The Builders' Last Stand

Julian's gloved hand, larger than her own, closes gently about hers. The foyer inside the great double doors is in many ways reminiscent of the foyers of modern hotels. There is the clerks desk, the baggage racks, the mailboxes… there is no dust, but there is the sense of great age. The hooves of Morgenstern click despite the old clean carpets that cover the cold stone of the floor. There is complete silence, aside from the breathing sounds that Aurora and her companions make. The cocoon follows her obediently under her telekinetic enchantment. A single light blinks on, above the doors of what appears to be an elevator, large enough to accommodate them all, as the external doors slowly close behind them. "I sense shielded data-flows." Ghostwheel says, breaking the silence. "I do not detect any other biological life-forms. Nor do I detect any trace remnants of the biological weapon."

She stops and looks slowly around, confusion clear on her face.

"I don't understand. If they had this set up, why are they buried in shuttles?" she wonders to herself. She doesn't expect an answer. She scowls and continues on to the doors under the blinking light. It's a large tower; perhaps it was more then the Ritz. But it still seems a very strange.

"What do we know about these Builders?" Julian asks as he follows her, and Morgenstern follows him. The Bird-Shaman and his two warriors look about this place in awe.

"Shielded data flows?" she asks of her floating friend. "Like a computer?"

"Affirmative." The Ghostwheel replies. "This whole structure is an AI. But… different." He sounds uncertain, which has been rare, since Aurora found and reactivated him in the caverns of Kolvir.

She looks around again, frowning. "Hmm." Aurora turns to her husband. "The Builders - as near as I can tell - are an assorted group of those of Power from both Poles of Reality. The same ones, I believe, that gathered us all up and cocooned us. The crystal technology I know belongs to the ones who gathered us. I am really just guessing about the Builders. But I know we're of the same Blood."

Julian's hand rests almost absently on Morgenstern's, or near enough, and he appears thoughtful for a moment. His blue eyes are introspective, as he rouses memories of his Amber's cosmology. "Ultimately, in my Amber, everything pointed back to Chaos. As we have proven, Aurora, we are more than compatible." He shakes his head slightly, "The Crystal Technology is so far outside of my experience, I cannot begin to speculate as to its origins. If the Builders are our — forefathers? Then does this mean there is a Prime Universe from which they observed all the others?" Julian frowns slightly, "I almost sound accustomed to all this, don't I?"

Aurora gives him a reassuring smile. "You have to." She looks around again. "I don't think they were our forefathers, beloved. Or not just our forefathers. These came after us." Laying a hand on his arm, she stopped and pointed over to the desk.

"If this is a hotel, there should be a main computer terminal down here at the reception desk. Let's see if we can find anything out there."

"Yes, Forefathers is wrong, but I tend to think of 'Elders' when I think of anything large and overwheening like this." Julian gives Aurora a slight nod, the smile behind his eyes as he regards her. "The Technology came later, but it is based on very old Powers. I can imagine Fiona helping with this, for example, but not concocting it on her own, if that makes more sense?" He shakes his head slightly, and nodded in agreement. "Are we going to see who checked in?"

She nods as she changes vectors and heads for the desk. "And whatever other information is there. Perhaps there's a record of who is buried under those hills outside; that would save us some trouble, and Ghostwheel said this whole structure was an AI. I would like to talk to it."

The cocoon containing blond Alex continues obediently following Aurora.

The Bird-Clan Shaman and his warriors watch her and Julian. Zuithnel begins to shift and change and flow, bird-shape to leopard-shape, which appears to alarm the Bird-Clan.

The elevator doors silently close as Aurora heads for the desk. The terminal there lights as she approaches. There is no keyboard, but there is a little headset beside the terminal, made from wire mesh, silvery in colour. There is an identical terminal and headset on the other side of the desk, also, making two terminals and headsets in total. Neither appears to be damaged or affected by the passage of time.

Going behind the desk, Aurora studies the headset carefully; with her physical eyes and her psychic ones. Only when she's reasonably assured of its safety does she slip it on.

"Status," she says simply.

