Where the Wild Things Are

The light shining from the pale crystalline battlestation Fury, afar in the distance, yet streams in through the side of the dock that is open to the void above the writhing Logrus. The dull black crystal of the floor gleams as though with inner rainbows, as do the massive struts outside, connecting this sphere to all the others in the Dyson Dome.

The pale crystal shuttle from the Fury is in the middle of the dock.

The first black shuttle stands alone. The crystal canopy at the front of it appears to be iced over, and it stands open.

The second black shuttle is where Ariaunna, Teluidhe, Zuithnel, and the Windseeker currently are. Teluidhe and Zuithnel are carrying crates across to the shuttle of pale crystal that brought them from the battlestation to this place.

The third black shuttle stands alone. It is shut.

The fourth black shuttle also stands alone. It too is shut.

Aurora, Julian, Avarya, and the Ghostwheel are near the great double doors near the rear of the dock. The sensors are in place as Julian desires. The double doors behind them have not yet slid open, for as before, Aurora will have to command the Ghostwheel to interface with the lock.

Aurora takes note of everyone's progress. When their shuttle is loaded and closed again, she looks to her hovering AI. "Open the airlock, Ghostwheel."

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel says, extruding three tendrils of silvery material, and connecting to the hole in the wall beside the double doors. Slowly they open to reveal the airlock inside. There is no gust of emerging air to accompany this.

Ariaunna approaches, leaving the last crate to the two assistants to load.

"Any idea what we should expect in there?" she asks, handing Aurora one of the black blasters and a couple of grenades.

Aurora takes the offered weapons, looking over the blaster. "Nice. Thanks. What we came across before looked to be another shifter gone mad. As we were leaving, Avarya reported that it had met up with some others and looked to be organizing. I don't know how many there are, or what their capabilities might be. The one we engaged lived in the pool at the base of a waterfall, but it was also a land walker. It's rainforest hot and humid in there. I suggest stripping out of the encounter suits in the airlock. You can store them in there. I have a shield spell ready to put over the opening to keep anything out that may try and tamper with our suits in our absence."

Aunna looks down at her suit. "Oh, I don't know," she says. "I'm kinda used to it now. Although the helmet is a bit restrictive." She nodded toward the first shuttle, "What do you want to do about the creature that's walled itself up in there?"

The redhead looks askance at her. "Your choice, of course." She looks towards the larder and gives a one shouldered shrug. "Leave him. For now, anyway. This will likely be our last trip to this pod. He can be dealt with later if it becomes necessary."

Aunna shrugs one shoulder. "Fair enough." She checks the arrangement of weapons and ammo on her belt, then falls still with her arms folded. "Ready when you are."

Aurora waits to enter the air lock until everyone is there. Then she gestures for everyone to enter. "It will only close when humans are inside," she explains as she steps inside. "We can remove our helmets when the inner doors open. "Inside is a crystal spire with an artificial sun on top. There's an entrance at groundlevel. I am interested in exploring it. Considering the high tech nature of everything we've seen thus far, I suspect it's environmental controls, but I'm hoping for historical records."

Julian waits a beat, and enters last. He looks around to make sure no one is forgotten, and that there's nothing lurking in the bay. Satisfied, he turns towards the interior, nocks an arrow, and takes a few steps closer tot he door that will cycle open. "The area is secure thanks to Ghostwheel. We'll be alerted if anythin threatens the area." He turns slightly, to look at Aurora, keeping the door in view. "We have a lot of ground to cover."

"Which is why there are twice as many of us this time," Aurora agrees. "And my bond companions can all shift and join the AIs in the air to cover more ground faster. Which is good, since the magical energies of this place are not conducive to the long range magical search I used in Amber"

Once all others are inside the airlock, the Ghostwheel retracts his silvery pseudopods, and enters also. The external doors slide shut without audible vibration or sound in this alien place. There is a faint hiss of air. Minutes pass. Then the internal doors slide open, and instantly, the temperature rises. Sunlight streams through leaves of gold and purple. There are vines everywhere on the other side of that door, it seems, blocking the entrance.

Aurora looks at the vines a long moment. "Well. Something's been busy in our absence. Scan for lifeforms, Ghostwheel."

"Scanning…" The AI replies. "No lifeforms larger than snakes detected in range. Attempting to calibrate for Logrus crystal deposits."

