Current Log


Note: Previous logs can be found here.

Recent Logs:

Vere journeys to Tir with Edan spotting
Signy studies the code wheels
Brita, Raven, and Jerod free an emuraptor
Brita, Raven, and Jerod pursue Dexamene and an icy Chaos beast
Ossian and Silhouette find evidence of a Klybesian network
Brennan and Conner observe the Maghee examination of Cledwyn
Vere and Edan return to the stables, Silhouette visits Solace, and Robin and Celina travel to Xanadu
Vere visits with Gerard, Garrett, and Fletcher until Robin returns
Brennan and Ossian have a family meeting with Regenlief
Brennan and Edan have dinner and discuss knights and Klybesians
Conner talks with Scarlett and trumps Fiona, and Vere tells Robin about his Tir adventure
Brita, Raven, Jerod, and Weyland do battle with Gatwegian mages
At dinner, Brennan chats with Marius, Celina with Merlin, Conner with Ossian, and Signy with Silhouette
At dinner, Hannah talks with Garrett; Robin and Vere talk with Corwin, Julian, and Edan; and Fletcher talks with Bleys
Folly finds Martin, Lark, Solange, and zombies, and trumps to Garrett
Celina talks with Merlin and Fletcher, and Raven, Brita and Jerod arrive
Vere and Robin tell Brennan and Jerod of Vere's Tir adventure
Raven talks with Gerard and Brennan and Jerod keep talking on the balcony
Celina joins Conner, Robin greets Silhouette and Solange, Lilly talks with Corwin, and Brita talks with Ambrose
Lark and Garrett re-join the party and Silhouette joins Lilly and Corwin
Vere and Robin talk with Soren, Raven talks with Conner, and Folly talks with Soren
Family members begin arriving in the town square, including Brennan, Brita, Ossian, Fletcher, Signy, Robin, Vere, Conner, and Garrett
Jerod talks with Valeria and Ossian, Celina talks with Huon and Brij, Brita talks with Signy, and Raven talks with Flora
Edan talks with Hannah and then Gerard, and Silhouette arrives with Corwin
Paige and Folly track their children, Hannah talks with Huon, Garrett and Vere talk with Max, and Robin and Conner discuss Tritons
Edan and Vere perform the Echo Dance, Brennan talks with Ambrose, and Ossian dances with Valeria
Paige, Brita, and Robin accompany Hannah to the castle, Celina talks with Signy, Silhouette, and Valeria, and Raven talks with Vere
The redheads and Folly discuss the Random situation
Martin returns and his cousins catch him up
Hannah gives birth and escapes with Paige and Robin while Brita stalls Vialle and Edan and Folly test his compass
Brennan and Signy retrieve the chain while Garrett, Jerod, and Conner try to deliver a zombie head
Vere and Lilly guard the Tir stairs, Celina and Silhouette visit the Mayor, and Brita and Folly talk with and about Vialle
Cousins arm themselves and depart from the stables to the Grove


Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Cat
Soothsayer
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Archer
Coins
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Scales
Harp
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Huntress
Dragon
Warrior


Amber

Xanadu


(Freeday, 21 Warrior)
Vere trumps Merlin to ask for his assistance, and a ranger finds his own corpse
Merlin trumps Folly, who passes through Ossian, Regenlief, Brita, Jerod, Raven,\ and Conner to help defend the stair
Brennan and Robin make it to the Grove just in time to trump to Merlin and defe\nd the stair
***The cousins at the stair strategize, and Ossian trumps Benedict
***Hannah trumps Gerard and ceremonially prepares Edan for battle
Folly and Garrett trump to Martin and are joined by Fletcher and Signy
***Folly pulls Martin aside for a private chat
***Fletcher trumps Benedict
***Signy trumps Corwin

Rebma

Celina, Valeria, and Silhouette return to Rebma
***Celina talks in dream with an ancestor

Paris



Shadow




**************************************************


The Rangers go to work setting up the perimeter as Vere ordered, disappearing into the verge in pairs and triples without discussion. To Lily's eyes, while they are not the epitome of tight military order, these Rangers do work together in a way that Benedict would approve of. Of course, he could tighten them up as a unit far beyond the camaraderie and professionalism that they currently have. But they will be an effective force if an enemy come through.

Merlin answers at once. "Hello, cousin Vere," he says pleasantly. He looks like he might be busy with paints and things "I know I am late but--what is wrong?"

"We have a serious situation," Vere says. "Prince Martin has asked that you join me. I can explain once you are here."

"Bide a moment and I will come to you," Merlin says. The moment is spent fetching things, including his blade and his boots, which he clearly thinks he's going to need. "Is there anything specific you would have me bring?"

"We might be going on a war footing," Vere says. "Sorcery and/or Pattern might be involved." He smiles faintly. "So pack accordingly."

Through the connection, it's obvious that Merlin is not pleased by this news. He gathers up some things--a change of clothing more appropriate to the night outdoors than the indoor garments he was wearing, and his weapons, among others--and says, "Bring me through." He reaches for Vere's hand so that he can come to Vere.

Vere pulls Merlin through the connection. 'Well met, Cousin," he says. He nods to Lily. "You know Cousin Lily, I believe?"

"Indeed I do," Merlin says. "Well met by moonlight, cousin. I will take a moment to garb myself, and you both can explain to me about the war footing we are now on."

"The short explanation," Vere says, "Is that the King appears to be under an enchantment, believed to be the work of the Queen of Air and Darkness, rendering him unable to effectively reign. His queen is believed to be compromised by the same being. Her thrall may well date back to the death of Cambina, now also believed to be the fault of the Queen of Air and Darkness. Fiona is working on this enchantment. Martin wants a meeting between the cousins at the Grove of the Unicorn. Lily and I are to guard the steps to Tir against possible Moonrider activity, and use trump contact to join the meeting, without leaving here. Martin also orders that no one of our generation be alone from now on, hence our summoning you. Martin may wish you to go through the connections to the Grove when the meeting begins, I do no know." He smiles tightly. "A great deal to absorb, I know. No action is called upon from you, save to help us guard this place, until you have a chance to speak to Martin, so you do not need to decide whether to trust our information as of yet."

"I see," Merlin says as he pushes his besocked feet into his boots. There is a long moment in which he ponders everything that Vere has said, though Merlin is his father's son and difficult to read even on a good day. Merlin finally rights himself and looks at Vere and Lilly. "Do we expect the invasion of the Moonriders from below, to get into the city, or from the city itself?"

"Their capabilities are unknown, and the situation is unclear," Vere answers. "As I understand it, the main concern is that they might seek to seize the stairs and then somehow alter the timestream so that they either already have used them to descend or else descend from the next full moon. That implies to me that the expectation is that they would seize them from the ground, as they cannot have already approached from above until after they have seized them."

"I do not see how this prevents longer temporal paradoxes," Merlin says. "You could ask my father about--"

Merlin's comment is cut off by a cry from the woods. A definitive human cry, of horror more than pain.

Vere's eyes flick in that direction, then he carefully looks all around, taking in the entire area. "Rangers!" he snaps out. "See to that, carefully, keeping in mind it might be intended as a distraction or a lure to an ambush. Everyone, defensive positions and full alert."

Merlin draws his sword.

The rangers establish a perimeter and it is a tense five minutes before a runner comes back from just inside the woods. "We found the corpse of a Ranger, my Lords. He looks to have been dead several weeks. It's Ranger Gamut. Gamut was the one who found the corpse. He's... upset."

Merlin says something incomprehensible and chaotic. He adds, for the benefit of the rest of those present, "Time magic is cruel."

"Indeed," Vere replies. He pulls his trump of Martin. "We should take this as a sign that there will be an attack. Prepare, as best we can. I will inform the prince."

"Hold the Pattern as best you can to protect the Rangers," Merlin tells Lilly. "I hope your father prepared you for this." He adds, to Vere, "Tell Martin we need reinforcements. Three is not enough, not of us."

Vere trusts Merlin and Lilly to keep him from being killed while distracted, and turns his attention to the card. "Martin," he says. "It is Vere."

As always, Martin takes what seems like an unusually long time to respond, like it's a conscious and not particularly welcome choice to release whatever instinctive block he has against Trump calls. "Fletcher and I are here, Vere. What's up?" By reflex, perhaps, Martin has reached for a weapon.

Vere suspects he's speaking aloud for Fletcher's benefit.

"We have reached the stairs," Vere replies. "One of the Rangers has stumbled across his own corpse, several weeks dead. No other signs of enemy yet, but that is certainly suggestive. Merlin is here, and he urges the need for reinforcements. I concur with his assessment."

"Fletcher's all I've got with me yet but the rest are coming. Folly's supposed to have been here ahead of me. We can try her and pass through, or you can call her directly if we need to go that way. Who else do you have? Is Merle with you? See who he has and might call on." Martin sounds distinctly unhappy about this turn of events. It's not every day the city gets invaded by Moonriders.

"I do not have a card for Folly, or for any of our cousins," Vere replies. He glances at Merlin. "Merlin, Martin asks whose cards you have?"

"I can call for Folly or several other of our cousins. Paige or Ossian. I will try Folly first," Merlin says and draws a Trump from his deck to do so.

Meanwhile, Martin is saying, "Wait, people have started arriving here. Mounted. Can you take them?"

"Indeed," Vere answers Martin. He makes certain there is enough room around him for several riders.


Folly can feel the stirrings of a Trump contact as she and the others head up the mountain.

"Folly, it is Merlin. The Moonriders will be attacking here soon. We need family assistance; is there anyone who can join us? Particularly warriors like Jerod or Brennan or Edan?"

Folly nods, seems to gaze through Merlin to a spot well ahead of her, and lets out a sharp whistle clearly meant to get attention.

Ossian notes the ongoing Trump call and gestures to everyone to get closer to Folly. "If there is an emergency..."

Conner comes over to see what is going on.

Raven will likewise move closer, but she's more keeping an eye on the surroundings than on the conversation. Nothing like the word 'emergency' to make one want to make sure the ugly situation is only over there and not here, too...

Brita slows as she realizes the others are converging on Folly.

Noting Raven's caution, Garrett takes up a position on the opposite flank of the party, also watching the surroundings, but keeping an ear out for trouble from the trump call.

"Call from Merlin," Folly says. "He's calling for warriors. Moonriders." She holds out a hand for any of her cousins who want to join the call and returns her focus to Merlin. "Where are you?"

Delivering a zombie head, vs Moonriders? Jerod is first in line for the latter as he grasps Folly's hand.

Signy takes a couple of steps towards Jerod, considering how much she could help. Almost unconsciously her hand drifts down towards her belt, and comes to rest on the hilt of a knife.

While the others gather, Jerod takes Folly's hand and Merlin pulls him through.

Trusting Merlin to maintain the contact from his end, Folly scans ahead a bit. "Where's Regenlief?" she asks. "This seems like her bag."

Seeing her nearby assembled cousins, she adds, "Anyone else?" And then for Garrett's benefit, in case there was any doubt: "Our package should NOT go through." She shudders visibly thinking of what kind of mess time magic could make if applied to that particular problem.

Conner reaches out for Folly's hand to be passed through.

Raven will go as well.

Brita nods at Folly's dictate. She hefts the box a little higher and notes, "I will Continue with This to The Grove and Leave it There? I Can Call My Brother After to Rejoin You." The question in the first sentence is there for all. Brita is not sure if leaving the box unattended is wise. She will definitely try to hide it somehow when she gets there.

Garrett chews his lip in thought, but there really is no hesitation in his decision. His strength is defense. "I think I'm needed here," he says to Folly.

Ossian turns to Regenlief. "I think this means change of plans. We really need to win this fight, I think." He motions for her to go to Folly.

"I'll go with Brita. " He adds.

"Good luck, and I'll meet you on another rainbow path, I hope," Regenlief says.

Folly, who doesn't expect to be so good in this fight, says to Brita, "I'll take the package if you and Ossian want to go through now."

"Let me take it," Garrett offers, reaching past Folly to Brita. "I'll stick with Folly until we get to the Grove and meet up with Martin."

Ossian nods. Takes a deep breath. "Heh. I've always wanted to see the Moonriders."

He lets Folly pull him through.

Brita looks searchingly at Folly for a beat and then hands the box to Garrett. "Be Safe," she says to both of them before accepting Folly's hand to pass through the Trump.

"Be safe, Folly. I will call if there is need." Folly can intuit that Merlin means that he'll Trump if he and the cousins need to run for it. "Is there anything else, before we part?"

Folly shakes her head. "I'll be ready for your call, should you need it. Be safe."

Once the call is ended, she looks at Garrett. "I'd meant to call Martin next, but now I may be their escape plan" -- she gestures vaguely in the direction of the distant stairs -- "so I need to keep the line open, as it were. Would you do the honors?" She pulls her trump case from her pocket. "If they're still in town and need a ride up, we can pull them up. Or, if they've beaten us to the Grove, they can take us there the quick way." She thumbs out a card and offers it face-down to Garrett.

Garrett nods silently, looking grim, and sets the zombie box on the ground. He takes the card, turns it upright and focuses.


Brennan is nodding vigorously at something Robin has just said as they come riding into the Grove proper. Brennan's never been there before, nor to its counterpart in Amber, so he takes his cues from Robin, from Martin and Fletcher, and from what his memories of what others may have told him as far as observances and etiquette are concerned. Seeing that Martin is on a Trump call, he approaches them making himself conspicuously visible, but keeping generally quiet-- no surprises, but no distractions, either.

Lark is with her father, who seems to be a bit distracted. She runs over to greet him, with Fletcher following right behind. "Hello Cousin Brennan! Are you here for the council or for the fight?"

Meanwhile, Martin is saying to nobody in particular in that way that suggests he's in a Trump contact, "Wait, people have started arriving here. Mounted. Can you take them?"

Brennan looked about to dismount, until he hears Lark's question.

"Hello, Lorelei. I'd hoped we had time for council before we had to fight. Where is the fight?" He sounds like he's already made a good guess, and doesn't bother to ask who it's with. Glancing at Fletcher, he asks, "Do you have a Trump of Benedict?"

Fletcher greets them both and begins to shuffle through his deck to find Benedict.

