Tower of the Sun

Shortly after Ariaunna arrives at the Chaosian craft, so do Aurora, Julian, the aged bird-scholar, and two further bird-warriors to join the four that accompanied Ariaunna. The surroundings here are much as they were at the first location, for this does indeed appear to be an ancient vineyard, with grapes yet growing on the vines. The craft has landed in an open area between two rows of vines. The cocoon that contains blonde Alex rests beside the ship, and the door of the ship is open. Silver Ghostwheel is leading Aurora. Black-and-silver Windseeker is floating slightly inside the open doorway.

Aunna nods a compulsory greeting to the arrivals before loading the cocoon into the shuttle.

Aurora doesn't even need to check with Julian to know how he wants this to go. She gestures to the ramp as she gives the Elder a nod. "After you," she intones in the ancient tongue.

And so, hours later, the strange Chaosian vehicle recovered by Windseeker from beside the ancient ruined fountain descends beside the Tower of the Sun at the heart of the Mandorways Sphere. Aboard are the following beings:

Ariaunna
Aurora
Ghostwheel
Julian
Teluidhe
Windseeker
Zuithnel

Along with the Elder and his best two warriors from the bird-people. Neither bird-warrior relaxes that much during the transit. At the Tower of the Sun, they find that time has broken and worn things, but guided by the aged bird-shaman, still they find there is a plaza before the massive tower where the vehicle can land easily. The ground here is smooth and even, paved with great stones of white marble. The tower is at least three miles in diameter at the base and at the place where plaza meets tower there are great closed double doors. Beside the doors are two strange devices that look like spirals of a black metal, rising from the earth, one to each side of the doors. "Query: continue with repairs?" Windseeker inquires of Ariaunna as the engines of the shuttle shut down.

"Proceed," Aunna replies.

Windseeker makes no further comment.

"Behold!" The Bird-Shaman says in his archaic Thari. "The Tower of the Sun, last fortress of the Builders!"

Staring out the window, Aurora's eyes widen as she takes it all in. "Holy crap," she breathes in amazed English. She shakes herself and turns to look at the Shaman. She had a thousand questions, but suspected that most would be answered inside the structure.

"How do we proceed?"

Aunna, too, looks at the spire curiously. She chuckles lowly at Aurora's verbal reaction, but says nothing herself.

"Approach the Doors of Judgement and, if you are worthy, the doors will open." The Bird-Shaman says. "If you are not worthy, the fires of the Builders will destroy you."

"Sounds straightforward enough," Aurora says as she unbuckles and climbs out of her seat. The blood of Amber and Chaos was the same no matter what universe they were from originally. She smiles brightly and rubs her hands together in a gesture of eagerness. "Let's get to it then, shall we?" She switches from the Archaic Thari of the bird people to the modern tongue she had been speaking to Aunna in "Coming, Aunna?"

The dark-haired woman looks furtively at the pillar, then sighs. "Sure," she says. "Why the hell not."

Aurora moves back to where her husband watches the bird people warily. She gives him a kiss. "Guard Alex," she says softly in French. "I'll be back shortly. It'll be alright. I love you."

Turning from Julian, Aurora gives Aunna an amused look. "You don't have to. I just thought you might want to see inside the last fortress of the Builders."

The Bird-Shaman and his two guardians remain silent as these words of modern Thari occur. Ghostwheel floats across to Aurora. Windseeker disgorges small ants of black material, which begin to make further repairs. Teluidhe and Zuithnel await the orders of their mistress.

"I said I'll go," Aunna replies, adjusting her weapons belt. "So let's go."

"Teluidhe, Zuithnel, guard outside," Aurora orders. She caresses Julian's cheek a last time, then gestures for the Bird-Shaman to proceed them out of the craft.

The great falcons that are Teluidhe and Zuithnel bob their heads. Julian remains stoic and silent, as he remains behind to guard the cocoon that contains blond Alexander. The Bird-Shaman and his two guards step out of the black-crystal craft onto the earth of the plaza before the rising tower of the sun, and as they do so, they move back, away from the great double doors and the spirals of black metal that arise before them.

