Laissez le Bon Temp Rouler

Rochelle stood upon the Widow's Walk of her Garden District home and watched the lights of the city she loved. Saxophones wailed on the evening breeze, and she could smell the ocean under the heady magnolias and camellias. Terra was a lot like Earth, and Naw'lins a sister to Earth's coastal haven of New Orleans. Little differences; like the two orbiting space stations high overhead and the manned mission for Mars readying for its midnight lift off a few miles from where she stood were among them.

And, of course, this place had Rochelle Strata; sometimes Gilian Strata. Really, it was a wonder the place survived the two of them.

Soon it would have Cynwyd— whatever. Bleys had only told them his first name. Then again, she and Gily had both given him an earful on the wonders of birth control. After the shock of Asha, neither of them had been very amused by Dad's latest surprise. She had told him in no uncertain terms that his next surprise for her had better be a pony.

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The redhead checked the time on her watch and wrinkled her nose. She looked up at the clear night sky dotted with stars and a crescent moon. She sighed. "Bugger." It was a beautiful fall evening and she didn't want to go inside.

The black cat stalking fireflies stopped and sat down beside her feet and meowed up at his mistress.

"We best get back inside," Rochelle informed the cat. "Company's coming."

Shadrac meowed again when Rochelle scooped him up in her arms and headed for the spiral staircase that led back down into the house.

"No, and please don't use him for a scratching post."

"Mrrr?"

"Don't be silly. You know we never meet here. Everyone knows I live
here."

"Mrrr!"

"Oh, fine. We'll go see the Professor soon."

"Mr-rer?"

Rochelle laughed and set the cat down on love seat in the foyer. "I think you have spent too much time with my father; your personality is warping."

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The black cat lifted its nose in the air. Then he hopped off to the floor and sauntered into the kitchen, tail imperiously up. Rochelle chuckled. The hideously expensive concord leather heels clicked against the shining hardwood of her floor as she swept into the spacious den; a luxurious room of gleaming woods and soft pale gold leather seating, and deep greens of the forest shading the velvet and brocade pillows scattered around the comfortable chairs and the extra long couch.

She flicked her hand towards the fireplace and flames sprang into being; their light reflecting on the Italian marble of the fireplace and the wood of the floor. She checked the bar a final time, then went to the mantle to pluck a cigarette from the porcelain box they hid in. Rochelle glanced up at the painting over her fireplace. The redheaded woman swept into a passionate embrace by a tall brunette male. "Expect a call later," she muttered. It wasn't really them, of course. She hadn't known the artist from Adam. But the painting had so startled her when she happened upon it during a visit to Benjamin that she wasn't not leaving gallery without it.

Checking the clock again, she decided she had a few minutes to get some work done. A wave of her hand started the music, flooding the house with the strains of Tchaikovsky's Firebird. Rochelle sat at her desk and continued on a rough draft she owed her publisher while she waited.

Typical vague orders from Dad. What else was new? He sat at the side of the road, arguing with the infernal box on the dashboard. "That address does not exist." He stepped out of the car and leaned against the driver's door, heedless of the scant traffic and lit up a cigarette. The damned car was making him claustrophobic, which was no surprise to someone who spent most of his life in the saddle or on foot. Still, the Aston-Martin was fast, and handled well. It's sleek, silvery body reminded him a bit of some of the horses he had bred thoughout the years. Really, it was what had drawn him to the car in the first place. Why hadn't he bought a convertible? Slowly, a grin lit up his eyes first, then his mouth. He rubbed his bearded chin for a few moments, checked the stars and got back into the car. A moment later, the GPS system was tossed out of the passenger side of the car.

As he downshifted into third gear, to better negotiate the hairpin turn, he decided to use his built-in GPS. "Ack, how vulgar." He chuckled at the heretical thoughts and apologized inwardly to the Pattern. So his sister was a famous star of the stage. Seemed like a good opportunity for your enemies to know where you were. He shook the thought out of his head. Most normal people didn't have enemies like that. Rochelle was probably perfectly nice, and therefore wouldn't have any enemy that wasn't an enemy of Amber itself.

But down to business. He looked at the sparse trees, abundant undergrowth and irregularly spaced farms and kept the image of Rochelle in his mind as he drove. The trees became more frequent, broader, taller, and the smell of the ocean, which of course was really the smell of the shore, wafted its way into the car. Thunder rumbled in the distance. He considered playing with the Shadows a bit more, but recalled doing so once on the way to a date and ended up getting drenched, so he made the changes slowly, carefully, the object of his search more important than the road he took.

