Part 15 - Brand vs. The Genies

"A little help at the right time is better than a lot of help at the wrong time."
- Tevye

The thought of screaming crossed my mind, but it seemed pointless. It was late and the only attention I was likely to attract was some lone guard who could do nothing more than have his spleen ripped out by Kyle's Father.
I looked to the card, which was clutched numbly in one hand.
Brand sat atop his white horse, dressed in green with even greener eyes to match.
Quickly, my gaze shifted between Kyle's still form and the psychically active card. Physically, they were notably different, but was something about the man atop the horse and the man who sat on my couch that was identical. He was his Father's son, there was no doubt of that.
Abruptly, I shoved the card back into my deck.
This was the company. This was the threat. It all fell into place at once. Kyle had been imprisoned by Brand. The whole reason his mind was broken was because Brand had entered and played whatever sick games suited his fancy.
Temples pounding, I rounded the table and knelt - nearly fell - before my cousin.
I had heard from Lorius and the like that there were certain words of power which could disrupt trump contacts at the core. Had I known them, I certainly would have tried, but, sadly, all the power words I knew worked physically against lesser mortals. They would do nothing to disrupt the contact, nor would they be much use in a fight against Brand.
"Kitty," I said, afraid to touch the beast lest I disrupt my cousins healing in some way. "Kitty.......would you do me a great big favor and wake your master." A pause then, "Please?"
Emitting a small cry of pain, I lowered my head.
I was losing. Slowly, but surely, Brand was crushing my mental defenses.
A part of me was slipping away, being absorbed into the contact. Another, more grounded part, was aware of Kyle stirring next to me.
My cousin shifted position, putting a hand on my shoulder.
"Are you all right?" There was a certain mixture of urgency and concern in his voice.
I looked up and smiled forcibly.
"I hope things are back in place in your head, Kyle." I paused, gritting my teeth. "Your Father is trying to contact me and I am having a bit of trouble keeping him at bay."
"Great," he muttered, speaking more to himself than me. Then, to the cat, "Go! Get Fiona, or Bleys, whichever you find first, break your silence with one of them if need be."
The cat looked at him with a tilted head, and then broke into a run, passing beyond my line of site.
"To answer your question," Kyle continued, "in a word, 'no'. But I'll lend you what strength I have left to me."
He took my hands, joining his strength with mine.
Kyle had not lied when he said that his mind was not yet mended. His mental defenses were pathetic.
The additional strength, abliet infinitesimal, eased the throbbing in my temples. My mind cleared and I gathered my defenses, resurrecting fallen shields.
Brand's call hovered, not connecting, but not breaking either. However, without help, it wouldn't be long before he swamped the two of us and forced the call. He was definitely not giving up, and his legendary power seemed still with him.
Somewhere behind me the hinges creaked and door swung open. I turned an saw the cat with a rather unexpected ally - my brother.
Lorius stood in the doorway, scowling at us.
"Good morning, brother." I forced a smile. "Your cheerful demeanor never ceases to amaze me." Then, the smile fading slightly, "I don't suppose you could lend me a hand in resisting a certain trump call?"
"Ah, Lorius Old Bean!" Kyle exclaimed. "Just the fellow we needed to see. Brand seems to have returned from the dead and is hell-bent on breaking into dear Shannon's mind. Lend a few synapses, or perhaps have a teleport to a trump-free zone handy, cousin?"
Lorius actually looked serious and contemplative for a moment. Delicately, he sniffed the air.
"Out of this room first," he barked. "Magical Interference in here."
In unison, we stood and exited into the hallway of the castle, locking the door behind us. Lorius said a few syllables and the three of us were consumed in a flash of light. We emerged into a large cavern - a very, very damp cavern. The three of us are standing in a large runic circle, similar to the one my Mother, Bleys and Torri were managing earlier. They're difficult to use, yet a powerful form of magic.
The Trump call was still coming strong, but before we could say anything the world melted, leaving us in another circle inscribed atop a stone patio, surrounded by dunes.
Brand's call was gone, my mind clear. The threat had passed for the moment. Lorius smiled in satisfaction at my obvious signs of relief.
"Ah, welcome to one of my vacation spots." I half expected him to execute a bow. "One, I think, probably that that Chaosian daughter of Bleys might like...except for the swimming pool on the other side of the house."
Lorius stepped out of the circle, gesturing grandly.
"I suppose after we find some breakfast, you should explain to me why Brand was calling you, sis. He isn't exactly an Amway Salesman."