To her psychic senses, Aurora finds that the headsets appear to be miniaturised versions of the coils outside the Tower itself, allowing psychic communication. As she slides it onto her head, the cold metal makes contact with her bare skin, at her temples. Status of what? The great and crackly voice says again, sounding puzzled, and not as amplified as before…

Aurora blinks and scrunches her face at the response. What is the status of your systems? Of this tower? What is the purpose of this place. It has been millenia since it was last occupied, and the outside world has few records left to access.

Status is excellent. We/us are the central spoke of this Ways. We/us bind our Ways to the other Ways. We/us maintain stable environments. That is all.

That is good to know. How long has it been since the Builders occupied this place? Do you know why there are people in stasis cocoons buried in shuttles surrounding this tower?

The last Builder began an evacuation but died before the evacuation was complete.

"Curious." Julian states quietly. He is silent for a long moment as his eyes take in the area, before eh speaks again. "The technology here, indeed, the entire structure. All of it seems to contain the same energy as the Trumps." He returns his eyes to his Wife, sparing her a lingering glance, before closing his eyes and releasing the Power he'd clearly had in use. "That must be meaningful."

Morgenstern has remained near the great double doors, though his attention remains on Julian himself. Zuithnel has completed her shapechange, and has curled her tail about her, as she sits beside the cocoon that holds the unconscious blond boy. The Bird-Shaman and his warriors have moved away from
the cat that Zuithnel now appears to be. The inner décor of the Tower remains unchanged and stable.

Aurora's eyes focus back on the visual around her. "Well. The last Builder was organizing an evacuation when they died." She purses her lips and looks to her husband.

"Trumps, you say?" she frowns. I think I need to make a list of questions to ask the construct all at once. Maybe more exploring is in order. So is food," she says with a deepening of her frown. "And I still want to look at the magic on your horn."

Julian walks over to Morgenstern, nodding. "Yes, indeed." When he arrives at his giant steed, he rubs the horse's nose, and then makes a sign for him to follow, before moving into the room again. "Trump is one of the few energies that, to my knowledge, was never properly sourced. Logrus is from Chaos, for example, and came first. Pattern from Amber, drawn later…Trump exists and is used in both, but where it came from?" He gives the slightest shrug. "You are free to look at anything of mine that you wish, of course." Julian says, as he meets her eyes with his clear blue gaze. "As for food, I would sooner trust what you can conjure, but if there's need, I may be able to Shift a meal into existence."

Aurora hums softly. "I could do that. I only have two of those hung at the moment, so I'd have to spend some down time working up a few more. But I can do that later."

"Ghostwheel, hypothetically, is it possible for you to download the memory banks in this AI into your own?"

"Negative." The Ghostwheel says. "I am small and it is large. It would burn my capacity out. Our operating systems also seem entirely different."

"As I suspected," Aurora nods without being terribly disappointed. She clicks her teeth while looking at the set up in front of her. She turns her gaze to the shaman.

"Honored Elder. By your prophecy, what happens now?"

"The Tower of the Builders shall yield the Horn of the Unicorn, the unknown futures will sing to the distant pasts, and the Builders will lead us to paradise." The shaman replies.

"Hmm…" Aurora looks thoughtful a moment. "Just the Bird Clan, or the others as well?"

"I know only the prophecies given unto our ancestors by the Lady of the Birds." The shaman replies.

Aurora falls silent, looking down at the computer again. Do you have a name? Do I need to stand here with the headset on to speak with you? She pauses her thoughts a moment before adding an unrelated question. Who was the last Builder, and how did they die?

We are nameless. Yes. The last Builder was Akunjawae, who died in battle with the clan of serpents.

The Prophecy of the Bird Clan claims that this Tower will yield the Horn of the Unicorn. Is it here? If so, where and how do I claim it?

Only the pure of heart can claim the Horn of the Unicorn. Are you pure of heart? The alien construct replies, as though her mere question has triggered ancient protocols.

Aurora's thoughts turn introspective. I believe I am. I have tried to be. I have only harmed others in defense of myself, my family, or my chosen people of any time. I do not harbor hate or envy in my heart. I rebuilt the Temple of the Unicorn in Amber, she offers. Aurora smiles to herself. And the Unicorn came to me in a dream once. She gave me flowers.

And is your husband pure of heart?

