Rites & Rituals

Julian turns from regarding the curious following they have gathered onto themselves. Morgenstern is the most pleasant surprise, of course, but taken as a whole, he could not help but shake his head just a bit at the latest turn of events. He had been a part of countless adventures and follies since last he saw his Wife, since last he knew his Son, centuries worth. And yes, nothing has prepared him for the situations he has so recently been a part of. Julian cuts his eyes to Aurora, and moves to stand by her side.

"I am always ready for you, Aurora."

She smiles adoringly at him, and then moves to the Bird Clan peoples. Aurora bows to the Shaman.

"We are going to proceed with the Rite. Please do not leave this room until after the Ritual. I do not know what we can expect, and I would hate for something to harm you, my friends."

Then taking Julian's hand, they proceed out into the now repaired, cleaned and warm ritual chamber. Tapestries hang from the walls around the altar : 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.

As they near the altar, Aurora drops her robe to the floor and leaves the puddle of white silk behind. She steps up and takes up the ritual dagger in one hand. She looks at the blade and then her husband.

Julian's eyes follow Aurora's movement, his mind preparing his body for what is to come, with his Wife making the task very easy indeed. He follows the blade after it appears, intent on learning the steps to the ritual by watching her go through the motions.

"The first offering is blood. To the Serpent. Our offering to the Unicorn will be the sharing of our love. For the Drake, our lust. The Phoenix is the Power of Death. And the height of the sex act is La Petite Mort, oui? We shall give him several offerings. The Avatars of Art and Logic, well…..," she smiles. "I think we can easily incorporate them into our ritual, don't you?"

He scowls reflexively at the idea of giving the Serpent anything, but says nothing. Julian listens, and smiles slightly. "I have found nothing 'Petite' about it, Wife." Julian nods, "I agree. None of that sounds difficult, though it seems strange to me. As this all appears to be — machinery. Empowered machinery, but still gears and crystals, if you take my meaning. A ritual smacks of a sacrifice of Power, and I am unclear how any of these things benefit the device — grand or not." Julian shrugs slightly, "But let us continue."

With that she lays the blade across her palm and draws sharply before handing Julian the ritual dagger hilt first. She doesn't wince as she holds her fist over the cup and lets her blood begin to trickle into it.

As the athame slices into Aurora's flesh, it takes on an oddly translucent sheen. As her blood trickles into it, the chalice takes on the same translucent sheen. The tapestry that depicts the Serpent ripples, as though blown by an unseen and unfelt wind…

Julian scowls very slightly again, but holds out his hand for the dagger, and repeats the motion. His eyes go from the chalice to the tapestry as well, and while he is tempted to open his senses, he does not.

"You must let got the old prejudices," Aurora says, and it almost sounds like a part of the rite. But she had seen his scowl, and she remembered the things he said when he first saw her. "A new world with new beginnings. The Great Serpent is as much a part of me as the Sacred Mother Unicorn."

She moves the chalice with her unmarked hand and holds it to him for his offering. "He is a part of our son as well, beloved. And yourself. Was not Dworkin, the Progenitor of Amber's line, of one of the Houses of Chaos himself?" She smiles. "Do not blame Him for the actions of a few of His children. They had Free Will as much as the Unicorn's children. Do you blame Her for the actions of Brand or the brother who shot you? Of course not."

When the chalice held their combined bloods, Aurora heals both their hands and smiles up at him. "Wait here," she murmurs, and then she steps over to stand beneath the banner of the Serpent.

Holding the chalice aloft with both hands, she intones: "An offering of blood for You, Father Serpent. Freely given." She sets it down carefully on the floor under the banner. The mingled blood swirls upward. As it vanishes into nowhere, the banner above darkens, becomes heavy with darkness.

Aurora returns to Julian and holds out her hand. With her husband she walks to stand beneath the Unicorn. "With you, Sacred Mother, we share the gift of our Love; pure and encompassing and everlasting." Turning to face Julian with all the love she has for him reflected in her eyes, she smiles. "Kiss me, mon Julian."

The banner that depicts the Unicorn moves as though caressed by an unseen wind: it brightens slightly. The brightness and the darkness facing each other across the chamber, with Aurora and Julian between.

Julian offers no words in return to her mild admonishment. The Serpent's Children had invaded his forest, burned parts of it as they spread from that accursed cancer that was the Black Road. A Blood Curse might have cleared the path, but it was Chaos that laid the pavement. It seemed to him that even when the deeds were dark, neither the Unicorn nor the Serpent could operate independently. Instead, they required their diametric opposite to wreak havoc, like hot and cold fronts clashing and turning into a storm. Julian turns slightly, alert for the changes around, aware that Power is at work, even if he is not clear on how or why.