Robin is familiar with the Grove (both of them actually) and she rides in confidently. Though she notes Martin, Fletcher and Lark, her eyes are first looking for any signs of those pesky firelillies. Assuming that she finds none, she grins at the small girl running toward Brennan. Oh, yeah - there's Family trouble on the hoof. Gotta love the lively ones.

There are no firelillies in this Grove, nor has Robin seen any in the immediate vicinity as she approached.

At the word 'fight' her ears prick up and Robin calls the firelizards to herself. But overall, the Ranger feels that there are enough people talking right now. So she doesn't add to the chatter, merely extends respectful nods to Martin and Fletcher.

"All right, I'll see who's coming." Martin says to Brennan and Robin, "We're pretty sure it's Moonriders. One of the Rangers saw his own corpse."

He offers a hand to them to send them through to Vere.

"Right." Robin throws a leg over Misae's back and quickly dismounts. Handing the reins to Fletcher, she says "Her name is Misae. She's Hannah's -- who is coming shortly. She's not war-trained and the last time I did that, I got thrown on my ass.

"Besides, I'm better on my own two feet anyway." she mutters as she takes Martin's hand.

A moment later, Robin's blue eyes light up with delight as she realizes Vere is on the other end of the Trump. Despite that the girl is getting combat-ready, the floomph! of joy/love fills the connection before Robin can damp it down. Stoopid Cards!

While Robin is going through the Trump, Brennan looks conflicted almost to the point of pain. He says to both Martin and Fletcher: "So much for getting in front of it all. We have to assume Avalon's end is being hit, too, and that Benedict doesn't know yet. Call him, is my advice." Right now, is also his advice, he just doesn't say it out loud. "This is important: From Castle Avalon, as the crow flies, where is the Avalon Stair?"

Martin just answers with an unhappy obsecenity.

Brennan waits to hear an answer to the crow-fly question, if they give one; but either way he follows Robin through.

**************************************************


"All right, I'll see who's coming." To someone standing near him, Martin says, "We're pretty sure it's Moonriders. One of the Rangers saw his own corpse."

Vere pulls Robin through and gives her a quick wordless kiss before returning his attention to the trump.

This kiss is returned sincerely for all its brevity.

Behind Vere, Merlin brings through Jerod.

Right behind Jerod, Conner appears through the rainbow light of Merlin's Trump. He nods to Merlin in thanks and steps forward to make room for others.

Folly passes Jerod, Conner, Raven, and Regenlief through to Merlin and he brings them through.

Vere pulls Brennan through, then waits to see if anyone else is going to follow, or to hear what words of instruction, advice, or farewell Martin may have for them.

"I'll call Benedict and Corwin and tell them to set up defense in town. And anywhere else it's needed. And if someone brings the package, burn it!" Martin says.

Vere nods an affirmative, and closes the connection as soon as he is sure everyone has come through.

Until Vere closes the contact, an uncharacteristic mix of dread and frustration leaks through from Brennan, when Martin can't (or doesn't) answer the Avalon question.

As Brennan is coming through behind her, Robin turns to Lilly. "So who is boots on the ground? Errr, in charge?" Robin adjusts her thinking, given that she was just talking about military vs other mentalities.

Vere regards his cousins silently, waiting for them to sort things out and start asking questions.

Brennan turns to Vere and Lilly and asks, "What do we know and what do you need?"

"Not enough and too much," Vere answers. "We got here and found nothing out of the way at first, but while securing the site one of the Rangers stumbled across his own corpse, apparently dead a matter of weeks. That certainly makes a Moonrider attack likely." He shakes his head. "So what we really need is someone with experience dealing with the Moonriders, or at the least dealing with temporal magics, to take charge and tell the ignorant among us what to do."

"Then it is Edan we need." Conner replies. "He has fought against the Moonriders and has knowledge of the dimension of Time. Putting myself forward as understudy for the role, I am trained in Time magic and I have talked to Edan about individual tactics against Moonriders," Conner is wearing the same outfit as he went to Edan's affair in. Halosydne is his only visible weapon.

"Likewise, all counts." Brennan says. "They were at Oberon's funeral, too. Bleys and I encountered a party of riders as we were moving back to Amber. I've seen them on the move, met them, and spoken with their High Marshall. Reminds me of Benedict, actually. We didn't fight them, but they were ready for it-- I caught them using invisibility sorcery to try capture the element of surprise."

Brennan is wearing the same armor he wore to Edan's celebration. It's not ceremonial-- cuirass and leggings. He has his customary two swords with him.

Robin is stringing a long bow, quiver at her back, long sword at her side, with plenty of bulges about her person that say 'knife' to the experienced viewer. No armor though, just pretty festival clothes.

"I've got no experience with time manipulators, but I've fought out-of-phase opponents before and not limited to linear time preconceptions." She shrugs, she has no idea how to say that better to the sorcery types.

"I can hit things," Raven says dryly. "Not a clue on the rest." The captain has added a cutlass and a dirk to what she was wearing earlier - which is the kind of nice that's very well-made, but only reluctantly and quietly crosses the line into fancy and decorative.

Brita nods in agreement, "I have No Knowledge of the Moon Riders, although Uncle Loki often Tried Tricks of Time." Brita is still in her embroidered skirt (a skirt!) from the festivities. She has an Axe tucked into the sash on one side.

Jerod leans on his spear, his otherwise very fashionable court coat and pants rather unarmored. "No time manipulation on my side, but we did have to go through a patch of Black Road."

Ossian comes through, carrying a rapier and a long dagger. He has only very light armour, but considering his fighting style, that might be a good choice. "Greetings, cousins," he says. "I guess I will keep a low profile. Lilly has my Trump if that is of any help."

"Oookay," Robin says, taking it all in. "Then this would be my suggestion." She puts a lot of emphasis on the word suggestion.

"Firstly, extreme buddy system in place. No one bounces off alone.

"Tactically, three teams: Base - Brennan, Lily & Vere (until Edan gets here, then he'd be on that team and taking over from Brennan as coordinator). Strike - Conner, Jerod, Merlin &... viking lady I don't know. Scout - Me, Brita, Ossian & Raven."

She shrugs. "Works?"

"The lady of Asgard is named Regenleif." Conner supplies. "Each team should have one versed in Time sorcery. Remind me Sister, have you trained in that principle?" Conner asks Brita.

"The Valkyrie Regenleif is Ossian's mother, a friend and a damn good ally," Brennan says. When Robin proposes her order of battle, Brennan also nods or glances at each person in turn so Regenlief can put names to faces.

He continues, "I'm not sure if their time powers are properly Sorcery or not, but they have Sorcerers regardless. They can move people in time, and they seem to exist in a state that's spread out over time, or have multiple points of personal 'now' that they can access. (And by the way," he says, digressing with almost audible parentheses, "if you get thrown, consider making it back to the meeting at the Grove, with Martin.) I'm still working through everything I could do with that, but imagine being able to shoot an arrow, then tell your earlier self how to correct for windage and do it again for the first time. Or if you're trying to reach a staircase against opposition, tell your earlier self whether to duck left or right.

"So let me offer an alternate possibility," Brennan says. "Pattern. It's good against their Sorcerers. It's good against being sent back in time, and those of us strong in it, or bearing Rebma's blade, or both, might be able to protect a small area letting the Rangers fight with us." Conner was obviously referenced there, but he eyes Jerod and Robin also. "It ought to blunt their ability to pick the consequence before the action. And we have a lot more Pattern wielders than Sorcerers."

Vere listens intently, but he knows practically nothing of the Principal of Time, so he has nothing to offer to the conversation at this point.

Ossian looks at his father. "Do you mean using Pattern to inhibit time manipulation then? We'll necessarily have to keep the area small, not to interfere with each other too much."

Brita notes, "I Know Some Principles of Time But have Little Experience. Establishing the Order of Pattern should be Effective Against Disordering the Flow of Time. I Can be Scout or Fore Guard as Best Needed." She looks to Robin and Brennan for further discussion.

"I don't know these Moonriders at all," Regenlief says, "and I know no Sorcery. I will go where you bid me, and I will do all that I can against the foe. Where do we think they're coming from?" She is heavily armed, with a full shield, a sword, and a spear that would probably do a number on a mounted opponent.

"I'm going to let Vere or Lilly answer that, since they've been guarding the place," Brennan says.

"But to answer Ossian," Brennan continues, "Yes, I mean exactly that. I wouldn't make this a Sorcery on Sorcery fight-- it plays to their strength on a field only two of us can really engage. Order on Sorcery is something all of us except Regenleif can do. It blunts or removes the strength they rely on, playing to our own. This close to Xanadu, it is the stronger tool. It is a defensive power at a time we are making a defense along the Faiella-Bionin. It makes Halosydne even more of a blessing. Yes, you're absolutely right Order will inhibit our own Sorcerers, but that's going to happen every time someone resists an attempt to move them in time. You could argue for Team Sorcery in the field and team Pattern here at the Stairs, but I wouldn't. I'd reserve Sorcery for the most limited and passive effects, like sensing and detection.

"And if their power gives them the advantage I think it does, the way to stop them is to cause all possible paths to go through us, with no possibility of going around. On the assumption that they're going to try to take or go up the stair, I will stay, as Robin says, at the base-- the stairs. It's the chokepoint. If I don't move, they have to try to deal with me and anyone with me. Unless they refuse battle-- and we have evidence they don't-- I see no better plan." He looks to Vere and Robin, and asks, "Do we have Rangers with us? How many? By the way, someone with cards, please shuffle out a Benedict. Martin is trying to reach him already, but my assumption is that they're hitting Avalon, too, and if we can't reach Benedict we're going to have to figure out how to get from here to there quickly.

"Oh, and we're gonna need more of those," he points at Regenlief's spear. He glances around in what, to the rest of the Family, is a tell for conjury-- he's aiming for at least one but preferably several anti-cavalry spears, sturdy, durable, with a wrong end and a right end to be on, and crossbars to keep someone from crossing the space in between uninvited. "Enough for us and any Rangers that stand with us."

It's difficult to conjure here, as it's very close to the Pattern, except that it's easier than Brennan expects to do it -- something is happening here that makes it possible for him to do it at all -- and he ends up with three or four.

"We have Rangers and mounts," Vere responds. "As I understand, the Moonriders prefer cavalry tactics." He will detail their numbers and any quick observations he has made about them on the trip up.

Ossian pulls his Trump deck, and flips up Benedict's Trump. "I'll call Benedict." He says and starts to open a Trump contact. If possible Benedict should feel the urgency of Ossian's call.


Benedict takes a moment to answer. "Who calls? If it is not urgent, leave me be. We're under attack in Avalon." Ossian can see he's on the field, mounted, not on Stripey, with a shield on his maimed arm and with a cavalry blade in his other hand. The field is dark and some of the warriors around him are glowing with an eerie luminescence.

The moon is high in the Avalonian sky.

I won't apologize, Ossian thinks. He wouldn't appreciate it anyway.

"It's Ossian. Me and a number of my cousins, including Lilly, are at the bottom of the stairs to Tir. The Moonriders are coming."

"They're also attacking here." Benedict says, and he's fighting while maintaining his end of the contact. "Coming down the stair to Tir. Use the Pattern against them, protect your men, and be prepared for pitched battle. Their steeds don't fly. Here they're led by a young woman; the Marshall must be leading the attack on Xanadu. Beware."

"Thanks for the advice, uncle. Take care on your side then." Unless Benedict seems to have more to say Ossian ends the conversation.

Benedict is a little busy so he lets the conversation go.


Robin thinks about it. "I might be able to whip up some of those spears, but not quickly and not right here."

"If we're looking at cavalry tactics," Raven offers, "probably wouldn't hurt to throw out something that looks like caltrops, even if they aren't the real thing. Might keep them coming at us from fewer directions."

Conner nods as though Robin confirmed something. "Sorcery is hard near a Pattern and manipulating the Pattern doubly so. Robin, I suspect you've got the most experience with people trying to manipulate Pattern near a Pattern. Any suggestions on how to use it as a defense? I tried it when Artemis brought the Green to Heather Vale and failed to make an impact."

Merlin speaks up. "I am not so versed as to use Pattern as a defense, but I know that my father and his brothers and sisters have used Trump in concert. Perhaps you could reinforce the Pattern in the same way. Also it seems to me that if they come--and they will, soon, the Moon is almost here--then the key will be bottling them up." He gestures toward the stairsteps. "They cannot come down too many abreast and thus Pattern and spear-lengths and multiple tiers so they cannot jump over our heads will be the best defense.

"I should have listened more when Father talked about Jones Falls."

Jerod looks up at the Moon and pauses.

"So...if they're coming down the stairs...how do we get rid of the stairs?" he asks.

Vere blinks. "As a temporary measure, or permanently?" he asks.

Brennan, frowning and inspecting one of the spears he conjured, was going to say something to Conner and Robin but that stops him short. "You know a way? I know of none except to destroy Tir, and that's not on the table. This is a natural feature of the Faiella-Bionin-- only recent events even managed so much as to move it.

"Merlin's right," Brennan continues, "about time being short especially and about spear-ranks." He shrugs at Raven-- probably not enough time for caltrops. "I'd augment with a smaller mobile squad to chase down break-outs. Or if they're going up not coming down, to generally harass." The way he plants himself near the stair says that he's not for that team. "Insights on Time are probably good for that team, maybe light Sorcery, but I'm still for Order as the general defense. As the King would say, keep insisting that the universe enforce its rules, and help where able."

Brennan keeps a spear for himself and hands out the others to those that want them. "For what it's worth, these were easier than they should have been. I don't suppose anyone has a Trump of Marius, get him to pass the Knights through for more boots on the ground?"

Raven will take a spear. "Sounds like running around might be exciting," she says, with a nod to Robin, "but I ain't exactly new at repelling all comers." She plants herself and the butt of her weapon a few steps from Brennan, near the stairs.

Brita is staring at the night sky. "Can We Draw Clouds to Cover the Moon. That would Prevent the Stairs Entirely, Correct? Or I Could Try to Control the Clouds for Opportune Moments."

