Grass, trees, sky, clouds. All these things are as they should be. The grass is perhaps the wrong shade of green, and the clouds whorl together in odd shapes from time to time, but the shadow seems quite normal. Boring, even. A way-point. A stopping-place.

Ty is sitting cross-legged, his back against the trunk of one of the trees. The sense of security this gives him is, he knows, an illusion, but he clings to it nonetheless. These people… Friend or foe? How to tell? With Amberites it can be nigh-impossible.

There’s Emil, somehow both small and huge at the same time.

There’s Lara, with the snapdragon mind and the terrible sword.

They are talking, waiting. He’s making himself small, unnoticed. He’s good at that. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to slip away, but avoiding their attention seems the best course for the moment.

They stop talking while Lara gets that far-off look, then there’s a long skirl of rainbow light and a third figure appears.

This one seems to be bursting with energy, as she takes Lara’s face in her hands and declares; “Lara, I have an idea!”

Lara takes half a step back, her hands rising to cover Sioned’s. “An idea? This is something to do with what you were talking about when you disappeared, yes?” She gently removes Sioned’s hands from her face and, as Sioned takes a breath, preparing to speak, says, “hang on a sec, we’ve got company.”

For the first time Sioned notices the additions to the party, and blinks. Emil she knows, but the other. She stares curiously at him for a few seconds. “Hullo.” She takes a small step forward and crouches near, but not too close to him. He’s young, and very tightly wound. “I’m Sioned.” She makes no further move towards him.

“Ty,” says the young man, frowning gently. She’s familiar, this Sioned, but not the way she ought to be. No armour, no weapons. And a buzz of magic, static and powerful. Of all these strangers, though, he has more reason to trust this one. He takes a steadying breath. “Do you know what happened to the other students? To Lilit and Isolde?”

Turning more fully towards Ty and Sioned, Lara answers, “we do, we met them with Dworkin and they asked us to help them get to Amber. They’re both there now. Lilit has been studying under our friend Hagen, and Isolde,” here Lara looks to Emil briefly, “she’d been off exploring shadow, but she’s just come back to the city.”

“They are ok. Trying to figure out what it is they want to do, but ok. How about you?” Sioned cocks her head slightly. “Are you ok?” He seems simultaneously closed off, wary, alert but also curious.

His mouth sets itself in a hard line, and he frowns deeper. “I’m fine. I can take care of myself.”

Sioned grins and stands up. “Oh, of that I have no doubt, young man.” And she’s sincere. Sioned only did patronising to those who really annoyed her, and only if it was simpler than setting them on fire. She turns back to Lara and Emil. “So…fill me in?”

“That’s what she said?”

Lara and Sioned share an exasperated look as they move closer to where Emil is still sitting. Sioned contemplates whether it would be simpler to set him on fire as Lara continues, “Emil says he’s got a plan to help us with the…” Lara hesitates for a moment before continuing, “onion problem. Something that should separate the two parts again and give us a chance to contain the rogue one.” She shrugs, “that’s if we can figure out how to make the containment happen. But, now that you’re back he can run us through the details of what he’s come up with.”

Emil looks at them. “So, I’m gonna run on a couple of assumptions considering the capabilities of the people in front of me.” The air around Emil shifts as a gentle symphony starts playing. A mild cool breeze runs past the four Amberites, and the ghostly shape of Oberon appears. “Everyone has a rhythm, their own personal soundtrack unique to only them. Think of shadows as a couple of octaves in the wrong direction, the closer you get to real, the more expensive the ticket prices. Oberon’s particular quartet of crazy is going to be next to impossible to figure out, but the good news is that it’ll be very, very unique to our friend Sean, or is it Shaun?”

The image shifts to that of Sean, the image of the MI6 agent that Lara has in her mind each time she thinks of him. “Sean is going to have his own little theme. With a little blood… his for preference… and for it to actually work, I’m going to be able to tune in on that little frequency and, well, incorporeal-ise him?”

Sioned’s eyes narrow with intense interest.

Ty is silent, absorbing the conversation, studying the magics flowing around the group.

The ghostly image of Sean dissipates in front of the Amberites. All that remains is an outline in vaguely human shape that still manages to maintain its form in the breeze.

“If it works, young Sean will then be subject to a particular follow up spell which will not affect him in the slightest, but magically shove anything else that isn’t him into a direction of my choosing, which will hopefully shove Mr Oberon into the trap of someone else’s design… ‘cause I’ve got nothing on that one.”

