Part 16 - Chaos and A Brain Surgeon
"I transversed the realms of death and
eternity, order and chaos........."
- Living Tribunal
The library ceased to be, the three of us standing
within a large trapezoidal room, within a pentagram. Lorius'
malachite had apparently vanished.
"This is kind of both a protection against demons and a joke for other visitors," Lorius explained nodding to the design on the floor. He jumped adroitly across the lines, taking care not to disturb them.
I stared down at the lines, some of which seemed to be carved into the floor itself and inlaid with some sort of black material, which was rather striking against the bleached floor.
"I'm sure my friends will do it more properly when someone comes in the next minute or two," Lorius said. "But, let me welcome you to the House Helgram, of the Courts of Chaos."
"Helgram, Lorius?" I smiled at him, bemused. "Considering I have heard of them they must be of some power. Interesting that they owe you 'favors.'"
Looking beyond the borders of the pentagram, I saw that it was indeed some sort of receiving area indeed, judging from the chairs and tables and other unusual cabinets, which most likely housed refreshments. The perspective was disorienting - it almost seems that the floor and ceiling were identical, for there were chairs attached to the ceiling as well as the floor. Another pentagram, too, was carved into another corner of the room. There were four exists, two on each "level."
Kyle, as well, noted the ceiling decor and tossed a gold coin in to the air.
Lorius smiled, watching as it started up in a normal arc until it reached the halfway point of the room. It then, suddenly, changed it's movement and fell to the ceiling with a gentle "thump."
"Local gravity," Lorius explained. "And to think that is pretty tame by the standards of this place."
Kyle offered me his arm, which I gladly took with a smile. We stepped out of the pentagram.
"I wouldn't say the Lord of House Helgram owes me favors, sister," Lorius continued, smiling at me almost fondly. "Just some moderate contacts here...if you remember, this is the House Mom and Uncle Bleys and you know who contacted back during the War."
I did remember. The history books did not speak much of Fiona and Bleys alliance, but she had been fairly open with me about it.
"Mom actually suggested I broaden my experiences some by visiting here. Probably in time, she'll suggest it to you as well." Lorius grinned, then turned as a door opened.
She was tall and thin, with writhing tentacles about her head. Her skin was scintillating blue and violet snakeskin. I immediately did not like her. Perhaps it was the snakes.......
"Ah, greetings Lady Drusilla." Lorius crossed his arms at the elbows. The Chaosian did the same and smiled with her full lips.
"Greetings, Prince Lorius. Friends of yours?" Her voice was soft and frigid.
"I did promise one day, Lady, that more of my family would visit here than just Mom and me, and for various reasons, now seemed like a good time." Lorius relaxed his arms.
"I'd like you to meet my sister Shannon, and my full cousin Kyle, of the lineage of Brand. Shannon and Kyle, may I present the Lady Drusilla, daughter of Lisanne, of the House Helgram."
Drusilla's ice blue eyes scanned the two of us, lingering on Kyle more often than not. Jealousy rose up within me, though I did not know why. Should I care that some slithery snake-women was gazing at my cousin?
A small voice said "yes" and another, far firmer voice said "no."
Apparently satisfied, she crossed her arms in front of her. "Pleased to meet the both of you, and in the name of House Helgram, I bid you welcome."
Kyle, still holding my arm, bowed low. ""The honor is mine, Lady. Thank you for your hospitality."
I flashed her a brilliant, but meaningless smile. "Charmed."
"Drusilla, now that we have been introduced, let me explain why we popped in," Lorius said as the Chaosian turned back to him, smiling.
"My cousin here," he nearly cuffed Kyle on the back of his head, "has gone through a rather traumatic experience as of late. He is physically all right, but some of his mental functions are shut off and it seems to have been a deliberate action on some party's part. I was hoping to talk to Alek about checking it out and possibly curing it. Is he still around?"
Drusilla's iridescent lips formed a pout. "Gee, and I thought you were here to see ME." She looked from Lorius to Kyle to me.
Lorius sighed, an all too familiar look passing over his face. "Well, I guess meeting you is an unexpected bonus. Isn't it Kyle?" He looked toward Kyle. "Be careful of Kyle, Dru. He's the ladies man of the three of us."
My hand clasped his arm just a tad bit tighter.