Robin has been nodding to herself as folks talk and wandered around to the back of the stairsteps. "Hah!" comes the sound of her exclamation as she squats down to brush away loose scrub and soil. Flipping back a dirt colored flap of canvas, the glimmer of metal is revealed. Robin stands up from a cache of Rebman-styled spears obviously sequestered away and forgotten during a hurried exodus.

She stands up brushing dirt off of her hands. "Turns out close and quick was better than slow and far away." She shrugs.

Then she replays the various comments that occurred while she was conjuring.

"Using Pattern as a defense? Channeling the opponent's approaches, definitely. I also use it sometimes to boost my... luck?" Robin's reaching for concepts that she usually doesn't work into words. "Or to increase my opponent's misfortune. Mutual support?" Robin shakes her head. "That takes a lot of practice not to cross other wielders'... uh, intent. General firming up should be okay, though.

"Oh, and against phasic folk? I use the terrain and attack the senses - slower but sometimes the only blows I can land."

Robin looks over to Brennan and Raven. "I'm better in motion than I am holding the ground. If you want to supplement up the Time and Sorcery elements in the Mobile team, call 'em." She finishes with a smile.

Brennan grins when Robin comes up with her own cache of spears. "Mutual Support of No Funny Business is about as trick as I think we'd want to get. Keeps everyone on the same page and gets what we want done.

"Moon's not supposed to be full tonight, though," he says to Brita. Then he frowns and turns to Vere then Merlin, "Weren't we just saying the Moon isn't full tonight? Why are you thinking they're coming down?"

Merlin frowns and starts to say something, and then reconsiders. "I do not know, cousin. But nonetheless I believe it to be true."

Brennan looks over at Merlin and nods. "I'll understand later. If you have a card for Marius, by the way, this would be a fantastic time to use it and ask him to bring over as many of the Ruby as he can. They're already in units ready to move... But I figured they'd be moving after the meeting, not before..

"We discovered the corpse of one of our Rangers," Vere explains. "A man named Gamut. He stumbled across his own body, apparently several weeks dead." Vere will take one of the spears and guard the stairs, bringing the Pattern to mind and concentrating firmly on it.

Ossian has been tucking away his Trump. "Benedict is fighting Moonriders in Avalon. They are coming down the stairs there. So no help from him. But he thinks their Marshal is coming here. I take it that's a bad sign?" He asks rhetorically.

Conner plants himself next to Brennan to defend at the foot of the stairs. Conner will bring the Pattern to mind and attempt to bolster reality around them using Halosydne as an amplifier if possible.

Brennan looks confused by Ossian's new information, and not a little apprehensive, but shakes his head and says, "I'll understand it later. And yeah, think of him as their Benedict and a Sorcerer from what Bleys says." He glances at Regenlief, assuming she's with the group at the stairs, but gesturing for her to join them if she's not.


Hannah attempts to concentrate on Gerard while bumping along on a horse.

While using the cards is still not Hannah's native method of magic, she is a child of Amber. Even bumping along on a horse, she can get hold of Gerard.

"Hannah? Is that you? Where are you?" Gerard is confused.

[And assuming she and Edan are skin to skin, he's in this contact too!]

In the grove ahead, Edan can see the rainbow flash of someone going through a Trump. Martin and Fletcher and Lark are all still in the Grove though.

"We are headed to the Grove but it looks like trouble is brewing somewhere... so I called you for a field kit, and I was wondering if Corvis would be willing to oversee the watch on the baby." She sighs. "You have questions and I'll answer what I can. We're concerned about an imminent attack from the... Moonriders, and that our Queen is possessed by theirs, and the... tíuzhí... uh, cousin clan group, we're going to meet to exchange notes before the morning meeting, but there seems to be trump movement ahead instead of chat so I need to be prepared."

"Corvis isn't back yet; I thought she was with you." Gerard's agitation leaks through the contact. "I'll see what I can find but there's not much here in the way of field kit. I can get hospital supplies ready if you need them, but it'll alert the household, if that's what you're worried about."

Seeing Trump activity ahead, Edan steers Aramsham towards it. Otherwise, he keeps quiet.

The contact has clearly been closed by the time Edan gets there.

"Edan? You just missed the call. Moonriders are coming down the steps at moonrise, looks like,. Martin says.

Lark runs up to Aramsham without fear. "I didn't know a baby was coming!"

"Gerard, it looks like the Moonriders may be coming down the steps at moonrise. Corvis was with me, but she felt we had to keep my son away from Vialle until we were sure she wasn't possessed. We took the service stairs down and I left her with Solange when we called Edan. So, I would say alerting the household is likely the least of our worries. Do you have a trump of Solange?"

"I do, and I'll contact her. Who else do you need to talk to?" Gerard asks. "Is Corwin there, or Benedict? Do you know?"

"Moon-" Edan clenches his hand around the reins, then utters a sharp word to Aramsham to stay still with Lark underfoot. "I mustered the Lamp before I left to leave town for maneuvers in the morning. Get them away from the palace. They'll be going the wrong direction. I did not foresee this," he says to Martin. "You're in luck though, Hannah is talking to Gerard right now. We just talked about setting this spot up as a forward relief.... his voice trails off. "Wait, who is up there? How many of our Elders?"

"I think Brennan may be the seniormost up there and--ah sh!t--" Martin holds a hand up to Edan as his brow furrows and then he consciously straightens out to accept what is clearly a Trump call after reflexively trying to throw it off. "Who's there?"

Hannah says, "Uh, um, huh... I suspect not." She pauses. "I think I just heard Brennan is the oldest there. Like I said, we were meeting to share cousin knowledge so we could see what could condense. Give me one second Uncle. It's all happening fast." She looks up at Edan and over at Martin and decides she's getting down. "Give me an arm, Edan," she says.

Edan nods to Martin, hoping that he would understand they're both in separate Trump conversations. He looks...not happy. He doesn't bother to try and hide the tinge of despair that's creeping in on the edges of the Trump call. "I don't think Brennan's fought them," he says, in and out of the contact. "I have, several times. The original plan isn't going to work." He helps Hannah down, then gingerly starts to unwind himself from the carrier, baby supported on one hand and arm. "Would you lend me one of your knives for an athame? I always ruin my swords when I use them." I'm avoiding the subject is what he doesn't say.

Hannah lets go of him to bend down, pull an eight inch bone knife out of her boot, and hand it to Edan. "The sheath is built into the boot, and I haven't another." She moves to put her arm under his and take the baby. Gerard can likely feel her need to act. "Uncle, call everyone you think is fit to fight, and send me all the supplies and medics you can. Shall I call you back?" She is rubbing the thumb of her free hand inside her medicine bag, and it comes out blackened. The knife is made for her hands, so it's going to be a bit small for Edan's. Although the sides are sharp, this is a thrusting blade.

"Aye," says Gerard, "And I'll find Solange and get hold of Ben and Corwin. And Jules."

"Thank you Gerard," she says, and lets gratitude, appreciation, relief, fraternity, hope, and filial respect follow her determined smile. She hasn't really a free hand so she closes her eyes and makes the mental effort to close the contact. Then she looks up at Edan. "You will go fight; you don't have to say it. Save your bravery for the battle. We will be wherever I am most needed doing what I do. Let me paint you." She lifts her black thumb.

Edan smiles, just a little, and nods his agreement. It almost offsets his grim expression. "This is new." He stays on Aramsham, but leans over so that Hannah can easily reach him. "Tell me what you are painting."

He also thinks, Kyauta. I go to where Lords of Order gather. Their power, all together, it could harm or even destroy you without them knowing it. I have a better plan than this.

Go as fast as you can to the compound. Some of the Knights are already mustering for the morning. Raise the alarm. Get them horsed. Armor and swords. Gather at the entrance. If I get a chance to Part the Veil, charge at the opening. I'll have you pointed the right way.

Meanwhile Martin is talking to whoever's at the other end of his Trump call. "We're at the Grove. Edan's here. Come through," Martin says and steps back so there's room for horses if someone else is riding.

Hannah glances over at the new arrivals for just a second. "If you had a tribe and a clan and... quests met and societies joined... You do of course, I will find it all. Can you conjure here? I could use fat and... or water. Come to the spring with me, two minutes. Brennan or someone would trump you if they needed you now."

Edan looks back at the others, up at the sky, does a little mental math, and nods. "Okay. Merlin should be able to. Or me him." He slides off his horse. "The moon is coming, unless someone can affect the clouds."

"Bring the Prince of Horses, he can be painted too." She leads the way, following the curve of the ground toward the spring. The baby is swaddled unceremoniously, with the economy of movement owed to long practice. Some of the black powder smudges the sheets, and she leaves his arms free this time.

"So, the people have a tradition of using color, symbols, and patterns to center their intent before battle, and when applied by the medicine man can bestow a sense of confidence and purpose, sometimes power. You don't need those, so you get the other intent - scare the enemy. When you call your fire, where does it come from? The mind, the heart, the gut?"

Edan starts to answer, then decides the answer isn't that simple. "I have grown," he says. "Things have changed. Like the afriti, I am the fire. My heart channels it. My mind gives it shape and direction and purpose."

"Very Well. I think I see it. How many people have you killed in hand to hand combat?"

She isn't reslinging the baby yet, and as they come to the spring, she settles him just where she thinks Arasham is unlikely to step on him. She takes off her jacket and folds it into a basin. She motions for him to come down off the horse. She kneels to saya quiet prayer and touches the water, then her lips, then her forehead. She waits a moment, listening, watching the water reflect the sky.

"You know Lilly and I were just in a battle," Edan says. "Throughout my life...by hand, not sorcery...perhaps a hundred. Less than two."

She stands and nods at that. "That will make this easier. When I am done, you will look like a man who kills. Hopefully our cousins will see through it. My other cousins will know you for a warrior who has already proven himself. This may be intense, but I know you will respect the ritual of it."

Edan nods in return. "If Moonriders are coming down the Stair, we need all the advantage we can get. If I summon my Knights, well, the older ones have seen worse. I trust you. Do this thing."

She gently scoops water into the jacket, mixes just a few pinches of powder from a roll of cloth she's pulled out of her pouch. She mixes it with her hands until they're stained and then stands up. "To show them you are a warrior who will not surrender." She lays her wet hands on his collarbones and pushes color under his chin, the across his shoulders before she gets more. She is focused, silently moving in rhythm with Edan's breath. "Edan doesn't dance with fire, but is the fire as it dances. Beautiful freedom in destruction." Hannah moves about him, layering his torso in yellow, until she twists streaks in his hair with the final bits of pollen.

She rolls open the cloth and dips her fingers in red powder. "Red, for the power the Merciful One has given you responsibility for." She moves around him pulling ribbons of red up his abdomen, rib cage, flaring at his shoulders and swirling up his spine. Having depleted the powder, she carefully pulls more water over and adds a enough red powder that it almost goes black. "To show them you do not fear to wear the blood of your enemies." She slaps her dripping left hand into his chest, near his right shoulder, and waits a moment for the color to run down.

Her red right hand she runs over his forehead and up into his hair. She brings them down to grasp his wrists in a tight grip. "What are you fighting for, Fire Dances?"

"Home. Family," Edan says, quick enough that he must have anticipated the question. "You. Him," and he looks down at the baby. "I have made Xanadu my home. Hubs 'ajaeal mawaqifi. Here I make my stand!"

Hannah nods at him with a deep breath. "Pahóga gínazhi, banó. We stand in anticipation; we stand together as a family."

She returns to the water but only cups a little in her left hand. Her right fingertips dip into black powder, and she traces a shape resembling an anatomically correct heart on the skin above his. "To show them you bring all the strength of those you lead against them." Hannah wets her fingers and quickly fills out the symbol until it is a lamp's silhouette. She lets the smoke drift from her fingers from lamp to chin, and over, until his lips are stained black and his nose hides in the night. She spreads black powder over both her hands and rubs them together, then puts them on either side of his face, thumbs extended out to meet the black of his mouth. "Black is the Strength of Aggression. Black brings all you have with it, drives back those who would harm Xanadu and our family." She slips her hands under his hair and behind his neck, rubbing on the last of the color.

"Last is purple, the sacred color, the color of mysteries, the stain of sorcery. Purple, to show them terror neither starts nor ends with your knives." Hannah smooths her fingers from his hairline, over the red, his eyes, and down to cover what little bare skin is left on his face. "I would draw a symbol of protection on your back, if you'll allow it."

"Yes," Edan says, looking at himself to see what he can of what's been done. "And then I will seal it with Sorcery. If I catch fire, I don't want this ruined."

Hannah gives him a funny look, and shakes her head. She walks behind him and slaps him on the back. "Hold still," she demands. "It isn't meant to be permanent, and the messages aren't for you. If you burst into flame, and it burns off, then you did nothing but become the embodiment, and you won't need the paint - you'll still have the words." Hannah, again with purple, puts a dot in the center of his spine. She draws fletched arrows pointing out to the directions from the dot, draws a circle to encompass the arrows and the dot, and then half circles, both above and below. She whispers a prayer behind him.

Edan starts to nod in understanding, but stays perfectly still instead.

Coming around to face him again, she rubs the remaining purple powder into her hands, dampens them slightly, and holds them out, downward, before him. "Anyway, since I've used water instead of fat to mix this, it's likely to stain. You will likely need sorcery to get it off. Now, open your hands against mine. We will call our Gods to hear us."

She waits until Edan has recentered and is ready. "Oh Merciful One, your child Edan is prepared to battle for the things you have taught him are right. Please hear his prayers. Oh Creator, Grandfather of the Earth, your child Enana is prepared to battle for the things you have taught me and to save lives so after the destruction there will be creation. Please hear my prayer." She takes her hands from Edan's and crosses her arms to grip her biceps. She will have purple handprints on her arms, but that is the point. She tilts her chin at him to indicate he should do the same. Hannah quietly begins praying, looking up at the sky.

Edan nods at the appropriate places and follows suit, but says no words. Now was not the time to explain the crisis of faith Clarissa had brought in him. And ultimately, it didn't matter. He would need all the help he could get.

So when Edan turns his head to the sky, it is a different creature that comes to his thoughts. Unicorn, he thinks, your great-grandson is here in your Grove, about to defend against the foes of Xanadu. My liege is compromised, and I have met me my match against these Moonriders of Ghenesh. Bless our efforts this day, or at least remember us, that we stood to defend Order when no one else could.