Gently, I massaged my temples. "My most genuine thanks for your help, Lorius. As for the why of our not-so-deceased uncle's call, we will have to look to cousin Kyle for the answer. While I can venture some theories, I suspect that he alone knows the truth." A shrug. "Or close to it anyway."
Kyle just shrugged, the lines of exhaustion threatening to mar his alabaster features. "Basically, it boils down to this: When Shannon and I were on our jaunt over to the Crimson universe, I attempted to trump her, and it turned out she was in the middle of a contact with your mother. My contact was interrupted by none other than Brand, who was in the shadow where I'd left Kyle Jr. to do some work on my behalf. He pulled me out of the Crimson universe, and suggested I join him in remaking the universe. I informed him that I was not quite through with this one, and proceeded to attack him. I took a chance that it was just a particularly potent shadow of his, which, of course, it wasn't. I ended up in a shadow confinement with most of my facilities shut down on a psychic level. I was rescued by Shannon," he smiled and nodded to me, "and was in the process of untangling what webs Brand had wrought on my mind when it came to my attention that Shannon was under assault by my dear old Da, and I believe you know the rest of the story."
Kyle took a seat on the nearest available facility, that being a padded wicker chair, and sighed. "It would seem that with Brand's sudden interest in Shannon and myself that it would be prudent to expedite the process. I don't believe that Brand can stand against the three of us if I am at full strength. If you two would care to join me in my little mindscape, my friend here," he patted the cat,"can stand watch."
"My, you two have been busy," Lorius opined. "Twisting the Tiger's Tail is fun, if you think you have a chance with his claws.
"But you seriously want to take on Brand here and now. Now if he could get through my defenses here, I would be concerned enough, but I doubt he will be able to crack the..."
As if on que, we heard a loud piercing klaxon. Like an alarm, but far more annoying.
Lorius grimaced. "If this shadow gets destroyed, you two are footing the bill. Looks like Psychobabble is trying to get in. Let's go up to the Observatory. We'll meet his challenge there."
Matter-a-factly Lorius rejoined me in the ruin circle.
"Great," Kyle said, standing. "He isn’t going to give us a moment’s peace." Looking to Lorius, he said, "Unless you have any tips for quickly undoing my father’s handiwork, I suggest we run, rather than face him right now. It might also be a bit easier on your shadow."
"You," I said, shaking a finger at Kyle, "are nothing but trouble." I smiled and squeezed his hand. "At least life is interesting for a change."
Lorius sneered at my comment.
"Yeah, I will give you that," he said dryly. "After all, with Doors and whatnot to deal with already, what's not a run in with Brand to stir the pot even more, hmm?"
The scene around us changed, and we found ourselves in a fairly dark room, with lights on the ceiling the only illumination. They seemed set in odd pattern and, as my eyes focused, I recognized them to be set in the forms of the constellations of Amber. Lorius' own planetarium it seemed.
"Show entrant location and locale," my brother said suddenly.
One of the dots of light expanded to fill the entire dome which, for one brief shining moment, was alight enough that I could see that it was indeed a planetarium. The light faded and the dome showed something else; something far less pleasant.
It looks like a Bazaar, like those I had seen in the cracked volumes of Arabian tales which lined a far corner of the library. Standing in the middle of the frame, very exasperated, was a man out of legend.
An odd mix of fear and anticipation churned within me. The man shown above us was Brand, mad Prince of Amber. Inwardly, I reprimanded myself. The man was one of the most dangerous enemies Amber had ever faced, yet some strange part of me almost hoped that we would lose and that for one brief moment I could truly face this living legend. He was like Corwin, but on a somewhat larger scale.
I looked away briefly, ashamed - and afraid - of my own thoughts.
"Anti Magic defenses. Seek out target." Lorius commanded, as we watched, fascinated. The bazaar actually looked like a nice place to visit, save for Kyle's Father. Throngs of people and booths selling fabric, pottery, and, possibly, chickens were visible in the background.
A trio of djinn flying through the sky, caught my attention. In fact, they were headed right toward Uncle Brand, who had looked up from the card as they approached.
The Djinn did not appear to be very happy.
Lorius turned away from the scene and motioned towards the seats. "Care to see the latest flick? Brand vs. the Genies?"
"'Brand vs. the Genies?'" I could not help but be skeptical. "And who do you think has the upper hand?"