He smiles slightly at this part of the ritual, and moves into Aurora's arms as he takes her into his own. He gathers her close against his chest, a quiet growl in his chest as he leans down and kisses her with loving tenderness, but with a heat and a depth that promises much much more.

Aurora flows into his embrace and her body molds to his. Julian's kisses had always been able to render her weak in the knees and unable to think coherently. This was no different, though she retains the presence of mind for the action she felt was required for this invocation. As she had earlier, Aurora gathers all her love for her husband and releases it in a burst of magic.

The banner that depicts the Unicorn begins to emit light, that quickly becomes too bright to look at directly, though within the light something moves. The banner that depicts the Serpent has darkened to the point where it is an absence, though again, within the darkness something moves. The air within the chamber becomes charged with power, flickering across the senses of Aurora and Julian, crackling with the promise of thunder. The light and the dark begin to clash, with them in the middle.

And then a mighty voice speaks from the darkness, both verbal and mental, stunning and dark. Each word leaving a dark taste behind it, as though reality itself bleeds. ~"tHEy SeEk YouR hOrn."~.

A voice brighter by far answers from across the chamber, but this voice is entirely the opposite, bright and wild and terrible. Washing the dark away. ~"YES."~

~"IS it TiMe?"~


~"tHe RooTs ArE rEAdY tO sUPpoRt ThE tREe. wHeRE iS mY eYe?"~


~"WhERe aRe tHe QuEEn oF SwORds aNd tHe MORTAIS?"~


~"dO yOU tRUst tHEse twO TO do wHat wAs aNd mUSt bE dONe?"~


~"tHeN sO bE iT.~"

What happens then is perhaps unclear to Aurora and Julian. On the great double doors of the vault, at the top of the doors, the spiral curve of the Pattern becomes visible, and the light from the banner of the Unicorn flashes toward this, absorbed into it. No trace of the banner remains. Similarly, at the base of the double doors, a writhing sign of moving blackness becomes visible, like twining roots at the base of a tree. The darkness flashes toward this and is absorbed by it, leaving both banners gone. The forces invoked subside. Other sigils begin to gleam with inner light, between Pattern and Logrus, revealing that there is indeed a tree carved into the ancient doors.

It wasn't the light that had pulled Aurora from the bliss of her husband's kiss. It had been the voices. She could only stand and shift her wide eyes from one side to the other. The power around them was heady stuff.

She hasn't expected such a reaction so early in the rite. It confuses her a little. Had she not been specifically told sex would be involved, she would be running for the great doors even now. Instead she slowly moves back to the altar, tugging Julian with her. But her eyes doesn't leave the wonder of the great door and the softly glowing sigils taking shape.

It isn't until they are at the altar that she turns to Julian and smiles. "Lift me onto it, beloved… and then I will drive."

The hard black stone of the altar proves to be strangely warm.

The active chalice and the active athame have become translucent, shimmering with strengthening primal rainbows, beautiful and terrible. As though they are both there and somewhere else at the same time.

Once they are both on the altar, Aurora takes a moment to take in the chamber and the eddies of Power. She has never seen the like, never felt anything like it. But that is not her focus right now. With a sensual smile, she turns back to her focus and rises to her knees. She straddles him, but does not yet impale herself upon him. Instead she slides his length between her folds slowly, languidly building them both up higher only to pull back when it starts to get too much, and allowing the energies to ebb and then flow again to a higher point before she starts it all over.

Of the four remaining tapestries, two more begin to change, as the air in the chamber becomes laden with the sensual scent of the summer storm. Aurora finds that her bare skin is caressed with winds both cold and warm, as sparkling elemental spirits gather on the tapestry that depicts the Drake, spirits of sky and stone and sea and star. Green leaves also begin to grow there. The sparkles that gather on the tapestry that depicts the Phoenix seem darker, fashioned from midnight fire, the haunting tragedy of ghosts apparent when glimpsed from the corner of her eye. Still somewhat restrained by his distaste for the ritual, Julian employs his own hands to gently cup her face with his rough palms as she slides herself along him, dragging her down to claim her soft warm lips for his own…

Julian's kisses had always had the effect of making her forget her own name when he put his mind to it. She sinks into it, moaning softly against his lips. She slides her hands up into his hair, tangling her fingers in the inky black tresses as she continues to ride him. He is so beautiful to her; so perfect. She gives herself over, letting her own passion's fire rise with his, seeking to erase his distaste and hesitancy, moving in exactly the ways that she knows well drives him mad with desire.