"This is a sacred place." Hannah glances at the spring, and back at Edan. She lightly grips his shoulders. "When your path opens before you and you smolder with unbreakable will, may time not touch your heart; may no flood carry you from your quest; may home remain your center." And with that she lets go and grins.

"I saved Green for the little tiger. It is for Endurance." She dots the fussy baby's forehead, then draws the morning star where his collarbones meet. He doesn't seem to appreciate this, so she picks him up. "All I ask today is that you fight to live long enough for me to name you," she whispers to the child, not trying to hide it from Edan. "Now give Baba your blessings before he goes to fight." She offers the hungry baby to his father.

Edan takes the baby, and tries a little bouncing to calm him down; he looks inexperienced. Some tickling under the cougar's arms works better. "I will be back," he says, "and then we will teach you absolutely everything. And then you'll be protecting us."

Hannah digs a little rock of chalk out of the bottom of her bag and approaches the horse. "Well, Prince of Horses, Carries Fire, Beautiful One... please accept some medicine from me, or if you choose not to, do me the courtesy of a warning nip instead of a hard bite." Hannah speaks to the horse for a few moments, moving calmly toward him from the side where he can see her. She tells him about how the horses were the best thing the invaders brought among the people, how Omaha and Ponca both saw the sacred in them. Once they have talked and he's gotten used to her friendly hands on him, she draws big white circles around his eyes and a white star on his nose, just like the one on Misae's. Then she uses the remaining green powder, with a little spit, to gently color around Aramsham's eyes so they echo the shape of Edan's own. She sings to him the whole time, in Omahain.

When she comes back over to Edan she's still humming her tune. Her mouth quirks. "I'm sure you'll be disappointed to not be around the first time he needs new swaddling."

"It's just as well. I hear it takes hours to clean up the first few times, anyway," Edan says. "Something about hair. It almost makes the unicorn story believable." He touches two fingers against the baby's forehead, where the Third Eye would manifest, before he hands him back over.

Hannah takes the child and gives Edan a look that says she doesn't believe him. "You're missing out, nothing even stinks the first few times."

"Am I ready? It feels ready, somehow."

"You're asking me? You tell me if you're ready. If you think not we can soak your pants in grandmother's spring here for luck." Now she's definitely teasing.

"Not to worry," Edan says. "I can wet my pants on my own." He smiles a little and holds her gaze. "I can't promise to be careful. I can promise to give it my all. You'll know when and if you need to run. I will find you."

"Or I will find you," she smiles back, "and I won't ask for promises. You will do what you must. I know this." She kisses him well and good, and pulls away with a sigh. "Go... hurt them but good so we don't have to do this for the next five years. I need to trump Gerard back."

She steps out of range of his reach.

With a quirky little smile, Edan gets back into the saddle, gives Hannah a nod of farewell, and turns Aramsham back towards Martin and the others.


As always, it takes a minute for Martin to decide to let down his guard and accept the call. "Who's there?"

"It's Garrett. I'm with Folly, on our way up to the Grove," Garrett says. He seems more tense than Martin has seen him in some time. "Are you there yet? And if you are, can you bring us through?"

"We're at the Grove. Edan's here. Come through," Martin says and steps back so there's room for horses if someone else is riding.

Folly steps through, clutching an armored case very tightly; she trades it with Garrett for her Martin trump once he's stepped through. She says to Martin, "The intended recipient of your package was not available to receive it, so we thought it safest to bring it with us." She touches the case lightly for a moment. "With enhanced security."

She glances around the Grove without really seeing it and then slips her hand into Martin's with a look that usually precedes bad news. Or an apology.

Meanwhile, Garrett takes the armored box from Folly and sets it down near his feet. He turns to Martin. "I have to admit I don't have much battle experience, other than that time we saved Vialle," he says to his brother, grimacing slightly at the memory in light of the current situation. "But I'll go where you need me," he finishes with a single strong nod. He's not dressed for battle, having had no time to change after the event in the square. He's in street clothes with just a leather jacket for protection, but he does have a small knife at his belt and has acquired a rough-looking sword from somewhere.

"Neither of us has any business on the front lines, Prince Garrett," Martin says by way of reminding him. Meanwhile, Lark has run up to throw her arms around her mother. "Mama! I met a lot of new friends and played with wood-wights and talked to Gramma Brij!"

Folly bends down to give her daughter a big hug, carefully adjusting her stance so that the knives tucked into the belt around her hips and the buckler slung from a strap over her back don't get in the way. "I'm so glad you had a good time!" she says... and carefully does not add 'and that you are wearing clothes again'.

The zombie head rattles inside its cage, and Martin grimaces. "Edan needs to burn that thing. Preferably outside the Grove," he mutters. Martin hasn't had a chance to change since his arrival and he looks like he's already been in a fight, but he's not armored, just armed with a gentleman's blade that has been cleaned up but has also seen some recent fighting.

At the sound of the cage rattling, Fletcher turns his head away from scanning the perimeter. His longsword is in his hand. Seeing that things are still quiet for the moment, he remarks, "Resolve and wits can serve as armor aplenty, my lords. And they have fewer leather straps." He wishes he had his plate armor.

Garrett scowls down at the cage, resisting the urge to kick it. "Let's hope so," he answers Fletcher. He turns to Martin and asks, "So what do we know? Have you had any reports?"

Martin shakes his head, once. "Other than Big Trouble in Little Amber? Not so much. We need to get this place ready for incoming and then one of the two of us needs to get out of here, Garrett. Two princes in the same place is a no-go. Fletcher, have you fought the Moonriders before? If you have, you may need to go up with Edan."

He's still waiting for whatever Folly has to say to hit the fan.

Folly says to Lark, "Why don't you tell Uncle Garrett and Fletcher what you know about zombies, and they can tell you a little bit about Moonriders, while I talk to Daddy just for a minute?" In a lower, much less cheerful voice, she says to Martin, "We need to talk about your father."

If Martin is willing, she'll lead him a little away from the group so they can talk privately.

Fletcher turns to face Martin. "I've met some, but haven't faced them in combat. I've got one or two ideas about tactics that might work well, but they're just theories. I'm willing to face them where you need me." Since he's expecting action, Fletcher removes his necktie and stuff it in a jacket pocket.

Garrett clearly hadn't thought about the 'two princes together' implications until Martin mentions it. His surprised look turns thoughtful even as he absently reaches a hand out to Lark. Before she starts on her tale, however, he asks Fletcher, "Has anyone talked to Corwin, do you know? If Paris isn't involved, that might be a back door, if things go sour."

Signy looks over from where she took up a casual watch of where they came in from, having decided that for the time being with the Family assembled at the stairs having a few that were in reserve and could go wherever was needed was probably the better option for her.

Maybe.

"Do we have any other reserves available if needed, or if we find a surprise attack coming from somewhere that we haven't anticipated?"

Her hand rests casually on the hilt of her sword, though she hasn't yet drawn it.

"Edan's people are somewhere; and some of Brennan's knights are with them but I don't know if anyone with a Trump is," Martin answers. He tosses his deck of Trumps to Garrett. "Hannah was talking to Gerard. Someone get Corwin on the horn, someone else get Julian. See if you can find Flora and if she's in Paris, if she can raise Corwin's knights. If nobody's called Ben, him too. Arrange to get Edan's people to the fight at the stair." This is mostly directed at Garrett, but also to Signy and Fletcher, since there are enough Trumps for everybody.

Lark is still clinging to Folly. "Mama, but I have to tell you--"

Martin interrupts, "Kiddo, your mom and I have to talk. Can you help Uncle Garrett call great-uncle Corwin?"

Folly adds, "This shouldn't take very long. You hold on tight to that thought, and tell me as soon as we're done. Or you can tell your Uncle Garrett, if you have to say it right now." She gives her daughter a reassuring smile and leads Martin a short distance away from the rest of the group.

Signy makes her way over to Garrett to get whatever Trump she is dealt.

"Do you have one of my brother in there also," she asks Garrett, though her voice should carry to Martin as well.

She considers volunteering to go for Edan and Brennan's missing forces, but "somewhere" is vague, and may be more of a wild goose chase than they can afford right now.

Garrett catches the trump deck easily and immediately starts shuffling. He finds Corwin's trump and pulls it out.

"I don't know. You can look," he suggests. He pulls out one more card before handing the rest of the deck to Signy. He then holds the other card out to Fletcher, face down. "Do you want to call Benedict?" he says. It's not really a question.

Assuming Fletcher takes the card, Garrett will focus on Corwin's trump.

Fletcher nods, and takes the card. He takes a few steps away. He observes, "if something big is going down, I'm guessing Dad's already been pinned down. Worth a shot though." He concentrates on the card....

Fletcher hears his father's voice as the connection opens. "Who calls now?"

He's in the middle of a fight.

Fletcher speaks briskly and loud enough to be heard, "Fletcher. Invasion of Xanadu by stair is imminent or underway. Forces need to be mustered to repel them. I see you are busy elsewhere and assume this is not a coincidence."

"Ossian has already called," Benedict says. Fletcher can feel his father's graceful movements through the connection: the thrust and parry with the knifed buckler on his off arm, the shudder of the hard parry with his blade, the jerk of the blade from flesh as he cuts a foe down. "They're in Avalon too. Remember Jones Falls."

Meanwhile, Lark's parents have called for her, but once they hear that she's going to Hannah, they go back to what they're doing.

Fletcher remains focused on his conversation with Benedict, and tries not to be too big a distraction for him. "Where is Ossian now? Has he mustered any forces?"

"He's at the stair on your side with some of your cousins," Benedict answers, "Raise the city and the rest of the family if no one has. I can hold here for a time, but their main forces will be sent to Xanadu, if they're involved at all."

Fletcher nods. "Alright. I'm with others who are doing that now. I'll assume you're still engaged in a holding action until I hear from you again." Fletcher awaits any final words from Benedict and observes how Benedict is choosing to fight the Moonriders.

"I'll contact you when I can," Benedict answers. "Avalon will hold."


Signy deftly catches the Trumps tossed by Garrett and shuffles out Julian and Flora's Trumps face down. While she's got the Deck out she takes a quick scan through for a Trump of her brother and if one is there pulls it out to add to the bottom of her small pile.

Flipping over the top Trump on the pile, she looks at her Aunt's picture and concentrates on it.

"Aunt Flora? It's Signy, and pretty important."

Florimel is in Castle Xanadu. She sighs, a little impatiently, and says, "What's Random done now?"

Signy offers a tight smile, but otherwise skips the offer to waste time. "There's an attack imminent on the stairs from Tir, Moonriders. There's a group at the stairs, but we're looking to see who can help get reinforcements."

She pauses, and looks elsewhere suddenly as if distracted. "King Random is occupied by an attack on him through the Queen."

Florimel's demeanor changes at once. Clearly, whatever she was expecting, it wasn't this. "I'll raise the castle guard and contact my--" and she's distracted for a moment as well. Signy feels a third party join the contact as someone takes Florimel's hand, and it's Solange.

"Signy? Dad says there's an attack. Bring me through."

Meanwhile, Lark's parents have called for her, but once they hear that she's going to Hannah, they go back to what they're doing.

Signy reaches her hand towards Solange. "A few of us are in the Grove with Martin, trying to contact whomever we can to raise the alarm. I'll be reaching out to Uncle Julian right after this, Fletcher's talking to Uncle Benedict, and I think Garrett is reaching out to King Corwin."

"The castle's being raised," Solange says, adding, "Aunt Florimel, I was sent to tell you Dad needs you. The King may not be able to lead the defense so Dad's taking the reins. Also someone needs to call Caine in Amber and get some of his naval people here." She takes Signy's hand and steps through.

Solange was ready for this: she's wearing a shirt of mail and is armed with a blade and shield.

Signy nods.

"I have Uncle Julian's Trump, and will contact him to let him know. Thank you, Aunt."

Assuming no last-minute instructions prevent her, Signy breaks the contact.

Flora says, "May the Unicorn protect you," before Signy closes the contact.

Solange says, "Thanks, Signy," and is off to deal with either Martin or Hannah, probably the latter.

Then Signy flips Julian's Trump upright and begins to concentrate on his image.

Julian answers at once. "Who calls? And what.s happening where you are?"


When they are reasonably out of earshot of the rest of the group -- but not so far that a shout wouldn't reach them -- Folly asks, "What have you heard so far, about your dad? And Vialle?"

"That Vialle murdered Cambina while she was walking the Tir Pattern, which Vialle shouldn't be able to do, which is part of why we were having this party here that seems to be derailing because the bad guys are one step or possibly one stairway ahead of us. And that Vialle and whoever may be riding her have put the whammy on Dad, which is the other half," Martin says grimly.

"And that doesn't leave us with a lot of options. I need to send you and Lark out of here because I can't have her on a battlefield full of Moonriders, and the safest place I can think of is--" he sighs "--Rebma."

"She'll like that," Folly says, though her smile is a bit grim. She tangles her fingers into her hair and balls them into fists against her scalp.

"So, this is marginally less urgent now that there's a super-urgent battle about to happen, but... a few details you might want to know sooner rather than later. First, I briefly talked with Vialle, and then with Brita, who'd been escorting her for a few minutes, and... I get the feeling Vialle doesn't know she's been... possessed, or whatever. Like, she may be doing things she's not actually aware of because they're not really her doing them, they're that other queen acting through her." She gestures skyward.

She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and blows it out. "Then there's the precise way she's put the whammy on your dad." She glances toward the cluster of others, realizes they're all ensconced in Trump calls, and lets out an eloquent string of expletives. "LARK!"

Martin immediately adds, equally loudly, "LARK! Moonriders are faster than zombies!"

"Yes, Auntie Hannah!" Lark immediately stops splashing in the water of the pool, where she's been playing and goes to help Hannah. Martin turns back to Folly.

"Yeah, I can't make that vow, and you can't either, and we can't make it for Lark. So you and Lark have to go, and since only one of me and Garrett can be on the field for this, it needs to be him that goes with you. I've got a record of defying the crowns that he doesn't need."