"One of you bladed folks care to part the curtains?" Aurora asks while Ghostwheel does his thing.

Julian again transfers the arrow to the same hand holding the bow, so they are together in his fist. He draws his sword with practiced ease, and glances over his shoulder. "This is not a gardening tool, m'Lady." He smirks, and then after taking a moment to assess what may or may not be hidden in and amongst the vines, begins to cut a path through them.

"Oh, I've heard that before, m'lord," says Aurora with an angelic smile. "But yet you still manage to cut quite expertly through the bush…"

His sword slices through the vines with ease, though once or twice, a snake slithers away. Purple and gold leaves fall to the black crystal floor, to lie there, oozing forth strange purple liquids. The temperature grows hotter. The pathway that Aurora cut during her previous visit yet remains, once Julian has cut through the first few layers of vine, and in that direction, can be seen the faint mist of water. The sound of burbling water fills the air.

Aurora's red gold curls spill around her shoulders when she removes the helmet. Her clothes morph into tan fatigues, boots and a light weight green shirt. She stuffs the suit into the helmet and puts the lot in the corner where Avarya hid her own stuff previously.

"Crystal calibration complete." Ghostwheel says. "Communications linkage to Fury stable. No hostiles detected within one kilometre of current location."

Julian waits until Ghostwheel reports, and adds, "I've found the trail that you cut. We're likely clear to the waterfall. Weapons ready, this is where we had trouble the first time." He pauses, and coughs, "Though the area has since been — altered."

She smirks at the armored man while buckling back on her utility belt. "Alas, it probably did not last. The magics are not very compatible." She leans down for her assorted weapons to put them in new pockets.

"Ghostwheel. I am going to put a shield spell over the door unless you can close and lock it behind us. How long will the spell last?"

"Query: commands?" Windseeker says to Ariaunna.

"That depends on the energy you invest in it, Aurora." Ghostwheel replies.

"Well, yes," Aurora begins, then just sighs and reaches into her pocket.

Avarya, Teluidhe, and Zuithnel have also divested themselves of their crystal suits. They are starting to shapeshift, flowing, melting from humanshape toward.. feline shapes. Their blasters have also been abandoned, left with their crystal suits in the airlock on the black crystal floor, beside the leaves of gold and purple.

Watching them avidly while putting her hair up into a high ponytail, Aurora waits until everyone's out of the airlock before proceeding with her spell. She frowns at the abandoned weapons, but she's carrying enough already and cats really can't work them anyway. Julian finishes cleaning his blade, and scabbards it. He removes his helmet, as the others had, and after removing his weapons, shimmies out of the suit, and sets it all within the bowl of his helmet. He puts his suit with the others, and buckles his weapons back on. Julian seems satisfied that he'll be able to get his suit on over his armor again when the need arises.

The stored spell takes effect. The airlock doors slide shut once Ghostwheel manipulates the internal lock.

"Avarya, I'd like one of you to check out that sun," Aurora says as she moves the vines around to make them appear undisturbed if possible. "Didn't you say there was a door or something up there?"

The red-and-gold striped feline being that Avarya has become nods her head in the affirmative. She begins to sprout feathered wings.

"Thank you," Aurora smiles. She picks up one of the vine leaves from the ground and studies it before looking up at Ghostwheel. "Remind me to take a cutting before we leave. These are very pretty but require further study, I think."

She eyes the wall of vines and the leaking sap then banishes the sap from the doors and the ground. She has no idea what it might do to their escape. The teleportation spell apparently functions as Aurora desires: the thick purple sap simply vanishes into nowhere.

"Shall we split up, or stick together?"

Aunna: silent up 'til now, she's removed her helmet but not the rest of the environmental suit, and taken up whatever weapons were in danger of being left behind: speaks for the first time.

"We'd cover more ground in groups," she says. Without waiting for confirmation, she gestures toward the other two cats. "We'll check the north sector, loop our way toward the citidel. Windseeker, with me."

She gives Aurora a brief nod, and starts into the brush.

Aurora nods to the two indicated by Aunna. "Go with Ariaunna. I'll be alright."

Julian, having been the quiet sentry while Aurora works her magic, turns to watch Aunna depart. "Mind the trees. They are climbers, and are just as likely to fly."

After Aunna' group departs, Aurora gives Julian a smile. "How about a kiss before we gets started?"

