Part 10: The Faded Pattern

"Cast your fate to the winds."
- L. Bernstein


"Incredible," I breathed.
Before Kyle and I lay a faded, crimson spiral almost identical in shape to our Pattern.
"Shall we have a look-see?" Kyle wrenched one of the windows open and held it for me as I clamored over the cracked sill and into the courtyard.
Most uncivilized - we should have searched for a door.
Kyle followed, moving past me to stand at the edge of the Crimson Pattern. I followed, stopping several feet from him.
We stood in silence, each observing in our own ways.
My mage sight confirmed that the energies were not consistent, seemingly having been "rubbed out" in places. It seemed as though I could walk it and live, but the strange energy pattern made me wonder whether or not it would have the power to teleport one of us, let alone the both of us.
It felt like a Pattern. Not like Amber's Pattern and not quite Corwin's, but something in-between. Different and severely flawed.
"Any first impressions?" Kyle asked, looking up from the spiral.
I frowned, staring at the spiral, but feeling the nothingness that surrounded us. This place, this dead world, was making me feel claustrophobic.
"It seems as though we could walk it. No telling what the imprint will do, though. Mother is going to LOVE this." I looked at Kyle. "Shall we try?"
Kyle answered me with, "Just a moment, cousin, there is one thing more which I wish to try first. And, we must not be so hasty to leave, if there is anything further to be investigated."
I said nothing and took a shaky breath.
There is a large difference between silence and nothingness. Silence is just that. No noise. But things still LIVE. There is still some form of an air current, some kind of plant, some kind of animal. Even dungeons cells have rats behind the walls and mold in the corners.
There was none of that here. Just an endless void where we were the only living things. It was like this Amber was in a jar which had a sealed lid to keep everything out.
Within that jar there was nothing.
Kyle squatted before what seemed to be the starting point of the Pattern. He held a hand over the washed out lines and relaxed, staring at the red line as though he intended to stare right through it.......
He rose slowly, looking woozy and a trifle pale.
He placed his fingers on his temples and began to rub them in a familiar gesture which proved that he had, once again, overextended himself.
Standing, he addressed me, "Shannon, I am sure you are far more well-versed in the various theories of Pattern than I am. There are certain areas that your mother refuses to touch upon with me until I become an initiate of the Pattern, even though she and the others have told me much. And, as you know, that opportunity has been quietly denied me these six years since I came to Amber. I think our elders remember my father's depravations all too well, and fear that they may have a dragon in waiting in their midst, and have no wish of me gaining real power. I'm sure that the incident with Julian didn't help much, either."
I smiled slightly, recalling how one night at dinner Julian and remarked that Kyle was the first son of Amber he'd seen with a testosterone deficiency. Kyle had looked at him, said, "Shhhh, Julian, I think you are cranky and need a nap." Uncle Julian's face then landed squarely in his mashed potatoes.
"That was a foolish display of power," my cousin continued, "but there is only so much of his mouth I can tolerate for long. Be that as it may, you are aware of the rumor or theory that the Patterns possesses sentience. I have just put that theory to the test, and in the case of this Crimson counterpart to our own Pattern, that seems to be the case. The thing that concerns me, is that this Pattern does not seem to have much of a mind left at all. It is as if it has had a frontal lobotomy and a major case of amnesia all at once."
I felt sick to my stomach. While I was not an expert on the subject, studying Pattern sentience was a hobby of mine. Even more so now that Corwin's had spoken directly to me.
"Which makes me wonder how much of a role the Pattern itself plays in the Pattern Walk, and whether it is advisable to imprint oneself with a damaged imprint from a foreign and damaged Pattern. I can tell you that the consequences are dire for those of us unfortunate enough to have walked a Broken Pattern. What is worse, in this case, is that we have no idea of how to avoid the flaws in this Pattern, and that it will most likely wipe out any existing Pattern imprints we bear, unless we shield ourselves. Aside from that, there remains the fact that this is a second order Pattern that is damaged, and not a shadow Pattern. I believe the energy levels of this thing may be low enough for me to take it without assistance, and that once at its center, we may be able to teleport to the Primal Pattern of this world, and from there, home, if the Primal proves to be in better condition than this Pattern. While you could undoubtedly walk the thing as well as I can, and most likely shield yourself from your Pattern imprint being overwritten as well, there is the inherent danger in the act. We do not know if the thing is even walkable. I suggest that I make the attempt, having walked several flawed Patterns, and if I succeed, I can Trump you to the center, and from there, attempt to teleport us to the Primal, if the teleportation can be accomplished by a brain-dead Pattern. I'd rather not risk both of our lives in the attempt." Kyle paused, then, "What do you think? Is there anything you can add that I haven't thought of?"
I stood there, contemplating. If what he said was true, I could lose my Pattern Imprint. Re-walking our Pattern was something I had no desire to do - it had been a draining experience. Plus, who knows what complications could arise by walking one Pattern with not a broken imprint, but one from an entirely different dimension?
While it was worth some thought, I had no desire to experiment.
Sighing, I fingered the katanna absently. "When Brand damaged our Primal Pattern the damage was not physically apparent on the Pattern in the basement of Castle Amber, nor on that of the Pattern which lies in Rebma." My gaze turned to the washed out spiral of red. "Considering how this appears not being the Primal Pattern, imagine what state the Primal must be in - if it even still exists. Then again, this," I motioned towards the alien Pattern, "could have been caused by someone trying to cause damage to this Pattern through it's first shadow, in which case the Primal version could be in perfect condition."
I stood silent for a moment, pondering whether or not to say more.