Her eyes seek out her husband and she smiles. Julian returns her smile, though his expression is more subtle, affection shines in his clear blue eyes. He holds her gaze for a long moment, and then nods, looking about, alert for changes in their environment. He turns to Morgenstern and regards his Warhorse for a moment, reaching up to guide the horse's head down to his own, so he could look him in the eye, before leaning his forehead to the head of his gigantic steed.

Yes, she replies without any hesitation on her part. I believe that he is. He has been sad for a long time, as if a part of him was missing; as have I. But that is passed. There is some lingering dissatisfaction with his brother for shooting him, but that is understandable, I believe. The only thing Julian ever loved as much as myself and our son was his forest of Arden, and he served the Unicorn and Amber well under her canopy. When he ruled our first home, our people all loved and respected him because of his heart. Even after he was gone from us they remained loyal to his memory and to Alex and I as we carried on his vision. Evil does not promote such loyalty.

Yet you do not carry his child within you.

Aurora starts, and is unaware of the startled sound she makes. She hadn't realized the level of this AI's invasion. But one question was answered, at least. If you know that, she says testily. Then you know that, while I have never stopped loving him, we both thought the other mortal long ago.
We each thought the other long dead. He once told me that the end of life is not the end of love, and we both learned far too early that it is true. If you can see that the child I am carrying is not his, but Kieran's, then you can also see that I will love it regardless, that he will because it is mine. He has not even met the daughter of Kieran and I, but he has already said the same of her.

A human being's capacity for love is not limited to once, or to one. I have never loved anyone as I love my lord husband. But I have loved since. I love still the blood family lost to me. I have loved all my children. More then my first love have held places in my heart, and I do care for Kieran. But Julian is …. he is mon Julian, and I have never loved anyone as I do him. Even when I thought he was lost to me. Can you see that as well? Look at my memories. Look at my life.

And Aurora opens her memories to the unnamed AI in her mind. She braces herself, not knowing if this will be like the emotionally draining experience of the Pattern; her life had not been easy, and reliving it all again will not be pleasant. But she is willing if it makes the entity understand. This isn't just for her. She has promised the Bird Clan to help them, and fulfilling their prophecy is the help they desire.

Words are easy. Show us. Tell him.

Fine. Aurora doesn't hesitate for one moment; her faith in Julian and her faith in their love doesn't allow her room for doubt. The sense of being watched and listened to persists past the moment when
Aurora releases the headset.

Aurora gives a familiar, stubborn huff. She looks at Julian, then at the Bird Elders. She comes around the counter and bows to the Shaman.

"Honored Elders. Please be comfortable. My lord and I must confer on how best to proceed." So saying, she releases a spell that produces platters of assorted food; fruits, vegetables, grains, cheeses and meats There are jugs of water and of wine. Not even Morgenstern will starve.

The bird-shaman bows. "As you wish, Fire-hair Builder." Says he in his archaic Thari.

He and his two warriors examine the foods with interest.

Morganstern however does not, apparently remaining on watch for possible threats.

When she straightens, she smiles again at her husband.

"Mon Julian. There is a conversation we need to have." She holds her hand out to him and smiles. "Join me so we do not disturb our friends."

Julian quietly regards Aurora silently for long moment, rubbing Morgenstern's head before he steps away. He walks towards her, and takes her hand, meeting her eyes to go where ever she wishes. "Of course, my Wife." He smiles, and gives her hand a squeeze, clearly knowing that something is afoot.

Aurora simply settles on the floor behind the desk and tugs him down with her. But once he's down, she moves over to his lap in her favorite position (well, favorite when sitting and clothed. And the latter was optional). For a moment she just smiled while her eyes drank in the sight of him. It is still so hard for her to believe that this isn't all a dream.

"Remember when we were sharing our lives after we found each other again?" she asks then chuckles slightly. "Listen to me. As if it had been so long since we had our reunion. There is something I need to add to that."

"I discovered something on our way back from the Fury to Mandorways," she continues while carding her fingers through his hair because she has never been able to keep her hands off of him for long when he was near. "I sometimes lapse into this semi meditative state. It allows me to check on the spells I have prepared, to see things with magic. One of those things in my aura. On the way over, I noticed an imbalance. It is one I have seen before. Several times." Green eyes meet magnificent blue and she adds; "I am pregnant." She doesn't give him time to interject before she continues. "Ghostwheel told me it was far too early to be able to tell anything. Including paternity. The AI here though, it knew I was with child, and claims Kieran is the father."

He slips his arms around her, cradling her, his blade and bow set close at hand, but clearly his priority for the moment is Aurora. He cradles her in his arms, holding her against his chest, quietly watching her features or meeting her eyes as she speaks. He nods as she touches upon very recent events, and tilts his head to continue to listen in silence. When she is finally done, he is silent for a few moments more, his blues remain upon Aurora's, neither flinching nor looking away. After a moment, he closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath.

"I thought you were going to tell me something terrible." Julian brushes strands of her hair from her cheek. "I will not lie to you and say that I would not be the tiniest bit disappointed if it is not mine, but that is hardly the child's fault or even your own. I was 'dead' for all intents and purposes, as you were to me. Poor timing hardly changes anything." He blinks and tilts his head, his hand cupping her face. "Did you think it would?"

She smiles softly. "No. Because I know that you love me. You are my husband, and I am your wife. Our places are at one other's sides; just as it would have been all along if we both had not been so young and afraid." Aurora lifts a hand to caress the side of his face. "As for the child, if Kieran really is the father, we will work it out. He is a good man. We will work it out."

"Young and foolish." Julian shakes his head, and leans into her touch slightly. "I do not doubt that Kieran is. He is very much his Father's Son, whether he realizes that or not." He nods, "We will, indeed. Now is not the time or place, and the point is moot, for the moment. The child will not be here for some time yet, but this does mean you must take care." Julian looks to one side, through the counter, unerringly at Morgenstern. "My Old Friend has seen the Unicorn, Aurora."

"Really?" she asks, looking in the same direction. "What did he say about it?"

"That She visited his herd on occasion, and that it had been many, many seasons since he last saw her." Julian replies quietly, "But if the Unicorn persists, what does that mean in this universe? What does it mean to us?"

She looked back at him and smiled. "Gods do not die, beloved. I had not thought on it before now, but I would suspect there is just the one Unicorn for all of us." Aurora gives him a kiss and moves out of his lap. "Let me speak with the AI again, and see if can move on to the next stage of the prophecy. I also want to ask about Alex."

"I certainly hope that is so, but if she lives, why does she let all this go on?" Julian smiles, kisses her back, and helps her up as he can from his position. He rises gracefully, and gestures. "Morgenstern laments the loss of Arden, as I do. I have tried to tell him it is growing again, but he is pleased to be at my side again." Julian kisses Aurora once more, "Speak to the AI, I will see to it Morgenstern eats something. Vigilance is more than a duty to him." He tilts his head, "Do you think it can help with our Son?"

"It cannot hurt to ask," Aurora sighs as she regains her feet. "I cannot stand having him close but so far from me. If that is truly him, and I can't bear to think that it isn't."

She looks thoughtful as she considers the Unicorn again. "In many stories and legends I have heard in my life, there is often the theme of the Weakened God. They do not die, but Faith is what feeds them, makes them strong. Perhaps She is weakened. Perhaps She and the Great Serpent felt their children needed to learn from their mistakes. To learn that their actions have consequences beyond themselves. Until They deign to speak with us, we cannot know for certain. But I know She is around. She came to me in a dream before I was even sure I still believed in anything beyond myself."

As they talk, the Bird Clan are still feasting on the foods supplied… Morgenstern remains on guard-duty, now that he once more has Julian to guard…

"Perhaps, Aurora." Julian allows, "Metaphysics of that sort was never my strongest suit. I preferred my science more factual and observed, as I'm sure you recall." He smiled gently, "Go and see what you can learn, I will see if I can see what has my Old Friend's teeth on edge. Morgenstern's always been dutiful, but I get the feeling he shan't relax until we leave this place." Julian tilts his head slightly, sizing his steed up. "Will he fit aboard a shuttle?"

"Yes," his wife sighs. "One of the larger ones. The problem is that the shuttle will not fit out of the bay doors that lead out of here. Any spell to protect him between the bay doors and the shuttle will take quite a while to build, and the forces of the Logrus that will hit it once we step out will tear it apart quickly. Ghostwheel says that you can Pattern walk, though." She pauses and frowns. "If the shuttles won't fit through the bay doors, how were the shuttles outside supposed to get out?"

Aurora shakes her head and gives him a smile. "Another question for the Guardian. You should eat something; our meal was interrupted earlier. I will speak with the AI and join you."

She gives him a kiss on the cheek and bounces back over. Her smile stays as she slips on the headset, her gaze stays on him for another moment before she looks upwards and says aloud: "Do we pass?"

We/us are not the ones you need convince. The tantric ritual to retrieve the Horn of the Unicorn unleashes the primal forces and calls to the Avatars.

She blinks and then grins. I do not think my lord and I will have a problem with tantric rituals. Can you provide me with the specifics of this ritual now? And after that, can you get a reading on the boy in the crystal cocoon with us? We believe he is our son, but he appears to have suffered some genetic damage if his hair color is anything to go by.

The cocoon prevents genetic analysis and comparisons with standard probes. If they were not dead, our medical staff would be able to assist you, Builder.

Well, she frowns. I thought he was dead at the time. But the rest of us thought we were dead too. So… But he wouldn't be in a cocoon if he had been past resurrection. Right? Where can I find this medical staff?

Their corpses are stored in the medical laboratory.

Aurora decides she is just going to assume it means their cocoons for the moment. Otherwise she didn't see how they were supposed to be any help.

The ritual that is revealed to Aurora then is strangely similar to some of the rituals found in Wicca: invoking the Goddess and the God, entreating their favour, powered by the primal sacrament of sensuality.

This just makes her smile to herself. Is there a specific place with the Tower this rite needs to be performed?

The Vault where the ritual was performed to lock the Horn of the Unicorn away.

Show me how to get to the medical facility and to the Vault, requeststhe redhead.

Select Floor 13 in the elevator. Is the reply that the fire-gold woman receives.

Aurora starts to take off the headset, then pauses briefly. She had to ask. If the medical staff are corpses, how are they supposed to help?

Their equipment remains intact in the laboratory.

She sighs. She really wasn't looking forward to this. But she would do anything for her son, so corpse cleanup it was.

I have a question; the bay doors are not large enough for the shuttles to pass through. How were the shuttles outside to get out of here?

The main air-lock is directly above us. It has not been activated in approximately sixteen million sky-cycles.

Aurora almost balks at the number. But then realizes it said cycles, so she feels somewhat better. Not that she is sure how long a day is in this place. 43,836 years was still a long time.

Before we enter the Vault, my lord and I should ritually bathe prior to the rite. Is there a place up there for this?

The Commander's Suite is free for your use, Builder.

She nods uselessly. Level 13?

Level 42.

Damn this thing was tall. Aurora nods again, then adds a "Thank you."

Deciding it's no time like the present, she removes the headset again and moves over to investigate the remaining food and drink.

Aurora comes from behind the desk and pours herself a glass of orange juice, looking like she wishes it were stronger. "Julian, you need to eat," she says in a far too casual way. "You're going to need your strength."

Julian is opening his mouth when Aurora speaks to him. He tilts his head to one side slightly, "I was just going to tell Morgenstern something along those very lines." Morgenstern remains on guard duty, and Julian raises an eyebrow, "I am not particularly hungry, but I am curious as to why you think I need the extra fuel." He walks over to her, holding her gaze, and getting his own glass of juice as a sign of his interest in food and drink at the very least.

"Because," she replies with a mischievous smile. "In order to summon the Horn, we must perform a ritual. A Tantric ritual." Aurora holds up her free hand. "I swear I am not making this up."

Zuithnel remains beside the cocoon that holds the young boy who looks like Alex. It has slowly lowered to the floor. The Bird-Shaman and his two warriors have eaten only their allotted share of the meal conjured by the enchantments of Aurora. Now they are watching, and listening, as Aurora and Julian speak…

Julian regards his beloved Aurora for a moment, and an eyebrow arches yet again, "There are easier ways to ask me to make love to you, Wife of Mine." He drinks his juice in one pull and stands before her. "I would not ever accuse you of spinning tales, Beloved." His lips press together for a moment, and there is the recently rare light of mirth behind his bright blue eyes. "Where are we to do this? Right on this counter top? Not terrible ritualistic, I fear."

"I had forgotten what a goof you can be, mon amour," she laughs. "No, there is a Ritual room on level 13. The commander's quarters are on level 42." Aurora blinks and snorts a laugh. "Perhaps there are answers there. First we will bathe in the commander's quarters, and then proceed down to level 13. That is also where the med bay is. Perhaps their equipment can help us figure out the … Alex. We will locate some quarters for our feathered friends before we get into all this. I'm sure there's more quarters near the commander's."

Julian listened to her and shook his head slightly, "I am not arguing with providence, but I am ever leery when things work so neatly." He glanced to the cocoon. "Then let us get to the med bay." He looked to Morgenstern, "Do you supposed there's room for Morgenstern? I will feel better leaving Alex under his protection while we are — summoning the Horn." Julian turned to their recent followers and guides. "They might agree to bide awhile at your request, Aurora. Let us continue then."

Her brow furrows in concentration. "I wish I knew who their Lord and Lady were that gave them the prophecy. They've never given them names." She fell silent then, replaying in her mind the pertinent conversations. A beat later, he watches the blood drain from her face and her glass shatter on the marble floor that Aurora doesn't notice because she is already running across to the where the Shaman waits with his guards.

"The Lord and the Lady…," she begins quickly, then stops with an impatient gesture because she has forgotten to use the Ancient tongue. She takes a breath and switches into the proper speech and tries not to babble.. "The Lord and the Lady who gave the prophecy to your Clan; did they have names? You called her the Lady of the Birds earlier, correct? What about him?"

"The Lady of the Birds and her Prince of Twilight Roses are the creators of all the clans, Fire-hair Builder." The Shaman replies, clearly not understanding her urgency. "They gave us language, prophecy, the ways of Power…"

A wide-eyed Aurora sways where she stands. She is confused. This had to have happened after she and the others had been sent away for their own safety. "But… when? What happened to them?" She sees that she is confusing the Shaman - and probably Julian, who will have no idea why she's acting like she is. She gestures vaguely with her hands. "Those were the names of my parents. Eden and Kadman - Lady of the Birds and Prince of the Twilight Roses. Please. If you know anything else about them, I need to know."

Aurora deflates and looks down at her feet. Of course. Although they may not have been her parents at all. She sighs. Even if they weren't, this is the closest she has come to finding out anything, of finding any sign. Aurora wipes at her eyes before looking back to the Shaman.

"There is a ritual my lord and I must perform to summon the Horn. Before that is a rite of cleansing. You may wait here or accompany us higher into the tower."

"We will stay with you, Lady Fire-hair." The Shaman says. "What kind of ritual? May we assist?"

Aurora blushes faintly. "No. This is a ritual we must do alone. We must build up certain energies very high before releasing them. This will release the primal forces, and call the Avatars." She wonders which ones it will call. Would it be all those she had felt in the Family meeting that watched them? Even aware of them she didn't know who they all were. But she would like to meet the Unicorn in reality. Perhaps the Serpent would speak to them and tell them how they could set Chaos to rights.

She gives them a smile. "I would like to have you assisting guard our son while we do this thing. He is precious to us. I will collect the others and we will make our way upstairs."

The Shaman listens to her words, and though it is difficult to be sure across barriers of species and linguistics, he seems to understand. "As you wish, Lady Fire-hair." He replies. "My warriors and I will guard the sleeping one."

Aurora bows to the elder before moving back across to Julian with a smile touched with melancholy. "I just realized who they said gave them the Prophecy. It has been so long since I have heard the titles spoken by another that I didn't catch it. Their Lord and Lady were my parents, Julian."

Julian tilted his head slightly, "Morgenstern will help you keep watch." He turns to Aurora and lifts his hand to her cheek. "Wife, " He began softly, "I truly hope that is the case. I know that you still hope for some sign of them, and we have been lucky once." He embraced her and stepped back, "Then let us complete the ritual and see what we learn."

She sighs and grabs something she can eat while walking. "I hope it's a big elevator," Aurora says with a eye on Morgenstern." Giving Julian a lopsided smile, she takes his hand and gestures to the Bird Clan to follow. They head for the elevator.