Finally entering the city proper, he inhaled the smells of flowers. Not quite sure what they were, he took a picture out of his jacket pocket and chuckled. Dad had a peculiar sense of humor but when he made a suggestion, it was a fool who disregarded those particular words of wisdom. He flexed his arm for a moment as he turned into the Garden District to ensure his pistol was there. He had been taking entirely too many stupid chances in Shadow lately without weapons. Of course, one generally didn't wander around with a sword at one's side, either. He pulled into a reputable-looking parking lot, handed the attendant two 20s and finished the bribe by promising more if his car was unmolested upon his return.

Silently walking up to her door in his black, Italian-leather shoes, he took a last moment to brush off his pants, and jacket, also in a non-characteristic black, but formal occasions required formality. His silk shirt added garnet to the ensemble and his cufflinks of gold matched the interior of his jacket. With a final deep breath, he reached forward and knocked on the door.

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Rochelle's plantation style house would have looked right at home in New Orleans. It had that Old World air about it, and judging by the size of the glossy leaved magnolias, it had been there for a very long time. Through the decorative leaded glass of the oak door's window he could see the black cat slinking across the foyer stop in its tracks and regard him a moment, before continuing on its path with a loud "Mrr-eow!" over the strains of the Firebird Suite.

"I know, already, you silly cat!" he heard a woman say. The cat stuck it's nose in the air and hopped up on a purple velvet loveseat to one side of the marble floored foyer. Then Rochelle — for it could be no other — stepped into the foyer from a side room. She was wearing a simple sleeveless sheath of concord purple. The artfully jagged hem that brushed her legs was several inches above the knee. She was tall, long legged and the high heels made those legs seem to go on forever. The glorious red hair that was part of her birthright from their father was pulled back in an elegant twist, accenting the graceful curve of her neck.

The door opened as she approached it. "Ah, you're here," she smiled. "Come in, Cynwyd. Be welcome in my home." It was oddly formal. As he stepped over the threshold, he felt a slight tingle wash over him.

He glanced around the foyer as he entered, and once he neared her, his eyes were only for her. He looked her up and down, once as a warrior sizing up an unknown person, then as a man sizing up a woman, then he looked into her eyes and smiled. "For the first time, I believe Dad didn't quite do justice to a beautiful woman. You are exquisite. And thank you for your welcome, I am at your service." He walked up to her and she when she offered her hand he brought it up and kissed it. "Enchante."

The door closed silently behind him. Overhead a crystal drop chandelier cast a million tiny rainbow lights over the walls, the gleaming wood of the staircase, the glowing white marble. "Very obviously you are our father's son." Her freehand gestured expansively to the right towards the double wide doorway she had appeared through to the side. To his left was a music room; grand piano and hardwood floors, a ballet barre along the far wall; programs, publicity shots, awards decorated what he could see of the wall.

"Come in, sit down. We shall have a drink," said Rochelle as she led him into the den of deep greens and pale buttery leathers. "What will it be?"

She noticed that he looked down before stepping onto the wood. He chuckled briefly, before confessing "I've ruined many a beautiful wooden floor while wearing muddy or bloody boots. I get a little self-conscious when I enter a place of beauty." He stands until she sits. His military bearing is obvious. She gets the impression that if she stands for a week, he would too. "I'm not entirely picky. I'll have whatever you're having." He glances at the wall. "If you don't mind my asking, what's it like being famous?"

"It fulfills my need to show off," Rochelle replied with a cheeky wink and a grin before she moved across the floor to the antique hand carved bar to select drinks. "I have this need to be around people; the reclusive sorceress in her isolated tower was never for me. Here I can be with people who aren't plotting a nefarious agenda with me as a plot device." She grinned and dropped ice into two crystal highballs.

"Honestly, I enjoy it. What else would someone who loves to sing and dance do if they weren't going to take to the stage? Teach? No thank you."

He chuckled, watching her delicate fingers as she deftly handled the ice. "You say 'Teach' like its a dirty word. It really isn't that bad. Teaching does have its rewards, you know. I guess it would with humans, too." He looked back up and met her eyes. He was clearly enjoying her company. It kind of creeped her out.

"I just don't have the right temperament for teaching," she said with a negligent wave of the hand not pouring the electric blue alcohol in a glass. "I tend to get frustrated that they aren't getting what I want them to do. Which isn't fair, I suppose. What is easy for me isn't necessarily so for anyone else."

"I teach horses. To Hellride. Most horses won't handle riding through the Shadows. Occasionally I pick wrong, and one of them dies. Usually though, I'm a good judge of character…horses and people."

He cocked his head as if listening to something odd for a moment. "Why does the Firebird sound weird? I don't think I've heard this recording of it before."