"Agreed," Folly says, and adds, grimly, "At least now we've got a much better excuse for needing to evacuate -- but I would have come up with a way to avoid that vow anyway. I've already made the vows that matter, and I intend to stick to them."

She takes Martin's hands, squeezes them... and then grimaces as she realizes how what she just said crashes into what she still needs to say. "So... yeah. About your father. Soren and I were hoping we could reach him with music -- you know, get the band back together and remind him who he really is -- but we haven't had a chance to try yet, and... and anyway...."

She clears her throat, looks around once more -- this time to make sure nobody is close enough to overhear -- and then goes up on her toes to murmur into his ear: "Bleys says he's being controlled... enchanted... whatever... through some sort of sex magic. He and Fiona were surprised when your father suddenly started sleeping with Vialle again, and apparently that's why."

She rocks back on her heels again so she can look into Martin's eyes. "We can argue about all the implications when we're not under imminent attack by Moonriders, but I at least wanted to give you the heads-up before anyone else put that on the table as a suggestion for how to undo the whammy."

It probably occurs to Martin that Folly has not so much warned him as beaten everyone else to the punch.

******


Hannah glances past the Prince of Horses and notices the other set of parents on the field in conference and everyone else looking at cards. So that leaves one person free to help her out, and luckily that person is probably best kept busy.

"Lark, will you come help me with the baby?" she calls across.

"Yes, Auntie Hannah!" Lark immediately stops splashing in the water and comes at once to render assistance. Either she's very precocious (possible) or she's already spent a lot of time dealing with adult tasks, which is also quite possible.

Lark's parents have called for her, but once they hear that she's going to Hannah, they go back to what they're doing.

"I've got to call Uncle Gerard. The baby is hungry - so cranky - and he'll get even more mad before he gets fed. But if you could just hold him and deal with him crying, I will feed him as soon as I can. Maybe he'll be distracted by you."

If Lark agrees, Hannah will tie the baby on her, and after saying, "I really prefer he not drink anything but mother's milk, not even Grandmother Unicorn's water. Babies have very fussy stomachs."

"I'll try to keep him from crying," Lark says and lets Hannah tie the boy to her.

"Let him cry if he needs to, just try to keep him safe." Hannah adds.

"I'll stay right here," Lark says, and settles in to wait and watch with patience that might surprise most Amberites, but maybe not Hannah.

Hannah will step aside and trump Gerard.

Gerard answers at once, like maybe he's waiting for calls. "What's the situation?" he asks. "I'm raising the castle, Corwin's raising the city, and we're working on getting hold of the rest of the family. Solange should be back soon to step through; she's getting hold of the rest of the family in the castle."

Hannah falls right into the fast-paced medical transitions she had to do in Philadelphia.

"Three people afield here with cards out, Garrett, Signy... a man I don't know. Martin, Folly, Lark also present. No threat here, but Edan is going to it. You have Corvis? Is she willing to take my kitten? Medical supplies? We need a conduit to pass injured back here. Unless Paige is at the front, no one there has my card. Ideas?" Hannah takes a breath.

"I'm sending Solange to you, right now. Corvis is here, and she can take your child and Lark, if Martin and Folly wish it. Someone in your circle will have Trumps of someone on the cliff. Folly can sketch if she needs to--I'll send for supplies if she hasn't got any with her," Gerard says.

Hannah looks back across at Martin and Folly and now Edan and decides bellowing is not going to be real effective. She bites her lip and looks back at Lark. "Singing Lark, please go ask your parents if they want Lady Corvis to watch you since she's going to watch the baby, or if they need anything I might get them from Gerard, like artist things for your mother." She half shrugs, since the baby seems comfortable. "Just take him with you."

Lark says, "Yes Auntie Hannah," and runs off to her mother and father.

******

Edan knows he needs to get from the Grove to the Stair quick as he can. He takes stock of his inventory after visiting his room. Dancing silks. Slippers. A pair of Averni hook swords. The Moonrider compass/necklace. Aramsham. Layers of paint. His mitts. And a little oiled pouch containing a few reagents and a jeweled pin and-

Merlin's Trump.

Edan tries the Trump first; if it fails, Martin will be the next obvious route. Beyond that, he'll have to be crafty and flashy and sorcerous. And fast.

Edan grimaces when contact doesn't go through with Merlin. That brings him to plan 'b', and he turns his horse towards Martin and Folly. He tries to pick a distance where they notice him but he's not intruding on their conversation.

******

Martin closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose.

Then he recovers his composure, because there's no time for this right now, and he's practical if nothing else. "You're going to be in Rebma with Lark and Garrett so that's not going to fly any time soon. Are there any more bombs you need to drop in my lap before we do this?"

"No, that would be the one big crotch explosion," Folly replies with a pained, apologetic smile. "Do we need to incinerate that zombie head before we go?" She glances around, probably looking for Edan.

"Yeah, let's," Martin says, and because Edan is now waiting for him, which Folly also sees, he moves to open the conversation to Edan. "What've you got?" he asks, more in the tone of a prince trying to get his knights properly on the field and less in the tone of a husband whose wife just suggested she might have to f**k his father out of mental and/or supernatural domination.

Edan is still just wearing silks and hook swords, but he is painted to perfection and looks very intimidating.

"Ghuul," he says, with a look of distaste. "I hate that Principle. Yes, I can destroy it." He looks over to Martin and adds, "I sent my Knight down to alert the Lamp. Some of Ruby is with them. If I am fortunate, I can Part the Veil and give some of them a surprise charge. The rest can help defend the city." He frowns. "The army I was building in Broceliande, they are not ready for Moonriders. The enemy is a step ahead of us. Once I go across into all our cousins, I'll likely just be a blade."

"Don't underestimate yourself," Martin says, but before he can follow up, Fletcher announces, "Benedict is engaged in Avalon and suggests all reinforcements be deployed in Xanadu while he will hold Avalon against what he is certain is only a secondary force."

Martin responds to that with a single expletive. "Take the head outside the boundaries of the Grove, burn it to ash, and go to the cliff," he tells Edan.

And as Martin is finishing up that instruction, Lark comes running over with the baby attached to her, saying, "Aunt Hannah wants to know if I should go to the castle with the baby. Corvis is going to take care of the baby, and Mama, do you need anything? Art things?"

Martin is already shaking his head in the negative about that, and not just one either.

Folly points out the zombie-head-containing case to Edan. Then, "Have you still got your... compass thing?" she asks. "You might find a way to use that to your advantage." She clasps his hand in farewell and wishes him luck.

Edan returns the clasp, and nods to the question. "I think I know where it will point," he says. To Martin, he adds, "The cliff, aye." He says this slowly, until he decides someone is meeting him there, or there will be a Trump. He knows what to do if there isn't.

Turning to her daughter, Folly says, "Ask for an oilskin, if they have one to hand. We're going underwater." It's a bit overkill -- her trump case is already effectively watertight -- but on the other hand, it's rated waterproof for living by the water, not living in the water. She glances across the Grove at Hannah, sees she's in a trump call, and deduces from the rest of what Lark said who she must be talking to. "You'll probably want to leave Swanhilde with your uncle Gerard for safekeeping, so she doesn't get all wet."

She looks at Martin and asks with a tilt of her head whether they should follow Lark back in Hannah's direction.

"Let's do that," Martin says, nodding once, and taking Lark's hand in lieu of scooping her up since she is, after all, carrying the baby. He gestures to Garrett to join them as he walks across.


Corwin takes the call without demur, but there's a clear impatience in his mind. "Who is it? And what's going on?" He's not paying the kind of attention that it takes to hide where he is, which is at the port in the city below.

"It's Garrett," the young prince answers immediately. "I'm up at the grove with Martin and others. We just got word that a Moonrider attack is imminent at the steps to Tir. Have you heard from anyone in Paris?"

Corwin shakes his head and it's almost like he said no through the connection. "We're gathering the defenses of the city in case they break through and attempt to sack it. Who's in charge where you are?"

Meanwhile, Lark's parents have called for her, but once they hear that she's going to Hannah, they go back to what they're doing.

"Martin is in charge here at the Grove. Most of the rest are either at the stairs or going there, so I reckon Jerod or Brennan is in charge there," Garrett explains. "I know they were looking to get Edan's knights up here for support. Are they part of the city guard, at this point?"

"We're conscripting anyone who can take up arms. The carnage during the sack of Amber was terrible; we've got too many undefended civilians here." Corwin's usually more reserved during trump contacts and in life; this is probably the first time Garrett has seen or felt one of his Uncles this upset. "Do you know where Bleys is? Is he with Fiona?"

Oddly, Corwin's agitation helps to resolve the nerves that had been swirling in Garrett's stomach since he first heard of the impending attack. It reminds him of Donovan's demeanor in the hours before the Sundering, and it steadies him. He nods once as Corwin speaks about the defense of the city, then answers in a solid voice, "Last I knew, Bleys was in the city. I haven't seen him since the dance. Fiona was with the King, trying to break the spell he was under. Did you hear about that?"

"Yes," Corwin says. "We have to deal with the immediate Moonrider threat first, though. I know he's your father, but if Fiona, with or without Bleys, can't solve it, it's over your head and Martin's. You have to stay safe through all this. Try to keep your brother from doing anything too risky." His tone and the sense coming through the Trump connection make that an order.

Garrett's lip twitches at the thought of keeping Martin from doing anything he sets his mind to, but he stills it and replies seriously, "I understand, Uncle. Martin said much the same himself, except he thought the two of us should split up. I don't know if he meant within Xanadu or to different realms entirely. That's why I asked about Paris."

"You're welcome in Paris," says Corwin, "either or both of you, and anyone else who needs that refuge. It's how you get there that's the problem."

While Corwin is speaking, Fletcher announces, "Benedict is engaged in Avalon and suggests all reinforcements be deployed in Xanadu while he will hold Avalon against what he is certain is only a secondary force."

Seconds later, Edan moves past Garrett and picks up the cage and zombie head on the way. Not wanting to interrupt the Trump conversation, he merely jerks his head in Martin's direction and then gestures to Garrett for good luck, or some kind of benediction.

And Martin and Folly have Lark in hand and are going to Hannah, with Fletcher moving to intercept. Martin gestures to Garrett to join them.

"Thank you, Uncle," Garrett says. He looks away briefly as he takes in Fletcher's message and Edan's activity. He nods at Martin.

"We just had word that Benedict is engaged in Avalon and wants reinforcements sent to Xanadu. He feels he's fighting a secondary force," Garrett reports. "You're likely to get busier soon and people are starting to move here as well. Good luck, Uncle. Is there anything else?"

"Nothing for now," says Corwin, "but contact me if you need me. And tell everyone there that Paris is open as a refuge. Including," he says, and Garrett can feel a bit of tooth-gritting emotion through the contact, "Solange."

"I will. Thank you, Uncle," Garrett replies, and ends the contact.


Hannah focuses back on Gerard. "Solange didn't bring Kyril with her, did she? I'm ready to start taking anything and anyone you have to give me. Anything we can use for triage flags, too."

"Kyril's fetching bandages and medical supplies for me so I can pass them through to you," Gerard explains. "I sent Scamp along to make sure everything is sent straight here. I've got some things I keep here packaged up for you." He reaches for what looks like a medical case to Hannah and moves to pass it through. "Triage flags I'll have to come up with something for."

While Gerard is talking, Fletcher announces, "Benedict is engaged in Avalon and suggests all reinforcements be deployed in Xanadu while he will hold Avalon against what he is certain is only a secondary force."

Hannah repeats what Fletcher just said verbatim as soon as Gerard finishes so she doesn't lose the words. She takes the go-bag Gerard has ready with a grin. "Triage flags, throw me 3 or 4 colors of dresses or shirts and we'll make do, or even paint, and I'll take anyone fourteen and older who is willing to drag screaming warriors and dead ones around, or who can sew... You don't think Moonriders will have guns, do you?"

"I hope not," Gerard says, sounding horrified. "I think they're committed to honor and single combat and the like." He turns to speak to someone not in the contact. "Get me a couple of dresses from the lady Corvis' wardrobe. Older ones, the red and the yellow," he tells someone.

"Well," she tells Gerard, "I've got Folly coming over with Lark, and Fletcher, who was talking to Benedict. It looks like Solange is with Signy. I daresay they'll be following on Edan's heels. Is there any reason you know I shouldn't use water from the spring here at the grove to clean wounds? It's not actually... special or corrupt in any way, is it?"

"I've not been there, but so far as I know, no. If it's a sacred place, and it may be, I'd say keep blood from the spring, but you know that already," Gerard says. "But by the same token, it should be good for infected wounds and the like if the Unicorn has blessed it."

"It feels sacred to me, but that could be my state of mind, wishful thinking, or recent blood loss talking. It's an easy enough thing to test." She glances back at the water, over at the cousins who are coming, and with a sigh back and Gerard. "I did just coat Edan in it, on some level. I like the notion." She holds an arm out for dresses. "If you see Brij around, she'll be good for helping triage. We touched, very briefly I think, on mass-casualty events." This last she notes quietly as the child is getting closer.

Folly is talking quietly to Lark while the men confer, so they have a moment.

"I'll send for her as well," Gerard says. "And I don't doubt it's sacred if it's the counterpart to the Grove-- ah," he says. "Kyril's here. Let me hand him through."

Hannah reaches for Kyril's hand with a bit of a self-conscious smile. "Doctor," she acknowledges. She gives his hand a squeeze she means to be reassuring. "We're working from scratch, maybe in sacred space, don't get blood in the spring but the spring may be good for disinfecting. I thought we'd triage by color. We can talk levels in just a minute. I hope." She glances briefly at the other folks.

Kyril steps through and looks a little relieved that he's not stepping into a battlefield. His eyes narrow as he sees the other group, and Solange bounds up to it from her own arrival by Trump.

"Uncle, a gross of morphine and needles wouldn't go amiss either," she adds to Gerard. She sighs and shifts uncomfortably. "I'm going to have to feed the baby before he comes through or we're both going to be put out. Have you ever had a baby in a trump contact? Should I be keeping him out of them as much as possible?"

"I never have, and certainly not an infant without his mother," Gerard says. "Ar far as I know the prohibition's only against making Trumps of children, not against walking them through it. Remember we've never had so many children as there are now, and certainly no small ones about." In the contact, Hannah can sense his worries and the concerns he's had about children being exposed to his brothers and sisters.