The blast of air is felt by all, with everything in the area affected except for the ghostly figure of form which reforms into his old self. “Questions?”

“How much blood will you need?” Lara asks thoughtfully, “MI6 has reference samples for all of its field agents, probably a couple of hundred mils total for each person. It should be easy enough for me to get my hands on some of it.”

“Hang on a minute, I’m assuming you can re-corporealise Sean after all this is done, right? Because…it would kinda defeat half the point if you couldn’t. I mean I don’t know him super well, but having him being incorporeally shoved somewhere and then forgotten about sounds like a naff deal.” Sioned suspected that sometimes Emil’s close focus on immediate outcomes didn’t always include the what-happens-next follow up. Trapping Oberon, she had that…mostly had that…she had a really, REALLY fucking good idea about that!

Lara looks shocked at Sioned’s question, she hadn’t even considered that not getting Sean back whole may not be part of the plan.

Ty makes a soft little ‘ahem’ noise, and speaks quickly, as though afraid they won’t stop to listen to him. “This sounds like what happened to my sis- I mean, to Isolde. She had somebody else in her head.” He pauses, reassuring himself that the others are paying attention. “I don’t know much about Oberon. My parents said he disowned them, threatened to kill them if they ever came back to Amber. I do know he’s powerful. But you know that already.” A frown pulls his brows together. “Dad always said that sorcery was the least of the powers, though. So maybe if you want this thing to work, you need to throw more than sorcery at him.” He pauses, taking a breath. “Especially if you want Sean to still have a brain afterwards.”

“Which we absolutely do,” states Lara vehemently, “it’s absolutely non negotiable.” She looks at Ty musing, “I was able to help Isolde out of what happened to her, maybe something similar would work here as an adjunct to what you’re planning Emil?” Lara pauses thoughtfully for a moment before continuing, “have me go into his head and distract him or, I don’t know, loosen him up a bit, while you do your spell? Then we’ve just got to work out the containment bit. Hmm.”

“Re-corporealise, absolutely. Kinda the point that we want to get him back in one piece.” Emil turned to look at Ty. “And it’s only a lesser power with that attitude… although I take your point. My spell can deal with the physical side of things, and also for making it as crystal clear as possible which parts are which, both physically and mentally, just in case Oberon decides to try and obfuscate things… and there is not enough sarcasm in the multi-verse to even try a joke indicating that he wouldn’t. So,” turning to Lara, “if you trump-jump into his head and get him distracted and in position while my spell is doing it’s thing,” then turning to Sioned, “all we need is a way to lock him up…again. Teamwork…without being hit by a stick of bamboo.”

“Hey, Mr. Bamboo got your ass up that cliff face in quick order as I recall, bitching all the way.” Sioned smirked. She then turned to Ty and considered him. “You have some good ideas knocking away in that head of yours. Thanks.” and she smiled genuinely at him before returning to the problem at hand.

“Ok,” Sioned takes a breath and rapidly summarises. “So, the idea you guys have is for Lara to psychically shake misdirection maracas at O-hai whilst Emil physically de-Shaun/Sean-ifies him, hopefully leaving an errant psychic-slash-ephemeral presence of the big O loitering around with his “ears” ringing. In essentials that sounds like what you’re proposing. Which is fine. It’s actually good, because it makes my idea to try and contain him possibly a little easier to accomplish, although as we’re talking about Boxy McBoxhead, applying the term “easy” to this may be fifty bazillion times wishful thinking. Now, my idea…” she pauses.

Explaining this to them the way she explained the initial tangential idea to Julia was not going to work. Julia was a conjurer, she at least shared the same base language, even if Sioned’s dialect was sometimes vastly different. “Right, since we’re doing show-and-tell…” In her right hand, she conjured a lightly coruscating bubble of slow time. “We all know how slow time vs fast time shadows, work, yes?”

Emil almost interrupted.

“In essence, if not in specifics,” Sioned clarified. “We all get that in relation to each other, and to Amber, time in shadow is mutable and…wibbly wobbly.”

Lara suppressed a chuckle.

“That is the basis of the idea, but not the execution.” As she begins to speak again, she initiates a series of elemental conjuratoric manipulations to illustrate the points she is about to make.