Drusilla smiled at Kyle, and then before our eyes changed. In a matter of moments she is no longer visibly Chaosian. She was wearing a satin dress now, in the same brilliant blue as her eyes and her hair, no longer tentacles, was a very light blonde color......almost towheaded. She also seemingly had acquired a pair of high heels.
"Is that better?" Drusilla said with a smile. "Come on, we have to go through the Gate of Delirium to reach Alek's personal Ways." She strode confidently across the room, pausing at the opposite entrance to the one from which she had come. With a slight turn of her head she faced us, staring directing at Kyle rather than my brother or I. She then pulled open the door and stepped through.
Lorius grinned and followed.
Kyle laid a hand over mine, no readable expression on his face.
The mental contact was no surprise. **Careful.** The implication of the single word was clear, the overtone unmistakable, even if Kyle's shields were not totally demolished as they now were. The Lady of Chaos disturbed him for some unknown reason, though his face remained neutral. Could snakes smell fear?
Not meeting his eyes, I gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
His expression changed and, smiling, Kyle said, "Shall we?," tilting his head toward me in order to complete the gesture.
Whatever his intentions, a sly smile spreads across my lips and I, knowing quite well that Drusilla was watching from beyond the doorway, rested my head lightly on his shoulder.
It was childish and I knew it, but it, too, was all a part of the grand game which I learned to play so well.
Lorius, watching as well, shrugged off our defensive body language and started down the hall with Drusilla, followed by the two of us.
Despite tales of what Chaos Ways were like, we seemed to be traveling down an ordinary trunk passage, with corridors branching off at intervals.
It was not until we reached a large octagonal room, filled with Chaosites in both demon and human form, that we seemed to be any place out of the ordinary.
Drusilla nodded to half a dozen people who passed by. For the most part, they ignored the four of us - some appraising stares, but no words were exchanged.
The room was lined with corridors in all eight directions. Rather, all ten directions since there were square shafts in the ceiling and floor.
Drusilla stopped at one of these shafts and looked down, before looking at my escort and I. Oddly enough, the downward and upward shafts seemed to be rotating on an unknown joint and axis with psychedelic colors, an almost hypnotic feeling.
"Can you two fly?" Drusilla chirped, eyeing the two of us.
I could not, but I kept my mouth firmly shut. This was not a place to be letting on about weaknesses. The magic of trump was my specialty.
"Well," Kyle said, "normally, it's a small matter, but I have recently had my wings clipped. One can only try." That said, he extended his free hand. A moment later a large, copper cup appeared, cradled between his fingers. Raising the cup near his lips, he tilted his head slightly forward, and breathed slowly into it, exhaling power as well as air. Words issued forth from his lips and his breath could be seen to circle inside it, in a small whirlwind.
Tilting the cup toward the floor, the air escaped and encircled our feet, lifting them a few inches above the floor.
"Nice cantrip," Lorius said, eyeing the two of us, "but do you think you can hold yourself for a long period?" My brother clapped his hands, rising a full meter into the air. "The trick is to float down the Gate of Delirium - really a controlled descent."
I looked to Kyle and smiled, speaking softly, "Do you think you can do it, or is your brain too muddled?" I squeezed his hand. "I, at least, have faith in your ability."
"If you say so. Looks stable to me," Lorius said, his eyes narrowing slightly as he watched the by-play between us.
Drusilla stepped off of the ledge and began to float down the Gate of Delirium, gently dodging a rather human looking Chaosian on the way up, and through the ceiling.
Lorius looked down, and grinned. "Can't do a swan dive here." He calmly walked out into the center and then waved at the two of us, smirking as he sunk into the tunnel.
Kyle and I floated out over the hole. Looking down, we saw the tunnel twisting and turning below us. With small adjustments, the two of us stayed in the center. The walls were a never ending kaleidoscope of colors.
Lorius and Drusilla, finally, veered off the tunnel and into a room it cut through, much like the room we were in before. With a slight adjustment, Kyle was able to place the two of us in the room and out of the tunnel.
Lorius nodded to the two of us. Drusilla smiled.
"You want to go directly to my cousin? One of the commissaries are also on this level." Drusilla smiled at Lorius.