Something feels different this time as Aurora abandons herself to the sensuality of feeling her husband deep inside her: something in the air, something shivering, wild, untamed and savage. She cries out involuntarily as Julian bucks beneath her, driving himself deeper, crying out himself. The wet explosion of hot pleasure that floods through her, curling her toes, actually causes her to lose consciousness for an instant, lose awareness of where they are and what is happening around them. As she recovers her
senses, she finds Julian is holding her, nuzzling her firegold hair, her breasts crushed against his chest, hardness still buried deep inside her. That shivery feeling has barely subsided, begins again to build, deep within… as though her flesh and blood and bone are wild and molten, glowing from within, especially about her fingertips and shoulderblades and the base of her spine. And from Julian's brow, little buds have started to sprout, the little buds of antlers!

She has trouble separating the jumble of sensations and feelings within herself, and it takes a moment for her to realize that she is seeing what she thinks she's seeing. "Herne," she breathes in curious wonder. It would make sense, to her, for Julian to be the embodiment of the Horned God; lord of the woodlands, the hunt and animals. A tendril of her memories take her back briefly to the bonfires of long ago Samhains where she played the Huntress hunting the Stag. Aurora presses her lips against his in a searing kiss. A shiver runs through her when she remembers the Lord and Lady of Huntingdon in those roles.

The antlers of the Stag burst forth even as she thinks these things and whispers the name of Herne. Julian returns her kiss with bruising force and begins again the ancient dance. Again and again hot pleasure sings.

The physical sensation of wild, unrestrained sex with her husband fueled as it is by the Powers swirling about them that are in turned fueled by them make her light headed and almost giddy. Even as she rides her woodland lord, she pulls her hands from his hair to stare at them.

The skin of her hands is writhing, nails lengthening, changing… red scales and claws as sharp as razors… bat-wings bursting from her shoulders… "hush." The voice speaks from the other end of the chamber, a dark and terrible voice singing of midnight and loss in the merest of whispers. A voice that chills and freezes to the bone. Almost immediately, the shapechanges begin to reverse themselves. Aurora finds herself trembling uncontrollably in the arms of her husband, spattered with blood from the scratches she has left on Julian, with his seed, with their mingled sweat, afraid to look behind her. Afraid of what she might see. Julian, breathing deep, has shut his eyes.

"My sister knows only the survival of the fittest. mine is the law of karma." That dark and terrible voice whispers. "My price for aiding in the birth of the unicorn is the life of your firstborn son. do you agree to pay my price?"

The threat to her newly discovered son freezes Aurora in her place. Unlike her husband, her eyes are wide open as she stares down at him with horror and a mother's fear etched in her expression. Even if she wanted to, this was not a decision she could make by herself. All she could manage at that moment was to wonder what she had done in her life that was worth the loss
of Alexander all over again.

"Julian," she spoke in a tight, breathless voice. It was too weighty a decision; the Unicorn versus their son.

Julian opens his blue eyes to regard her, his own expression grey with horror, as one of his thumbs gently touches her bruised lips. "NO…" Says he, hard and firm, though still he does not look at the creature that speaks in such midnight tones. "I care not what you be, touch our son and we will find a way to slay you."

There is one moment of silence before that midnight voice whispers again, tones singing of cold grief and loss that strikes to the heart, bringing the sweat of chill terror. "And what is your choice, Aurora, goddess of the dawn?"

Aurora looks torn as her emotions rage with themselves. "Julian," she whispers hoarsely, clearly lost at this development. "It's the Unicorn." She closes her eyes briefly and draws a shuddering breath. Alex had been raised in a culture that clung to the faith of the Lord and the Lady even as Christiandom tried to break their backs. What would he say to this?

She opens her eyes and looked into Julian's eyes with her own tear filled ones. Then she swallowed her fear and looked over her shoulder at whatever was there.

"I cannot give you the life of another. Not even one who I brought into the world. Our son's life is not mine to give away."

Without looking, she finds Julian's hand and squeezes it before adding. "But mine is."

"Aurora, no…" Julian protests, his arm tightening about her.

The being standing where the banner used to be is perhaps not as terrible as Aurora expects. She seems to be a woman in form, clothed in a dark and tangled robe, the hood of which obscures her face. Ghostly sparkles dance about her and she is wreathed in an aura of arctic midnight fire. There is silence for many moments. "If either of you had said yes, never would I have aided you." That midnight voice whispers next from where her face should be. "I will kill the plague that bedevils your firstborn son and carry him to where he was and must be. I gift you this promise: you will see him again on the day that he marries my daughter, though know you he will not, at first."