Hannah lets her feelings reflect his back and more. "Yes, it concerns me what effects it has on brain development, and he's already been through one today, though with me. Not counting pre-birth trump transportation. Right now everything is elasticus but I'd rather not experiment on him. I will nail down more things here, and feed this child, and you can pile up more stock and I'll call you, again, when there is less of a crowd and things settle, or when it's a dire emergency. Maybe you'll hear something I haven't between time."

Gerard agrees and she releases the contact.

Noticing Lark is talking to her mama, Hannah turn to Kyril before the groups merge. "Kyril, I hate asking you to do this. Will you be ok? Do I need to assign you a minder in case it's too much?" she asks quietly enough that no one else will hear. She quirks a smile. "Try to answer without pride. I, myself, expect to give out at some point. It's already been a long day."

"You shouldn't be doing this, not fresh from childbed," Kyril opines, clearly irritated that she does. "But we do what we have to. I'm at least fresh and rested. As for me, this isn't my first rodeo. I didn't get my stars at headquarters."

Kyril looks at Hannah and realizes he's lapsed into the customary speech of his own home and she's probably not entirely with him. "I was with a mobile hospital unit during a war," he explains. "Not swords and pikes, though, just guns and artillery. The injuries are different but the principles are similar. I'll be all right. You tap out if you need to and I'll take charge. Do we even know what we're expecting?"

She shakes her head. "Hoping for swords and pikes, but," she shrugs, and winces, "magical injuries too, and I have never dealt with those in the physical world. Truth be told, I'd rather be on my comfortable chaise greeting well-wishers between feedings and naps. But I got to bathe and I feel good for now. If we have to wait for action, I'm going to nap."


When Fletcher releases the contact, he sees that Solange has joined them, presumably through a Trump, and Signy and Garrett are still engaged in conversations through their own Trumps. Edan is talking to Martin and Folly. Hannah is also in a Trump conversation and Lark has the baby strapped to her.

Fletcher clears his throat as he puts the trump away. He announces to the group at large, "Benedict is engaged in Avalon and suggests all reinforcements be deployed in Xanadu while he will hold Avalon against what he is certain is only a secondary force."

Lark has the baby bound to her body and is running to her parents; Martin and Folly are talking to Edan and Fletcher thinks Martin is giving Edan instructions; Hannah and Garrett are still engrossed in their Trump conversations. The box of zombie head is with Garrett and is occasionally rattling. Signy is also still engrossed in her con versation but another armored figure, a woman (Solange, if Fletcher knows her on sight) has stepped through.

Fletcher walks over to Martin, Folly and Edan, not intending to interrupt the Prince.

Edan breaks off, gets the head from Garrett, and heads off. Martin and Folly (and Lark, now) are moving to join Hannah. They gesture to Garrett to join them.

Fletcher looks from Martin to Folly to Lark and back to Martin. "As I suspected, Dad's already pinned down fighting. He says he'll hold, and that he's just facing a distraction. The big show is in Xanadu. What've we got to stand against them?"

"Sounds like the Castle and the City are being raised, but we have family at the steps to hold the lines and a force of Rangers. This is going to be a staging point and triage for the wounded. It's not defensible--" which Martin clearly doesn't like "--but Folly and the children will be evacuating and one way or the other they'll be safe. The action's going to be at the steps." He gestures to the remaining horses as if to suggest that that may be Fletcher's route to the action.

Having finished his trump call, Garrett trots over to catch up with the rest of the group. "So Edan has the head now?" he asks in confirmation. He's not complaining.

"Yeah, he's getting rid of it," Martin says, "since our original plan isn't working. And I have a job for you, Garrett, since we need to separate. Did anyone talk to Julian?"

Martin says, "He's got it. Or has already destroyed it. One of the two." Before he can elaborate, Solange bounds up, in armor and with a shield and blade.

She says, "Dad is sending supplies and I'm here to defend the wounded, if there are any, or go to the fight."

Martin nods once, and says, "Good. We may need you." Then he turns back to Garrett and says, "We can't both be on the field, and we have to get Folly and Lark away from here. Will you take them to Rebma until this is over?"

Fletcher spares enough attention to follow the Prince's plans, while he silently runs through Pattern mnemonics as a warm up for the action to come.

Garrett seems slightly surprised at the direction, but nods once. "I can do that," he assents. "Corwin offered Paris as refuge as well, but said it might be tough to get there with no trump users on the other end. He is in the city now handling the defense of Xanadu.

"I've never been to Rebma," Garrett continues. "What should I know?"

"Keep your Trumps and any paper goods in a watertight pouch, be sure to chew with your mouth closed, and use a thrusting weapon--spear or trident--if you get into combat instead of a slashing weapon. Trust Celina and Llewella and nobody else in the way of natives. Also the women are all going to want you to sire their children and I assume you don't need the rest of that lecture. All right?" Martin asks.

Solange is carefully not saying anything.

"Right," Garrett replies with a grimace of discomfort. "And what about Lark? Should we be watching for..." Another grimace, "...complications...from the other side of your family?"

Martin frowns. "I don't know where they are. The other side of the family, I mean. I think Celina took Valeria back with her; she's Jerod's sister on his mother's side so she's my cousin that way too. The rest are either out of Rebma or too distant to worry about specifically. Lark is going to be under Celina's protection, ideally, so you'll have to invoke her name. You're young and a man, so even with Amber blood, you're second class. Plus Folly will be there to watch out for her."

Folly, meanwhile, is kneeling, has her eyes closed and her palm flat against the ground. Lark runs back over to where Hannah and Kyril are talking and he's starting to put up a tent.

At the mention of Folly, Garrett glances in her direction in time to see her make a fist with her free hand, her other hand still on the ground. "What's she doing?" Garrett says, frowning quizzically.

"Hush," says Martin, quietly, but not fussed, and holds up his hand the way he would if distracted by a Trump contact.

To Fletcher, who is attuned to the Pattern in the old way, she's clearly doing something, or trying to do something, but it's not clear what. She might be being subtle or what she's doing isn't directed at him.

Garrett doesn't have the senses that Fletcher has and he's not using the Pattern actively or passively, but he doesn't feel like there's anything wrong with what Folly's doing. If he had to say one way or the other, in fact, Garrett would say it was something good or right.

Solange has stepped away to go to Kyril but either Martin's gesture has clued her in or Folly's has, because she falls silent too.


While Martin is talking, Folly begins carefully undoing Swanhilde's clasps and working the dress off her child and out from under the sling without, she hopes, disturbing the baby. As she leans in close to Lark, she asks, "What did you want to tell me?"

"Mama, I think Granda Syd is calling you," she whispers.

Under her breath, Folly mutters a word or two she's told Lark they're not supposed to say in polite company. Then, quietly, she says, "I think you're right -- but he's trapped somehow and I haven't figured out yet how to get to him. Do you have any ideas? Where do you hear him calling?"

"He's not here," Lark explains, "but I can hear him. You can find him."

Folly finishes extricating her daughter from the swan dress and kisses her forehead. "I'm going to listen for a minute, okay?" She carefully does not look in the direction of Martin or Garrett.

Still kneeling, she makes sure Lark and the baby are okay and then closes her eyes. At first all she can hear is the roar of her own blood, suddenly too hot for her body. She takes a deep breath, blows it out, and presses her palm lightly to the ground like she's feeling -- listening -- for its heartbeat. His heartbeat.

Folly presses her hand to the bedrock, near the still, clear pool. It's a musician's exercise. Filter out all the sounds but the one she's listening for. It was how engineers and producers heard what was there and sometimes heard the holes in the sound that something needed to fill.

Folly stopped listening to the conversation, the light murmur of the surrounding wood, and the voices of her family, urgently preparing for war. Lastly, she filtered out her own heartbeat, so she could hear the world.

Nothing... nothing... Folly almost gives up when she hears, faintly... something?

It was like a heartbeat. But fast, and the rhythm was wrong. Short-long-short-long, short-long-short-long, short-long-short-long. Getting closer.

Not heartbeats. Hoofbeats.

Folly raises her other hand so it will be visible to Martin, and snaps the fingers shut into a fist -- a musician's cutoff, a signal for immediate silence. She opens her eyes and peers in the direction of the approaching hoofbeats but is otherwise motionless, still kneeling on the ground.


Hannah waves to Lark and tries to motion her over.

Lark is watching her mother do something, possibly magical. Folly's kneeling and has her eyes closed and one hand pressed against the ground, palm-down. Lark looks at Hannah, looks at Folly, and makes a decision to come to Hannah.

"I'm hoping one of these bundles is a tent. The dresses are for triage: red for intense injuries treatable in only for a short window; yellow for intense but has a few hours, bells... Looks like we've got white underskirts..." She'll take a moment with Kyril to work out levels and plan where they'll stage each section.

Kyril finds the tent in the packages and starts to set it up while they discuss what will be needed. This is something he clearly knows how to do on his own so he lets Hannah rest. It seems to Hannah like he's channelling his restless energy that way.

"Mama is trying to talk to Granda Syd. I may have to go help her," Lark explains.

"She's talking to the earth, because the King is the land? I might be able to help too. Just..." Hannah reaches out to slip her tiger off Lark and unceremoniously puts the baby to breast. She lets her jacket protect the men's modestly, to the extent it does, anyway. She leads Lark back over by Folly, quietly and carefully, and sits in silence a few yards away. She doesn't say or do anything, but wants to be close if Folly needs her, or if Lark tries something dangerous. She does re-sling the baby, and moves him across as soon as she cleanly can. She wants her hands free.

Kyril continues working and Solange joins him. They're both silent, as is the other group in the grove.


The grove stills; even Lark and the baby become unnaturally silent. The wind does not move the grass or trees and the horses are still as well.

Folly tries to isolate and choose a direction from which the sound comes, but it's hard with such a low sound transmitted by the ground. After a moment when Folly isn't sure if she was hearing her own heartbeat, she hears it with her ears.

Everyone does. Louder, louder, louder, the sound of the hoofbeats come. Like a spell, no one speaks as the sound overwhelms the grove.

She appears, silhouetted in a beam of moonlight, a graceful white creature suddenly on the rock above the pool. Her horn glistens like a pearl, and her coat was delicate and wild around her hooves and mane and tail.

Martin draws his blade. He steps to the edge of the group toward Her and goes to one knee, with his blade point resting on the ground.

She leaps, and no equine creature has ever been as lithe and athletic as the family patron and, if rumor was true, ancestress. She lands lightly, just beyond the edge of the pool. As quickly as she arrived, she is gone, a flash of white heading in the same direction as the forces gathered at the stair.

Those who have seen the unicorn before know the feeling of loss at her departure, and the sense of being allowed to breathe again. Those who have seen her for the first time experience those things for the first time.

Folly rises slowly, still listening intently and following her instincts. She walks in the direction the unicorn seems to lead, seemingly oblivious to everyone else gathered nearby.


Hannah sighs, and her small smile is the kind one wears after sending her lover off to war. She brings the baby round so she can look at him. She whispers, "Born on Battle's Eve, Comes to see the Unicorn. You are having a momentous day you will never remember. That was your mother's mother's father's mother, and your father's father's father's mother. Welcome to the tanglewood." She gently resettles the baby and clothing to the other side.

She looks over at Lark. "Is that the first time you've seen her?" Hannah asks. "It's always sad when she leaves."

Lark is crying, but not noisily. Just leaking tears. She takes Hannah's hand, because Hannah is right here and her mother is still apparently busy.

Hannah pulls on Lark's hand and will welcome her under her free arm if she'll come. "She came to get me, back where I was born. She brought me to Amber to heal her Gryffon. His name is Wixer. He is so beautiful. He has purple feathers, but he's also complicated, the way Gryffons are..." Hannah will happily finish getting the baby fed and tell Lark the story of meeting Wixer and splinting his leg to distract Lark from sadness and the adults doing the planning. If she need go on awhile, she'll go into Brita and how Brita smells family and other things and how Brita is a water goddess of her world... and will whole cloth make up stories about Brita and water cleansing adventures.

Lark listens intently to the story of Wixer for a while.


Garrett, mesmerized, goes to his knees in the spot where he had been standing. His hands rest limp in his lap. "Wow," is all he can breathe, his mouth dry. He gazes after the most beautiful creature he has ever seen, unable to take his eyes from where she departed, though he knows she will not return.

Martin is coming to his feet too. "I feel like I ought to wait to send you on but I don't want you to get stuck here and have to make a hard decision," he tells Garrett. "Do you want to wait and chance it, or do you want to go on ahead with Lark, if not Folly?"

Fletcher looks up from his meditation and for a moment there is a faint glow around his lapel pin and along the blade of his drawn sword. He makes what might be an ancient gesture of prayer and, still looking at the path taken by the Unicorn, he moves to stand by Martin. He might seem taller. He might not be slouching. He says, "Time to go where we're needed, your highness."

Garrett rises as well and walks over next to Martin. "I don't want Lark in the middle if things blow up," Garrett says firmly. He pauses though, watching Folly for a moment to see where she might be going.

She pauses at the edge of the pool, still listening, and toes off her boots so she can feel the earth and its vibrations through the soles of her feet. Then, in bare feet and a psychedelic-patterned tunic dress, under the light of a few-days-past-full moon, she walks into the trees following the path of a unicorn like the blacklight poster of which all others are but shadows.

Her senses and her intuition are open to anything that might be an answer to her question, the one she hopes the unicorn came to help her solve.

The Unicorn is gone, and though Folly's senses are open, she can't sense anything specific. Folly can follow Her towards the stair, but Folly is not as fast as a heraldic beast.

"I'll take her to Rebma myself if need be," he says more softly, leaning in closer to Martin so his voice doesn't disturb Folly. "Unless you think I should wait for..." he nods in Folly's direction.

"I think you should go. Folly's got too many things to do. I'll catch up with you when I can--I think my original plan just got derailed." Martin turns to Fletcher. "You go on with Folly, please, and one or more of us will catch up, I need to confer with our healers and physicians."

Next Martin looks round to the rest of the group. "Time to decide whether we're going or staying. I'm not convinced there's going to be a battle now. Or it's already happened and we're just waiting for the fallout."

