25 November 2008

Amber: First Impressions (diary)

So, this is Amber. Amazingly I am impressed by the place, if not yet by the people - or how I got here: I still don't understand that. In all honesty today was baffling, infuriating, exhausting and belittling. And yet it was also inspiring, visceral and energizing, all in one turn of the solar cycle.

How can this be? Well, my midnight jaunt set the tone - body vanished and nothing with which to pin down that bastard brother of mine. Not that it mattered anyway as despite the fact I was certain I felt him nearby, he was nowhere to be found at the estate, and the servants were adamant that he left on a ride earlier that morning. Curse the oversleeping that my fruitless return to the village where we left Triaste brought on!

From that frustrating start, the day got worse before it got better. I resigned myself to a cold revenge upon my return and went to meet Roland and Berthold in order to set off for Amber, only to find the former in conversation with a bizarrely attired boy. At least - I had thought it was a boy; it turned out to be another "cousin", a fellow "Amberite" and a rather poorly attired woman. She introduced herself as Malice and the name fits - I was less than impressed with her attire and her personality and attitude produced the same effect. No doubt it is mutual, but I'll lose no sleep over that.

I may lose sleep over the weirdness of the journey though - Roland later explained it as moving through "shadow" worlds, changing a bit at a time, not that that made it any easier to stomach. The sky turned purple, I felt sick and dis-empowered, a child bound to the hand of Roland as "father" and completely out of my depth. I tried to return home with no luck - my new powers seem to have deserted me already. Such was the torment that I was almost glad when we found the body. I just wanted the journey to end.

I had an inkling that it would only be a stopping point and as such it both irked and relieved in equal measure - an ending, but one with the promise of more hell to follow.

But not until after the battle - it turned out by ill chance that the dead man was a soldier of Amber, or as Roland put it "a servant of the family", and the ringing of battle was audible on the wind. Malice, Berthold and Roland rode like buggery to the fight - citing duty. I was lost, alone in a strange place with my companions ridden off to die for all I knew. Unwilling to commit as they had, I circled, scouted - and I'm still itching as a result of those spines, they combine poorly with saddle-sores! - and gained vantage. Then another strange moment: my eyes locked even at range with a figure marshaling the defense and I saw him as if right close. It turned out later - once the fight was won - that he was "King Random" of Amber, personally overseeing the return of troops and wounded from some supposedly concluded war. He did not impress, not with personality, nor with tactics, or his personal involvement in what would seem to be a routine task. Admittedly it appeared from the carnage - in which I played full part in the end, smashing a weak point in the assaulting line and then leading a force to route the enemy archers (who posed the only real threat to the defense... apart from those hideous bat-like creatures) , but it leaves me not knowing what to make of this much vaulted Amber.

I swear that back home, however "unreal" it may be (and I am far from certain that I yet believe that line), no-one as puny or uninspiring as Random would last as ruler. Still he thanked us, greeting and accepting me as "cousin" though we had never met... perhaps what passed in that second of locked eyes was more than a trick of the light - it makes me shudder to think of it, yet the possibilities...

Sometime after the attackers - largely strange forms, black and... odd - were routed, Malice "disappeared" through an ice-shedding rainbow, only to reappear when we arrived in Amber itself (to a hero's welcome, to compound the strangeness of it all). She unnerves me, and not in a good way; she will need to be watched, if indeed it is possible to watch those who come and go like that. Roland and I arrived back by a more conventional route - on horseback - but it was apparently more "shadow shifting" that eventually brought us to Amber itself (by way of a buried stone giant which, I'm sure, must have been some kind of hallucination).

And in that arrival, the day's sheer joy - this city is a picture that makes the artist in me sing and buzz with enthusiasm. Architecture that looks familiar, yet varied too, and scenery that takes the breath away. If nothing else the opportunity to see the vista - with the giant mountain (Roland named it, but it escapes me in my tiredness) towering above, the castle dominating the town, and the deep greens of the surrounding forest contrasting with the vivid blue of the ocean. Breathtaking, glorious and simply beautiful.

I had little left to give after that - the approach to Castle Amber was twisting through parades on the street, as if Random's words of heroes had got back to the people and they had come out to welcome us home. Thankfully I was too tired to pay much attention, and shortly after we got into the castle - to be met as mentioned by Malice, attired in a way more befitting her gender at least - I collapsed in exhaustion and was shown to these chambers. That was last night, and now... a new day awaits in a strange yet beautiful city where everyone seems to think that I have "come home".

