Part 20 - Broken Mind

The guards said nothing as Kyle and I passed through the Castle halls, but the level of suspicion towards non-family members was higher than usual. Ironic, since most of Amber's real problems are caused by those who share in her power. Random was taking things very seriously, it seemed, with an uncommon amount of guards and Valkyries posted at odd intervals throughout the halls.
"My, my," I commented, "I can not remember seeing this many guards outside of state function. Even at a state function......." I shrugged and looked at Kyle. "How are you doing, all things considered? Do you need to rest or can we ease my mind by paying Tyler a visit?"
Kyle surveyed the chaos in the castle, pausing and reaching out with his psyche. If I had not known any better, I would have sworn he was summoning the cat.
"Hmm...well, I really should report to Random, but it seems he's on alert already. If his arcane defenses are similarly heightened, I can't see where delaying that visit a short while longer would hurt. Let's go see the poor dolt, shall we?"
Always the gentleman, he extended his arm to me.
We made our way through the crowds, but at the top of the staircase that lead towards the dungeons an impediment came. A group of five guards, seemingly in no mood to talk, stood watch over the door. The group recognized us, but made no move to remove themselves from our path.
"Good day, what's all the commotion about up there?" Kyle, instantly charming, asked the head guard. "And why so many of you to guard one miserable prisoner? Or does the King have new guests?"
The head guard, a grizzled veteran by the name of Drake, stepped forward and addressed us.
"The commotion, Prince Kyle, milady Princess Shannon, is the state of preparations that his Highness has demanded as regards to the several threats to the kingdom...the traitor Triton as well as some other problem of which only the name Doors I know about. I would think, sir, that the royal family is more knowledgeable on such matters."
Drake paused a moment. "As far as the number of Prisoners, you would have to ask down below, Sir. Be warned, however, that the King has currently made the Pattern Room off limits to all without his direct and proved consent."
On that I resisted the urge to smirk and lost. If someone truly wanted to walk the Pattern they would find a way - there was nothing Random could do about it. At least, I was confident he could not stop one of the red haired members of the royal family. We have our ways........
To cover the smirk I turned on my most brilliant smile and said, "Fortunately our business lies elsewhere. Gentlemen." I nodded to them and pushed through the guards and started down the stairs, dragging Kyle along behind me.
Descending the staircase was uneventful and uninspiring. Part of the stairwell was marked off, the spot where Triton, Luke, Malachi and the unfortunate guards had engaged in their melee. Finally, we entered the chamber at the bottom from which all the corridors radiated, including the more heavily guarded passage which lead to the Pattern.
One of the three guards in the room, a tall middle aged fellow by the name of Calimdor stepped towards us.
"Good afternoon, Milady Shannon and Lord Kyle." Was it just me, or did he look unhappy to see us? "I regret that the Pattern is currently off limits, considering the troubles with the various malefacious individuals roaming around as of late, including your father, beg my pardon, Prince Kyle."
"How fortunate that our business lies elsewhere. My cousin and I have ventured down here to speak with a prisoner we brought in earlier." I smiled, a firefly in the darkness.
Kyle nodded and smiled at the guards, his gaze lingering on Calimdor in particular. Just enough recognition to make the poor man wonder whether or not Kyle took offense at his remark.
Calimdor looked uneasy and produced a key, which Kyle took before dutifully following me down the corridor.
The dungeon was dark and smelled odd, but it was rather clean. No mold in the corners of the walkways, at least. I swallowed the lump in my throat as we continued on, chiding myself. The stairwell down to the underground offered no threat, but here I was ready to fall apart in the narrow space of a dungeon corridor. Claustrophobic, me? Surely not.
My old enemy had not been moved and I was able to find the cell easily.
Using the key I wrenched open the door to find a slightly emaciated and not very reactive Tyler. He was lying on a straw pallet and did not stir much as we entered his confines.
I schooled my face to a blank mask, devoid of all emotion, but I suspected Kyle knew me well enough to see the pain in my eyes.
"Well," I stepped into the cell and to one side, "can you do anything for him?"