Lark looks at Hannah for instructions, since her mother has clearly headed off on other business and Martin seems to be looking to Hannah and the others for some sort of decision.

Hannah gets herself up and smiles reassuringly at Lark. She glances at Kyril and with half a shrug turns back to Martin. "Preparing for battle wounded is not a wasted exercise, battle or no battle. We need the walk-through. I'd like to see the children in a defensive structure though. Gerard has offered to take them. He's waiting for me to call back. I'm waiting to find out if Lark is going too." Hannah grins down at her not quite dressed relative and attempts to smooth Lark's hair back out of her face.

"Gerard is a good choice, but he's still _here_. And so are they," Garrett says to Hannah, hoping that she'll get his meaning without having to get more specific around the young ears. "Martin wants Lark farther away."

He turns to his niece and grins. "What d'ya say, kiddo? Feel like goin' swimmin'?"

Lark starts to strip off on the spot. "Yes, Uncle Garrett!"

"Whoa!" Garrett commands, as if reprimanding a fractious pony. "Clothes on until we get to Rebma," he adds with a quirky smile.

"Ah," Hannah nods. She looks between Garrett and Martin and then glances at Lark and smiles like she can't help herself. "Well, then, I guess it's going to be the boys club up in there. Unless either of you have a deep suspicion that it's a dangerous idea for the baby to be up there." Her smile slips away.

"Nothing is perfectly safe," Martin says, "but the threat of the castle to my child is still different to the threat to yours, no offense, Hannah. Solange, can you take charge of the Trumping necessary? I need to make sure my wife doesn't do something crazy."

"I've got it," Solange replies. "And Hannah, if you need to go to Rebma, we'll arrange things so you can come back."

"Nope. Staying here. And damn all, this baby is staying with me. I just can't bear to hand him off yet. I hope Gerard managed to get the baby things." Hannah takes a breath. "Does anyone need anything from Gerard? Last chance!" Hannah calls to the remaining group.

"Yeah," Garrett answers Hannah. "Does he have anything that will keep trumps dry in Rebma?"

Fletcher strides to Folly's side by the pool.

He turns at Garret's words, and says, "Oh yeah. You probably want this back." He flings the Garrett-provide trump of Benedict so that it flits through the air to Garrett. He's still not admitting he has his own trump of Benedict, so he turns to Folly and asks, "Shall we run off into the woods? I suspect the path is uphill and ends in Stairs."


The head bumps against the inside of the metal chest. Edan looks down on it with disgust; Death really was his least favorite Principle. It took away all the respect the dead deserved, and Death magic got very messy very fast. Case in point...he nudges the cage with a slippered foot and is rewarded with more movement and a low growl.

But the damage was already done here. The spell was cast, the head was literally in the basket. It had a use. And ever since Edan had heard of the Moonriders coming, he had been searching, searching for some sorcery that would be effective and yet a surprise to the Enemy. This was as good a weapon as any. Besides, Martin had said incinerate the head, he hadn't mentioned just exactly how it was to be done...

And so, the head-prison sits at the center of a magic Circle, far away from the Unicorn's Grove, the symbols of the Circle drawn with Edan's own burning hands. Aramsham stands close by with a charm of peace upon him; this would be a new glamour for his mount. The last time Edan had made something like this, he had walked the smoke on his own...

A ghuul head was a perversion of the Principle of Death. Death magic was still there, though, swirling around and through this thing. Edan hated Death, but one had to admit, it was quite effective. So he chants and casts. The cage is suddenly engulfed in flame, first golden and then black. Black smoke is everywhere, thick and cloying. The ghuul head was practically ash, the cage ruined, but the power was still in the fire and the smoke. He croons to it, gestures to it. His throat hurts from the song he sings. Under his painted skin, as frightening as the stuff he dances with, Edan's focus is pure. Darkly luminous firelight reflects off him. And as the head gives up the last of its foul animation, he draws the black fire and smoke to him and to Aramsham. It becomes their armor, their ward, Hannah's protective paint visible underneath. A cuirass, a helmet, greaves, leggings, boots...a full set of armor settles around him, and his swords are now smoky and black. Their touch was death. Barding settles the same way around Aramsham, and his horse is now dark and fierce and silent. Edan mounts then, and they charges out into the air, galloping on a trail of black smoke and flame, and he turns them towards the Stair. The incinerated remains of the head and cage mock them as they pass.


Jerod, Robin, and Ossian and the rest of the advance party spreads out to take forward positions near the edge of the forest or a bit into it. Regenlief spends her time going between ranger positions, helping them find the best defensive position in their immediate area, teaches how to use a boar spear against a horse, and other useful and bloody tactics. She is sorry they don't have any children to cut the throats of the wounded, but it can't be helped. She plans on returning once she's satisfied that she'd done what she can for the forward units.

Merlin holds up his hand and pulls out a sketch of Marius. He speaks to him for a moment. "He can gather the troops, cousin, but he and I are both worried about concentrating them here. We might not win a race down the mountain against a troop of Moonriders, and they could do much damage to the fledgling city if we do not leave it protected. Jones Falls is on the mind of many this evening, and they sacked Amber for three days before our fathers could drive them out of the city and into the trap at the pass, and we have no such trap set at this point."

It's Robin, with her Ranger skills and years of experience, who first hears the first sounds of riders in the woods.

The night, which is as cold as sultry Xanadu ever gets, suddenly becomes much colder.

Robin's ears perk up and she points with her spear. "Riders." Tilting her head, she Listens for as much information as she can; number, speed, direction, etc.

"His call," Brennan says to Merlin, quietly, and then nothing more so as not to distract Robin. It might be too late, anyway.

Brennan has several things on his mind, not least of which is that if Robin is hearing riders in the woods, and Merlin is convinced the Moonriders are coming down the stairs, and Brennan takes both of them seriously, then that's a worrisome puzzle. Candidate solutions flicker through his mind:

Solution one-- The riders are reinforcements, possibly Edan's order, or perhaps some of Bleys' allies.

Solution two-- Merlin is wrong and they want to go up the stairs.

Solution three-- Robin is hearing a time trick from Moonriders that aren't there yet.

Solution four-- Robin and Merlin are both right, and the Moonriders remember Jones Falls, too.

Solution five-- The unknown.

The only immediately useful thing Brennan can do is to bring up the passive-only Third Eye if he can do so without being blinded by Conner's blade, scan the treeline quickly, and then up where the Stair might appear.

Vere remains alert and ready, concentrating on the Pattern in his mind.

Raven is likewise prepared. Her gaze is constantly moving - up, down, around, behind - looking for trouble.

Brita is halfway between stairs and woods, lazily swinging the axe to warmup. Her eyes are half closed and she is angled into the wind to scent for enemies approaching...

Ossian moves closer to the woods. He figures he will do more damage if he stays hidden until the riders show up, so he tries to find some kind of hiding place. He also brings up the Pattern in his mind.

Lilly moves with quiet grace to the foot of the stair, weapon drawn, eyes blazing. Defend the sorcerers, she reminds herself. Their skills may be needed.

Jerod remains oddly...patient. He seems to be waiting, expectant. He scans and listens and waits...and the cold that descends doesn't seem to bother him. Instead, he waits for the arrival of those from a kingdom where his sister died...

He has payment to extract.


The Rangers all align on Robin's spear direction, adjusting their formation silently.

Her fire-lizard friends all take to the air, staying silent. Robin notices them disappearing and re-appearing. They won't make easy targets.

Nearby, two rangers-- Totter and Cranny, signal that they will make a reconnaissance path. They look to Robin for approval or rejection of their plan.

The cold air causes a wet fog to start to rise, making concealment easier for both sides, and dampening sounds.

Robin cannot tell exactly how many, but it sounds as if there are at least a dozen, and they are approaching at a walk. If she's right about that number, they are highly disciplined.

Robin signals her agreement with Totter and Cranny's plan, but adds cadence for a real, big, bad enemy approaching - just, you know, in case the veteran rangers missed all of that 'Moonrider' talk.

"Look but don't touch," comes back the response

She also sends quick hand cadence to the other rangers -- and Brita -- splitting the force in two. Half with her for the incoming, half with Brita for the Stairway.

The Rangers adjust again, but only slightly. Brita's half call on Vere -- "Ranger Bookworm" to evaluate the threat of a sneak attack from the rear.

A quick hope is sent to Peep, Chirrup and Ooot that they let her know if something tries for an aerial or side attack.

The fire lizards are indignant at the thought of invaders of the nest, and they will burn their faces off.

Then, Robin very carefully Listens for which of her cousins are doing what with the Pattern.

Robin extends her pattern sense. This place seems... dreamlike in some ways. Almost self-enclosed, like a shadow of... nothing. Whatever that means. Her cousins are pulsing with the Pattern, as is Conner's sword, which seems as if it a piece of the grand design, written in steel. Robin extends her senses again and something odd impinges upon her.

She detects another piece of the pattern, a twin to Halosydne.

With the approaching enemy.

"Pattern incoming." Robin calls to her cousins. "Hunh. Sounds like... Halosydne." She wrinkles her nose in confusion.

Regardless, Robin infuses herself with the blood, lighting and song that is the Pattern. And though the temptation is strong to use Random's music in this place, Robin decides to bring the Primal Pattern to mind - the one she walked most recently, and the mother of them all.

Her plan, as much as she has one, is to get all spiky with it and see if she can't blow out this weird enclosed dream place... thing. Not subtle, but hopefully something that won't tangle with her cousins' workings.

Robin thinks that there are two places where things come to rest-- on top of a hill and in the bottom of a valley. The first is a precarious balance, where a thing could be tipped either direction and fall down one slope or another. The second is stable, because little disruptions return to the bottom quickly. This is like the latter. She can apply the pattern, as can her cousins, but this place only changes while she wills it, and even so, seems to resist.

It's very cold, and she can see the breath of the horses.

Cadence comes from the wood. 'Moon Riders'. It was the scariest bit of cadence any Rangers knew, because they all knew the story of how the moonriders had been named by Rangers before Jones Falls, and how many Rangers had been buried after.

Robin answers the Cadence with 'Spears ready' for the Rangers grouped near the stair. And 'trip wire possible?' to the scouts.

Robin also calls upon the Pattern running through her veins to see if she can't 'tip the direction of the valley floor' some in her and her cousins' favor. Mostly she wants to see if she can keep whatever 'things' the Moonriders are planning on from becoming too stable.

The cadence that comes back suggests they can't, but could circle arrier. It's a danger to pursuit. Yes/No?

Robin throws a quick burst of cadence back. Hold, Consolidate position.

"Riders of the Moon, hear me!" Conner's voice booms. "I am son of Slays-Like-Wind of Altamar! I will not be felled by arrows. I am of the line of Clarissa! Waste not your petty magics. If you want this land, you must come through me and test your might against the Paxblade. Who will be first?"

It's obvious a moment later why there's no time for a trip wire in front of the riders.

The vanguard of the moon riders appears at the edge of the forest, their leader holds up a hand. She takes off her helmet in a move that somehow looks as if it were flowing water, instead of the dull mechanisms of mere bodies. Her hair is long and blonde and she rides a horse that appears to have too many knees.

At her side in a simple hanger is a sword that catches the eyes of all who see it. It bears the imprint of the pattern. CCCC

"Greetings, son of Windslayer. Our fathers have met on many a battlefield. We would pass to the Land of Youth. I name myself 'First-to-the-Fray' and challenge you to single combat for the right to pass this point."

"Then I name myself 'Defender-of-the-Stairs'," Conner announces, "but before we talk of challenges, we should complete the introductions." Conner salutes her with his sword. "Halosydne, Pattern Blade of Rebma."

First-to-the-Fray pulls her sword from its hangar, and it's as if she had poured it into her hand. The heavy blade looks as if it has always been there, and that it will do her bidding with ease. "Her name now, is Tiz, the Firebrand, but of old the sword was named The Flamberge or cutter of flame. They say no man or woman can lie or flee while Tiz is at their throat.

"This is not Rebma's fight, unless you make it so. Do you accept my terms?"

Brita flows with the watery mists to her brothers side. "I, Brita - Daughter of Asgard, Creator of Clear Waters - Will Stand as Second to Defender-of-The-Stairs...If Needed." She says the latter to Conner with a slight bow.

An unhappy tick sounds in Robin's throat at all of the sudden posturing. She'd rather fight. Or talk. That would work too. Otherwise, she just keeps working on her 'tilting the world her way' Pattern nudges.


Vere stands on the cliffside as the moon rises. It's difficult to concentrate between the rising fog, the knowledge that Robin is on the front line, and the near silence of the forest. The Rangers use hand-signals and Vere works to interpret those. He thinks the Rangers here will need a lot of combat support. Individually, they are unlikely to measure up to Moonriders.

When Brennan makes his hand gestures Vere frowns and looks in the direction indicated, carefully opening his third eye.

Vere hears the rangers talking. Cadence is precise, but limited, which is linguistically fascinating. Vere wonders how it compares to early language development used to coordinate hunting parties.

They discuss who will scout the woods, and a new Ranger replies warning them to beware of a rear attack. Another calls out with Vere's personal identifier and asks him to check the rear-guard.

Vere acknowledges the request and turns his attention in that direction.

Vere sees, with his third eye, a figure standing where the stairs would be. She's beside a horse, and she moves as if she's made of water. Though the distance is large, he can tell certain things instinctively. The third eye did not distinguish between men and women, but Vere knew which she was.

She looks as if she is drawing a bow, and firing it at them.

"Shooter!" Vere calls out, pointing to where the ghostly figure stands.

Conner hears and acts and stops the arrow, and the shooter is no longer there, and it seems as if she was never there. Vere no longer sees her with any kind of vision.

"Riders of the Moon, hear me!" Conner's voice booms. "I am son of Slays-Like-Wind of Altamar! I will not be felled by arrows. I am of the line of Clarissa! Waste not your petty magics. If you want this land, you must come through me and test your might against the Paxblade. Who will be first?"

The vanguard of the moon riders appears at the edge of the forest, their leader holds up a hand. She takes off her helmet in a move that somehow looks as if it were flowing water, instead of the dull mechanisms of mere bodies. Her hair is long and blonde and she rides a horse that appears to have too many knees.