"Ghostwheel," Aurora says, summoning the sphere to follow as she moves down the ramp and towards the tower. "The blood of Amber and Chaos is sufficient to pass between those black spirals, yes? What do you know of the Builders?"

Aunna exited the shuttle on the heels of the others, and assumed a position to the flank; where she could watch the others and hear what was being said, and keep an eye on their surroundings.

"I have no data, Aurora. It depends on what the Tower is searching for and who configured it. The Builders may be a reference to the Lords of Chaos, who likely built these spheres to preserve the Courts." Ghostwheel replies aloud, modulating the air about himself. The Bird-Shaman eyes this talking silver sphere sharply, but makes no comment. Windseeker hovers along after Ariaunna, leaving the small black ant-robots making repairs on the Chaosian craft.

"Got that covered," Aurora nods. "Granddaughter of Mandor." She stops a few yards from the spirals and pulls off most of her weapons, leaving her only with the black crystal things Aunna had taken from one of the crafts in the Mandorways hanger."

Aunna does not remove her weaponry, but rather thumbs the hilt of her sword casually as she waits for further instruction. "What do you make of this, Windseeker?" she asks the sphere lowly.

"The spirals of metal appear to be an antique mind-probe device used in Chaos." Windseeker replies lowly to Ariaunna as Aurora removes her weapons.

Aurora stops what she's doing and looks from Windseeker to the spirals again. She takes a moment to ponder her motivations. She had set out to find the other side of her heritage. To find her home. To find answers. This place, and this thing are a part of that. Chaos was her birthplace, her childhood home, and the place she had spent a thousand years trying to get back to. She owes the others, the ones who haven't made it back…

She takes a last look back at where Julian and Alex wait in the shuttle and steps purposefully forward….

The instant she tries to pass between the two spirals of black metal that emerge from the ground, two spirals worn and pitted by the passage of countless centuries, Aurora feels her body freeze in place. As though time itself is being manipulated, those behind her also freeze. She becomes aware of something vast and powerful initiating contact with her mind: as vast and powerful as the AI in the Fury, but not alike. Where they are orderly, this is chaotic, surging with unnatural alien forces.

WHO ARE YOU? The first question comes as Aurora is made aware that this being could kill her as easily as she herself would swat flies.

She feels rather like that boy in The Neverending Story for a moment as her heart pounds in her ears. She fights to remain calm; she has nothing to hide. She has as much right to be here as anyone, and more then most.

I am Aurora. Youngest of Kadman: Prince of Twilight Roses, and Eden: Lady of the Birds. I am the last known of my father's House and the House of Mandor Sawell.

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

To know. To understand, is Aurora's reply

TO UNDERSTAND WHAT?

Aurora considers how best to phrase her answer when the truth is 'everything'. To know where I came from. What happened to my homeland and remaining family? What happened to Chaos? How did it come to this? How do I become closer to me birthright when all that is left this?

There is silence for what seems to be an eternity. Around her, everyone and everything else has sprung into motion, moving with blinding speed as though Aurora is the one frozen in time. WILL YOU PRESERVE OR DESTROY?

She believes herself frozen in time, or it at least her hope. Less time for Julian to fret. The question is too simple. Sometimes dying shoots must be removed for the roots to flourish and bring forth new growth. But I have no desire to destroy, for I am a mother, a writer, a gardener, an artist; a font of creation.

There is the sense of being probed as Aurora thinks these questions, as though her thoughts and feelings are being judged…

WELCOME, BUILDER. I AM THE GUARDIAN OF THIS SPHERE. YOU HAVE QUESTIONS. ASK THEM. The being communicates to her at last.

Her knees nearly give out with relief. That doesn't stop the smile from blooming on her face. Tell me of the end.

ENDINGS ARE BEGINNINGS, CAST LIKE RIPPLES ON THE SEA OF CHAOS THAT UNDERLIES ALL THINGS.