“Conjuration manipulates the physical realm to varying degrees depending on physical materials available-” Around them the grass changes colour, grows rapidly and then bends like silken sheaves in an oncoming wind. “-desired outcomes-” Morphing into ripples of blue and purple water over which tiny grey and pink cumulonimbus scud and occasionally erupt into miniature rain storms no higher than their knees. “-ability of the conjurer-” small projections of earth begin to emerge, minerals growing, morphing and rolling over the surface, the water becomes lava and the landscape in miniature becomes volcanic, “-and the level of atomic and molecular squish-squash permutation in the environment…” she receives blank looks. “High magic vs low magic in the shadow environment.” The volcanic landscape subsides back into the low growing off-green grass punctuated with small pinkish-yellow flowers being perused by obscenely bumbling puce and cerulean bees.

“This manipulation, given enough theory and experimentation, can also extend to many other defined dimensions of space, of which, time is one.” She manipulates the bubble of time across both of her hands, elongating it between them, creating a cylinder. A very rotund, and self satisfied bee begins to amble through the air towards one end of the cylinder. “So we can create pockets of slow or fast time, depending on the outcome we’re seeking,” the bee flies through the shimmering barrier and immediately begins to slow. It progresses along the cylinder of graded time, as Sioned brings her hands closer together until it reaches a point of practical stillness in the small bubble of remaining slow time in her right hand, “and contain within it, or eject rapidly from it whatever we desire and in whichever way we desire.”

Emil and Lara lean forward, staring at the bee; even Ty cranes his neck to see it, although he does not move from where he sits.

“So it’s frozen in time?” Lara asks.

“No, not frozen, just moving at an infinitesimally slow rate in relation to the time flow we are standing in.To it, we are moving too fast for it to even observe us with any clarity. We are nothing but blurs.” She dispels the bubble and the bee, completely unharmed, continues in it’s amble through the air.

“The only constraints facing this are the physical proportions of whatever our subject is, and since in this case we are talking about an intangible presence, the subject can be contained in anything really…” She shrugs and grimaces.

“A thimble?” Emil offers

“Sure, a thimble, why not. But for Mr Obi-O, I think it would probably be more profitable for us to encase slow time in a sealable physical object that can be locked against attempted escape, reverse psychic block may work, at least until we can get him back into his box. We make the slow time slow enough, it gives us time to breathe.”

“But the box has a back door, Brand told us that, putting him back wouldn’t really solve anything.” Lara mused.

“I know. So, when we get to that, we are either going to have to figure out how to close it ourselves, cajole Brand into closing it for us, or find another fuck-off lock box.” Sioned looks at Lara, “Also, unless you want to be locked up inside with the king of really-pissed-off, you’re going to have to disengage before I can attempt this, so timing will almost literally be everything in this part of the plan.”

Lara gazes steadily back at Sioned, “That shouldn’t be a problem, I’m planning on trying to contact Sean by Trump, rather than actually using touch and going in like I did with Isolde. It should be enough to distract Oberon for a bit and help Emil out with the diversion he needs while still being fairly low risk.” She considers this for a moment, “or as low risk as any of this gets at least. So, next steps? I go get Sean’s blood for Emil, and you and he work on refining your spells and conjurations?” Lara looks back and forth between Sioned and Emil for confirmation.

“Sounds good to me,” Sioned glances at Ty, “Unless Ty has anything other ideas he’d like to share?” She was going out of her way to include him. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

Pausing for a moment in her shuffling of her Trump deck, Lara looks at Ty consideringly, “Yes, you’re smart and your thoughts on how to handle this plan were good ones, so if you’ve got anything else you’d like to say we’d be glad to hear it.”

Ty frowns and folds his arms in on each other. This was getting involved. He didn’t want to be involved. No involvement. This was just a pit stop on the way home. Ty shakes his head. And leans back from the little group. This was their mess, not his. And with Oberon involved, way out of his pay grade.

Sioned shrugs. “Ok then, I guess we should get things moving on this.” Lara and Emil nod, each readying themselves for the next part. “Oh, Lara!” Sioned grabs her attention before the trump of MI6 is out of the case. “Would you be able to draw me a quick trump for Isolde. I just want to check in and see she’s ok.”

Ty’s eye flicker slightly, but he doesn’t move.

“Um, yeah sure,” replies Lara, “though it’ll take me a few minutes and you’ll only be able to use it once.” A drawing pad and pencil appear in her hands, apparently out of nowhere, and she starts to sketch a likeness of Isolde. The world seems to fade a little as she concentrates on getting the picture right. The best way Lara can describe the process of making a Trump is that each stroke of the pencil, or the paint brush, leaves a little bit of the feeling of the subject on the paper until, once finished, you can connect with who they are. Of course the longer you take on the portrait and the more you think on your interactions with and impressions of the subject, the stronger that feeling and, thus, connection will be.