The room was the color of night, lit by some unseen force. There were eight exits, as before. This junction, however, seemed busier than the last and Drusilla smiled and nodded more as the populace walked and flew by.
Kyle replied,"Thank you for the hospitality, but we have recently eaten. I think it best that we proceed."
Drusilla nodded, leading the three of us down one of the corridors. As we were walking, Kyle's spell was no longer necessary. With a soft plop, the pair of us, arms still linked, returned to ground level, and we traveled on through the busy corridor.
The sides of the walkway were octagonal, identical, almost, to the room we had recently left. The corridor seemed to shift around us, people appearing to be walking above and to the sides of us. It was a confusing experience, but fortunately, Drusilla kept us from changing facets.
Finally, after a difficult distance to measure, Drusilla stopped, pointed and looked down. In the middle of all this madness there was trap door. She firmly grasped the handle and pulled. The grumble of passersby's could be heard as she did so.
"Ready for a descent?" Drusilla asked. The hole seemed to led to a tunnel which descended downward at a sharp angle.
"As I'll ever be," Kyle replied, following Lorius and Drusilla downwards.
Then, to me, **I don't like the looks of this, place, or the vibes I'm getting from the passersby. Stay alert.**
**Only a fool would drop their guard here, of all places,** I said in ways of agreement.
Fortunately for us, the gravity was, once again, local to the floor. I say fortunate because it was the only thing keeping us from squishing Lorius and Drusilla flat.
As we traveled down the corridor, our footsteps seemed to echo and reverberate throughout the narrow passage. Perhaps the peculiar dark material of the floor and walls was the cause. It is almost musical.
The corridor, after some time, leveled off at a door, and Drusilla pressed some buttons on a panel next to it. As expected, the door swung silently open revealing an oval room in the same material and color scheme. Clearly a receiving room of some sort, identical in style to all the places I had seen in the House Helgram, doors in every direction.
There were a few couches as well, including one that faced the door, which happened to be occupied by a tall man, with the same blue and violet snakeskin Drusilla showed. No tentacles writhed on his blockish head, however. He was wearing a short shirt and pants and was well over six feet tall. He stood to greet us.
"I am Alek. It's a pleasure to see you again, Prince Lorius." He also smiled to Drusilla.
Kyle made a small bow, "Pleased to meet you."
I bowed slightly. "Pleasure to meet you. I am Shannon, Lorius' sister."
"Down to Business, now" Lorius said, rubbing his hands together like Random does before rolling the dice. Knowing my brother, it was probably a conscious imitation of it.
"I helped you, Lord Alek, with that matter involving House not so friendly assassin demon some time ago, yes?"
Alek nodded, saying nothing.
"You promised me three favors in return in gratitude, as witnessed by Drusilla here among other parties."
Drusilla assented and Alek nodded a second time.
Lorius continued in his measured words. Very formal phraseology, perhaps the most formal I had heard my brother ever.
"I claim one of those favors at this time. My first cousin Prince Kyle of Amber here," he gestured in Kyle's general direction, "has been inflicted with mental blocks of a high order. I ask you, if Kyle is willing, to remove the mental blocks which have impaired his facilities, and restore them to full health and order."
Alek turns toward Kyle and I. "What say the both of you in this matter?"
I nodded my silent assent, gazing at my cousin.
Kyle consider his words, choosing them as carefully as Lorius had before. "I thank you for your hospitality, and you, Lorius, for your gift. I have no desire to insult you, either, but I allow nobody access to my mind, save one. It is more than a desire for privacy, it is a matter of security for Amber."
I had caught that. Kyle was either lying, or he had something buried in his brain that was important. Either way, I wanted to know.
"I do, however, have a suggestion," he continued, "and you can judge for yourself whether it is reasonable. What I suggest is that I enter my mindscape, with Shannon as a link, if she is willing. She can relay what I encounter to you, and you can then instruct me in the finer points of bypassing these blocks."
Alek listened to Kyle's proposal, changing his form and sliding himself into a nearby metal couch of some kind, almost lounging on it, rather than merely sitting. He was, however, shaking his head as Kyle spoke.
"That may not give the best results, Prince Kyle. If Prince Lorius," he looked to my brother, "has felt the need to consult me on the matter, then I suspect that the blocks may be strong enough to require a direct contact between the mental physician, that is to say, myself, and the patient.