Tears threatened to spill down my cheeks. Why did I care? I knew that there was no good reason to care, but I did just the same. Unicorn help me, I wanted to save the life of a man who had tried to kill me. Was it because I was sentimental? Did the fact that we had shared the same shadow during our childhood years make him so important that I would throw aside my good sense? Or was it merely the fact that I had given him my word and I was so bound?
"Well, I wouldn't hold out much hope," Kyle said finally, interrupting my thoughts, "if your mother couldn't fix it, but I do have something she doesn't - Tyler's memories."
He laid a hand my shoulder. "Now, I don't know that we can make him one hundred percent, but we might be able to get his natural healing abilities jump started if I can lay back on him what I took away, and we can, perhaps augment that with the psychic impressions you've built up over years of acquaintance...but keep in mind that I walked the Crimson Pattern almost immediately after scanning him, and that much of the impression I had has been subsumed. I may be able to help, I may not. I'll need your assistance. Are you game?"
I reached up and enveloped Kyle's broad hand with my own smaller one. "I am afraid there is not much choice in the matter." My voice was grim. "I gave him my word and am bound to honor it." Yes, was all about my word, my honor.
"Very well," Kyle's voice was soft, comforting.
We knelt as one and Kyle laid his free hand on Tyler's head, initiating contact.
It was an easy journey as Tyler had no defenses to speak of. Suddenly, we were covered with mud up to our knees. Looking around I saw that we were in the middle of a mudflat. A very deserted mudflat, stretching to the horizon. In the far distance there were shapes which, had I not been inside someone's mind, I would have thought were broken buildings.
There were corpses, human corpses, here and there. They were lying in a tableau of horror and gore, in all possible configurations of dying, various body parts emerging from the muck.
Kyle's voice cut through the silence, "Well, here we are. I suggest that this represents the carnage done to Tyler's blasted mind. It doesn't look
like I could've done all of this, though."
I seriously believed that he could have. To an Amberite, perhaps, it would be ridicules, but Tyler was nothing more than, as Lorius was fond of saying, "a shadow dweller on steroids."
Kyle knelt and turned one of the bodies over. It's hollow eyes starred up at us. It was......Tyler. My companion sloshed a few feet through the mud and grabbed another body. It, too, was Tyler.
"Odd. Let's get to the bottom of it, shall we? Scan doesn't indicate any direction, so maybe we should just dig in." Kyle sounded unsure. Great, I thought, he does not know what is going on anymore than I do.
My cousin waded over and began to pull bodies from the muck.
"Fun." I grabbed a body and tossed it aside. Another one, dirtier and more ruined than the last appeared beneath it and I tossed that one aside as well. "Kyle," I queried after a body literally fell a part in my hands, flesh sinking in to the mire, "do you have any idea exactly what it is we are looking for?"
Kyle was bent over a body, pulling the eyelids open. "Just look, forget your expectations, don't let them cloud your senses. You'll know when you see it." He tossed the body aside, and pulled another out by the nape of its neck, feeling its carotid artery with a deft forefinger while smiling at me.
I did not smile back, but stood. A far as I could "see" there were bodies. Probably thousands of them, if not millions. Sighing, I dug into the ooze and pulled up another corpse for investigation.
Several bodies later I paused and stood up, straining to hear something that was not a sound at all. Yes, yes I was sure of it. Someone was trying to contact me via trump. I had not thought it possible for me to detect an incoming call while I was so preoccupied, but it came none the less.
Considering that Brand had showed an interest in my mind as of late, especially when I was with his son, I was a bit uncertain. However, if it was Brand he would break me sooner or later and while I preferred later, I wanted to finish things with Tyler as soon as possible.
Turning my back to my cousin I reached forth with my mind, embracing the contact, hoping that it would not sever my link with Kyle.
It was not anyone particularly threatening, of course I was using Brand as my comparison. No, before me, inside a little tent, was Flora's son William. My, my, but things do get interesting fast.
"Hello?" William asked. "Forgive the intrusion, my cousin, but I was curious as to if you've time to assist me in a small investigation?"
"An investigation? I am in the middle of something, but I should be done soon - I hope." I smiled, torn between Tyler and the unknown. I wanted to make this short, but there was no need to be rude. "What, may I ask, needs investigating?"