Abruptly the being shifts and flows and changes, becoming an enormous bird with feathers of that same arctic midnight fire, a bird larger than this chamber should hold… and then She is gone.

The tree that decorates the great double doors is fully alight now, and the sound of clicks begins to occur, as though of mighty locks unlocking…

Aurora closes her eyes and bows her head as a tear tracks down her cheek. "Alexander," she whispers, her heart constricting painfully. It didn't seem fair that they hadn't even been able to hug him and he was being taken from them again. She buries her face in his Julian's neck until she's gotten a hold of herself enough not to break down sobbing. At least they knew he was alive and well. Wherever she took him.

Cradling her with one arm, Julian strokes her damp hair with his free hand, though he remains silent. His scratches slowly stop bleeding and Aurora begins to feel aching bruises in her own limbs.

A half dozen clicks crack through the room before she even notices. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she pushes herself upright and looks to the door.

"Do you think we should open it?" she asks Julian softly.

Aurora finds that all else in the chamber has been burnt to ashes. The wards established by the Shaman appear to be intact. Only Julian's weapons, armour, hunting horn, the athame, and the chalice remain.

"We have paid a dark price and come this far." Julian says, his tone one of restrained anguish. "Let us see what is in there."

She sits up and looks down at him, with a sad, ghost of a smile. "He is alive," she says softly in the cavernous room. "And that is more than we had a few hours ago. She said she would heal him of the plague that he still carried. I wish more than anything he was with us, awake and healthy when we return to Amber. But knowing he is alive and healed…."

Aurora trails off, sighs and climbs off of him so he can get up. She stares to where the Unicorn banner had been. "He will marry the child of a Goddess. That has to mean something. Of course, all of Oberon's wives married the child of a Goddess too," she adds with a troubled expression. None of those ended well if she remembers her Amber genealogy correctly.

"A different Goddess than my grandmother the Unicorn." Julian points out, after he listens to his wife.

She hops off the altar and waits for Julian. As excited as she had been about all this, knowing Alex is lost to them again for who knows how long has taken some of her joy and excitement away. And he wouldn't know them when they met again. Not at first. But she can't get too excited about their eventual reunion; it could be years from now, and it could be even longer before he remembers. He is still a boy, and he is again lost to his mother. And Julian! He hadn't seen his son since the boy was eight! How is this fair?

He gathers his weapons and his armour and his hunting horn.

After another few moments, he offers the chalice and athame to Aurora. "You should keep these."

She takes them silently. More then likely, there was someplace they belonged after everything was done. But she can hold on to them until that time. Looking up, she frowns at the pile of ashes that were her clothes. That would never do, and she focused on returning the magic to them and reforming them back into her robe. She summons the white robe to her when it appears and wraps it around herself. The chalice and athame she slips into pockets for now. She closes her eyes and reigns in her angst. They have to finish what they started. There will be time for tears and self recrimination later. When Julian is ready, they approach the door together.

The great double doors of black stone have begun to click open as they approach. On the other side, the chamber is lit only by light like the light of the rising sun, emanating from a spiraled horn like the horn of the narwhal, hovering up near the roof. On the floor below, one cocoon rests, large enough to contain two people. For indeed, it does contain two people. A man with dark hair. A woman with fire-gold hair, exactly the same as Aurora's.

Having expected the horn, it is easier to draw her gaze from it to the cocoon. For a long moment, all she can do is stare.

She falls to her knees beside it, peering into it at the faces of the sleepers. It has been far, far too long since she has seen her parents, but she is sure she can recognize them if this is they.

The faces of the man and the woman inside the gleaming crystal of the ice-covered cocoon seem to be the faces she remembers. Neither face bears any trace of plague. "Are they…?" Julian asks her.

Awed and unsure, Aurora's hand trails over the cold surface. "I… think it's my parents. I don't understand all this. Not at all."

She slowly rises to her feet and looks up at the shining horn. "What do we do now?"

The shining horn begins to descend from the roof as Aurora looks at it. "No idea, love. There were robes hanging beside the doors." Julian says. He offers her one of them. It appears to be made from black silk.

Aurora looks at the one she has on and shrugs, shifting it to match the silk ones. "I am fine as I am. Perhaps we can wake them with the horn. I'm sure they will want clothing eventually."

She steps forward and waits to take a hold of the horn as it lowers.