Julian moves to her, his eyebrow rising on its own. He leans in close, his arms encircling the Wife he had long yearned for, and now had. He drew her to him, their bodies pressing together as he lowers his lips towards hers. Just before they touch, he whispers, "Before we get started doing what?" Then he kisses her in a manner that is anything but chaste.

The Ghostwheel remains hovering near Aurora.

Avarya breathes deep and, once her wings are fully formed, launches herself skywards.

Deeply involved in losing herself in the kind of kisses no one else could ever possibly match, Aurora notices not these things. It simply isn't possible to get as close to him as she would like while he's in that armor, but she certainly tries. When she finally does pull back - breathless and flushed, pupils dilated and obviously aroused, she sighs regretfully and runs her fingers through his hair.

"I can't wait to get you behind closed doors and give you the 'welcome home' I am wanting to," she murmurs huskily. "Alas, I must do just that."

Julian nods, and takes a last moment to run his fingers through her hair just like he used to. His expression is that of a man trying to be certain that the woman before him was still as real as he believed. "That sounds like a reason to this quickly and thoroughly so that we don't have to come back." He smiles, "And we can then have some time to ourselves." He straightens and looks down the path, "Which way?"

Aurora waves a hand in the direction of the spire. "That way, beloved," says his wife while drawing the cocoon locator from her belt. She flips it on to see if it's going to work in now that they are inside. "I'll be right behind you."

The cocoon locator activates and begins performing diagnostics. "Ghostwheel, take a higher path and see if there's anything nearby that might be hostile."

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel replies and soars skywards after vanishing Avarya.

Julian nocks the arrow again, and proceeds ahead. His knees are slightly bent as he stalks ahead, moving through the hacked underbrush just as he had once moved through those woods long ago. He is more now, there had been changes over the centuries before he had been cocooned. He had always been confident, but there was a grace and precision now that was far more acute than it had been, and alertness that went beyond his eyes or demeanor.

The path cut through the thick jungle leads as before to an enormous heated springs, where the vines give way to forest. Faint mists rise from the bubbling water. The scent of faint sulphur fills the air. Ariaunna, Windseeker, Teluidhe, and Zuithnel are visible to the left. Ariaunna is holding a rock and speaking with Windseeker. Windseeker has extruded small sails of silvery material. The earth is rocky and broken in places, and appears to be constructed of fine grains of black crystal, beneath the black
trees with their leaves of gold and purple. The massive sun at the center of the sky is as it was before attached to an equally enormous spire.

Aurora eyes the springs with distaste as she comes up beside Julian. "We're teleporting across that. I have no idea what's in that water." She wraps an arm around him. "Ready?"

Julian's expression is not a pleased one. He nods once, and takes Aurora's hand, holding bow and arrow in his left. She knew from experience that he could fire with either hand, just as readily, but preferred his right for his blade. Julian replies, "Ready."

"I know it's a new idea, sweetheart," she smiles while bringing the teleport spells to the fore. "Me being a sorceress. But it's not all practical magic. I have quite a lot of fun things up my sleeve too. I'll show you on the way back to Amber."

With that she releases the spells to carry them across to the otherside. There is an instant where the
ground falls away beneath them both. Then they are standing on the ledge above the waterfall, on the other side of the massive pool of water.

She smiles brightly up at him. "All done." Rising on her toes, she gives him a kiss on the cheek before stepping away and consulting her tracking device again. "Let's get to the spire."

Julian briefly checks to make certain nothing was left behind, and then catches a handful of Aurora's hair to give her a proper kiss. "Now we're done." He smiles slightly, and then takes the lead. He leaves his wife breathless and kind of spacey for a bit. She gives his back a goofy smile and starts ofter him.

The tracking device does not reveal any cocoons currently inside the range. With a sigh, she hangs the device back on her belt. She leaves it on so it can beep at her in case something comes into range. "Nothing so far."

"I did not expect success to be immediate, Love." Julian says, the endearment slipping in unbidden. "We still have a lot of ground to cover. There are caves, if I recall."

"There are?" she responds curiously. "I didn't realize." Julian nods, and continues to move ahead of her, his bow at the ready. She peers skywards, shielding her eyes with her hand to see if Avarya's made it to the 'sun' yet.

Avarya is about half-way to the sun, high above. Ghostwheel is hovering directly above Aurora and has extruded his own sails: he looks like a satellite dish. The rocks beside the waterfall are as slippery as they were before. Aurora's change to the local environment has lapsed, but it has not changed back, instead it has continued to mutate: there are vines growing in places they had not grown before, the rocks are glowing with heat.

Julian guides Aurora back to where he woke. They find the place undisturbed, save for the hole in the embankment that he fell out of. There are caves, and as they near this place, the crystal device attached to the belt of Aurora begins to beep slightly.

Julian gestures at the hole, "That place. That is where I — hatched." He looks ahead at the caves. "There, the caves. Just as I said."

Aurora laughs as she brings the tracker back up to look at the screen. "One doesn't hatch from a coccoon, my impossibly sexy Lord of the Forest. One unfurls."

Julian smirks, "Trust me, my wanton Lady Huntingdon, I hatched. Ungracefully. My last memories were of battle, and my waking was — dramatic."

She moves the device slowly in an arc to get the direction the ping is hitting from and points when she has it. He hears the device, and stops. He turns slightly to keep her in his range of vision, but also to keep an eye on the caves. The direction that the crystal device indicates is toward those caves. "I've got something. That way." He nods, and heads in the indicated direction.

The earth begins to rumble slightly. Alert. The Ghostwheel says through their private conduit. Stealthed hostiles detected 852.7 meters from your current location. Closing.

Aurora's head snaps up. "Dammit, not now. We've got hostiles approaching. Less then 1000 yards."

How many?

"We're being stalked. Stay behind and to the right of me." Julian faces the direction where he suspects their hunters will come from. "They're hungry. We're food. I don't think its an organized attack, at least, no more organized than a group of apex predators." He nods, "we should retreat to the cave. Can Ghostwheel make certain there's nothing in there?"

Aurora doesn't say anything as she swings the blaster rifle forward while looking up at Ghostwheel with an expectant expression.

Fifteen hostiles detected at range, no hostiles detected in caves.

After a beat, she looks to her husband and speaks lowly. "Fifteen hostile approaching. The caves are safe. He says they are stealthed. He can explain on the way."

"There." He nods, "They'll come from downstream. They're trying to ambush us. I knew it would be several, but that it too many. Retreat to the caves." He stows the smaller arrowhead, feels the fletchings, and easily draws out one of the larger arrowhead. "Go, I will cover our retreat."

Aurora looks at him and smiles wryly. "Soon, we are going to have a talk, my Lord Huntingdon." She turns and heads into the cave quickly so he does not have to linger over long.

As she turns, Aurora can now see that, the shuddering of the earth is the result of something emerging from the mud beside the sulphurous pool: a craft of black crystal, large enough to carry six to ten people, has emerged and is hovering there. Windseeker is hovering beside it, as mud drips upon the earth. Ariaunna is not visible.

Aurora stops and stares in surprise. "How the hell…?" If Windseeker is hovering, chances are good Aunna is inside. She can wonder exactly why there was a shuttle inside the Ways later. She turns and calls to her husband. "Julian! That thing has a weapons array! C'mon!"

She turns back and heads for the caves quickly. The slippery rocks impede her progress, but Aurora finds that the caves are cool and dark. A pale frosted cocoon is half-buried in one wall…

Aurora is suddenly thrown back to her days as an archeologist. There had been moments of it after she had woken up, but there had always been too much going on for her to indulge in it. But right now, alone in a cave with a find brought it all back to her. For just a little while she can not worry about what is going on outside and focus only on this. Julian and Aunna can handle themselves. She releases a ball of light and moves carefully to the cocoon. Checking the cocoon for damage first, she then checks the material around it to see if she can dig it out by hand. She prefers to open it while it's laying flat, but sometimes we don't get what we want. But it has to come out anyway even to just move it back to the shuttle.

The cocoon appears to have no damage. But excavating it will take time. There are tree roots that have grown around it. As Aurora clears the front surface, she finds that there is a boy floating inside it, sleeping peacefully. Alexander. Only, strangely, his hair has faded to blonde.

She freezes, eyes wide in surprise. The rest of the world fell away from her awareness. His face, so much like Julian's. But unless he was a shifter, there was no way that raven black hair faded to blonde. Almost every summer since he could walk, Alex had spent every free moment in the sun. His skin was brown as a nut, but his hair never lightened. That wasn't even touching on the fact that her son was definitely crowned with a mess raven of curls when he died. Not even centuries old mummies did this, and they weren't in healing cocoons that are supposed to fix all wrongs. She furrows her brow, straining for those distant memories of that long ago plague. Could it be possible that the disease had somehow done this? She can't recall any of the survivors now. All she can remember from those days is the terrible loss of her son, and the bone deep sorrow of her suddenly empty existence.

Aurora presses her forehead against the crystal. "Alexander," she whispers thickly through the tears she doesn't bother to stop. "Mon beau garçon." But no. It can't be. The universe is cruel. Her centuries of experience in it tell her so. Another son of another Julian, perhaps. She dares not hope for another explanation. But if this is not her son, she knows she will die a little inside every time she sees him until she finds her Alexander. And she will see him; she can turn no child of any Julian away. Aurora knows this already.

She steps back and looks for identification numbers such as those on the cocoons in the hanger. If he had a tracking beacon, he should have numbers.

Ariaunna speaks across the public communications. "We've secured a vehicle," she says, "but getting it out of here may take time."

Aurora doesn't hear any of this. She doesn't even notice the disembodied voice of the other woman. Her attention to the task at hand is absolute.

There are numbers written in Thari on the side of the cocoon. Outside, the sound of an explosion shatters the relative silence of the caverns.

Idly she attributes the noise to Julian's arrows and lets the thought pass. Aurora's fingertips run over the numbers.

Ghostwheel. I need you to relay these numbers to Tis and see if there is any information in the database on this sleeper. Tell her to hurry.

The roars of what sound like lions become apparent outside the caverns. Affirmative. Tisiphone is operating in a slower time-flow than we are. I estimate ten minutes of our time before we receive a reply. Is the reply that Aurora receives.

Aurora nods in response even through the AI cannot see her. Her eyes go back to the face that is heartbreakingly familiar despite the gold framing it. Dropping to her knees, her hands trail down the smooth crystal surface until they encounter the roots holding the cocoon prisoner. As her hands encounter the tree's appendages, she curses her lack of foresight in not bringing a better blade. But then she hadn't foreseen have to cut though tree roots. She pulls the stainless steel boot knife from its sheath and starts cutting at the smaller roots first. She might need Julian's sword later, but she can get it when he's done.

The roots prove tough and difficult to cut with her knife. Aurora saws away as another massive explosion occurs outside. The roof of the cavern shakes.

Suddenly drawn back to the present and the situation outside the cave that can still affect them in here, Aurora looks up at the ceiling when dust settles over her. "No," she says stubbornly as she climbs to her feet. She can't swear that this is her son, but she can't say for sure he isn't, and she isn't going to let some damn unstable cave stop her from getting him out. "No, dammit!" She flings her dagger impatiently to the side and splays her hands out in front of her.

Then she stops. Calling on the wild magic in this place now would probably be a bad idea. She eyes the ceiling and then moves to put her back against the front of the cocoon. She doesn't want it to fall to the stone floor when she waves her hand and banishes the tree roots holding it up.

The crystal of the cocoon is icy against her back as Aurora braces herself. The communications channel hums into life. "Julian," Ariaunna says. "Conserve your ammo. I'm coming to you." Julian has stepped inside the cavern, the majority of his attention yet on the outside scene, an arrow nocked in his bow.

She considers calling to him once she realizes he's there. But reconsiders. Julian is more in his element now; protecting. It's familiar to him, and after all the surprises of the day, she's reluctant to take it from him and pulling him into this particular emotional roller coaster that the young man in the cocoon represents.

Julian returns, "Affirmative, Ariaunna, I am getting out of the way." He turns and moves into the cave as the craft begins its attack run.

He stops in his steps, staring at Alexander, blonde or not, his bow clatters to the floor, and he draws his blade striding forward. Julian's voice is tight, and quite purposefully devoid of feeling; the Warder of Arden, every inch icy white armor. But his eyes, for someone who knows his, his pale eyes are a storm. "Stand aside, Aurora, I will cut him free if you don't have another way." His tone says clearly that he will tear a piece of the earth off with the cocoon to take his son from that place.

Aunna adjusts her trajectory accordingly and parks the vehicle at an angle in front of the cave: tail-end closest to the door so anything they wish to load will be protected, front-end pointed out for a quick getaway if necessary, but with the ultimate goal of securing the cave and offering blockade while they work.