Why must powerful artifacts all speak in riddles? Aurora shakes her head slightly. May I enter the Keep? May I also bring my bodyguard and constructs safely with me?

YES.

Aurora turns to let the others know. As she turns, slowly, so slowly, as time resumes the normal pace and the awareness of the alien presence recedes, Aurora becomes aware that things have occurred while she was occupied… the barren featureless plain remains the same, the black crystal craft is still parked before the massive Tower, but Ariaunna has gone to the hillside to the left. There she crouches behind a rock. With her are Windseeker and Teluidhe. Ghostwheel is nearby, hovering with two pistols grasped in silvery tentacles, and Julian is near the crystal craft, an arrow knocked in his bow. The Bird Shaman and his two warriors are standing around her in a protective half-circle.

Aurora blinks at the scene in alarm. How the hell long was she under that examination?

"Hold!" she yells in Ancient Thari, before adding in English, "Stand down! Ghostwheel, what the devil's going on?"

The Bird-Shaman blinks his alien eyes at her as she speaks, as though in surprise.

"Protect the Builder!" He says firmly to his bird-warriors.

"Scans indicate incoming hostiles." Ghostwheel says. "Ariaunna is viewing them now. Details are as yet unknown."

"Well — crap," Aurora frowns. Dammit, just as she was getting somewhere. She takes a step out from between the spirals and draws a blaster from her hip. She looks to the shaman. "What is in this place that be coming for us?"

"Five Clans surround the Tower of the Sun." The Bird Shaman says. "If it be Scorpion Clan, they will kill us or die. If it be Bird Clan, then we vouch for you. If it be Cat Clan, they are proud and fierce. If it be Fox Clan, they are loyal to the Builders, and honourable. The fifth Clan we do not speak of."

"Oh, dear," she murmurs. "Why do we not speak of the Fifth? Can you tell me that much?"

"They betrayed the Builders." The Bird Shaman says. "We do not speak of them."

"Oh, I see," she nods gravely while wondering what that involved. Aurora looks warily around at everyone's positions again. "I must speak with my mate. Excuse me."

Aurora runs low across the space to Julian's position and crouches down slightly behind him. "Do you want me to stay and help, or enter the tower and see if there is help to be had inside?"

Ariaunna has vanished from sight on the other side of the low hills.

Ghostwheel hovers after Aurora with his two pistols.

"We stay together to guard the cocoon." Julian says after one or two moments. "I would prefer you not enter the Tower by yourself."

She gives a longing look in the direction of the Tower then nods. "Alright, mon Julian. The Shaman says there are five Clans around here, counting his own. Some of them are nasty. Some are reasonable. One betrayed the Builders and they don't speak of them."

As Aurora says this to Julian, Teluidhe launches skywards from beside Ariaunna on the hillside, and flies out. Then she flies back toward the tower as five arrows shoot at her. Two of them strike her, and she vanishes from sight on the other side of the hill…

Aurora makes a small sound of distress as one her people goes down. She tells herself that since Teluidhe is a shape shifter, she'll be alright. But still she looks up at her AI. "Ghostwheel. Can you check on Teluidhe?"

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel says. "Scanning now…"

"Ariaunna." Julian says to thin air across the communications linkage. "What do we have?"

"I think it's safe to say it isn't Bird Clan," Aurora mutters.

"Understood. Evac underway. Do you need support? Over." Julian says to thin air.

The Bird-Shaman glances from one to the other, obviously trying to understand their modern Thari.

Aurora holds up a hand to the Shaman, silently asking him to wait a moment longer.

"Scans indicate Teluidhe is in shapeshifting trance." Ghostwheel reports. "The arrows missed her vitals."

"Thank you, Ghostwheel."

Aurora nudges Julian's shoulder. "What does she see?"

"Can Ghostwheel evacuate Teluidhe?" Julian murmurs to her before speaking to Ariaunna. "What are they?"