Rochelle tilted her head to one side and focused on the music. Then she shrugged. "I'm not sure what's weird about it. It's not local though; Dad gave it to me years ago for my birthday." Rochelle handed him a glass of the blue liquor over ice. "That's one of his nicknames for me; Firebird."

She walked around the bar and waved him towards the seating area. "I hadn't realized teaching horses to Hellride was a profession. I thought they learned as they went."

"Thank you." He took the drink and sipped it, relishing the taste. "If I didn't know better, I would say it was the Firebird if Tchaikovsky did it. On one of the Shadows I frequent, Stravinsky did it. I like your version much better." He walked over to the seating area and sat where she gestured to.

"They do learn as they go, but a smart rider wants a horse that knows what it's doing. A Hellride is tough on people, tougher on horses. They can't rationalize away what they are seeing, so it takes a horse with a certain…stubbornness, I guess to be a good Hellrider."

Rochelle just nodded, not wanting to interrupt. She was an attentive audience. She took a seat at one end of the sofa and turned her upper body inward to watch him as he spoke. It helped that she had decided to view him objectively and not as a brother newly revealed. She kept her scowl internal; damn Dad and his over-productive swimmers.

"So I breed and train horses on Shadow Earth, which I love to do anyway. I think I was born in the saddle. While breeding and training they eventually go to one of three places. The really fast ones I sell to people who like horse racing. The stubborn ones go through Shadow with me to one of Dad's Shadows, where I spend the rest of my time training them for Hellrides, and the slow ones I sell at a loss to children who want a pony for Christmas."

He peered into his drink. "So what is this? I'm generally a wine person myself, but this is exquisite."

"Atlantean Mist," she replied with a smile and thumped the edge of the crystal glass for emphasis. A silvery mist rose from the surface of her drink. "The vibrations and tone created by the crystal cause that. I think all the liquors there have some magical property."

He flicked the glass and watched the silvery mist rise. "Well," he lifted his glass "Here's to the Firebird, long may she sing."

Rochelle lifted her glass and smiled as she clinked it against his. "Indeed."

"How is Amber doing? I haven't been back since…the War." He got a faraway look in his eyes and drained the glass of Atlantean Mist. She c ouldsee a lot of regret, a small bit of anger and he actually flushed a tiny bit.

"Still there," she replied in an odd tone. Rochelle rose smoothly from the sofa and fetched the delicate cigarette box from the mantle. She lit one with a flame that sprang from her fingertip and looked up at the painting over the mantle.

"Some odd things have been happening. People back from the dead, UFOs over Arden…" Rochelle blew out a stream of smoke that formed into a saucer shape and drifted across the room.

He watched the smoke for the briefest of moments before resuming his questioning. "Back from the dead? What, did Caine off himself again? And by UFO I assume you mean a flying saucer?" His look told her that he was wondering if he was the object of some kind of practical joke.

She regarded him soberly through the smoky haze. "No. Osric. Finndo. Brand. Eric," She went over to the bar, her heels tapping a staccato on the wood floors. "Someone calling themselves the first son of Dworkin already attempted to take Amber. Dworkin put the kabash on that." She grabbed the bottle of Atlantean Mist and brought it over to the low table in front of the sofa. "Lachlan mentioned a race called the Posedions in regards to some things being re-set. Centuries old manors suddenly looking as they did the day they were built."

"Dad said he thought Clarissa had something to do with it all."

"Who is Lachlan? And what was the result of this?" He held his glass up for a refill. She noticed he stared at her cigarette for a moment, seemed as if he were going to ask for a smoke, and then changed his mind. "Did any of the other four try to take Amber?"

"No," she replied. She flicked a well manicured nail at the porcelain cigarette box and it moved itself to his end of the table. "Lachaln is a cousin, but his parentage is uncertain last I heard." She held out her open hand and summoned her drink to her. "That is not the biggest thing though; Dworkin had to repair the Pattern again and it made him a part of it. He no longer seems to have a physical body." She took a drink and pursed her lips. "And he gave the Jewel of Judgement to Mandor. It is now in Chaos."

He nodded gratefully to her as he took a cigarette out, stared at it for a moment and took in a deep drag as it lit. He nearly choked on the smoke when she said the Jewel went to Mandor. "Mandor? Who is Mandor? I thought the Jewel couldn't ever go back to Chaos?"

"Mandor is Merlin's half brother," Rochelle said, her voice taking on the tone of a lecturer. "Merlin is the son of Corwin and Dara the Younger. By all accounts I have heard, he is a very ambitious man. He is also a very gifted Sorceror."

" I thought the Jewel couldn't ever go back to Chaos?"

Her drink hovered in front of her when she threw up her hands in exasperation and dismay. "I know, right? Seriously. What the hell was he thinking? Mandor could skip off and draw his own Pattern somewhere at the very least!"

"Neat trick." He muttered appreciatively, when her glass hung in the air. "I've been out of touch for too long. Surely there is a plan to get the Jewel back, right?"

She rolled her shoulders and plucked her drink from the air "Not that I heard. I'm sure this is going to come back to bite us in the ass."

"Bite us on the ass? More like swallow us whole. I think I'm going to need another drink. Who is in charge in Amber now? Dworkin still?"

"Technically? Random is still on the Throne. But he plans on Stepping down and letting his son have it." Rochelle returns to her seat, crossing her legs at the knee, her foot bouncing. "But with Dworkin being part of the Pattern, who really knows?"

"Martin? King?" He laughed, a good-natured thing that reminded her of her father. Then he rubbed his forehead with his hand and chuckled darkly. "Now I know how coups get started. With a simple…'I could do better.' Well despite that, forget it."

"If you don't mind a personal question, what are your plans?"

Rochelle snorted a laugh. "Me? Well, I am trying to avoid any more trouble. In fact, from here I am going to a small Shadow where I keep a beach house and hide out until Coronation to try and sort through all this madness."

"What does Dad think of all this? Why would Random abdicate? Damn it all, I bent the knee to him."

"We all did," Rochelle pointed out with a wave of her nearly empty glass. "All of us alive at the time, anyway. But, come on; Random was never one for rules and ceremony. The only reason he went along with it was because the Unicorn gave him the Jewel. Well, he's done his part. He's gotten us
through all that post-war crap much better then I think anyone thought he would. Now he can concentrate on making babies with Vialle."

She took a drag from her cigarette and blew out a smoky ballerina that pirouetted through the air. "As for Dad, I don't really know. He's had a lot going on. He was in a coma for a while. He's all right now, but you know how he is; he was probably plotting in his subconscious."

He looked like he was going to ask another question but stopped cold when he saw the ballerina. "Damn woman, that must have taken some practice." Clearly he was impressed. He took a drag of his cigarette and managed a fairly weak ring.

Rochelle looked confused a moment before it dawned on her what he meant. She just shrugged. "It's just a spell."

"We all have our talents, I guess, which reminds me, Dad mentioned to me that you told him the next time he comes to tell you something, it had better be that you're getting a pony." He took a picture out of his pocket. It was a reddish horse, on the small side, clearly still a pony.

She laughed; a delightful and musical sound. "Dad's a goof. You have to understand; he had — not a week before — sprung a previously unknown sister on Gily and I. She's gone back home now. Dad said she almost died when she was very young and hasn't been right in the mind since." She looked at the picture and smiled. "But it's a nice pony."

"Another sister? Why the hell doesn't Dad tell me…oh the hell with it." He took another puff on the cigarette. "I wonder, are any of us in their right mind? Besides me, of course." He smiles and gestures to his glass for a refill. "And you." His smile broadened to a grin.

"Who's Gily?"

She paused in refilling his glass, and then smiled. "Oh. Right. Gily's my sister. Gilian. Our mother is Queen Icaria of Stratus, and a formidable sorceress. Gily's currently dating Merlin."

"Merlin. Corwin's Chaosian son. Met him briefly. What is Gily like?" He lifted the glass to her. "Thank you."

Rochelle sat back and swirled her remaining drink with the ice. A mist rose from the glass. "Gily's the more rough and tumble of the two of us. She rock climbs, practices martial arts — that sort of thing. A person can tell where they stand with her much easier then then can with me."

"So where do I stand with you?" She wasn't sure if he was kidding or not. Probably not.

"In the living room," she smirked. Then she flicked her cigarette and the ashes vanished before hitting the floor. "It's too early to tell. You seem an all right sort so far."

He laughed and laughed, finally stopping himself by sipping his drink and bowing his head to her. "You have a good sense of humor, I guess you're okay too."

He looked like he was pondering one of life's mysteries for a moment, then; "Maybe this is why Dad didn't ask me to return to Amber. To hear tales of his growing up with our aunts and uncles, it sounds like they were almost programmed to distrust each other. Maybe by keeping us apart, we'll have more of a chance than they did. Christ, I'm getting maudlin. I've taken enough of your time Rochelle, I should probably get going."

She waved a hand and vanished her cigarette butt in the midst of it. "If you must. Just keep your eye on your surroundings, and if you see Osric, call someone. He was offed during that aborted invasion, but I don't know how dead people will stay with everything going on."