Kyle smiled, "She does have a point, cousin. As entertaining as your defenses may be, they won't hold him indefinitely. Sooner or later, we'll need to face him ourselves. If we do, I'll need to be at full strength. I will attend to that while you watch your show. Would you care to offer any advice as to a quick way to undo or bypass the psychic blocks my dear ol' Da has put on me brain?"
Lorius looked at the scene for the moment, and I noticed that Brand's first attempt at casting a spell to undo the Genies was not working very well.
"They're mostly magic immune," Lorius said smugly, "so he'll either give up and leave us alone, or eventually find their weakness and then come here. In either case, I think we have time to either get out of here, or get ready for him."
Lorius' gaze pierced Kyle. "Psychic blocks, huh? Better tell me more about them before I decide rummaging through that black hole of a brain of yours."
"Instead of calling in one of my, ah, favors," he added as an afterthought.
Kyle remarked, "The most annoying kind of blocks, actually. They seem to be little melodramas, set in Amber. I take it that my role is supposed to be to breech the walls of Amber to get at my blocked power. I had already dealt with the first layer of his defenses, in the form of Julian. It was easier than I'd expected, which, of course, makes me suspicious." Despite the fact that his words were aimed for Lorius, Kyle's eyes never wavered from the image of his Father on the screen above us.
Brand, meanwhile, was doing his best not to be surrounded by the Genies. His lightning bolts and other spells were doing a lot of damage to the square, and not to his opponents.
"I will admit, brother, your genies are stronger than anticipated." The complement was hardly forced.
Our attention turned towards the screen then, as Brand tried to dodge the magic-resistant genies, by heading down a street. The view of the "movie" stayed on the bazaar, and so the figures became smaller and smaller, until the genies returned suddenly amidst the booths, many of which now lay in smoking heaps. The magical creatures seemed to look directly at us and say something in an unrecognizable foreign tongue.
The three djinn clapped their hands, and were gone.
"Damn," Lorius commented. "Brand chickened out and left. Too bad. I was ready to make some popcorn for us." He seemed almost petulantly upset Brand wouldn't play his game, as it were.
The bazaar scene disappeared, replaced by a typical planetarium view. The starscape being that of Amber.
"Good show cousin!" Kyle clapped. "But, again, as in me wee head, too easy. He could have called on other powers, of course. The whole situation strikes me as a cat and mouse game of his." Smiling, he continued, "Nevertheless, there is the matter of sweeping the cobwebs from my attic, and your defenses seem to have given us the time we need to do something about those."
Lorius nodded, seemingly in agreement with Kyle.
"Is it safe to assume that I am, at least momentarily, free of psychotic trump communications?" It was not apparent in tone, but the fact that Brand had my trump made me nervous.
"I unfortunately can't be so blind as to not see you are right. You might be safe for the moment, sister, but Brand apparently is playing a game with both of you...and now me as well. Maybe we should call Brandeigh and make it all of the red head children?" Lorius grinned.
"As far as your mental blocks, Kyle," he continued, "despite them improving your attitude some, we should have them removed as soon as possible. After all, if dear uncle put some post hypnotic commands in there too, I don't think Julian will hesitate to kill you if you were programmed to try and kill him in a clumsy fashion."
I hung off every word, not understanding much of it, but filing it away for further reference. It was no secret that Julian and Kyle despised one another and, from what Kyle had revealed, one of the blocks had been in Julian's form.
"I wouldn't put it past Brand to end your life like that," Lorius snapped his fingers, "if he wanted to. But, I have a proposal for you. I have some...friends who just might be the right people to help remove them...and they owe me anyway."
He looked between the two us, eyes darting, smiling like the cat who swallowed the very large canary.
"How about a nice trip to the Courts?"
"The Courts of Chaos.......my, my, brother, what interesting 'friends' you have. I, for one, am game." I glanced at Kyle, my tone and smile both containing a bit irony. "Anything for family, after all."
"As am I, of course. Your assistance, Lorius, is very much welcomed, and the more redheads, the merrier. Excepting one, of course."
"If I remember correctly, brother, you still have my trump of Brandeigh from our time spent at the Primal Pattern earlier," I paused for a moment, trying to determine how much time had passed for them, "....yesterday. That is, unless you have gone and misplaced it."
Lorius nodded and rummaged through a pocket in his robe. He produced a trump and tossed it to me.
"Many thanks, sis," he said as I caught our sisters portrait, "for the painted piece of cardboard. I wouldn't misplace your property, honest."
I smiled faintly, knowing Lorius well enough to perceive that as a "thank you."
"Now, my friends, unless, Shannon, you are planning to call sis first, I think we have a trip to take," Lorius continued. "Hopefully without a tailgater. I believe I have a runic block already prepared in my library...shall we go?"
"Let's wait, shall we?" I said, placing the card in my trump deck. "Unless the time difference is extreme between here and Amber, it is still the dead of night and Brandeigh would probably be less than pleased to hear from me."
Kyle nodded to me. "That's probably a good idea, and I'd welcome getting my eggs unscrambled sooner than later." Turning and bowing slightly to Lorius, Kyle said, "Lead on, McDuff!"
The implication, if there was one, was lost to me. Undoubtedly another one of those shadow Earth axioms my kin were so fond of.
Lorius motioned for us to walk out of the theater, and into a long, stark hallway.
"Sometimes there is no substitute for exercise, or Pollux always says." Lorius laughed, probably amused by our surprise, for he was walking rather than implying his usual, showy methods of transportation.
"Our darling sister," he continued, "if she had a place like this, would likely have trumps by the score to get around. I have more magical methods, which you have already seen in action."
After about 30 meters or so down the dismal corridor, he turned and faced an arch filled with icy light. The arch had runes all around the framework, similar to the ring he used to lead us to the strange planetarium.
"As Kyle knows, and while Kyle is under the knife I'll show you myself, perhaps," Lorius began. "Normal sorcery depends on lynchpins to hold them together. You can put a lynchpined spell into a specially prepared object. The disadvantage of that, however, is while you can have a teleport spell carried around in this object all the time, you have to continually refresh the spells. It can be a pain in the neck."
He rubbed the arch and spoke in a tongue beyond my comprehension, the runes glowing, first faint then bright, with white light.
"Runic magic is more complex, harder to create for anyone of a sorcerer not of MY rank, but is much more permanent. I can use this arch over and over again." All the runes finally glowed with the same intensity and the blueness was replaced by the scene of a plush wooden paneled library.
He stepped through then turned his emerald gaze to my cousin and I.
"If I could, I'd put these up in the Castle, but that daughter of Julian would probably kill herself trying to figure out how they worked," Lorius smirked.
I smiled and followed Lorius through the archway.
Kyle, in turn, seem agitated, but he forced a smile and stepped through as well.
As Brand's son came across Lorius spoke a few words and the ruins glow faded, then vanished, leaving the portal a mass of sapphire once more.
"Next rule of magic, sis...Always be tidy," Lorius said with a grin.
With all the regality of a King my brother strode across the library and levitated to the second floor of the three, where he promptly began to search the shelves for something.
Kyle and I looked around, taken aback by the mass of odds and ends overflowing from the shelves.
Crystals and candles of all shapes, sizes, and color were wedged between boxes with odd labels, stacks of velum, and twisted bits of metal. Off in one corner there was an odd shaped box which seemed to have a window set in the middle and was lined with buttons beneath.
I bit my lip. It was fairly high tech, but I had seen one like it before. What was it again........a computer?
I turned away and set my sights on one of the rows of books which accounted for more than seventy-five percent of the shelf space.
Stepping away from Kyle I pulled the nearest book from a shelf and began to flip through it.
Fiction, apparently, for the text was a narrative of some kind. Whether it 'twas fictional or not, it detailed a place called Fionavar. It was pictureless and my gaze was drawn to the clashing ink and letters scrawled, uncharacteristically I might add, in the margins by my brother's hand.
A sudden cry of, "INCOMING!" drew my attention away from the book.
Lorius leapt from the railing and floated down to where we stood, smiling at me.
"Okay, if you two have checked out the books you want and seen the head librarian, we can now leave." He gave a rakish grin and held up his prize, a fist sized perfectly cubical piece of Malachite, with runes in silver and gold on all six faces.
"Ah, a bit smaller than your arch, I see," said Kyle. He glanced up from the windowed box which he had been studying. "I'm ready when you are." Making a small, courtly bow in my direction he extended his arm and said, "Shall we?"
Despite his obviously fatigued condition, he seemed to have regained some of his usual cheer.
I closed the book and replaced it on the shelf. Graciously, I took Kyle's arm with a nod and a smile. Then, to Lorius, "Lead on."
Lorius nodded, and began to speak a foreign tongue once more. The ruins inscribed in the malachite began to glow until all six sides were ablaze.
A faint, sly smile crept across my face as the malachite began to glow brighter and brighter.
The Courts of Chaos........the end of reality........

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