At her side in a simple hanger is a sword that catches the eyes of all who see it. It bears the imprint of the pattern and shows to his third eye the same as Halosydne or Greyswandir.

"Greetings, son of Windslayer. Our fathers have met on many a battlefield. We would pass to the Land of Youth. I name myself 'First-to-the-Fray' and challenge you to single combat for the right to pass this point."


Lilly moves with quiet grace to the foot of the stair, weapon drawn, eyes blazing. Defend the sorcerers, she reminds herself. Their skills may be needed.

The fog rises slightly, making the woods and things not very far into them indistinct. Her sorcerers seem safe, for the moment, but she feels the tension of imminent battle in her cousins and the Rangers.

Lilly closes her eyes. In these conditions, sight could very well be a distraction. Instead she listens and feels. A change in the noises around her will be far more indicative of the direction of the initial clash.

Lilly's instincts and her ears tell her it's too soon to commit to any particular strike, and that enemy is experienced and smart and looking for them to give away their advantages by making a premature move.

Near her, Brennan stands making bizarre magician hand gestures at the other redheads.

The woman relaxes her stance, falling into a posture of ease. "It is not yet time," Lilly says softly to no one in particular. She hopes the others take note of her patience.

Lilly hears an arrow coming towards Brennan, but Conner seems to have it under control.


The only immediately useful thing Brennan can do is to bring up the passive-only Third Eye if he can do so without being blinded by Conner's blade, scan the treeline quickly, and then up where the Stair might appear.

Brennan avoids looking at Conner's blade. The forest is a hive of vibrant life, and the people nearest him are the realest he's seen. They should be; they are his cousins.

When Brennan looks up to where the stair should appear, he sees a dozen or more riders slowly descending, wearing armor not unlike that of Bleys and Fiona at the battle in Chaos, and riding horses caprisoned for war.

There are no steps, just riders riding down steps that are not there. They are facing up the nonexistent stairs, but moving downwards. They are too far away to hear, yet.

Brennan stares at that in captivated confusion for a long moment. They've reversed cause and effect? No, the way they're moving is more like they've reversed the effects that flow from the causes... but how deep can that go? There has to be some selectivity to it... and Brennan still can't shake the nagging idea that what he's seeing is in some way connected to what Robin hears. There's a dreamlike logic to it, somewhere, that Brennan's mind wants to worry over, understand, subvert, and sweep aside....

He shakes his head, almost violently. No. Do something. Something useful and practical, he resolves.

Brennan raises a hand for the attention of his immediate companions; touches three fingers (he hopes the Sorcerers in the group will note) to his brow and points up along where the stairs should be; then points to his ears, shakes his head, and gives an exaggerated shrug. There's no way to convey to the non-Sorcerers in the group how odd their motions are. He doesn't try. But he repeats the sequence of gestures a second time.

Then he tries to expand his Third Eye sight, rather consciously, into the auditory domain to see if he can hear their hoofbeats and if so from what direction. And he strains to see-- visibly, expecting perhaps a silver cord phenomenon-- if these descending riders are connected to anything or anyone else.

Brennan might not hear them at this distance anyway, so he's not sure if it works. He still hears the generic "whooshing" sound that he's always heard when using his third eye, but now... perhaps it's a side effect of how he perceives the vision needing to sound. It seems... ignorable. But he doesn't hear anything distinctive. He may have to work more at his "third ear".

What he does see is that they stop and point at him, or at least at the base of the stairs. One, and Brennan can tell very little about him or her via his third eye, dismounts and seems to be stretching his or perhaps her arms apart. Almost as if they are aiming something at Brennan.

Aw, crap. Not much use keeping quiet now.

"We're spotted. Probably sorcery incoming," Brennan says.

He is ready to dodge something if the situation warrants it, but his primary defense is metaphysical: He brings the Pattern to mind, fills his and being with it, feels it weigh him down. But that isn't right, exactly-- he isn't weighed down, he weighs. He is weight. He is substance, solid, ice, freezing not frozen, resistant to change like all the space around him.

Brennan finds it easy to use pattern to slow the air and water further. It's as if he were cooperating with another pattern wielder in chilling things. He loses track of the actual sorcereress on the non-existent stair until Conner steps past him and uses his pattern-sword to bat down an arrow that was heading toward Brennan. In any case the attack has started, if only the portion where the other side tries to brush back the defenders.

Brennan idly picks up a buckler when Conner steps in front of him. He is armored with metal and Pattern and with good companions and so not overly concerned, and when it gets down to it he'll be fighting with a long spear and doesn't want something cumbersome.

Brennan idly hopes Conner is aware of his gratitude, but is too focused to say thanks.

Brennan idly wonders about that seeming collaboration effect... and then wonders less than idly. A Cousin is the likely source, but the Moonriders are described as Ordered as well as Sorcerous and they are all in uncharted territory, here. Brennan doesn't do much different than before. He is still concentrating on the Pattern with all of his considerable mental reserves, weighing himself down with it, letting it make him into an immovable and unchangeable object, and for lack of a better word an anchor for the locale to reality against the dream-like changes of the Moonriders.

But if he can, he tries to understand if he's interacting with another source of Order, and who or what or where that source is.

It becomes obvious as he's searching for it. They are lead by a pattern-sword-wielder.

"Riders of the Moon, hear me!" Conner's voice booms. "I am son of Slays-Like-Wind of Altamar! I will not be felled by arrows. I am of the line of Clarissa! Waste not your petty magics. If you want this land, you must come through me and test your might against the Paxblade. Who will be first?.

The vanguard of the moon riders appears at the edge of the forest, their leader holds up a hand. She takes off her helmet in a move that somehow looks as if it were flowing water, instead of the dull mechanisms of mere bodies. Her hair is long and blonde and she rides a horse that appears to have too many knees.

At her side in a simple hanger is a sword that catches the eyes of all who see it. It bears the imprint of the pattern and shows to his third eye the same as Halosydne or Greyswandir.

"Greetings, son of Windslayer. Our fathers have met on many a battlefield. We would pass to the Land of Youth. I name myself First-to-the-Fray' and challenge you to single combat for the right to pass this point."

"Then I name myself 'Defender-of-the-Stairs'," Conner announces, "but before we talk of challenges, we should complete the introductions. Conner salutes her with his sword. "Halosydne, Pattern Blade of Rebma."

First-to-the-Fray pulls her sword from its hangar, and it's as if she had poured it into her hand. The heavy blade looks as if it has always been there, and that it will do her bidding with ease. "Her name now, is Tizón, the Firebrand, but of old the sword was named The Flamberge or cutter of flame. They say no man or woman can lie or flee while Tizón is at their throat.

"This is not Rebma's fight, unless you make it so. Do you accept my terms?"

Well, that is all very troubling on any number of levels: A pattern blade of an unknown realm, reportedly-- admittedly, reported by the holder-- with power over truth, but mostly Brennan is no longer certain whether he was helping or hurting in his attempts at Pattern defense.

Still, they seem to be talking and not fighting, at least for the moment. It's probably safe to be a little more pro-active, metaphysically. But only a very little: he moves from the most vanilla application of Third Eye by extending it to a fuller application of Astral Sight. As before, even moreso, Brennan is careful not to look directly at either of the Pattern Blades, but instead uses Bleys' trick of treating the blades themselves as sources of Astral Lumination.

He has more than one purpose. The first is that he generally suspects some trick or illusion. It wasn't more than a watch ago he was remarking that the Moonriders played games with invisibility, so that's an issue. So is some deception of time, so he checks to make sure the moon hasn't already risen and that the stairs aren't really there yet.

The second is purely tactical: This is his best chance to observe them under Astral vision before fighting them and he very much wants to get as much a sense of the mechanics of their movement and relationship with time and space as he can.

And the third is personal: Does Brennan know this Moonrider? Was she at the Funeral or the ones he and Bleys met in the field?

But in general, Brennan is a naturally suspicious individual and beyond all that he simply looks for useful details, interesting observations, and things out of place.


Conner stands next to Brennan, Halosydne firmly held and shining as a beacon. The sword reflects moonlight that is not shining on it, somehow, but should be. Near the pattern blade, the fog does not spread, and the cold does not seem as abrupt.

Despite himself, Conner looks up to assure himself that there is not a moon in the sky where there wasn't before. He maintains his concentration on the Paxblade as if it were a Trump willing the Pattern within it and himself to hold firm and if possible spread the little island around him where Moonrider's changes do not hold sway.

Things... shimmer as Conner extends his pattern further from the stone steps. He's sure that something happened, but not what.

Conner frowns. This is too crucial a moment to have to play with unknown forces. Still, it can't be helped. Keeping concentration on whatever Pattern work he has conjured, Conner turns towards Brennan when he announces sorcery incoming. Hopefully his working will protect Brennan as well.

Conner steps towards Brennan, leans past him, and Halosydne snaps to a guard position, as if directed by a hand not his own. The silvery sword shines bright in the moonlight, and Conner is somehow not surprised when it strikes, and splits an arrow that was coming at him in two.

The move was not his own but Conner did not feel coerced. He simply trusted his dance partner to move them where they should be.

Still, they faced ranged attack without ready cover but dare not retreat from the stairs. Conner is the shining beacon or the brightly lit target. Either way, he aims to keep the attention on him so his cousins can do their work. For that he falls back on his weapon of choice, words.

"Riders of the Moon, hear me!" Conner's voice booms. "I am son of Slays-Like-Wind of Altamar! I will not be felled by arrows. I am of the line of Clarissa! Waste not your petty magics. If you want this land, you must come through me and test your might against the Paxblade. Who will be first?"

The vanguard of the moon riders appears at the edge of the forest, their leader holds up a hand. She takes off her helmet in a move that somehow looks as if it were flowing water, instead of the dull mechanisms of mere bodies. Her hair is long and blonde and she rides a horse that appears to have too many knees.

At her side in a simple hanger is a sword that catches the eyes of all who see it. It bears the imprint of the pattern and shows to his third eye the same as Halosydne or Greyswandir.

"Greetings, son of Windslayer. Our fathers have met on many a battlefield. We would pass to the Land of Youth. I name myself 'First-to-the-Fray' and challenge you to single combat for the right to pass this point."

In the back of his mind, Conner is satisfied that that stating his Altamar heritage provoked a reaction. Less satisfying was the thought of a duel with Pattern Blades. A twinge of phantom pain in his left arm reminds him of sparring with Corwin on the lawns of Paris. Little hope of love and lightness here.

"Then I name myself 'Defender-of-the-Stairs'," Conner announces, "but before we talk of challenges, we should complete the introductions. Conner salutes her with his sword. "Halosydne, Pattern Blade of Rebma."

First-to-the-Fray pulls her sword from its hangar, and it's as if she had poured it into her hand. The heavy blade looks as if it has always been there, and that it will do her bidding with ease. "Her name now, is Tizón, the Firebrand, but of old the sword was named The Flamberge or cutter of flame. They say no man or woman can lie or flee while Tizón is at their throat.

"This is not Rebma's fight, unless you make it so. Do you accept my terms?"


Raven finds herself in the situation of a Captain who knows her ship will eventually lose a stern chase. The fight is coming. The only thing that can be done is prepare for anything, which is to say prepare for what one expects and hope nothing different (and worse) happens.

Nothing to do but wait, then; Raven figured out a long time ago that you conserve what energy you can in moments like this, because they're going to last both too long and not long enough. As for preparation - well, you prepare what you can and hope that people cackling madly and blowing up towers isn't going to be a theme for the day.

When Brennan motions for attention, she watches the series of gestures - looking up to follow when he points - and frowns. If there's nothing for the non-sorcerer to see, the good Captain is opting for the time-honored technique of letting people who see things that no one else can see continue to watch those things until they're an actual problem, and she'll continue watching other directions for enemies approaching.

Raven isn't sure what she sees. It could be a bright star glinting through a gap in the cloud-cover. Or the moon. It's not nothing, but it's not anything threatening. That she can see.

Well, clearly there's something, going by what the others are doing. "Ain't seeing what you are," Raven warns.

That doesn't stop her from shifting to be prepared for whatever comes down after the sorcery.

Raven hears rather than sees what sounds like a whistling sound. She's not sure from where.

Fog, too many directions to guard, and unseen enemies: the kind of battle that comes in low on Raven's list of 'things to do again.' The others are acting like the threat's from above - well, and like a big damned target - and there's folks below to deal with anything coming from the other way, so she continues to keep her focus on guarding against whatever's going to happen when the sorcerers get bored.

"Riders of the Moon, hear me!" Conner's voice booms. "I am son of Slays-Like-Wind of Altamar! I will not be felled by arrows. I am of the line of Clarissa! Waste not your petty magics. If you want this land, you must come through me and test your might against the Paxblade. Who will be first?"

The vanguard of the moon riders appears at the edge of the forest, their leader holds up a hand. She takes off her helmet in a move that somehow looks as if it were flowing water, instead of the dull mechanisms of mere bodies. Her hair is long and blonde and she rides a horse that appears to have too many knees.

At her side in a simple hanger is a sword that catches the eyes of all who see it. It bears the imprint of the pattern.

"Greetings, son of Windslayer," she replies. "Our fathers have met on many a battlefield. We would pass to the Land of Youth. I name myself 'First-to-the-Fray' and challenge you to single combat for the right to pass this point."

Raven's opinion of people who think that battles are appropriately resolved by single combat - which can best be summed up as 'are you kidding me, who taught you to fight?' - is definitely reflected in her expression for a minute there. Then she looks down the line of stairway defenders to see what the appropriate action is here; she's looking for a cue as to what the rest of them are doing while her maybe-father tries to get himself killed.


Ossian moves closer to the woods. He figures he will do more damage if he stays hidden until the riders show up, so he tries to find someone kind of hiding place. He also brings up the Pattern in his mind.

The fog will be his friend: a good hiding place on a grassy sward that is otherwise more easily-defensible. But what can work for his opponents can also work in his favor, and Ossian can hide nearly anywhere he likes.

Ossian places himself close to a big rock. He does not want to be overrun by the horses.

Ossian finds himself a rock near the base of a tree. