This section involves adult situations. If you are easily offended, skip ahead.

Aurora delicately pushes the 42 button, which lights from inside. The elevator glides smoothly into motion once all are inside and the doors have shut. There is silence for one or two minutes. Then the doors open again, onto a scene of strangeness. A fountain carved gracefully from pale marble emits falls of spurting water in the centre of an enormous foyer. Greenery surrounds the foyer, neat and orderly, kept inside small alcoves. A strange crystal machine whirs out of sight as the elevator doors open. Two staircases arise on the far side of the fountain, one to the left, one to the right. They rise toward an upper floor, of which little can be seen from their current locality.

Morgenstern snorts slightly. The Shaman and his warriors glance about with wide eyes, clearly unprepared for this. Zuithnel rests her feline head against Aurora's knee. Alexander, in his cocoon, does nothing at all.

Julian exits first, not out of eagerness to get to the Ritual Bathing, though that idea surely inspires him, but more out of habit as he readies his bow when he steps out. "Make way for, Morgenstern." He says quietly to the warriors, as he begins his initial scouting of this floor. "This is beautiful, but difficult to secure." His eyes cast about for a place to put the cocoon, and their companions, that will give them the best advantage should something go awry. "Let us set up a guard station, as you and I are about to be preoccupied, Aurora." He flashes a smile for Aurora alone, and goes about doing just that.

Morgenstern also departs the elevator, following old protocols, guarding Julian's back as his hooves strike sparks upon the marble floor.

Julian finds that there are more spaces behind the elevator, which seems to occupy a central shaft in the middle of the Tower itself.

These spaces too have neat and orderly greenery in them. He sees the strange crystalline machine snip one of the plants with care.

Aurora reaches down absently and scratches between Zuithnel's ears while Julian does his thing. With a final pat, she steps out into the room and looks around with surprise. "This is hardly what one would expect a last outpost to look like," she observes as her eyes travel up. She blows out a breath and gently summons the cocoon to rest at the base of the fountain.

"Zuithnel, stand watch over the boy." The feline being that Zuithnel has become bobs her head in what might be a nod of agreement, and sits beside the cocoon.

She turns to the Elders and bows. "Please remain here for now," she says in the language they understand and gestures towards them out of the elevator. The Shaman converses with his warriors after they have departed the elevator.

She wanders over to Julian's position. "I think we are safe here. This was arranged for me with my parent's involvement after all." She smiles and holds up a hand. "Not that I will not be wary. But we are Builders, and this place is as much ours as the originals. You and I will go upstairs and find our bath. We can leave Ghostwheel outside the door. I can communicate with him no matter where he is, and he can watch for trouble and warn us."

"Affirmative." The Ghostwheel says, from where he still hovers above the shoulder of Aurora. "Scans indicate the servitor mechanisms are the only movements here aside from us. But Prince Julian is wise to be wary. We are inside another dimensional claudication. Another layer of the onion that is this place."

Aurora frowns and looks up at the AI. "What? The elevator led to a different dimension? Curious." She rubs the spot between her eyebrows with a forefinger. This is all getting very confusing. The log entry was going to be a pain.

"Julian!" she calls, as he has continued his prowling. "Let's get going with this!"

"Affirmative." The Ghostwheel says as he waits with machine-patience for his adopted biologicals.

Julian sighs, "Excellent. Yet another dimension." He glances back, "Perhaps Morgenstern was right to hesitate." He leads the group to a defensible spot, and once satisfied that the warriors with them, and Morgenstern, can hold a place for a time, he moved to Aurora's side. "This is the best we can do. Let the Ritual Bathing begin." His face was utterly expresionless as he spoke the last, but his hand slips into Aurora's almost eagerly.

She smiled up at him and went for the closest set of stairs. "It has been an eternity since we shared a bath, mon chéri," she murmurs. "It will be difficult to wait for the rite."

At the top of the stairs, there are two doors, both of which are open. Through the open doorways, it seems these are en-suite apartments, furnished in a Victorian style. There are clocks in both apartments, ticking gently, and there are paintings above the fireplace in the apartment to the left. The wall above the fireplace in the apartment to the right is empty of paintings. The scent of greenery and violets hangs heavy in the air.


Curious, Aurora enters the apartment on the left to look at the painting. There hadn't been a lot of art hanging about any of the old places they had been into yet. The closest things had been the murals in the hidden rooms they had found near the caves shortly upon waking in Amber.

There are three paintings there, gleaming as though they were painted yesterday, in oils on canvas. Time has not touched them, the colours are fresh and vibrant. The painting to the left on the wall depicts a sea tossed by storms beneath a starlit sky, a lighthouse standing on the promontory, a light gleaming from the top of it. The painting to the right on the wall depicts an ancient and gnarled tree, surrounded by a plaza of paving stones, fashioned of white marble. Behind the tree a space-port is visible, filled with crystalline ships. The painting in the middle depicts a man with black hair embracing a woman with fire-gold hair. Both have green eyes.

The others mean nothing to her, though she admires the craftsmanship that went into them. But like a moth to a flame, Aurora is drawn to the center painting. Her breath hitches and fingers tremble as she reaches up and gently touches the frame. It is chill to the touch; as if the painting itself were cold. It reminds her of an active Trump, and she draws her hand back, suddenly wary of the idea. There is entirely too much Trump going on in this place.

Julian looks on in quiet surprise. He moves to the lighthouse image, and quietly claims, "This is the Lighthouse at Cabra. If I did not know better, I would say it is the one I know." He eyes the one with the spaceport and shakes his head, before moving on to the last one, his arms slipping around Aurora. "Is that your parents?" He asks quietly, drawing her gently against his chest, and nuzzling her softly. "Perhaps we should take it with us."

"It has been so very long," she murmurs. "But it is how I remember them." Her eyes finally drift to the other paintings. "Perhaps we should take them all. Depending on what happens between now and then." She turns in his arms and tilts her face up to him.

"But first, let's get you out of that armor."

Julian smiles into her eyes, "Yes, lets get me out of my armor, and you out of yours. Such as it is." He plucks at her clothes, cups her face in his hands, and kisses her as he once did long in the Tower of their first home. He kisses her as if that moment is the first night they will enjoy each others bodies, with undisguised passion, combined with the play of his hands that move with a lover's knowledge. Julian begins to undress her first, though one of his hands helps with his armor.

Aurora's clothes flow and shift under his hands until they are again an open robe. Julian's armor mostly on the floor. Her is head thrown back before her eyes were caught again by the paintings. "Julian," she breathes, sounding more then a little distracted. "We have to … have to slow down. Or we will never make it out of the bath." She kisses him again anyway for a moment before she pulls back. Out of the corner of her eye, the paintings get a wary look; making out under the watchful eyes of her parents, even if it is with her husband and even if it's just a painting, seems …wrong.

"Bathroom," she murmurs.

Julian acquiesces to her suggestion, herding her towards the bathroom with his kiss and his hands. His hands move under her robe and over her skin, and he sheds more layers with every step, eager to press his body to hers. "Out of the bath?" He smiles, and there is a wicked gleam behind his bright blue eyes. "I daresay we can manage all the tantric rituals required." Then he is kissing her again, lifting her petite form up against his body, carrying her as his hands grip a her thighs, a growl sounding against her lips.

Great Goddess, he was in danger of making her forget her own name. One arm at a time she divests herself of her robe and tosses it to one side without breaking the kiss. She kicks the door closed behind them (assuming it's that kind of door). She sends a message to Ghostwheel to guard the door from the hall while tangling her fingers in Julian's hair and moaning deeply into the kiss.

Julian does not quite slam her against the opposing wall from the door, but Aurora's back hits the wall hard enough to force her to throw her arms out as if she were falling. It takes him a moment to clear the lost obstacle of clothing, and once he is sure there is nothing between them, Julian does not ask so much as stake his claim. He merges with her, and growls against her lips, "We can bathe when we're done. Consider this practice." And then Julian is kissing her hungrily, and pinning her against the wall, causing the barrier behind her to vibrate in sympathetic rhythm.

She grunts under the impact of being pressed against hard body and hard wall. Aurora loses herself in the moment, carried away on the wave of desire and passion. She isn't truly worried; it isn't like they couldn't take each other to even higher heights once they were taking their time - and oh, that ritual was going to take hours….

Aurora grinds against him with a wanton abandon; needy and demanding, yet yielding and giving in a way only he had ever brought out.

Aurora is lost in bliss. Time had taken the clarity of her memory, but between the pleasure and the ecstasy it was coming back to her as forcefully as she was being reclaimed. Her toes barely skim the ground, but Julian has her and will not let her fall. She braces her hands against the wall and met his thrusts with equal fervor and hungry. Harsh pants and breathy groans fill the air in the room interwoven with her keening as he ruthlessly drives her higher and higher. The small voice in the back of her mind is almost unheard but she manages to clamp down on her magic, not wanting to trigger anything too early in this place. Her body clenched and throbbed around him as he plundered her depths and she moans his name.

Julian feels her body move against his, hears the sound of her pleasure as they mingle with his. She is his Wife, and she is strong enough to feel the entirety of his passion, and to push back against it. He hears his name, and whispers hers against her shoulder, his teeth scraping her skin in nearly a bite that turns into a trail of burning kisses. He feels her body ripple around his, feels her clinging to him, as if her sex does not wish to surrender his. Julian moans against her neck, growls, and pulls out of her for what he knows will be the final time in this molten moment. Heedless of their surroundings, he turns her around again, returns to her against the wall, wrapping her legs around him, and then lowers them both to the floor until he is over her, covering her with his body, his hips thrusting and pushing them both towards their end.

She loves it this way - where she can see his face, look into his eyes as she lays with her vibrant hair spread around her like the corona of a blazing sun. Her hands slide over the old familiar territory of the muscles in his back and shoulders. Her body responds as if they had never been separated by thousands of years and untold distance. And his breathy "Jouiras pour moi, mon femme" in her ear sends Aurora flying and pulls from her a keening cry of release.

Julian feels her climax around him like a storm. She clamps down and clings to him, and with a final thrust, he finds his end in Aurora as he always has. He moans her name, his back arching as he fills her up and sinks into her as far as their hips will allow. His fingers twine with hers as he slides his grasp along her arms, to take her hands in his. He kisses her hungrily, deeply, his body nearly vibrating within her as he completes his rapture, filling her now with new heat. He groans against her lips, and speaks breathlessly, "I … think … we're … ready."


Dazed as she is, it takes a moment for what he said to filter through the haze of pleasure in her mind. And then his wife can't help but chuckle weakly. Her fingers card in his hair to push it back behind his ears. "Now that the edge has been taken off?"

She tilts her head to see where the bath tub is and gets the first look at their surroundings. "Wow,"she murmurs. "This is beautiful." Aurora looks back Julian and smiles. "As are you. But I am afraid you will need to let me up now."

Julian nods as she runs her fingers through his hair, tucking strands behind his ears. he kisses her, and smiles. Julian sighs, rolls his hips in a languid almost feline motion, and finally rises, slowly pulling out of his Wife and sitting up on his knees. He guides her up as well, helping her to rise as he does. "It is lovely in here, I failed to notice entirely." He eyes the tub, "This is big enough for two. I suppose ritual bathing time is now, then?"

"Especially since you have gotten us all sweaty and … ripe," she grins and tweaks his nose with the tip of her finger. If she hadn't already been pregnant, she is certain that Julian's most recent claiming of her person would have done it. She saunters over to the tub and starts the bath. Then she starts looking around for soaps and shampoos and other bathing things.

Julian smiles, "Oh, Aurora, you were always my favorite ripened fruit." He meets her eyes and follows her to the tub, looking around the room. Julian spies the toiletries first, and brings them over to the tub. "There's going to be a very strong urge to keep you in there until the water gets cold."

She grins. "Remind me to show you a little trick I have for that later."

While the tub is filling, she asks Julian casually: "Did you get any odd feelings from those paintings?"

His brow furrows slightly, "Not really, but I chose not to look too closely. Never know with these kinds of things. I am guessing that you did?"

"The frame of the center picture was cold," she explains while sniffing the bottle contents. "As if the picture were so cold it was chilling the frame."

"I did not get that close. The Pattern Lens has recently left my mind, so I chose not to overly examine anything, as I would be — worn out — for the event ahead." He finds and brings over towels that are both decadently large and soft. He turns to Aurora with a smile, offering his hand, "Now, if my Wife would kindly enter the tub, I will kindly begin the ritual bathing."

So she did, and so he did. They bathed one another as they had done centuries before. She had always enjoyed washing his hair, and she had all but forgotten how much she loved him doing the same for her. They take their time and care, shared gentle caresses and loving kisses. So much so that they had to remember themselves and pull back to be sure there was plenty there for the rite.

After toweling one another off, Aurora retrieves her robe, shifting it to the traditional white ritual robe of Wiccan priestess. Quick work 'finds' one for Julian. Not wanting to leave his obviously magical things unguarded, they gather their belongings into bundles and head back down to their waiting party. From there they make their way back down to the 13th floor.

The elevator doors hiss open on the 13th floor to reveal an enormous hall of black stone, polished like obsidian, with an oily inner sheen of subdued rainbows. On the wall directly across from the elevator are two massive double doors. Before the doors, an altar of the same black stone sits, carved with entwined serpents in the symbol of Ouroboros. On the altar rest an athame of gold-and-crystal and an ornate chalice of the same materials. Dust is everywhere, thick enough to see, like snow without any trace of footprints. It is cold in this place, cold with the ice of ages.

"Stay here," she murmurs to her companion guarding the cocoon. Leaving delicate footprints in the dust, Aurora ignores the cold and steps out of the elevator to investigate; first to the altar to look over the things upon it. It has been a very long time indeed since she had seen such a set up.

She looks up at the doors and moves towards them.

The dust crunches like gravel beneath her feet as Aurora leaves Julian guarding the cocoon in the elevator and moves into the massive chamber. The scale of it dwarfs her, though hers is the only light that gleams in the darkness. The implements on the altar prove to bear powerful rainbow enchantments, similar in some ways to the enchantment on Julian's Hunting Horn. There are also tattered remains of coloured fabric, as though once the altar was covered with decorative cloth, but eons have worn these away.

The Serpents carved into the Altar are entwined into the symbol of Ouroboros, each serpent biting the tail of the other.

"Ghostwheel," Aurora calls quietly. "Do scans show anything?"

"The dust is composed of bone shards." Ghostwheel reports. "The tools on the altar appear to be keys. Scans do not indicate the location of the lock that they open."

She looks down at the floor in mild distress. The floor was covered. How many bodies was she looking at? She leaves the chalice and anthame for now while she explores the rest of the floor and checks out the doors.

She moves towards the double doors. There was supposed to be a medical facility on this floor as well.

The double doors are shut and naught can be seen or sensed through them. From this vantage point, two other doors are visible, one to each side of the staircase that leads from elevator down into the massive chamber.

Aurora waivers a moment then heads for the door on the right side of the stairs. Why the devil wasn't there a way to interface with the tower's AI while away from the desk?

There may be such functionality, but if so, Aurora has not found it yet. The door beneath the right side of the stairs is open. On the other side of it, she can see medical tables, and cocoons of dark crystal gleaming with rainbows.

Ah. Excellent. "Ghostwheel, please scan this room and let me know what you find. Like how the lights can be turned on for starters."

There is a rushed feeling about the medical tables, as though this was not what these chambers were once used for, as though they have been modified in haste to suit this different purpose. "There are light-globes in the roof of the area, Aurora." Ghostwheel says after one or two scanning moments. "The switch appears to be the palm-reader inside the door."

She hums thoughtfully and steps inside. Aurora creates a small flame in her palm to provide illumination to find the objects in question. When she does, she eyes it a moment before laying her palm carefully on the plate. "Make sure the door doesn't shut on me. I'm not seeing how I can possibly be in the data base."

"Affirmative." The Ghostwheel replies, floating into another position, closer to the door and extruding tentacles of silvery matter. As Aurora places her palm upon the plate, it lights and the small light globes in the ceiling also light. The plate emits a little beam of light like the scanning machines Aurora is familiar with from 20th century Earth. Nothing further happens.

"Huh." She looks at her palm then the plate and shrugs. "Stand down, I guess." She closes her palm to extinguish the fire. Aurora turns to investigate the room, stepping further into it. She heads for the cocoons to see if they're intact and to look for a computer interface.

"Do you happen to know how to get someone out of these cocoons without putting them in the sun?"

The cocoons are intact. It is impossible to see whom or what is inside them, however, as they are completely opaque.

There is a computer interface similar to that at the main desk on ground floor, but it is crushed as though from an impact.

"The door is attempting to activate but it is broken." The Ghostwheel reports. "I suspect the repair protocols in place here do not include this area."

"Well, damn," she grumbles, looking around the room. "This is a cluster of fubar. Lets' go check out that other set of doors and see if maybe it's the real infirmary."

As she turns back about, Aurora perceives Julian on the other side of the doorway near the bottom of the stairs, watching her. He has his blade drawn.

"The room appears to be a horridly constructed infirmary," she explains with a wave to the room she just left. "There are some cocoons, but they're black is too opaque for me to see through. I was going to check out the other room. We need someplace to put the others while we perform the rite."

She glances at his drawn blade. "Is there a problem?"

The Ghostwheel floats along beside her silently. "Scans detect no hostiles." The machine says. A pause, before adding the slightest of qualifiers. "Yet."

Aurora looks up at Ghosthweel and shakes her head while wearing a slight smile. She looks expectantly at Julian, but she is still very much poised to investigate the other room.

"You were out of sight." Julian explains, "I felt prudence was a necessity." His eyes lift to Ghostwheel, "And *that* is not encouraging." He turns his gaze to Aurora. "I will go with you. Morgenstern minds our colt." He tilts his head and shakes his head. "Our son." he sheathes his sword, and stands ready, waiting for her to continue on.

"I will alert both of you the instant I do detect hostiles, Prince Julian. It is one of my functions." The Ghostwheel responds as he too prepares to float after Aurora.

She snorts a laugh at Alex being referred to as a colt and moves on ahead, rounding back across the front of the stairs to the other side and the doors there. "The objects on the altar have similar enchantments to your horn. They are also somehow keys. I do not understand it, but I am certain it
will come to one of us soon enough."

"Harmonic resonance." Julian states the theory. "Do they all make a sound?" He looks to Aurora, "Perhaps my horn simply taps into a particular frequency. I'm not saying it isn't magic or high science, which is all the same, if you ask me, I'm just offering a possibility."

"A chalice and anthame. I suppose they could make sounds…" She shrugs. "It may be that all that is needed is to hold them during a rite."

This doorway is open. The flickering light from the flame in Aurora's palm reveals a larger space on the other side of it, and this truly is a medical chamber. Though the décor is slightly different to the hospitals of Earth, there is no mistaking the arrangement of beds and medical bays. Crystal cocoons gleam in the flickering light: there are sixteen of them, one in each medical bay, each one covered with a layer of dirt and grime and frost.

"Ghostwheel, we need lights," she says into the quiet. "And heat if you can manage it." She steps inside, and again sees if the occupants of the crystals can be identified while she looks for an access port to the AI of the tower."

"Affirmative." The Ghostwheel replies.

These crystal cocoons are fundamentally different to the three dark cocoons found in the first make-shift infirmary. Scraping away the layer of grime and frost from the first one, Aurora finds herself staring at an unknown girl, perhaps five years of age. Meanwhile, Ghostwheel has found an access port similar to the broken one in the first make-shift infirmary, and has connected to it with extended tendrils of metallic silver. The light globes in the ceiling begin to gleam with light, and in the background, the sound of moving air begins. The cold slowly becomes warmer.

"Excellent, thank you," the red head addresses the AI as she studies the child. "See if there are any records identifying the cocoon occupants in here, and any information on the black cocoons in the makeshift infirmary. Those I am unsure I want to thaw until I know more."

The face of the girl bears a certain Family resemblance, but Aurora is still unfamiliar enough with the Family that it is difficult to say what her ancestry might be.

"The records indicates these sixteen cocoons contain orphans." The Ghostwheel says after the space of five breaths. "The medical staff are in the three dark cocoons."

"Oh, poor things," she murmurs. Aurora looks over the other cocoons and shakes her head. Something would come up. It would work out.

"Alright. How do I thaw a cocoon without taking it out into the sun?"

"I can attempt to interface with the cocoons if you wish." The Ghostwheel says.

She pauses to consider that. Then shakes her head. "It can wait until after the rite."

Julian moved to take a closer look at the girl, attempting to ascertain her line, if at all possible. His eyes look for the dark cocoons, "Are the medical staff healthy? Are they identified?"

"They are in the other room," Aurora answers as she moves slowly past the other cocooned children. "I need to know how to get them out of these cocoons without hauling them outside. It is possible that the rites will do that for us, so it can wait, I think."

"We should have the others and Morgenstern wait in here. It looks like it would be secure enough."

"Ghostwheel, ask the tower's AI if the Tantric Rite is supposed to be on the altar in the main Chamber or in the room behind the altar."

In her mind she replays the data the AI gave her earlier on the Rite. She would need to collect the items on the altar, make certain they were clean, and properly dedicated, as well as find a source of clean water….

A moment passes. "The Altar in the main chamber." The Ghostwheel reports. "The AI files indicate that this area should be far more hospitable than it has become. Do you wish me to recreate the furnishings with my repair-bots?"

"That would be brilliant, thank you," Aurora responds. "Get that started. I need to clean the altar and get some heat going too."

"Affirmative." The Ghostwheel replies, soaring swiftly forth from this infirmary into the main chamber, leaving Aurora and Julian alone with sleeping children in cocoons of crystalline ice.

Aurora looks around at the small cocoons and winces. "I hope we can find their parents. Poor babies."

"I am going to go see if I can't banish some dust into open space. See if you can find some water. I can purify it with a spell if I must."

She kissed him on the cheek and then wafted back out into the main room and the altar.

Aurora finds that the main chamber of this level of the Tower has changed in the mere moments since the Ghostwheel entered it. Small repair-bots like little ants are hovering all over the place, gathering dust from the floor, and refashioning the ancient tapestries that once decorated the walls. The tapestry on the left wall is mostly complete, and depicts the head of the Unicorn, white-blonde mane tinged with red and white curly horn gleaming with inner light above eyes of sea-green. The tapestry on the right wall appears to depict the head of the Serpent, dark scales, one red eye, three tears of rich red blood emerging from his other empty eye socket as if he cries.

The chamber has warmed also as a hot breeze continues to flow from the roof above. Other repair-bots are fashioning repairs to the doors and hand-pads. The Ghostwheel itself spins in lazy silver at the center of the chamber.

"Ghostwheel, if you were human I would give you a raise," Aurora says with a nod of satisfaction. "And since you have those things covered, I will try and work out more on these altar items."

Which that she returns to the altar to give the ritual items a closer examination.

The Ghostwheel revolves as she speaks. "I want to become human. Would that be a raise?" It says in reply to her words. The gold-and-crystal chalice and the silver-steel athame remain as they were before: beautifully detailed, jeweled, carved with runes the meaning of which is unclear. They are not Thari. To those with the eyes to see, both gleam with the primal rainbow fires that can also be found in trumps.

Ghostwheel's response slowly made its way into her brain and she started out of her examination of the athame to look up at the sphere.

"I wouldn't even begin to know how to do that," she answers thoughtfully. Though truth be told, she already had a few possibilities brought out by exposure to outlandish science fiction back in the day. "If you are serious, I will see what possibilities are out there when this is over."

"Would you come look at these runes? They are not Thari and I don't recognize them."

The Ghostwheel approaches and scans the runes that decorate these artifacts. "I have no record of such runes." It reports. "They either predate the former Age or are brand new."

She gives the items an impressed look. "Wow. All right. Is that data port to the AI in the infirmary have a human/computer interface?"

"Now it does." The Ghostwheel says. "Alert: the power drain of these operations is significant. I may have to shutdown to conserve communications power. Currently operating at 33% reserves." A pause. "Alert: Windseeker has dropped out of communications linkage. Last detailed transmission indicated
an encounter with hostiles and the Unicorn. Black crystal communications linkage to Fury lost."

Aurora blinks up at him as she processes all that. "Damn. There isn't really anything I can do from here. Aunna seemed like the type that could take care of herself and preferred it that way." She frets a moment. "All right. How long will you need to shut down to recharge?"

"Given local environment constraints, full recharge will require 12 hours of local time." The Ghostwheel says. "Alert: unable to advise if timeflow variance occurs between here and Fury."

"Merde," she cursed. "As it stands now, how much time do we have?"

"Eight hours and twelve minutes at last connection." The Ghostwheel says as the repair-bots continue their hovering dance. The tapestries are almost complete now: there are four more, in addition to the Unicorn and the Serpent who face each other across this six-sided vault, four more designs. A bird made of fire, rising from a pyre, facing a chinese dragon, feet held on clouds. A prism casting rainbows facing a perfect seven-pointed star.

"What?" she yelps. "What happened to us having days here?"

"Clarification: eight hours and twelve minutes on the Fury. Seven days, three hours, and eight minutes in our current locality." The Ghostwheel says. "Apologies, Aurora. Repairs are requiring concentration of dedicated resources."

"Oh," she sighs in relief. "Thank you. When you get to 25%, please return to the infirmary and shut down for recharging. The timing is inconvenient, but a total power drain would be even more so."

"Affirmative. Reminder: I will not be providing danger scan or protective services during shutdown." The Ghostwheel replies in response. The repair-bots continue their frenetic activity for another few moments, then the swarms abruptly cease, and flow back to the Ghostwheel, who absorbs them.

"I know," she replies. "Which is what makes it inconvenient. But there is nothing to do for it. From now on, please alert me when you are at 50%."

Aurora takes a final look around the area, then goes to find the Shaman and the others.

The Shaman, his bird-warriors, Zuithnel, Morgenstern, and the cocoon containing the sleeping blond boy are still at the doors of the elevator. There is enough space there for all of them, though Morgenstern is by far the largest of them all. The mighty steed is apparently taking his duties in guarding the cocooned colt quite seriously. The Shaman was speaking with his bird-warriors, but stops as Aurora approaches. "Yes, Fire-hair Builder?" He inquires.

"I would like for you all to wait in the Infirmary while the rite is performed," she says in his tongue. "I am uncertain as to the power that is going to be released, and you will all be safer there."

"As you wish, Lady Fire-hair." The Shaman says. "Do you wish me to invoke the wards of the Lord and the Lady?"

The Ghostwheel floats off toward the infirmary as these words are spoken, passing Julian along the way, where he stands with his blade drawn, surveying things as they occur.

"Zuithnel, please shift back to your humanoid form for now."

"Mrow." Zuithnel says, though it is not entirely clear what this means, and her form begins to flow like mercury, returning to her humanshape. Clothed only in a fall of midnight hair, bare and pale, she awaits further instructions from her mistress.

She looks up at the tall horse. "I am moving our colt," she smiles. "I would appreciate it if you continued to guard him in the infirmary with the others." Her smile fades and she shakes her head sadly. "There are many colts in there, sleeping like this one."

Morgenstern listens, bends his head, snorts again so as to disturb her fire-gold curls. Then he stands aside so that she can reach the cocoon behind his massive form. This appears to be the only response he thinks necessary.

She pats his neck and gestures to the cocoon to levitate it to follow her.

"That would probably be wise, Honored Elder. After this is done, I would like for you to teach me these wards of my Mother and Father."

"Please follow," she says to the group and proceeds back down to the infirmary with the cocoon floating behind her.

As the cocoon floats down the staircase behind Aurora, her entourage also follows. The Shaman, escorted by his two nameless bird-warriors, taking a strange orange crystal from the pocket of his robe. Zuithnel, padding barefoot after her mistress, unconcerned by her lack of clothing as is often the way of shapeshifters. Morgenstern, whose hooves strike sparks from the steps of midnight stone, and who pauses to eye his old friend Julian with eyes like stormclouds before he follows the cocoon he has been asked to guard into the infirmary.

"Make yourselves comfortable however you can," Aurora says to the Shaman. "But do not touch anything; I do not know what everything does and would be saddened were you injured." She paused to eye the crystal he's holding. "Wait until Julian and I are out of the room before activating that, please."

"Understood, Lady Fire-hair." The Shaman replies in the ancient dialect of Thari.

She looks over the layout and finds a space large enough for the cocoon and for Morgenstern before setting the crystal pod carefully down. She eyes Zuithnel a moment, then finds a sheet to transform into a closed robe. She hands it to her nude companion. "Please put this on; there is no need to get the warriors distracted."

"As you command, mistress." Zuithnel says, accepting the robe and tucking it about herself.

She hesitates. "What did I do to distract the warriors, mistress? You have not commanded me to mate."

Aurora sighs quietly. She will be having a talk later with this one about who had a say in her mating. "You are a naked female; they are male. That is all that is required to distract them."

With that done, she moves over to access the tower's AI again.

We are in the infirmary and will soon be performing the ritual to summon the avatars. I have a few questions first. How do I free the sleepers from their cocoons without dragging them out into the sun?

Julian lifts his eyes to Morgenstern, and gives his old friend a nod of thanks, and a small gesture to tell him to keep up his guardianship. He turns in time to see her give Zuithnel a robe, and glances to the others gathered to see if they were, in fact, distracted. He hadn't been, but he had a little time to get used to the idea, and she wasn't Aurora. He turns again to Aurora, and moved closer.

The feathered warriors, despite all their discipline, do appear to have been somewhat distracted by Zuithnel in her human shape.

The Shaman is distracted by the orange crystal from his pocket, and does not appear to notice as he mutters to it.

Standing beside the cocoon that holds the sleeping boy, Morgenstern is entirely indifferent.

"Shall I inspect the cocoons for familiar faces? Should you?" He frowns slightly, "There may be some best left in their boxes."

Aurora looks up from the interface while waiting for it to answer her. "They have waited this long, they can wait until the ritual is done."

Touch the cocoon with your bare flesh and think {symbol of seven-pointed-star}. The cocoon will release.

The interface glows with an inner light as Aurora's question is answered by it. Nearby in one of the corners of the infirmary, the silvery globe that is the Ghostwheel rests, inert as an object.

She is focused on the AI a moment before she looks up at her husband again. "Ghostwheel has to recharge. He will be down 12 hours. He lost communications with Windseeker, and since that AI was our interface through the black crystal, we have lost contact with the Fury as well. At last synch, the Fury still had eight hours to our seven days. As I see it, we will need to perform the Rite, wake up the sleepers we have encountered thus far, return to our point of entry and hope the Fury is still here and intact to rejoin and get away. Things may change after the Rite is performed."

"Or we can wait for Ghostwheel to recharge and wake the sleepers in here while we do that. I want to wake at least one Healer before we start though. We may need them, and I want them to see if it is safe to release Alex, or if they can repair the genetic damage."

Sge returnes her attention to the interface with the tower. Thank you. Please go over the details of the Rite with me again. We have cleaned and repaired the chamber. Are any additional offerings required beyond the actions of my Mate and I? What role do the Chalice and Athame play in this Rite?

An offering of love for the Unicorn. An offering of blood for the Serpent. The other Powers will make their requirements known during the Rite.

I do not recognize some of the banners in the chamber. What are the names of the other Powers? I will need them for the invocation.

The Drake is the Power of Life, the lustful shapeshifter, red in tooth and claw. The Phoenix is the Power of Death, the wings in the dark at the end of all things. The Avatars of Art and Logic change. Their names are unknown and they are never the same twice.

She wrinkles her nose at the response that was not especially helpful. But that wasn't the AI's fault.

What will happen when the Avatars are summoned?

They will take physical form and communicate with you. Take care in your
attitude and what you say. They are not human as you are, Builder.

Aurora stills briefly. She had never actually spoken to an actual Deity before. Not really.

I should be honest and respectful? she hazards a guess.


She sighs. Invocation, offering of blood, and then powerful sex. That's it, yes?

That initiates the Rite. Warning: sex and love are not the same. It is the latter that calls the Unicorn. The former calls the Drake.

She smiles. I know they are different. They will both be there. What effect will the Rite have on the environment?

We/us will absorb the excess energies from the Rite to recharge our reserves. We/us will then be capable of fulfilling the original intent of our Builders.

And that was? I don't believe I have ever really heard it stated in its entirety.

The recreation of Chaosian civilisation from our seed base and preserved population. With certain modifications that our Builders thought were wise.

She purses her lips thoughtfully. What's the expected effect on the rest of Creation? On Amber?

//Unknown. The Lord and Lady did not enter such data into our database.~

Aurora bites her lip thoughtfully. Her father was of the Blood of Amber. Surely he wouldn't have agreed to anything that would bring them harm. Assuming this Lord and Lady were the same as her parents.

Can you extrapolate from available data?

Silence for one or two moments.

Our extrapolation indicates that the rebirth of Chaosian civilisation will not impact on Amber unless ancient hostilities are also reborn.

Excellent, she nods. Do you have any further advice that you feel we
should know for successful completion?

Successful completion of the Rite is in the hands of the Powers. We/us cannot aid or advise you once the Rite has begun, Builder. We/us know nothing more.

She looked up at Ghostwheel hanging silent. Do you have a way to recharge my AI?

We are configured differently with different sources of power. We/us
cannot recharge your servant, Builder.

She wasn't happy about going through all this without Ghostwheel watching her back, but the alternative is to wait and she didn't know how much time they actually had since they had lost contact with the Fury.

Thank you anyway.

Aurora replaces the headset and turns to Julian.

"Alright. I am ready if you are, my darling."

TOC - Rites & Rituals

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