"I don't know," she responds doubtfully to the question directed at her. "She may just present a bigger target…."

Aurora looks up at Ghostwheel. "Can you evac Teluidhe to here, Ghost?"

"Affirmative." The Ghostwheel replies as Julian listens to thin air. "Scorpion-clan." He says. The seconds tick away. Ghostwheel vanishes with an abrupt sound, a silver blur moving toward the hills.

"Damn," Aurora mutters. "Only death will do for them. There is no reasoning with them. I need the rest of my weapons. I'll be back."

Julian closes the hatch of the shuttle, locking the cocoon that holds their alleged son inside.

She tosses a shield over herself and runs back to the Tower where she dropped her rifle and things. The weapons are indeed as she left them, discarded like the toys of children, before the massive doors of the Tower. Aurora raises her voice for the Shaman as she nears. "Scorpion Clan comes."

The Bird-Shaman listens then says something to his two warriors that is low enough Aurora does not hear it. All three also start to run toward the hills.

Aurora just stares after them. "That's a fine leap from protect the Builder," she huffs. Quickly gathering her weapons, the redhead stays low as she returns to her husband. While they wait, she extends her senses to take in the local magics and see what will need to be done to make use of them.

"I suspect they are implementing the doctrine that the best defense is a good offense." Julian says as she does so. The local sorcerous energies are not as dark and fragmented as the energies just inside the airlock: Aurora can immediately tell that the Tower is exerting a stable influence, and things are more akin to the sorcerous energies around Kolvir, though still not identical. Aurora may be able to directly shape the forces here instead of relying on her pre-prepared spells.

"Excellent," she murmurs. "How do you think fireballs will do against scorpions?" Aurora asks her lord. "I've never fought a crustacean larger then a lobster."

"Lightning bolts are more precise." Julian tells his lady as he readies his bow. The arrow produced from his quiver has, instead of a red crystal shard, a blue crystal shard upon it. He eyes this with clear misgivings.

She wrinkles her nose. "True enough." Aurora eyes the arrow as well. "That's interesting. It may just be the properties of this place, or it may be that you mentioned electricity as opposed to fire."

Aurora looks up at the sky and then holds her hands away from her body as she starts drawing on the local energies for to build up her lightening strike. The Shaman and his two warriors are halfway to the hills now.

The communications channel clicks. "Fire in the hole." Ariaunna mutters, and seconds later, the ground shakes with multiple concussions. Dust and rock explodes from where the ruined road transacts the circle of hills that surround the ancient Tower. The echoes of thunder resound across the empty plains.

Aurora ducks down behind Julian at first, then just stares in that direction as dust and rock settles back to the ground. "Somebody's been busy," she observes.

Julian regards his wife. "Do you have any defensive wards prepared?" He asks.

The sound of blaster-fire occurs in the place where Teluidhe fell, accompanied with distant flashes of light.

"Give me a minute," Aurora says with a furrowing of her brow in concentration. She redirects the energy she had been building into the configuration of ward. "Where do you want it?" she asks as blue arcs dance across her fingers. "Around us and the shuttle?"

"Around you and the shuttle." Julian says, calmly.

She gives her husband who hadn't even been awake a day yet a bland look. "Fine. But if you get hurt, I am going to give you such a butt - kicking."

Aurora releases the ward as directed, but leaves a loophole so that she can
expand it around Julian if she feels the need.

Julian smiles. "My butt is at your disposal, m'Lady." Says he before he swiftly marches off in the direction of the rising dust clouds, his silver armour standing out in stark contrast to the environment. The communications channel emits a burst of static. The bursts of light from where Teluidhe fell to the earth have stopped now: a silvery stretcher-shaped being has begun to travel back toward Aurora from that location.

Aurora gapes at his back and she is half a beat from following him when she sees what she has to assume is Ghostwheel heading her way. She huffs and stomps her foot in frustration; she wants to go with him, but he obviously intended she not, and she had to make sure Teluidhe was protected form
further attack while she healed. She looks swiftly around to be sure no one saw her fit of pique. "I really need a nap," she mutters.

"You had better be careful!" she yells at her husband before sighing again and waiting to let Ghostwheel through the ward.

The silvery stretcher-form arrives swiftly. It may or may not be Ghostwheel, but it does have unconscious Teluidhe upon it, having reverted to human shape. She has two arrows stuck in her.

"Oh, curses," Aurora frets as she moves over to examine her companion and where the arrows are lodged. "Ghostwheel, is that you? Do you have any idea what kind of heads these arrows have?" Some arrow heads were designed to do more damage if pulled out, and she would have to push them the rest of the way through or perform surgery to get them out.

The silver-stretcher deposits Teluidhe on the dusty earth before Aurora then shifts, flows, reforms into a sphere. "Affirmative." Ghostwheel replies. "Negative." Teluidhe remains unconscious.

"Bedamned things," Aurora grumbles. "Enter the shuttle and see if there is a first aid kit inside."

The redhead kneels over the prone form and draws the dagger from her boot. She eyes it a moment before concentrating energies on it to make the blade thinner, sharper, and more useful as a surgery tool. She dumps her Trumps into her pocket and transfigures the leather case into a length of gauze for use in clearing off blood. Then she sets to work on removing the arrows lodged in the unconscious shapeshifter.

The Ghostwheel zooms inside the shuttle as she directs. The ward Aurora cast sizzles in silence, her conjuring occurs. The arrows prove to be barbed, and enchanted, an enchantment that Aurora does not know that feels like black slime. Teluidhe moans slightly and her form wavers, shifts. does not change. Ghostwheel returns. "There is no first aid kit, Aurora." He reports.

"Of course not," Aurora mutters. She pulls the comm link out of her pocket and fits it over her ear before clicking it on.

"Do not get hit by those arrows, you guys," she says over the open link. "There's an enchantment on them I don't recognize and they're nasty things even without it."

She clicks off the send so she can mutter to herself without bothering them, but can still hear if they speak. "Ghost, get me some sticks, blades of grass, and a couple of broad leaves. I need to transfigure some things. Hurry." Aurora turns her attention to surgery and removing that arrow. She has a suspicion about the enchantment, but they have to come out first.

The silvery sphere that is the Ghostwheel vanishes away at speeds undreamt of, even as unconscious Teluidhe moans, her form again rippling with unseen forces. The terrible wounds inflicted by the arrows seep black viscous fluids: completely unlike normal blood. moments later, Ghostwheel returns, holding sticks and grass and leaves in his silvery tendrils.

"Set them down here," Aurora indicates a spot beside her. When it does, she transfigures the objects into bandages, surgical thread and needle for stitches. Then working as swiftly as she can, Aurora focuses on removing the arrows from her companion.

The sound of battle continues in the distance.

The surgery proceeds quickly and easily enough, though the wicked barbs of the arrows prove troublesome to remove. Teluidhe remains unconscious through the entire process and her wounds continue to seep the black viscuous fluid combined with proper scarlet blood. At last, both arrows have been removed… but her wounds remain, one above her left breast, another in her right side. The one above her left breast is the worst perhaps, for if her anatomy is human-standard at the moment, that is where her heart would be.

There's only so much she can do with the equipment she has to work with. Aurora packs the wounds and then seals them loosely. The only thing she can do with confidence and a measure of assured safety is put her in stasis. Which she does before moving her to the shuttlecraft. One of the large
leaves becomes a blanket, and she wraps Teluidhe carefully in it before she moves back outside.

Aurora picks up one of the arrows carefully. "Ghostwheel. What do you make of this black ooze?"

"Activating analysis circuits." Ghostwheel says, and extrudes one tentacle of silvery material toward the black ooze. "Scanning."

Aurora's hand shot up. "Don't touch it. I have no idea what it would do to you - if anything. But I would rather not take the chance."

While he scans, she too try to get a sense of it from her own sight. The black ooze gleams to her own inner sight, with blackness. Oily blackness, sucking all the light into it.

"A poison effective against shapeshifters." Ghostwheel says. "I believe the Lords and Ladies of Chaos once called it metheras."

Aurora blinks slowly and looks somberly up at the sphere. "Is there an antidote?"

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel says. "Though time and rest also clears the poison."

Considering that a moment, and knowing they're going to be here awhile, she focuses again on her AI. "Will leaving her in stasis be a problem? I cannot adequately work on her injuries with what I currently have at my disposal."

"Negative."

"Good," Aurora replies with a relieved smile. "What effect does it have on non-shifters?"

"Unknown." Ghostwheel replies. "Though given the results of my scan, it may slow or prevent Amberite regeneration."

She worries her lower lip as she looks in the direction of the battle. "I will kick his butt if he gets hurt," she mutters. Aurora sighs and stands to fidget nervously.

"Can you go up and see what is going on with the fight? I am concerned about Aunna and Julian."

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel says, and soars skywards. The ward that Aurora raised sparkles slightly in the air.

Using one of the bandages, Aurora picks up the arrows and carries them onto the shuttle. Finding a place to store them for transport, she checks the wards, then sighs. Against her better judgment, she goes to the cocoon holding what appears to be her son and leans close to examine the young man
more intently. Are the clothes right? Is his lordship ring still on his finger? Do his boots still have that blemish in the right upper that annoyed him no end when it happened? She hadn't time to look before….

Alas, all of these minor details are absent, and there is no equipment cocoon that could contain them. Naught but silvery jumpsuit and ghostly, pale, pale hair. Ghostwheel descends. "The battle appears to be over." He reports. "They are returning here."

She straightens, frowns and looks over at Ghostwheel. "Thank you."

Aurora makes her way back out and moves to the edge of the wards to wait for everyone's return. She is going into the Tower now, and Julian can just fuss about it.

Ariaunna is the first one to return to the black-crystal-shuttle that rests before the great doors of the Tower of the Sun. There she finds Aurora, waiting just outside the shuttle, the air distorted faintly with what appears to be warding magics. Ghostwheel is there too. There is currently no sign of Windseeker.

Aurora watches Aunna's approach with concern, her eyes flicking past the dark haired woman occasionally as she looks for the others that had gone to fight.

"Are you unharmed?" the redhead asks anxiously when Aunna comes within speaking distance. "You didn't get hit by one of those arrows, did you? They are coated in metheras."

A small black sphere darts swiftly from one hill to another in the far distance.

Julian and the Bird-Clan representatives appear to have remained near where the explosions occurred: it is not entirely clear from this distance what they are doing there.

Aunna looks at herself. "Missed the arrows," she says, frowning at a scrape on her arm, "but one of the mounts tagged me. No adverse effects, though; just superficial." The dark-haired warrior jerks her
head back toward the demolished hill as she runs a hand down her arm, smoothing over the spot. "Jules is interrogating the rider now."

Aurora gives a relieved smile at Aunna being mostly unharmed, but it is followed by a confused look. "I'm sorry…. Jules?"

"Julian," she corrected bluntly. "The man who is your husband and not my father but wears his face the same." Aunna hooked her thumbs into the back of her sword belt and regarded Aurora levelly. "No offense meant. I'll find it easier to keep old emotions out of play if I think of him as a Shadow of the man that sired me. Savvy?"

Aurora isn't sure she sees how that is going to work in the long run, but Aunna had only been awake for a day or so, and she remembers how rough the adjustment periods were for the ones who had woken up in an Amber not their own.

"Sure. Whatever works for you, I suppose." She chuckles. "I can't help but wonder how he'll feel about being called that though."

The other woman shrugged. "He'll likely hate it. But then, I'll try not to use it when addressing him directly." She shifted her attention to Windseeker, bringing the sphere into her next comment. "The hill I
blew up," she said, "it's full of shuttles. I suppose once we get the all-clear, we should check them for survivors."