My list of theories on the damage caused by Brand was endless, despite the fact the it was repaired by the time I came to Amber. At least a dozen probable possibilities for the state of this poor creation and three dozen not-so-probable ones came to mind. Still, Kyle was sometimes was touchy when it came to the subject his father. I had gathered that he rather loathed the man, but there was an undercurrent of fear and a strong dislike of being compared to him as well.
All and all, it seemed best to avoid pointless theories, every one of which somehow revolved around Brand's actions.
I turned away from the washed out collection of rings and met Kyle's eyes.
"I am not sure that we have much of a choice. Returning to Amber with the trumps is probably impossible, assuming we could even raise that much energy again." Without looking away I pulled my trump deck from my pocket and deftly sorted Kyles card from the pile. "I shall lend you whatever strength I am able, though I am not certain the veils still exist here."
Moving forward, I gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Be careful."
"Don't worry, I'll be as careful as I can, under the circumstances," Kyle smiled, briefly caressing my cheek, and continued, "There is one more thing that I think I shall do before I embark on this newest foolishness of mine." Unbuckling the wide belt from his waist, he handed it to me. "This belt, like the blade, is heavily enchanted. I have not vested it with any reality, so it's mana should still be readily accessible." Reaching into his small hip pouch, he pulled out a handful of assorted gemstones, and the shards of mirror he had gathered earlier. "Likewise, these gems have a minor enchantment on them that may be tapped as well, and, as you know, so do the shards of mirror." Handing everything over, he took the katanna and belt, then held them up for observation.
"Look," he said in a tone which meant to use mage sight rather than more mundane methods. "Here and here, and here are the key points you will need to release in these spells to safely undo them and tap them for mana. Releasing them in this order," some more pointing, "should allow you to tap them at a reasonable rate. One of the gemstones should do to store all the mana you can gather by this method."
Viewed through mage sight, the enchantments laid on Kyle's blade and belt could be seen as a complex web of energies, tricks, and traps that only the mind of a devious sorcerer could have devised. A clumsy attempt to undo these spells would surely spell disaster for someone unprepared. With no knowledge of conjuration, the feat would be doubly dangerous.
Kyle did not seem worried. With good reason. Fiona did not raise any fools when it came to use of power. Even Brandeigh, who seemed the only one among us who was not power hungry, knew basic magic.
"My best advice," Kyle continued, "should I fail, is to tap all of these and pump the mana into the biggest Trump-enhancing spell you can create, and push through a contact to your mom."
Removing his ring, he said, "Shannon, this is Gwythnir and she is almost sentient. I have been slowly working on her for years, now, even since before I came to Amber. What I am going to do, as a bit of a safety precaution, is order her to teleport me off of that thing if I get into trouble that I can't handle." Looking thoughtful, he continued, seemingly more grave than usual, "You see, Shannon, and I haven't mentioned this to anyone else, when I took the damnedable Broken Pattern, I was tricked into it. My mother arrived, having tracked me through sorceress means, and after my foot had already fallen on the thing, she attempted to insulate me from its powers with a spell. The backlash killed her. So, this may not be the best idea I've had, but I like to have at least one fail-safe. I am going to set the spell to go off if I lose consciousness, in which case it will be too late to Trump me out. And, if anything really bad happens, I want you to drop the Trump contact immediately and get out of my mental neighborhood, because the property values are likely to plummet. If you can pull me back quickly, then fine, but if it comes down to some kind of psychic battle, I'd rather you were safe. Someone has to tell the rest of them how poor Kyle died bravely defending the universe, after all." With that, he smiled a suave smile and slipped the ring back on his finger.
After a few seconds of concentration he seemed satisfied that the teleportation spell was primed.
He handed Gwythnir back to me and, with a jaunty wave, said, "Well, a fifty-fifty chance, here I go again, leaving my fortunes to the winds."
Smiling, he winked and turned to the Crimson Pattern.
I stood, my arms laden with trinkets every sort, watching silently, praying to a God I truly did not believe in that the first step wouldn't be his last.
Without pause and with no backward glance, Kyle set his foot upon the ruby path.
He did not die. I felt a wave of relief, though the danger was far from over. Absently, I began to stuff magical items in my pockets, holding Kyle's trump ready should anything come up.
One step after another. He passed through the first veil with little difficulty, then moved on to the second. Again, hardly any resistance.
Then the Pattern began to glow, as if energized by the walk.
I bit my lip. It was probably nothing.......
He approached the final veil.
It would be a lie for me to say that I was not worried. I had heard of relatives who had tried to walk the Pattern back home and who had failed at the final veil, literally imploding at that point. I watched, silent and nervous.
Then he passed through, stopping at the center.
I let out a sigh of relief. I think he did, too.
The trump contact was easy and I passed Kyle back his things without comment, but with a smile. The glow around the edges of the blood colored Pattern began to fade and all was silent and still, except for Kyle buckling his belt and replacing his artifacts.
"Congratulations, cousin," I said, breaking the silence. "Any adverse effects?" I'm sorry to say that curiosity was more present than concern at that point.
Kyle ignored me, motioning that I should keep the katanna. "Cousin, I am going to try something, with what energy this thing has left. If it works, I will contact you via Trump."
With that he closed the contact and was gone, amid a torturous straining of power from this Pattern. It's pain groaned through the dead world.
I blinked and tried to contact him with the trump.
Nothing. Just a static interference. Apparently, he could not even sense the call to boost the contact.
He was gone and I was alone.
Alone in a realm where there was no life. No breeze. No sound.
Alone in a realm that was surrounded by a void of nothing.

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