"That may not be wise, Aurora." Julian says cautiously. The feeling that occurs as the delicate spiral of the horn touches the bare flesh of her palms is akin to walking the Pattern: the same feeling of lightning surging within her blood, the same feeling that stepping wrongly could kill her in a flash of fire. The bruises that had decorated her pale skin are simply washed away as though they had never been. But the horn remains dormant. These are naught but side-effects. The cocoon containing the man and the
woman gleams with reflected light at her feet, the ice sparkling with rainbows, as the light is refracted…

She stares at it in wonder, eyes gliding over the shining spiral. "Wow…" she breathes, and that is all she can do. Of course, she no has no idea what to do with it. But since it was heading downward, she gently lays it where its path would have taken it.

"I couldn't just let it fall," she says lowly to her husband. "It didn't seem right."

Julian, who had been holding his breath, lets it out. "I find myself glad that you are of the Blood." Says he. "The interplay of Pattern forces I sensed… could kill a mortal instantly."

She nods gravely. "I could feel them."

The Horn clicks into the slot on the floor that it was descending toward with an ominous click. Strange runes become visible in the floor, gleaming with light, surging like water.

Never taking her eyes off of it, Aurora steps back beside Julian and laces her fingers through his. Tense with anticipation, she squeezes his hand and wishes Ghostwheel was charged up and with them for this to record it.

The light surging through the graceful runes inscribed in the black stone of the floor makes contact with the gleaming ice of the cocoon. Instantly the ice begins to crack, fragments dissolving into naught but air. The man and the woman inside do not breathe at first, as fluids stream forth, about the feet of Aurora and Julian. Aurora immediately notices that her feet become numb, even through her recreated magical shoes. Mists rise from the fluids as they flow to cover the whole floor of the vault. Then the man coughs, sputtering the same fluid forth from his lungs, opening green eyes to stare numbly at his surroundings. The woman in his arms does not move.

Barely daring to breathe, Aurora takes a careful half step forward and lapses into the ancient Thari. "Are you Kadmon: Prince of the Twilight Roses, son of Prince Corwin of Amber? Husband of Eden: Lady of the Birds and daughter of Princess Fiona of Amber and Lord Mandor of Chaos?"

Julian glances toward the double doors and frowns slightly. As though he has
heard something that Aurora has not.

The dark-haired man coughs again, sputtering fluid, but manages to nod…
the fire-haired woman begins to cough weakly.

Aurora drops to her knees, heedless of the floor. She reaches for the woman to sit her upright, but she speaks to the man. "Can you sit up? It is easier to get the fluid clear." She brushes the woman's hair back and studies her intently. The sputtering woman has Aurora's eyes, Fiona's eyes, though her hair is a slightly different shade of curly scarlet.

"Mine name is Aurora. I am the youngest child of Kadmon and Eden of Chaos. When I was eight, our Ways were attacked to get out a powerful artifact my parents were guarding. To save their eight children, our father shoved us through a door into another world."

She looks to the man anxiously, hopefully.

A strange scraping noise occurs outside.

Julian deepens his frown and knocks an arrow in his bow.

"The Doors of the Phoenix…" The man croaks, his voice hoarse with coughs. "Are the Daemon still outside the vault?"

Aurora blinks. "There was nothing outside the vault except what came with us. These were the only doors we saw - save for the infirmaries and elevator on this level. It has been many centuries since you began your sleep."

The man coughs again. "The Daemon… black crystal… hibernation cocoons." Says he in his rough and raspy voice.

The woman is eying Aurora as though she cannot quite believe her eyes. She has finished emptying her lungs.

"Aurora, I heard scales on stone." Julian says, arrow still knocked in his bow. "I am not liking our tactical situation."

She furrows her brow and slowly removes her arms to let the woman sit up on her own. "We have awoken none in black cocoons. There were black crystals in the second infirmary when we began the ritual." She glances worriedly at Julian before adding;

"I need you to get up if you can. There are things we do not understand going on. Do you know what we should expect as further effects of the ritual we used to awaken you?" She is making an assumption of their understanding based on what they had learned before stepping inside the room; that these people were the last cocooned.

"Clock ticking…" Kadmon croaks as he shakily rises to his feet. He eyes Julian. "Julian? Is that you?"

"Not the Julian you know." Julian says, one corner of his mouth actually quirking with something like mirth.

Eden wipes her mouth. "The Horn must be taken to Mama." She says, her voice a lilting thing, waking memory of lullabies.

"To Fiona?" Aurora ventures worriedly. Realizing that these were her parents who she should not be seeing naked. she summons to her the black silk robes from by the door and offers them to the pair.

TOC An Awakening from Dreams of an Ancient Time

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