Outside, the roars of demonic lions continue, reverberating through the earthen walls of the cavern. Yet the front entrance of the cavern is small enough that the black-crystal bus-craft blocks it. The stench of sulfurous mud fills the cavern as Julian takes his blade to the roots of the tree that bind the cocoon into place. They are tough and rooty, but bleed an odd purple ichor beneath the razor-sharp edge, splitting apart.

Aunna takes her rifle in hand as she hops out of the driver's seat. "We're down to eleven hostiles, mostly still packed up in the trees. They appear to be adapting to your ammo, and resistant to mine." Aunna takes up a defensive position, glances from Julian to Aurora, then turns her attention out to the treeline and falls silent.

Aurora braces her feet and releases the spell to banish the exposed roots.

The spell triggers. The exposed roots vanish. The tree above vanishes. The earth does not: it promptly begins to collapse on cocoon, Aurora, and Julian!

Aurora yelps in surprise and out of reflex attempts to toss off a teleport group spell, with enough presence of mind to set the destination to the front of the cave behind Aunna. She didn't use it often, but when her little commune was together, it had been easier to build that then to release five individual spells.

Though Aurora is swift to summon her spell from storage, the fall of earth is swifter still, and the small redhead vanishes from sight beneath crystal cocoon and earth before she can complete her transportation enchantment.

Aurora remains conscious as she is buried alive. A strange thing occurs: something warm and metallic molds itself to her mouth and nose. She cannot see it, but it is allowing her to breathe. I lack the resources to lift the cocoon, Aurora. Ghostwheel says. Can you trigger your spells without words?

Aurora's supreme irritation was obvious without words. Yes. But seeing as my success rate is less then stellar lately, I am not sure I want to. I may end up embedding all of us in the ceiling or something equally ludicrous.

Speed is not often an advantage of sorceries. You almost did it, if that is any consolation. You and Fiona are the swiftest biologicals with sorcery I have ever known. Ghostwheel replies as they remain in their tomb of earth. The warriors with their pointy metal sticks have the advantage in swiftness. Merlin often complained about it. A brief pause. I barely had enough time to adapt myself to rebreather shape.

She is silent for a moment while she puts what she knows together. You're the mask on my face? I didn't even know you were in the cave, though I did suspect you had something to do with it. Just how fast can you move?

I am the mask on your face. Ghostwheel confirms. I do not know my speed limits. My technical specifications have changed since you forced me through your Pattern.

She sighs mentally. Wiggling her fingers, she makes certain she is touching the surface of the cocoon. Well, I suppose I should get us out of this. I would try banishing the dirt, but I'm afraid of what that will do, since I don't know how much dirt there is and where Julian is in relation to it. Although he shouldn't be far from us, since he was within reach of me when the wall collapsed. I'll keep my original target location, and try and catch Julian in the spell's web. Hang on….

Aurora reaches out with her magic to find Julian's familiar resonance and wraps the magic around him, and hoping he recognizes it before he freaks out on her.

Wait. Ghostwheel says, and she feels his sensors expanding outwards. Julian is digging us out. Let us not risk teleporting blind, my dear.

Aurora's huff of frustration is muffled, but clear nonetheless. Emotionally, she has been yanked all over today. Much more and Julian's going to be reminded of another side of his wife - why people always found it a bad idea to get her ire up.

She can initiate psychic communication with Julian if she wishes, but she chooses not to. Julian has already exhibited a wariness for announced spell casting on his person. Until she has a chance to
introduce him to a mind link, she'll just have to wait. The situation isn't an emergency as much as it is just annoying her. Her leg has started to hurt, trapped as it is beneath the silver-blue cocoon.

Julian digs, he feels the now-familiar sense of Aurora's spirit wrapping about him, the sense of magical forces starting to rise. The earth is easily pushed aside by Julian, and Aurora emerges, a strange silver breath-mask on her face and her eyes shut. One of her legs proves to be trapped beneath the silver-blue cocoon that contains the floating blonde boy.

Julian moves to Aurora's side hastily, and hefts the cocoon off of her leg with little trouble. He puts the crystal thing aside, and for a moment, stares at the face of a young man that could be his son, then he shakes his head and kneels beside Aurora. "Is your leg broken? Are you alright? We still have trouble. We need to go. Soon."