"The system you propose does work in minor cases, but in the case of yours, to try and proceed with it may be dangerous to yourself and to Princess Shannon." My expression remained neutral, but he had my attention. "However, if you truly feel that is the only way you want to deal with this, then since my services have been contracted, we will proceed in that fashion."
"Aye," Kyle said, eyeing him. "I don't doubt you, but I think we should give that route a chance. I know that Lorius trusts you, but this is a personal shortcoming that I haven't time to get over on such short notice."
Mentally, to me, **I think it's time we bug out.**
Images swirled across the contact, nearly overwhelming me. The place was, obviously, Tir-na N'goth. Drusilla, snakes for hair, stood, her icy lips drawn in a taunt smile. The ghost of Brand stood between the two figures, announcing Drusilla as Kyle's bride.
**This smells of a trap,** Kyle continued. **If I do the old mumbo-jumbo, do you think you can get us to the Primal Pattern, without drawing their attention?**
The "their" not only included the two Chaosites, but my brother as well.
**I do not know. I have never tried anything this deep into Chaos before. If we fail we are going to look very suspicious.**
I flashed my best smile, the one Lorius once commented on as being "empty as a light bulb" whatever that means. "Begging your forgiveness, but is there anywhere, perhaps, where I could speak with my cousin alone for a few minuets. I may be able to quell some of his fears."
Perhaps I should have, at Kyle's obvious distress, felt guilty due to my true motives, but I did not. While I cared deeply for Kyle, *I* was the most important one in the room, by my own standards, and I had my own interests to protect. For example, if Kyle and I were suddenly to leave, it could leave a lasting impression on Alek and his snake haired confidant and thereby ruin any ambitions I may later have in Chaos through the House of Helgram.
Lorius laughed at my suggestion. "Bearing in mind, of course, the last time the two of you were alone, you went on that nice jaunt to the Red-light district, and after THAT, got into the current mess that led us here." The two Chaosites were, of course, confused by Lorius' babble, but they listened just the same.
"You might as well let them have a little privacy, Alek," Lorius said, still smirking. "Considering that my sister, excepting perhaps a certain blond treehugger, is the best candidate to convince Kyle of doing what she wants."
Drusilla raised an eyebrow and gave Kyle a long look, then, finally, shrugged.
Alek sighed, and gestured toward a door flanked by a pillar, which, as we watched, changed from its original marble appearance to one of incandescent yellow flames.
"The room beyond that door there should suit your, uh, persuasion techniques, Princess Shannon." He looked to Lorius who seemed to be having a great deal of difficulty not snickering about some matter.
We smiled and nodded, the door opening as we approached. The door led to a small room, the floor space mostly taken up by a dais of some sort. The dais is mostly taken up by a trapezoidal bed. Aside from the shape the bed seems rather akin to the beds of Amber. There was also a small nightstand-like piece of furniture.
The door closed, but seemed an ordinary door for all intents and purposes.
"Are you certain to wish to leave? The business at Tir put aside, this may your only chance. Of course, I am sure if we spoke with my Mother she could find a more conventional method." I smiled faintly, genuine this time. "I am afraid it would be terribly rude of us to leave, but I will aid you if that is your desire."
Releasing his hands I pulled my trump deck from her pocket. "It may be easier simply to leave via trump then to try doing anything with Pattern here."
Kyle steepled his fingers in front of his eyes, a gesture of frustration. "Well. You are right, of course." He took his hands down, and grasped both of mine. "And I'm right, too. You see, my father's mere presence muddies the water to the point of insanity. This all looks like one of his set ups. It could well be, or he may simply want it to look that way, to push me in a direction he wants me to go. The question is, dare we trust Alek? I'm afraid I can't be very objective under the circumstances, I'll need your assistance."
I looked away briefly. I did not like to think that Lorius would bring us here in order to trick us somehow. While I did not trust Lorius, I trusted him more than many others.
My voice was very careful, neutral. I wanted to convince him to stay for his sanity, if not my future connections. "I would like to think that my brother did not have ill intentions towards you and I would like to believe that this Alek could be of some assistance. However, if you find him un-trustworthy I will help you flee." I squeezed his hands. "On that same note, should you choose to accept his offer I will do whatever I can to make you......more comfortable."