"Busy? Was he some one of importance?" William asked crossly, with a gesture towards Tyler. "Seems like there's not much left for you to do there, but I suppose I should be grateful to get an answer to my call."
I bit back a sharp retort, my smiling flickering every so slightly.
"Fah!" He quickly exclaimed. "That was ill spoken of me. The trumps have been reluctant of late. When you've time, I'd appreciate a return of my call, and I'll give you the meat of my situation, leaving you to decide if you've a taste to get to the marrow of it when your situation allows.
"While I do not feel a need to swear secrecy on this, I would appreciate not bringing too many others into this. Truth said, if I'd the time, I'd take the lot of it on by myself."
He was suddenly distracted, his blue eyes seeming to not look on me, but rather inwards. However, before I could do anything he shrugged his shoulders and smiled, then began his story.
"While on walkabout recently, I discovered an army that passes through Shadow in a manner most unusual, and I believe in the long road, damaging to the places it crosses. My companions and I infiltrated and eventually met, via crystal ball, the leader of this force."
I frowned. Though it could be something utterly unrelated, any "long road" through shadow reminded me of Corwin's narrative and his tale of the so-called "black road."
"He's a suicidal maniac, in my opinion," William continued, face grim. "Has some grudge against Benedict and has raised an army to die alongside him on his quest for vengeance. But a powerful maniac, none the less. I managed to discover his next objective in gaining the power to take on our uncle, and now that I've arrived before The Loony, I find it woefully under protected."
"This then, is my mystery." Finally, his request. "I would like to spend time to study an artifact of what is most certainly primal power. The shadow I'm in is quite strong and The Loony's objective has a tendency to erode things and peoples who have lessor substance of reality. If I could discern how The Loony intends to unlock it's power, then I could prevent him for using it and maybe creating a threat to Amber's peace."
"But at the same time, I must need set to making this village into something that could possibly be defended. A task which will take more hands than my own and my companions. It's probably petty of me, but The Loony was a bit rude, and I will gain much pleasure if I can ruin his little gambit."
"So, if you find that after you're done with your present obligation, you've got little to keep your hands occupied..." His smile was charming, sweet, innocent. He was his mother's son....... "Perhaps you'd care to lend them to me."
I nodded slowly. "I must finish my business here," I said with force, unwilling to negotiate. "But, when I finish, I would be more than happy to assist you in any way I can."
I was distracted for a moment. Kyle had found something - a living body among the dead.
"I will call you as soon as I have a free moment," I said to William, smiling. Nothing more passed between us and the contact faded, allowing me to be enveloped once more by the quagmire of Tyler's mind.
"Now, the way I see it," Kyle rambled, oblivious that I had been busy elsewhere, "we can try to jump start this one, or see if it has any psychic connections to one in better shape. You are, of course, aware that the human brain re-routes its survival functions to other structures when it suffers serious harm. Old Tyler here may just be a bit tougher than an Earth human if he can survive a Broken Pattern, so I believe there is a chance that we can help him restore enough of these connections to start functioning. Once we get him walking and talking, we can work on restoring his memories and blocking off his powers.
"The big question is how to proceed. Either we can fix this Tyler clone, which may represent a neural pathwork, or we can try a mindscan on it and see if it has a connection with a healthier specimen. Working in analog like this is not going to be easy, and may require subtle interpretation of Tyler's own unique symbol system, his personal icons and archetypes, if you will. You're going to have to be my eyes, in other words.
"Ready to give it a try?"
Kyle extended me his hand, indicating he wanted to establish a psychic link within the bond we already shared. There was no hesitation in his action, though it would mean opening deeper levels of our own psyche to one another.
Unlike my cousin, I hesitated. Did I trust Kyle? The answer was yes. Should I? Perhaps not.
He was family. Not just any family, Brand's son. Why, of all the legions of cousins, did I pick him to trust? His father had been.....still was.....a mad man. But then, no one who carried Amber blood in their veins was completely sane.
The simple truth of the matter was this: I was afraid. Afraid to trust Kyle, afraid to open up to him. I had no doubts that he would not abuse the deeper link, once initiated, but I was fearful all the same. I was letting him in when I should, if I truly wanted to protect myself, be pushing him away.