Blonde Alex floats in peaceful serenity inside the cocoon. The roars of the lions outside have faded into silence as Ghostwheel retracts himself from Aurora's face and reforms into his spherical shape. She holds her dirty hand towards him for a lift up and scowls at herself. "Help me get this thing open. Look for his equipment. He was interred with his bow if it's Alex." But from the look in her eyes, she is not convinced. "Ghostwheel, does Tis have any information yet?"

There is no obvious sign of an equipment cocoon. Aurora's leg proves not to be broken, simply bruised, badly. "Tisiphone reports they have no record of any cocoon with these identifiers. Nor does the records shared by Windseeker." Ghostwheel informs Aurora.

"Oh, of course not," Aurora grumbles, holding on to Julian's arm for support for the time being. "That would make things easy." She waves her hand over her body and releases a cleaning spell over herself. Then she looks back at her AI. She's starting to look a little frazzled.. "What is the safest way to open one of these cocoons without dragging it out into the sunlight?"

"I could attempt to interface with the cocoons command module." Ghostwheel says. "However, you have said that the colour of his hair is not accurate. This could indicate genetic damage was included in the regenerative process which could indicate the presence of disease."

"Buh…" she started angrily, then took a moment and to blow out a slow breath. Her voice was measured carefully when she finally spoke again. "I thought the cocoons healed everything. Except for that damned plague. Why would he still be sick? The plague that hit Huntingdon was not the same as the engineered one from Chaos."

The cocoon may not be functioning correctly." The Ghostwheel replies."I doubt we have the time to run diagnostics here." A faint rain of earth occurs from the hole in the ceiling, for no apparent reason.

Aurora curses roundly in Gaelic.

At the front of the cave, Aunna rises. "There's a back way out of here," she says, holstering her blaster. "Through the cave. If there's a way to call up your girls, I'd do it." Casting a quick look around, she lifts up one of the larger rocks that'd come loose in the fall and, with force, wedges it behind the vehicle in a way that'll keep it from being moved. She turns to Auoroa. "Can you walk?"

"I can limp," the redhead winces. "I could heal it, but I thought it might be best to save those in case one of us is more seriously injured. Avarya and the others will find us. Until then, they can take care of themselves, I believe. They can fly." She glances at the cocoon. "I can't leave him here. Especially if the ceiling's about to come down. But I can levitate it."

Aunna casts a glance at the hole in the ceiling. "Do it," she says. "I'm not sure how manageable it'll be in the tunnel, but Windseeker says it's only fifty feet to the other side. Worst case scenario, we take the kid out and hope he's not contagious." Drawing her weapon again, she takes a defensive position beneath the hole and aims up. "Best get a move on. I'll cover this."

"We'll all be in decomm anyway once we're back on the Fury," Aurora points out.

Julian tears his eyes from the face floating behind the crystal, and looks up. The impassive expression remains in place, his pale eyes are icy. He turns to Aunna, "See to it your rear action does not leave you stranded. I will take Aurora and — and the Boy through. I will come back for you if you've not joined us in a suitable amount of time." He supported Aurora easily as she healed herself. "Thanks for the air support, Ariaunna."

Aurora looks from her to the hole in the ceiling and nods once before deciding to use the spell to heal her leg. She always has a stasis to throw if someone was that badly wounded. The healing spell appears to function normally, repairing the deep bruise to her leg and foot.

Sighing helpless at the boy that appears to be her son, Aurora gives the needed spell focus and levitates the cocoon in front of her. The stored spell functions normally. The cocoon gleams with magical energies when Aurora opens her mind to cast it. Interestingly, the energies inside the cocoon are clean, untouched by the surrounding environment."Scout ahead, Ghostwheel."

The cocoon lurches forth from the sucking sulphurous mud that covers all. Ghostwheel soars into the darkness.

Julian reaches over his shoulder to select an arrow, and his head tilts to one side. He draws out a new arrow with the largest warhead he has seen yet. "This is new." He puts the arrow away, slings the bow and draws his sword. "Stay close, Aurora. No matter what we do, this Boy must come with us." Then he advances to the rear with a last glance and salute to Ariaunna. He waits long enough to make certain Aurora and the cocoon are following, and then he presses on.

Aunna gives a slight nod in return, not much more than a jerk of her chin as she keeps her attention trained on the hole above, but says nothing.

Further dirt falls from the hole as Ariaunna does so. Aurora and Julian wade across the muddy pool and vanish into the darkness on the other side of the cavern, accompanied by the cocoon that floats in defiance of gravity.

TOC - The Adventure Continues

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