"The AI says there is a main air lock above us that the shuttles can pass through. It is something else to look into after we finish here."

The Ghostwheel hovers along beside them. "I perceive a disjunct." Says he, for the first time in awhile.

Zuithnel remains near the door. Morgenstern remains near Julian.

The Shaman and his warriors appear confused: perhaps they thought they were remaining here, to guard the cocoon.

Aurora frowns up at her AI, then grimaces when she realizes what was going on. "I had gotten used to the cocoon just following me around." She turns towards and gestures for it to once again float along behind her.

"Zuithnel, please come with us. I will want you guarding my son while he continues his slumber."

"Honored Elder," she says in Old Thari. "If you wish to remain with me as you professed, please follow."

"Ghostwheel, did you manage to get a message to Avarya as I requested? And shouldn't we have heard back from Tis by now on the numbers inscribed on this cocoon?"

"Affirmative, Aurora." The Ghostwheel replies while the cocoon obediently levitates as Aurora desires. "Avarya is in transit toward this Tower now. Tisiphone has reported that, while they possess no record of the cocoon serial numbers in their own database, the serial number does match the one of the cocoon implements assigned to the source universe of Prince Julian. Further data is required before I can estimate probabilities regarding the true identity of the young biological in the cocoon."

Morgenstern blinks as these words are spoken, his great storm-steel-grey eyes introspective for brief moments.

Zuithnel obeys her mistress. The Shaman and his two warriors, also prepare to follow, wherever Aurora may lead them.

A pause before the Ghostwheel continues. "The disjunct I mentioned is more powerful than mere biological misunderstandings. Prince Julian, you mentioned that these events are unfolding too smoothly. You are correct, within an estimated probability of 95%, plus or minus 2.7%. This implies the influence of an initiate of the Pattern. Given all the data available, I believe what is unfolding is a plan intended for Aurora or one of her siblings by her biological parents. Based on my attempts at scanned confirmation, and on the understanding that I am not truly an initiate of the Pattern, without the presence of her blood, these events would be unfolding in an entirely different way."

Julian glances to Morgenstern and moves over to him, to touch his nose. Clearly his old friend had a thought or two about something. He turned back to Aurora and Ghostwheel, "Do you mean to say past influence or present influence? Past influence would take enormous forethought, with Aurora the trigger." He stepped away from Morgenstern and called up the Pattern Lens. "If there's something being moved, I should be able to discern it. It will take me some time if its very subtle, but I like this not — we could be being used by whatever intelligence is guiding probability." Julian sighed, "I long for the days when I did my hunting by track, trail and bow."

Aurora looks conflicted by this information and stops to turn and face her husband. "I was moved," she says suddenly. "We were supposed to be grouped by Universe when we were cocooned and …stored. I should have been here with you and Alex. Blonde or not, that has to be Alex. He looks too much like you and was here, near you. Ghostwheel doesn't believe any of us should have been on top of Kolvir. That is something to think about later. But if they moved me from here - where I could have perhaps started all this much sooner if I had been left - they probably moved the rest of my family as well. It might not have been me specifically; it could have been meant for one of the others. My eldest brother would have been more then capable and he was well along his path of magic before I was even born."

She bites her lip. "I… I don't know what to make of it apparently being my parents that set all this up. I was sure I saw my mother die, and we were told our parents had died by the man who gave us the book. When I told Fiona they were dead, she was upset and didn't appear to have any reason to think they were retrieved. But obviously the crystal ship builders could move through time, since they have Alex. I just don't know, Julian."

Aurora straightens and lifts her chin stubbornly. "But if my parents went to all this trouble, there must be a reason and I intend to see it through. We must summon the Avatars. I have been in the presence of the Avatars before; they were observing a family gathering in Amber - and there were more then two it seemed. I do not dare contemplate what the others may be."

"I lack data to estimate past or present influence. However, whoever has done or is doing this, they must know Aurora's bloodline intimately." The Ghostwheel addresses Julian as he begins the arduous task of calling the Eye of Order.

