An envelope arrives for Prince Hagen, delivered by Tomas Venator. “Her Majesty has reviewed this, but says she’s comfortable with leaving you in charge of the matter,” he says, handing over the envelope. The Prince notes that the wax seal upon the flap is broken. “If I was you, sir, I’d use this as an excuse and go hunting in shadow, cos if you hang around the palace too much longer she might decide to make you general of the armies.” He nods, grins tightly, and departs.

The envelope contains several pieces of paper. The first is a letter in Despil’s hand, written on palace notepaper. The remaining papers form a letter in a second hand, neat and carefully embellished, written on delicate onion paper that remains perfectly opaque despite its fragility. Lastly, there is what must be a Trump card, though of a completely unfamiliar design – hexagonal rather than rectangular.

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Prince Hagen,

I enclose herewith some notes from an associate, one Prince Mandor Sawall. I should note that he has a reputation for political sleight of hand, but he is also a close friend of Prince Delwin, whom I know to have Amber’s best interests at heart.

I would ask a favour of you in return for this information. Please destroy these letters when you have read them. My master Lord Delwin is taking a great risk in helping Amber, and I fear that, should his actions come to light, he may have cause to fear for his life.

Despil

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My dear Lord Despil,

You must know that I could never refuse so gorgeously worded a request. I do wonder, however, why you so adamantly refuse to accept my invitations to dinner. I am beginning to suspect that my manners are somehow lacking. Certainly, it cannot be my cooking.

But I digress from the matter at hand. You asked Delwin for information on several esoteric topics, at least one of which I am personally able to answer. Delwin himself is too fearful of attracting the Emperor’s displeasure to commit anything to paper, and I therefore serve as a poor substitute, and must apologise for his interruptions herein.

I must, alas, admit ignorance on the ‘Tears of Amber’ and the ‘Sceptre of Amber’, although Delwin is certain that the latter contains one of the former. From context, the ‘tears’ are a collection of gemstones. Perhaps your new associates can furnish you with information about local mythologies.

Likewise, the shadow of Tir na nog’th is not known to me. Delwin suggested you enquire with the “Bard’s College”, which sounds to me like a recipe for a terrible afternoon.

The ‘black road’ I believe may be a reference to the way lords of chaos move through shadow in numbers by tearing holes in the fabric of reality. You would know far more about the use of Logrus than I. Having come across such weavings from time to time in the past, they do seem to fade over time as reality heals itself. I suppose if one takes that analogy to its logical conclusion, it would be possible, by applying sufficient ‘infection’ in the form of raw power, to prevent the ‘wound’ from healing over, thus creating a more permanent scar.

On the matter of ‘entropy reversal and quantum entanglement in semi-closed systems’, I must plead an unwillingness to commit so complicated a topic to mere script. Perhaps we can discuss it properly over dinner? I have a lovely bottle of time-ensnared port which I am certain you would find most distracting.

Lastly, you asked after ‘Suhuy’. It must be said that my mother is not known for being free with information, but his old diaries are part of the Legion Archives, and after all, it is his early years we should concern ourselves with.

As you are currently in company with a people who set far more store by biological inheritance, I shall incorporate that into this little briefing.

Gramble Sawall Kadios Xau and Emperor Swayvill Izikhathi Eziyishumi are siblings by blood. In his youth, Sawall was quite the tearaway child, while Swayvil was the serious and studious one. There is a scandalous story sometimes quietly repeated amongst the Xau of Sawall’s most infamous faux pas. He committed several social and political catastrophes in his youth, but this one was the worst. He was newly entitled, and doing what all in that stage of life do, that is, roaming the universe fulfilling their every fantasy.

Now, I have difficulty imagining my venerable mother doing any such thing, but I have read his diaries, and I can assure you that it did indeed happen, although perhaps not quite as luridly as popular recounting may have it.

Here then, is the boring version of the story. For the other version you shall have to ply me with kind words and alcohol.

Sawall fell in love with a woman in shadow. He brought her, heavily pregnant, back to Xau. The woman did not take well to the social structure, having been a princess in her home shadow. She was rude and abrasive and full of unearned airs, and Sawall’s mother suggested that the woman be returned to shadow until she learned some manners. Sawall refused, but in an effort to smooth things over with the rest of the family, he built a tiny shadow to keep his mistress in, and joined it to Xau. It was there she gave birth to twin boys, whom she named Suhuy and Dworkin.

Sawall’s mother strongly suggested that the boys should be raised properly, but the mistress would have none of it, and Sawall was so besotted with her that he gave in to her every whim. So the boys were raised in this pocket shadow by a woman who was convinced that the world revolved around her. They learned no graces, and the few times that Sawall brought them to Xau the family were so utterly appalled by their behavior that Sawall’s mother threatened to disavow him.

Now, foolishly perhaps, Sawall taught the boys most of what he knew about power, and the universe. They, knowing that they were the children of the queen of all reality (their mother was by this point quite mad), were perplexed by many of the things Sawall told them. They came to understand that their father was in some way being held in thrall by an evil wizard, who had caused him to lock his wife and sons away from the world, to prevent them from claiming their true inheritance. The Emperor was their enemy, an evil being holding their parents hostage.

It was pure luck that allowed them to survive their first disastrous introduction to society. The entitled can be very close-minded about lords of shadow, and I suppose they simply did not see these two young men as a threat. The Emperor was dead before his praetorians even drew a blade.

The aftermath was just as bloody. In return for his sons’ lives, Sawall offered his own. The Legion refused, calling it an insultingly unequal trade. So Sawall’s mother, Princeps of the Xau, gave her life instead, to save Sawall. The rest is rather dull – Sawall unpicked the pocket shadow and left Xau while the shame blew over; and Suhuy and Dworkin vanished into shadow.

…Where apparently one of them built a fastness and forged a shadow empire called Amber, while the other joined forces with the lords of chaos.

Truly, my dear Lord Despil, should you have occasion to meet with either, please recommend me to them. I’m sure they would be fascinating dinner guests. Though perhaps not at home. I’m not sure the Xau, or the Legion, would view them very kindly, even after two millennia. And even I would not dare ask my mother about them.

While we are on the subject of dinner guests, do please pass on an open invitation from me to your charming friend Hagen. I enclose my trump, which you may forward if you see fit to do so.

May you continue in good health and good spirits.

I remain, your most humbly affectionate, bound and devoted,

Prince Mandor Sawall sjael er havet Xau

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