"Really?" Aurora replies with interest. "Wow. There are thousands on the Fury according to Tis. The computer records are incomplete, so they'll have to be manually cataloged eventually. Heaven knows how many may be here in Chaos in the different spheres, and they found a large cache of them at Ygg shortly before we left Amber

"I am interfacing with Windseeker." Ghostwheel says at this point, his spoken words of Thari emanating simply from the silvery sphere that hovers beside Aurora. "She reports that the interference to our communications is caused by defective technology in the circle of hills around us. The hills appear to all contain buried shuttles. Many of them are still operational despite the damage. She requests orders, Ariaunna."

Aurora stares at her AI a moment before her eyes scan the hills, counting the numbers. Aurora can see that there are hundreds of them. Hundreds of small hills arranged in the miles-long circle around the Tower of the Sun.

Aunna, in turn, looks at Aurora. "It's your party," she says. "What should I tell her?"

Frowning thoughtfully, Aurora pulls her scanner from her hip and turns it back on to scan the hills. "If they are empty shuttles, I don't see any real rush to excavate them. But if there are cocoons in them, I would like to see to them. Can Windseeker tell if there are?"

Aunna nods in a way that indicates Aurora has confirmed what she herself had been thinking, and addresses Ghostwheel. "Please relay the following: Scan shuttles for signs of life, and mark them for
excavation. We will join her shortly."

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel says. "Message received 5x5." He reports mere moments later.

Aurora hums quietly until her gaze settles back on the Tower. Her eyes narrow and she purses her lips thoughtfully. "Ghostwheel, please inform my husband that I am going into the Tower shortly. If he plans on coming with me, he should get a move on."

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel says and swiftly accelerates away, toward the place where Julian is still visible, his silvered armour gleaming in the sunlight from high above.

"Learn anything interesting during your pow-wow with the pillars?" Aunna asked.

"If it asks you if you seek to build or to destroy, the answer is build," Aurora shrugs. "Also, the power behind that is very scary. I haven't felt anything quite like it."

"Magically disinclined here," she replied, "but I'll take your word for it on the 'Build' response." She kept a wary eye out for flanking intruders, and cast the occasional glance back toward where she'd left Julian.

Aurora looks back down at her scanner. The cocoon in the shuttle will register, of course, but she's looking towards the hills now. "I was an archeologist for a time," she says after a moment. Not that Aunna likely cares. "This sort of thing is very exciting for that part of me. It also explains why I want to look at everything before moving on. There's just so much here too see, to still discover."

Ghostwheel, Julian, and the Bird-Clan appear to have begun journeying back toward where Ariaunna and Aurora stand.

Windseeker arrives at this point, soaring swiftly through the sky like the small sphere of ebony that she has become. She hovers near Ariaunna. "Scan complete." She says, her voice utterly unlike that of the Ghostwheel. "Communications jamming technology diverted to stand-by mode. Orders, Ariaunna?"

The woman rubs at the spot on her arm absently, and looks to Aurora. "How long do we have before this place tumbles into the Logrus?" she asks.

Aurora looks up from her scanning to the silvery AI in the distance. "Ghostwheel. Time until necessary evacuation from Mandor Ways?"

Ghostwheel replies through the communications channel of her bracelet, for he is yet with Julian, and the bird-clan members. ~The current timeflow differential allows for two weeks time spent inside Mandorways before evacuation becomes critical, Aurora. I am monitoring and if the timeflow differential changes in any way I will notify you immediately.~

The redhead cocks her head to one side as she gets the reply from her AI hovering over near Julian. She blinks and looks back at Aunna.

"The current rate of time flow allows us two weeks. That could change at any time, of course, but he will let us know if it does."

Aunna scrubbed at her arm again, which at a spot was starting to blacken. "I'd be up for some exploring, then," she said, gripping her biceps below the spot and rolling it medially to get a better look. "Just as soon as I get rid of this." Her tone was light, as though being stung by a scorpion was all in a day's work. "I need a Sawyer extractor. Any chance we have one back in the shuttle bay?"

Aurora stops what she is doing and moves over to look closer at Aunna's arm. "Great goddess," she says with minor alarm. "I don't recall seeing a scorpion sting get like that so quickly. "She resists the urge to poke at it. "There's nothing on the shuttle in the way of medical equipment beyond what I transfigured to work on Teluidhe. Give me a minute and I'll see what I can come up with."

The redhead casts about for a stick and then settles herself to work on the transfiguration

The strange gnarled dark purple stick has become an extractor by the time Julian and the accompanying Bird-Clan have returned to the shuttle. "These were scouts." Julian says. "Ariaunna eliminated many with her planned ambush but allegedly, one scout was sent back to alert the rest of their clan. We have to assume that further hostiles will arrive." He eyes Ariaunna and then Aurora. "Medical trouble?" He asks.

Aurora gives the extractor a last look over before handing it to Aunna. "Let me know if you need assistance," she says before turning to her husband.

Aunna looked up from examining her arm, her expression guardedly blank. Whatever response she may have been forming however was curtailed by Aurora's however, so she offered the woman a small nod of thanks and stepped away, extractor in hand, to take care of the wound.

"Nothing we cannot handle, beloved," she smiles. "Windseeker has found more shuttles buried in the hills around us. According to the current rate of time flow, we have two weeks before we need to leave. If we are expecting more trouble, I would like to recommend we all go into the Tower. We can lock the shuttle, and it is already warded. I would have to ask the Tower's Guardian first, but I see no reason why we cannot take Al—the cocoon with us if you prefer. There may be information in there that can help him."

"Warded or not, it may be wise to take him with us all the same," Aunna offers over her shoulder. "There's no way of telling if the alleged scout will be rounding up mages of their own to enter combat. For what it's worth."

The Bird-Shaman and the two Bird-warriors wait patiently. Zuithnel has returned, yet in hawk-shape. Ghostwheel and Windseeker hover nearby.

"Good point," Aurora nods to Ariaunna.

Julian eyes the Tower as he listens to both women. "There may be answers in there." Says he at last. "My question is, are those answers worth the risk?"

"I have already been accepted, and my companions and guards may enter with me," Aurora says. "I am not sure what further risk you are expecting, mon Julian."

"What if, once entering the Tower, we cannot escape it?" Says Julian.

Aurora scrunches her nose. "You are such a worrier, beloved." Then she smiles. "Shall I ask the guardian? It has already accepted me and let me move from its clutches. Let me see what further information these people might have first."

She turns then to the Bird Elders and switches back to their language. "Honored Elders. I have been accepted by the Guardian of the Tower of the Sun and recognized as a Builder. I would hear your prophecy now if you please."

The Bird-Shaman speaks respectfully in their archaic Thari that is quite difficult to follow. "The prophecy says that in the End of Days, the Builders will return, and lead the worthy into paradise. The Lord and the
Lady promised this, if we kept faith, and honoured their memory. The second test is passed, and the Horn of the Unicorn awaits."

Aurora blinks once. "The Horn of the Unicorn? Literally?"

Julian is listening to the conversation but does not speak. Nor do Ghostwheel, Windseeker, Zuithnel. Aunna, too, waits silently; out of sight, she works on extracting the venom from her arm.

"So say the Holy Texts." The Bird-Shaman says. "Generations of our people have debated what it means."

Aunna regarded the entry to the Tower with one brow lifted. She turned the expression on Aurora, whom she'd obviously designated as the leader of this expedition.

Aurora's brow furrows as she turns to her companions. "According to their prophecy, the Builders will return in the end of days and lead their people to paradise. I have passed two tests, apparently. The third is still to be taken. It is, according to their holy texts, the Horn of the Unicorn."

She turns suddenly to her husband. "Julian. Your hunting horn. You said you never carried one before, yet you woke up with it. Blow it now."


TOC - Horn of the Unicorn

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