Aurora scrunches her nose as she looks up at Ghostwheel. She speaks lowly so as not to disturb Julian's work. "As a son of Corwin, my father would have been able to walk the Pattern. Two of them if I understand it correctly. As Fiona's granddaughter, my mother would have had the opportunity at least. Merlin is my uncle. I do not recall ever knowing him, but those are the Pattern users I can think of with the knowledge of my bloodline, and enough of me, directly or through my parents, that they knew I would take this up once I discovered it."

"Though if it is a present influence, I have not even that much to offer."

Julian nods, "Forgive me, Aurora. I do not mean to sound as if I am suspicious of your Family. I'm afraid that experience has taught me to be a little suspicious of events that line up so easily." He takes a breath and shakes his head, "Arden was a much simpler place than Amber, believe me. I do hope that this is a series of events made to lie in wait for your arrival, a message from your Parents, but I also worry that it is something else. I may learn nothing this way, but I would prefer to err on the side of caution." His voice sounds distant as he works with the Pattern.

Aurora just nods her agreement with his hope. While he does, she checks again on the cocoon, though she knows nothing will have changed. This was actually the larger concern for her personally, but she had promised the Shaman and Aurora rather wanted to get that out of the way. Especially now that she realized who had started this.

She moved forward to investigate the elevator while eating on the turkey leg in her hand. "Ghostwheel, can you tell if this in proper working order before we trust it take us up 42 floors?"

"Scanning…" The Ghostwheel replies. "The technology here is in perfect working order, Aurora." He reports. "There must be repair protocols in place that are similar to my own."

"That's something," Aurora mutters. While she waits on Julian to finish his investigating, she sidles up to him and gives that hunting horn of his her special attention. He had said it had magic and she wanted to see.

The enchantment on the Horn of Julian proves to be complex and based on the same primal rainbow forces as trumps. It will take hours for Aurora to begin to unravel what it does and why it works, and as it involves a primal source of power she is unfamiliar with, she may find it somewhat difficult. Consulting with her grandmother would be helpful, if Fiona wasn't blood-cursed and in stasis.

Julian tilts his head to one side, and then the other, not unlike a Hound seeing something it either doesn’t understand or has never seen before. “That is – beautiful. I do not understand how it is being done, not yet, but we do not have time for delicate study. Somehow, this place is kept alive by Active Trump energy. There are forces at work here in a broader sense that should not be able to interact in this manner. One error in orbit, and we have a esoteric version of Hiroshima, if you are familiar with the tragedy.” He scratched idly at his beard, “Someone has laid probabilities in wait for you. So many events are attached to you, like gossamer strands. They were easily missed before, they’re so fine. I do not believe they are active agents. Your presence has triggered events; we have no choice but to see them through. I could sever them for you, but I fear we would not learn as much.” Julian frowned, “I dislike using you in such a manner.”

Aurora looks up from her study and smiles. She places a hand on his arm. "It is all right, mon Julian. I do not mind. The Universe uses us all as needed."

As though sensing their presence, the elevator doors slide open as they speak, as the Ghostwheel hovers silently above Aurora's shoulder, as the Shaman and his two warriors listen to their modern Thari with little comprehension. Zuithnel pads across toward Aurora on her paws, sits down, eyes her mistress. The cocoon containing the blond boy settles once more to the floor, as Aurora's attention drifts from the small enchantment of levitation that she placed upon it.

She turns at the opening of the doors. She smiles at Julian, summons the cocoon to follow and gestures Julian forward. Morgenstern should go first so he is along the back, I believe."

The great horse Morgenstern eyes this strange metal cubicle with misgivings, one ear swivels toward Julian, as though for confirmation that this is truly what his old friend intends. Aurora giggles at the great horse and directs the cocoon inside the elevator and against one wall. She stands in the door and waits for the horse to make up his mind.

Julian shakes his head, "You have faced chaos hordes and packs of faceless goatmen." He walked around the great steed and shoved him. "Into the lift, Old Friend, if you want to remain to look after my colt." He looks to Aurora and the others, seeming almost embarrassed by Morgenstern's trepidation. He whispers, "Please get in, Morg, I've lauded your bravery for days now, let's keep up appearances."

Morgenstern eyes his oldest friend for several moments, then moves forward into the elevator, his mighty weight moving it down one or two inches.

TOC - Rites & Rituals

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