Part One: To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

"Such stuff dreams are made of......"
-Sleeping Beauty


Things had been quiet in Amber as of late - like the eye of a hurricane. Ill tidings rode on the wind, challenging our short lived peace. Of course, peace prevails for now, but Chaos reigns more freely than order, even here, in the perfect realm.
I suppose that is what dreams are for, to embody our fears so that we may more closely exam them and, possibly, find a way to vanquish them. Or perhaps they exist to show us our deepest desires and turn fickle fantasy into solid vision, at least for a little while.
However you chose to look at them, there are times when they are frightfully intense and, perhaps scarier still, you realize that it would not take much for your most dangerous nightmares to become reality.......
I stood atop a balcony overlooking the city of Amber. The sky was the color of blood, framing one of the larger churches of the unicorn, turning it's milky towers an odd shade of pale pink. There were several fires scattered throughout the buildings and a consistent wail of terror rode on the breeze, which stunk of disease, death, and decay.
Fingering a trump deck in my hand I resisted the urge to vomit. It was not just the smell, it was the fact that all of Amber seemed to be dying.
A tall man rushed through a doorway I was only half aware of, his green shirt torn and bloody, his silver sword leaving a trail of crimson droplets as he moved towards me. He had sandy blond hair and blue eyes. I did not know him.
"We've GOT to leave, and quickly," he said once he reached me. "The Castle will fall any second. There is no time to lose." I nearly dropped the trumps as he tugged at my arm. I nodded, somewhat in a daze, then removed the top card from the deck.
He sat in a library, a magical light illuminating the scene, a large book in front of him. He wore the colors of bronze and brass and had russet hair.
I knew that I had never seen him before, but he was familiar all the same.
Glancing up at the man I saw him giving me a strange look which faded as I replaced the trump. He shrugged and led me through the door from whence he came.
Following him, I tried not to breath the putrid air.
The bedroom he led me in to was in shambles; the bed was neatly cleaved in two, a dresser lay toppled, it's contents scattered and crushed about the ground. The door was missing altogether and through the empty doorway we passed into the hall.
The air was better here and I drew a deep breath. Stale, but it did not reek of death as the outside did.
"Cousin," he addressed me, and I studied him. I knew that I had not seen him before. If he was family we had never met, but why, by the unicorn, would I be dreaming of family whom I had never met?
"Do you think we should make for the Pattern, or the Mirror, instead? Either way, I don't think we should head for the gate, or risk the Trumps again."
"No......I don't think we should risk the trumps again," I said without really thinking about it.
Mirror, mirror, mirror.........the hall of mirrors, perhaps? Or something of a different nature?
"The Mirror," I said, again not really contemplating what I was saying. "We are not close to the Pattern; it would take more time than we probably have."
Where did that come from? I thought. I made it sound as though the world would come to an end any time now. Cryptic, I suppose. However, "cryptic" is not my style. I shall leave the doomsayings to my brother, Lorius. They seem to be more in his league than mine.
The man nodded. "You're probably right. Any road, my sister in law to be, let's go." I was startled, but retained my calm expression. "Sister in law to be......" I suppose the most logical explanation, if anything can be called logical in a dream, would be that he was engaged to my sister, Brandeigh. Yes, that was a possibility.
"We'll take that shortcut my brother and found when we were all kids," he continued. He started down the hall and I followed. The more I studied him the more I realized that there was a faint resemblance between him and the man on the trump I had viewed earlier. I did not remember where the trump deck was now. I had not put it down, but it was no longer in my hand. All an aspect of the dream realm I suppose.
The hallway was deserted and silent, aside from the gentle sound of our footfall on the rotting carpet.
As we walked I began to notice the portraits and busts that lined the walls, undoubtedly depicting the current ruler. If this was Amber a majority of them would be of Oberon, but these were not of a King, but a Queen.
She reminded me of my mother, Fiona, at first, but then, and how I managed to flee through the halls and make out the details of those pieces of art I will never know, I realized that they were not of my mother but of someone very much like her. My Grandmother, Clarissa.
I was still pondering the similarities when my "brother in law to be" stopped before a large painting.
It was the throne room, though there were subtle changes. The marble was black, the throne silver, the tapestries seemed to hang too low, they were all subtle differences, but you could not miss who sat upon the throne. It was neither Oberon, nor Random, but a women who resembled Clarissa more than a little. She was smiling and seated, reminding me of a picture I had seen once in a history book.
My gaze, however, did not linger on Clarissa, but shifted to the women in front and to the right of her.
Shoulder length red hair, dressed in gray and scarlet, a slightly malicious smile on her face.
Though it may sound conceded, I looked quite lovely in the portrait. The only things that were unfamiliar was that I wore a coronet of some kind and the fact that I was holding hands with the russet haired man from the trump.
Mesmerized I stared at the painting, memorizing the details of myself and my painted companion, trying to place him from somewhere in my past, but drawing a blank.
I was returned to reality, so to speak, as my unnamed companion did something which caused the painting to rise, revealing inky darkness.
He look doubtfully at the opening. "I hope you have a light spell ready."
Frowning, I studied the opening. Sorcery is not my strong point and, while I know some, I am forced to leave the arcane arts to those such as my Mother and Lorius, who revel in it.
I had always wanted to learn the enchanted arts, but my Mother had been busy while I was growing up; first trying to take the throne of Amber, then trying to protect Amber from her mad brother Brand. Talk to some of my kin and you may receive a different explanation of Fiona's actions. I prefer to believe the account she gave me, which almost paints her as a saint. I am bias and that is that.
Mother and Lorius both have summoned witchlights at least one hundred times in my presence, and I acted on instinct, copying their gestures and concentrating.
I was only slightly surprised when it worked.
A sphere of crimson light, almost identical to Lorius', appeared before my presumed brother in law to be and myself.
A smug smile found it's way to my lips and I was filled with pride. It appeared, that in this dream world anyway, I had full filled the potential my brother had always thought I had.
My companion nodded in approval, then said, "It's good to see that my brother spends time with you in spellcraft as well as more intimate matters." He grinned like the cat who had swallowed the canary.
I blushed, though I did not know why. I was not even sure who he was talking about. Then the realization came to me. The russet haired man whose trump I had viewed earlier was my fianc»e. My guide resembled my so called fianc»e enough that they could be brothers. Therefore, he had the right to call me sister in law to be.
Strange, considering that I keep my love life away from Amber and even then there had not been anyone recently.
I contemplated the possibilities and made several more assumptions as we walked, ruby light outlining the stone walls of the corridor.
We turned suddenly, then began walking down at a gradual slope. The faint outline of a door became apparent after a time and when we reached it my companion pushed it, both of us landing ungracefully on the library floor.
This, however, was not the library I knew. The library of Amber is one of my favorite places in all the castle. I know it like the back of my hand. I know the feel of the carpet beneath my feet, I know where to find the different categories of books, I know the way the light slants through the windows at dusk..........and this place was anything but Castle Amber's library.
True, it was similar, but the tables were a slightly different color and the catwalk was a different height from what I remembered. The most obvious difference appeared in the corner where Random, Martin, and Brandeigh play their infernal music. Instead of the drums and a scattering of other instruments there was a mirror which was at least eight feet tall and possibly two feet wide. It was impressive as well as obscure.......
There was a sound then, very faint but *real* none the less. The main library door was slowly opening.
Silently, I reached out and grasped the strangers shoulder, turning him toward the opening door.
Mentally, I grappled with the Pattern, attempting to summon the image the way Mom and Lorius did.
It was not difficult, though the image seemed a little distorted - perhaps a slightly darker shade of blue than normal?
I began to mentally transverse the Pattern and, while it was not hard, it was not as easy as I had thought it would be. I made rapid progress, but a dull headache began, sending waves of pain through my temples. My relations had not mentioned the physical and mental toll of walking the Pattern in your mind. I now knew why they did not use this sort of magic often.
While I struggled with the Pattern my guide drew his bloody blade and took a defensive pose before me. His suspicions seemed well founded as two purple skinned men carrying toothed long swords entered.
The stranger moved forward to engage them, seemingly aware that he needed to hold them off in order to buy me time.
He attacked with persise, fluid movements and, while he was not on par with Uncle Benedict, he was certainly ranked with my cousin Percy, Deirdre's son, or Dalt's daughter Larissa. Whatever the case may be, he was far better than I.
I finished walking the Pattern and it burned bright in my mind, almost willing me to use it. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do. Mom used the Pattern for simple tricks, such as locating someone in the castle or looking across shadow. Lorius used it for showoffish purposes, such as drawing an item from shadow through it's center, the way Chaos lords are said to use the Logrus. We did not need to locate anyone, nor would my obtaining a weapon do much for the situation, aside from me losing a limb or two.
Sighing, I focused on the image and tried to throw it at our attackers, willing them to burst in flame or be hit by lightning or.........catch them both in glowing boxes of tangible magical force.
The man in green stepped aside and was not encased with the others. Our foes struggled against their surreal prisons, but could not free themselves.
"Good work! I only wish things had gone this well in real life......." The stranger turned his back on me and fingered the mirror.
Like magic the ghostly image of this library faded, replaced by the library I knew and loved, that which lay in the real Amber.
He turned away from the mirror then and looked me in the eyes. "I thank you. It is heartwarming to see that there are mages of skill in your world. And now, you must go home." He motioned toward the mirror. It was obvious he wished me to step through. I did not move.
"In case you are curious, historian, my world, the one I have shown you here, ultimately, did not survive, and only a few, like myself, escaped it's death. And yes, I know you are not really my sister in law. You do resemble her, though, and so that is part of the reason why that is the character I selected for you. Also, part of your mind wishes, I think, to find someone....." As he trailed off, studying me, I felt like a I played a minor role in a immense play. A passing villager who sees the hero but once and ponders over his odd behavior, but never learns the truth behind his actions. I did not like it one bit.
"One last thing!" he exclaimed before I had a chance to say anything. "Talk to your cousins. Tell them of what you have seen and ask them of their experiences. If the enemy," he pointed to the purple men trapped within my magic. I noticed wore some foreign heraldic symbol on their shirts, "comes to plague your world one day as they did mine, information is your only defense. And so, now, please go home and leave this vision of a doomed realm. As for me....perhaps I will escape my imprisonment, and we shall meet in real life one day." Again, he motioned toward the mirror, and again, I did not move.
Then I stepped forward, tentatively, and asked for his name among other things.
The information he gave me was sketchy at best. He had used a variety of names when conversing with my kin, but none of them were his true name for he feared that his captors would discover what he did.
Again he bade me to go, and this time I felt as though the mirror was drawing me towards it.
I inclined my head slightly, memorizing his features as I passed through the mirror.
"Farewell....." I murmured, unsure if he even heard it.
I did not encounter the library in Amber as I passed through, but rather a swirling darkness that was overwhelming.

This way to read part 2.....

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