Kyle looked into my eyes. Was that guilt stirring in the back of my mind? Surely not......
"Aye, Father has a way of putting one on pins and needles," he said. "I suppose we should try, Lorius has been good enough to me since my fall. I suppose that it would be rude to embarrass him, and you, in this Court. Besides," he continued, a grim sort of fatalism in his voice, "I'm not sure that fleeing would do much good at this point if it is his trap."
A smile spread across my face. "I like to think that I hold a few tricks that would surprise even your Father at least once. Is it decided then? Shall we stay and face whatever lobotomy this Lord of Chaos has planned?"
Kyle grimaced at the joke, "Let's do what we must." His features were once again inscrutable as he offered his elbow and moved towards the door.
Stepping out of the room we re-entered the living space where we left Lorius and his most interesting Chaosian friends.
The room had.......changed. Rather oddly, too. The walls were all blockish and stark white, the floor was now a blue tile affair. In the corner of the room there was some sort of metallic reclining bed or table of some kind.
Still, oddly, the furniture that was there earlier was still here, and unchanged. Alek re-entered in unison with us, from the other side of the room. Lorius was sitting back and relaxing. Of Drusilla, there was no sign.
Lorius turned toward the two of us with a grin. "So, are we going to do through with this?"
Alek turned toward the two of us from the far side of the room. He was dressed in a hospital gown. He looked almost apologetic as he spoke. "This is your cousin's idea. I am just going along."
Lorius smiled. "After all, I thought the setting change would be appropriate, if you are going to do this after all. This is exactly Brain Surgery." He then took a sip of something from a paper cup.
My smile was faint and I shook my head. Lorius would be, well, Lorius.
Kyle gave Lorius a glare to tell him his wit wasn't welcome, then nodded to Alek. "Well, you *are* the doctor." He smiled graciously, though it seemed a bit forced. "I suppose that it won't hurt to look the part." He tilted his head the barest fraction, as if considering something, "Tell me doctor, do you have your own version of a Hippocratic oath? Can you undo my Father's walls without peering behind them?"
The tone of Kyle's voice was casual, but the set of his jaw and the way his amber eyes look unwaveringly into Alek's betrayed the importance of the question. My grip tightened ever so slightly on his arm. He was not walking out of this now that I convinced him to go through with it.
Alek's eyes shifted to match Kyle's. "Ah, I see, Prince Kyle. Well, several guilds in the Courts, including the Shadowmasters Guild and the Guild of Surgeons, to which I belong, must take Promises of Integrity. It would be far too easy for rivals to kill each other by sabotaging or compromising the trust of those who build and keep up our Ways, or those who put us back together after we've barely survived the latest duel or assassination attempt.
"My Promise of Integrity would not permit me to actively look for any knowledge behind the mental blocks placed by the Prince Brand, nor to willingly divulge such knowledge if any should become apparent without my will. It will be unlikely, considering the level I shall work at, of my even being in a position to come across this knowledge."
Kyle relaxed and he glanced towards me, abliet briefly, to read my expression. I remained emotionless, picking up no negative vibes from the "surgeon."
Alek's eyes shifted a complete cycle of colors, from red to violet. "Does that satisfy your concerns?"
Silently, Kyle nodded his assent.
Lorius sighed. "This, my dear cousin, is why I had you brought here, rather than, say, Arcanus, or even to my mother. I am sure Mother does not know everything you do or intend to do, and you probably don't want her to, either. Love her I do, but she doesn't need to know all of your thoughts."
To Lorius, Kyle said, "Your concern is well-considered cousin, and wise. Thank you."
"Shall we?" My cousins tone was light, but beneath, I knew, lay fear laced with suspicion despite all the words traded. "I think I've taken up enough of the good doctor's time with my uncertainties."
"As you wish," I said cheerily, taking the first step forward. He did not need me to, and I knew it, but I did so none the less.
Alek nodded and with a simple gesture a low metallic reclining table appeared. It was rather ordinary, shorn of anything more advanced or noticeable than a bed rail.
Alek directed Kyle to lie on the bed face up, and as Kyle did so, Alek leaned over my cousins head and whispered quietly. He then placed his hands on Kyle's forehead and so it began......
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