[Small portraits of Malice (unflattering), Roland, Random (bordering on caricature) and the vista of Amber accompany this entry]

16 November 2008

Of Demons and Doublecrosses

It looks like my time here in Caercorran draws to a close. Not closed by death but by... escape. In this I have choice, though the machinations of others would seek to deny me as much as possible of this quality.

It is scarcely believable, but Roland - this enigmatic, charismatic stranger - and his travelling companion Berthold claim me to be some kind of... well, different. I am hard pressed to argue with a couple who appeared from nowhere and, in truth, rescued me from the 20 foot tall monstrosity and then claimed to have fought many of its ilk before now! Yet neither can I accept it at face value, and this is one reason I feel I absolutely compelled to accompany them and thus determine the truth or otherwise of Roland's rather bewildering claim.

And to think - the day started with so much banal promise. The hunt was to go ahead precisely as planned, and that old buffoon Triaste even agreed to accompany us to witness my feats. Perhaps I was already thinking of sharing Yvonne's chambers when I called that lovelorn fool Wilhelm to throw first and mark the hunt. The idiot charged too soon, missed his throw and killed a piglet - no wonder all hell broke loose! I was hoping for a clean kill (the lad, not the boar) and an angry pack of pigs for the other hunters to round up satisfactorily. Instead, chaos; even so, it was manageable until that booming from the forest. I shudder to think about it now, and yet I'm drawn to - for apparently there will be more, and worse the vanquished can return! The goat-man thing, if I had held truck with tales and legend then I would have scattered with the rest of the sheep, but I did not and saw the opportunity even the alpha boar did not provide!

My "bravery" was stupid, looking back, but truth be told by the time I realised I would have need to be brave it was too late to turn tail and run. Outpacing a giant that size would have been impossible, even had the horses stayed close enough. Then its words. "Betrayer" it called me though I am utterly lost as to why. Simply that the thing was after me, specifically, at all is terrifying. That it is so bandying around words, nay names, like that... There will be more - they both said. There will be more, and I am "different", "of Amber" - whatever that means. The two, I fear, may be linked, and Roland's words suggest such.

But that is for tomorrow - when I will ride with them to this Amber, wherever that is.

For tonight, I have little time; I must quickly ascertain what happened to Triaste's body and the guards we left with it. I do not want to let that damned brother of mine appear to have sent me packing with whatever smear his liaisons with father have cooked up. No, if I cannot force him to spill on his ruses, I will have to make him pay before I depart. Give him something to remember me by when the time comes for me to return. And knowing the bastard like I do... he is unlikely to yield me a thing. Unless the evidence of Triaste's body and the testimony of the guards and healers can be drummed up, and with Roland's corroboration used to paint him for the weasel he is, my revenge on my scheming sibling will have to take different form. Disfigurement and disgrace - whether social or physical - await my poor brother in the morning I feel.

But only if I lay this aside for now and get to it... I must act on certainties to ensure success, and cannot theorise the wiping of the smug look from his face.

An Amber Character Diary

Our gaming group have just started an Amber game, and over the course of our sessions I have committed to writing a character diary; the entries will appear here over time as I write them.

I am only passingly familiar with Amber as both fantasy fiction in the form of Zelazny's novels and in terms of the diceless roleplaying system written by the recently deceased Eric Wujcik. Fittingly, therefore, I have chosen to play a character equally unfamiliar with Amber who will discover things as we go in much the same way as his player.

The ideas enthrall me, and so the setting and likely complications of plot, character and personality were easily sold. It sounds very much like "my kind of game" in terms of likely happenings, midsets and so forth, and I have confidence in both the GM and my fellow players to make sure that labyrynthine mazes of relationships and interactions colour and cloud every possible step. It helps, too, that there may well be a (yet to be decided) second game running parallel, sharing the workload and providing much needed respite on the part of both GMs.

So all in all, a game full with the promise of interest, one in which Byron - apparently the self-centered young second son of a noble, but really progeny of Amber - will find his path for good or ill. No doubt it will lead away from his home in Shadow, where magic is commonplace and his more mundane talents were not at all appreciated...