After ten minutes or so Lara carefully tears the piece of paper bearing Isolde’s image off the pad and hands it to Sioned with a “here you go, good for one use only.” She’s got no idea what any of them have been talking about while she was busy. “So, I’ll just pop over to MI6, grab the sample and be back in a few.” She pulls out the Trump of MI6 and disappears in a swirl of rainbow light.

Standing on Vauxhall bridge Lara studies the rain drenched facade of the MI6 building. It’s mid-summer day but you wouldn’t know it from the downpour and umbrella hidden faces of the people scurrying by intent on heading home for the day.

She closes her eyes against the water and the crowds and visualises the path she needs to take to get into the building, get the sample and get back out again without being detected. She knows she could go to M and explain what she needs, but that would take extra time, and she’s not sure it’s time they have. The way is clear in her mind and she walks towards the night entrance of the building where she knows, at this time of day, the evening cleaning staff are arriving. It’s no problem to follow one of them in, she grabs the door before it closes and waves her umbrella and pass in the general direction of anyone paying attention. No one really is and she makes a mental note that this could be a problem to be resolved. But not now.

Through the door and down the corridor. Turn left. Wait for the camera to sweep in the opposite direction, continue on up the stairs for three floors. Wait again for another camera sweep. Head right down the corridor and third door on the left is the lab manager’s office. The door is open as the cleaner is in. Pop in, and walk through into the main lab. Grab the sample freezer keys from the key rack above the wash up sink. Head into the cold room and unlock the sample freezer. Be very grateful all the samples are organised alphabetically. Take one of the vials marked MALLORY, SEAN and double check it before locking the freezer. Replace the keys and retrace the same route out of the building. These are the steps Lara takes and she’s amazed it works.

Pulling Sioned’s Trump out of her pack she starts to concentrate on it, just as it goes cold she feels the tingle of of another contact but brushes it off as Sioned’s face swims into view.

“I feel that we should have montage music for some reason…”

“Is it a silly reason?”

“Probably. But does that mean we shouldn’t have it?”

“I wouldn’t think so.”

Ty’s gaze flicks between Sioned and Emil as they work. The banter is fairly constant, and almost completely inane, but that doesn’t seem to reflect on what they’re doing. Sioned pulls components together out of very little, and fits them together with a snugness that belies the ease with which she crafts them. Emil composes a framework, waiting for Lara to return with the core component he needs. And the banter continues.

“What about…”

“Could you put your finger here for a second…”

“Some strings, but with a beat?”

“Thanks, you can let go now.”

“Like… “

They look at each other. Ty’s unsure what is happening. There is a slight wash of power, like a tiny breath of wind passing by. They both grin.

“Oh that’s good. I like it.”

“Montage music it is!”

They both return to their work, and fragmented sound tingles on the edge of hearing for a few seconds before it arrives out of nowhere. (Music only, no visual)

They continue their work for some time, the banter drops off, but not by much. Ty begins to form the impression that neither of them are particularly listening to each other, but that this is a state of being they have fallen into by default.

In front of her, the construction Sioned is building seems almost complete. She stops and ponders it, tapping her fingers on the table in time with the beat. Nothing about her is still. Even when she’s not moving anything but her fingers, there is still a pulse and movement about her that belies true stillness. Too much energy, too much realness?

But then she looks up, and like a blanket, stillness falls over her. She cocks her head to the side like an animal listening for prey, and a far away look covers her face.

“Incoming, we have a Lara,” she says softly, and with a shimmering of the visible spectrum, Lara appears as the music fades away.

Lara cocks her head to the side and asks, “was that music I could hear? It was nice. Was it you guys?” She looks around for a source of the sound, but can’t find any. Perhaps that’s not so surprising, she muses to herself, given I’ve got a conjurer and sorcerer sitting in front of me.

“Yes that was us…well mostly me.” Emil grins.

Lara expects a comeback from Sioned, but she just shrugs.

“Actually a valid statement…” she concedes, “…for once.” There it was. Emil looks faux offended and Sioned laughs. Lara shakes her head at the both of them.

“We decided we needed montage music, but this would be the anticipated break in the montage, during which the audience will receive some interesting and valuable information from the main players…” Emil motions to the small group with a ‘wink,wink; nudge nudge’ expression.

“That’s us, obviously.” Sioned supplies. “Or technically, more you than us.”