Finally, I took his hand, unable to do anything else. If Kyle was willing to risk it, so was I.
Before initiating contact between us Kyle summoned some smelling salts. "Amber calling Tyler, can you hear us? Anybody home?" For better or worse they brought the body Rather, it drooled just as its counterpart in the real world did. It was, certainly, alive, which was an incredible improvement over the dead bodies I had waded through earlier. The living corpse blinked at us and I whispered his name, listening as it echoed in the dead world.
"Yyeessss? My nnnname iss Tyler." His eyes gazed up at me, not as empty as they once were. He ignored Kyle all together.
"Tyler, Tyler," I repeated questioning him almost the same way I would a zombie - slow, steady, repetitive. However, were he a zombie I would have asked him only "yes" and "no" questions. If he was unable to respond to something open ended I would try just that.
"How do you feel?" I asked.
"I feel...I feel so very coold," he said and I sighed in relief. His mind was not as deteriorated as a zombie's after all.
Tyler tried to scramble to his feet. He failed, falling back into a sitting position, mud nearly drowning him. "Shhannon? Wwhy have you brought me here?" His head turned and he looked at the world filled with corpses. Silently I hoped that he could not make out their features, but it was too late. He had seen and there were only two words to describe the look in his eyes: abject terror.
I felt cruel. It was a new feeling for me. My mother had taught me that the means justify the end. But what was this pain justifying? What was the end in this situation? Surely, Tyler would have talked about his new found power without us subjecting him to this. A little bribery would go a long way with him.
Despite it all a thin smile cracked my lips. I was now the bully. What an ironic reversal of fortune.
I moved forward cautiously and slowly placed a hand on Tyler's shoulder, unsure if it was safe to touch him.
"Tyler," I said softly, my voice sorrow filled, "something bad happened to you and I am trying to fix it."
I shot Kyle a "What now?" look over my shoulder.
Kyle spoke softly, so that only I could hear, "We bring him back. Get him to think all of this away. Talk to him about better places, better times. Home, perhaps. I'll weave a compulsion to aid his concentration."
Kyle gestured, and a copper-strung lap harp appeared in his hand. He strummed it gently.
The landscape began to transform before our very eyes. There was grass and flowers and a blue, blue sky. The Fields of Morning. I knew it well.
Tyler closed his eyes and smiled slightly, sleep drawing him down as I cradled his body.
"Would it be best to stay with him or can we leave?" I asked Kyle, not looking up from my enemy. Strange. In the pale light of the mind Tyler was almost handsome.
Kyle answered my question with a nod and, "I believe we've done the best we can for now. We'll let his natural processes take over from here. When he's stronger, we'll see where he stands, and perhaps try other means." He smiled, pleased with his work, as the scenery faded away. This was certainly the day for trips into other people's minds, it would seem.
"Well, where do we go from here?" Kyle asked, stretching. "I could use some rest, but afterwards, what course do you suggest we take?"
I shrugged and smiled. "During our little 'trip' to Tyler's mind I received a call from William. It seems he has something unusual which requires attention. I promised I would get in touch with him as soon as I had the time."
"And now," I finished, pulling the trump deck from my pocket, "I have the time."
Kyle bowed low, "Then adieu, Madame. Give William my regards." Kyle
walked to the door, turned his head over his shoulder and smiled, his profile perfect in the dim light. "And if you require my services, please don't hesitate to call."
With that Kyle was gone and I was left alone with Tyler's body, not so much drool escaping as before, and my trump deck.
I left the cell, closing and locking the door behind me, before pocketing the key. I should have returned it to Calimdor, but I did not feel like walking all that way. They had legions of copies of all the keys, aside form that which unlocked the Pattern.
William's trump was cool and comforting in my hand. The contact was easy, mostly, but I never got all the way through. It seemed as if he felt it, but would not, or could not, answer. Sighing, I put it back. I did not have time to waste waiting for William to decide whether he wanted to talk to me, nor did I have the energy to waste forcing the contact.
As I rifled through the cards in search of the trump to my rooms another card caught my attention.
Corwin's Pattern.
I had promised I would return, had I not?
Taking a deep breath I opened contact to that foreign realm.

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