might not be a ROGER ZELAZNY hero -- I might
be living in a MICHAEL MOORCOCK book!"
"Get hold of yourself, son!" said Galenon. "Maybe there *are* DEMONS OF
EMBER after all. And maybe, just maybe, there is also A MYSTERIOUS FEMALE
IN THE PERFECT KINGDOM who PORTENDS TREASON, TREACHERY -- AND OBLIVION!"
"What does that mean, 'TREASON, TREACHERY -- AND OBLIVION'? Never mind.
I agree with you. I feel we must trust The Man Who Writes Book Cover
Blurbs, for even though he probably hasn't read this book, his is the only
information we have to go on. I only hope that bullets will be enough to
stop the DEMONS OF EMBER. Come, let us hie."
And hie we did, until Ember was within sight.
"Ember is within sight," I announced.
"I know, I can see it," said Galenon.
"You act as though you have been here before," I accused.
"So do you, kid," he replied.
"I *have* been here. You've never been here. Got that? And why do you
keep calling me 'kid' and 'sonny'? I'm starting to get perturbed with
"Sorry," he said. Then, "Look!"
I looked. There was a battle already in progress. Erik's men were
fighting hand to hand with a large force of Shade creatures. The creatures
were pouring in across a huge expanse of darkness, some kind of black road
that led from deep inside Shade right up to the foot of Rivlok. I had
planned to take Ember by killing Erik, but now . . .
In one of those split-second decisions you usually wind up regretting, I
ordered my men to attack the Shade beasts rather than Erik's men.
Confused, they carried out their orders. O, how they died that day! The
creatures burned and died and heaved, and I chuckled. I diverted my
attention from the battle in order to find my brother Erik. At last, I
spotted him on the far mountainside. I left Galenon in charge of the
After negotiating the crags and crevices, I reached Erik. He was lying
on his back, bleeding. Around his neck was the Jewel of the Judge, a
magical pendant often worn by our father.
"I . . . am . . . dying," he announced.
"Oh yeah?" I stuttered. "That's, uh, too bad, Erik. Listen, about your
Death Curse, I mean, you're not going to, I mean, well . . . you don't even
*have* to have a Death Curse. Not if you don't want to. It's not like a
law or anything. Even if it was, what could they do to you? I mean,
you're dead, and if you didn't use your Death Curse, too bad--"
"Enough!" he sputtered, spitting blood all over me.
"Jesus Christ, that's disgusting," I observed.
"I reserve my Death Curse for the creatures from the Black Freeway. And
I give you this Jewel. With it, you can control the weather. You must
attune yourself to it by wearing it and walking the Design. You're in
command now." He coughed up a lung. "You'll find that things are not what
you expected. Ember is in deep trouble. Deep . . ." He gasped for air.
"Can I get you some water or something?" I asked.
He mumbled his Death Curse, a horrible thing to hear. It had an
immediate effect on the battle. The creatures began retreating. Erik
heaved his last breath then.
I took the Jewel from about his neck. It pulsed curiously in my hands.
He had said to take it to the Design. I signalled Galenon to pursue the
creatures. I headed for the castle myself. Just inside, I ran into Randy.
"Corbin!" he said. "Downstairs! Something's happening!"
We both ran down to the Design room. Someone was walking the Design
already! Who was it? I squinted, but could not make out the face.
"Some chick," said Randy. "Never seen her."
I looked again. It was Darla.
"What do you think it means?" Randy asked.
"It portends TREASON, TREACHERY -- AND OBLIVION!" I said.
"What does that mean, 'TREASON, TREACHERY -- AND OBLIVION!'?"
"Shut up for a second." I turned to the girl and yelled, "Darla! What
the hell are you doing?"
She looked up at me and continued walking. She was almost finished.
Randy said, "So she must be of the Blood of Ember. I thought there were
only thirteen of us."
"There must be countless others. You're not counting Delwyn and Sandy,
for instance. That makes fifteen right there."
"Oh yeah. How come we never talk about them?" he asked.
"We're supposed to pretend like they don't exist."
"For how long?" he asked.
"Until the sixth book or so," I said. I raised my hand. "Wait!"
Darla had reached the center of the Design. She raised her hands into
the air and said:
"Ember will be destroyed!"
Shit, I thought.