"Is there anything else important I should know?" He frowned for a moment. "I wish I had brought a bike. I'd take you for a ride."

A red-gold eyebrow arched in amusement. "Why, Cynwyd," she purred. "You naughty boy."

He grinned mischievously, seeming very much like Bleys for a moment. "You gonna wear that for a bike ride?" He seemed to be calculating, or more appropriately, recalculating something. The magically adept Rochelle was easily aware that he was adjusting a spell.

"Depends on the bike," she replied with a grin.

He stood up and offered his hand to her, after putting his drink down. "I was thinking about an '05 Triumph Speed Triple with a 1050cc engine."

"Ah, that kind of bike." Rochelle stood then snapped her free hand. A trail of purple sparks spiraled down her body. As they passed over her, her clothes morphed from purple silk dress to purple leather trousers and a sleeveless vest. Boots replaced her high heels. The Universe was a twisted place when a man's sister looked that dangerously hot.

He did a double-take when her clothes morphed. "So that's what Dad meant when he said, 'Cynwyd, if you'd pay more attention to your magical studies you'd be surprised what you can do.'" As they walked out to the Triumph he looked at her with a smile on his face. "It's probably a good thing we didn't grow up together. There's no telling how many duels I would have gotten into over you."

She smiled brightly. "That's sweet. But I learned early on how well a point could be driven home by making someone spend time in a snowglobe."

"I have no doubt that you are more than capable of taking care of yourself." He mounted up, and waited for her before starting the engine.

Rochelle pulled her hair back in a ponytail as she mounted up behind him. "If you ever meet my mother, you'll understand."

"Ah, you still have her. I look forward to meeting her one day." He fired up the bike and turned to look at her over his shoulder. "Hold on. And trust me. I'm pretty good."

"If I had a nickle for everytime I had heard that," she laughed. "I could pave the streets of this city."

No nickels this time." They accelerated onto the street and got up to about 70 miles per hour. Two cars at the red light vanished, as did the red light, and the intersection. Shifting gears, she noticed they were now on a highway, and a chill was in the air.

The bike sounded unnaturally loud, and she realized that it was designed that way. The bike was all function and no style, which gave it a certain amount of its own panache. The few parts that were not chrome or functioning parts were garnet, and the chrome was gold-colored.

At well over a hundred miles per hour, the Shadows changed rapidly, and expertly. Clearly, this was a road he had taken before. A few moments of intense cold, and they began to slow.

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The final change added melted snow to the sides of the road and they stopped very near to a cliff. Behind them, rainbow colors danced curtain-like in the nighttime air. Cynwyd's breath was visible in the cold night as he dismounted, took off his jacket, and offered it to Rochelle. "The Aurora Borealis." He explained.

Rochelle was already wrapped in a thick white fur jacket and was pulling a matching hat down over her ears. Her gloves were fur lined purple leather. She smiled at him as she dismounted the bike, her boots crunching the brittle thin ice under her feet. She looked up at the sky and the moving curtain of light casting its colors across everything.

"I know," she said softly in the quiet. "I've never seen them in person before, but I know what they are."

After putting his jacket back on and chuckling at Rochelle having her entire wardrobe handy, he looks up at it. "It never ceases to amaze me. Some members of the family think that we create all the Shadows we go to. I don't know if its true or not, but I wouldn't have taken the time to think about this." He gestured towards the Northern Lights.

She was silent a moment, watching Mother Nature's performance. "I think," she said finally. "That we do create whole worlds. But then we leave them, don't we? They're left to progress on their own for the most part." She waved a gloved hand skyward. "And this is just one of the results."

"Maybe some were there and we add to it. I've been to some pretty twisted Shadows, and would hate to think that someone related to me thought them up." He stared intently at the Lights for a few long moments, and they changed to garnet first, and then sparkled into gold. Cynwyd laughed and shrugged. "You never know until you try."

Rochelle didn't look at him or say anything, but he got the distinct impression she disapproved of the meddling.

The colors returned to normal, and Cynwyd stood there with her, silently until the sun finally broke over the horizon. Cynwyd explained "you have no idea how many times I've had to stand-to before the sunrise. The English army has been doing it for a very, very long time. But I never tires of sunrises. It means I made it to another day. And I should get you home."

She tore her gaze away from the sunrise and smiled at him. "I can get home from here. I think I would like to stay for while longer. Enjoy the quiet. I don't get much of it."

He stood next to her, and took her hand, and watched as the sun rose, and the snow sparkled. Having been a soldier for so long, he was used to long spells of quiet, punctuated by short periods of chaos, thunderous noise and bloodshed. He hoped the silence would last and last.


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