Lara laughs at the pair of them. And then has a thought. “Oh, did either of you guys just try to Trump me?”

Sioned and Emil both look back blankly at her as she continues.

“I got a contact just as Sioned’s Trump went cold and I ignored it, figuring it was a) either one of you or b) less important than getting back here with this.” As she says it she holds up a vial which Emil can see is marked ‘MALLORY, SEAN’. “I hope it’s enough for what you need to do Emil, I didn’t want to take too much.”

Emil’s eyebrows go up and he takes the vial from her. “It’s a small amount, but it should be all I need. Right!” he places the vial on the table and rubs his hands together enthusiastically. “Finally I can get some proper work done.”

Sioned rolls her eyes at him. “Yes, compared to the improper work you’ve been doing up to now.” She throws a leg over the bench she’s sitting on and stands. Emil ignores her, now actively engaged with the core of his plan.

“So it wasn’t either of you?” Lara asks.

“Not us, I’m afraid. We’ve been too involved here.” She turns to face Ty, “Ty can vouch for that.” She grins at him and he grimaces slightly.

“Huh, I guess if it’s important whoever it was’ll call back.” Lara shrugs and looks over at Ty, “and how’re you doing? Any questions or anything you need? When these two get going they can forget the rest of the world exists.” She says it gently, flashing a quick grin at Sioned. “If there’s anything we can do don’t be afraid to let us know.” Ty moves restlessly under her gaze, as if he wants to say something, but is holding back.

Finally, he seems to come to the conclusion that they won’t accept no answer for an answer, and clears his throat softly. “I’m not a sorcerer,” he says quietly, “I know nothing about conjuring, and my knowledge of the Pattern is largely theoretical. I know enough about shadow to avoid someone chasing me or prevent an attack, but I can’t do anything on the order of what you’re discussing.” He lifts his shoulders slightly. “I’d rather go to Amber and help Isolde and Lilit, but it’d take me way longer to get there than if I just wait here until you’re done doing whatever it is you need to do. So.”

Sioned nods. “Okay, then.” A sudden thought pulls her brows into a frown. “Oh, that reminds me.” Sioned pulls a piece of paper from her pocket. “I forgot to check in on Isolde.”

She stares at the trump sketch for a heartbeat or so, a look of intense concentration on her face. Slowly, her expression grows darker, and then, just at the point where Lara feels she ought to interrupt, Sioned flicks the paper down and vanishes it back into her pocket. “Silly. Forgot she’s not waking up anytime soon.”

Lara looks at Sioned and Emil, “well, if Ty wants to get to Amber quickly, we could Trump someone there that we trust and get them to bring him through. Talion should be almost back by now, if he’s not already, or I could try Edan. What do you think?”

“Talion’s probably the best bet…” Sioned glances at Ty, “Given the circumstances.”

The boy is looking suddenly concerned, but ducks his head quickly to hide his expression. Talion is a name he knows very well. A terrible cold sense of worry creeps over him. Do I want to meet him? he wonders. What has this world done to my father?

Humming in agreement, Lara looks over at Ty, wondering what he’s making of the last couple of minutes. He looks more withdrawn and hunched over than he was just moments before and she wonders what has triggered it. Was it Isolde not responding to the Trump contact or something else? Lara reaches out very gently with her mind towards Ty trying to get a sense of what it could be. Talion. Ty is worried what might have happened to him. She wants to reassure him that Talion is fine, but she can’t as she doesn’t know for sure herself.

From a pocket, Sioned takes a credit card sized, flat carved piece of wood and places it on her palm. Ty is unsure how, but in the time between it being taken from her pocket and placed in her hand, the piece of wood has grown to become a wooden box with far more depth, width and height than it started with. Conjurors.

Opening the box, Sioned takes out a smaller case, delicately covered in rice paper with detailed Shūfǎ in green and gold accents, that seem to emphasise motion and shine with dynamic life. Opening this case, reveals her trumps. Numerous unknown faces, varying from dour to cheeky. He spots Lara. She is laughing, and a pinkish light plays across her features; Emil, also laughing, his arms crossed standing against a background of green and blue patterned light. A face he does not know, but for which Sioned almost unconsciously pauses and brushes a thumb across the man’s cheek; then a dark face, with hints of Sioned about him, and thick framed glasses. Finally she selects a heavily bearded face that he only glimpses for a second, but it gives him a strange feeling.

She concentrates on the card reaching out for a connection.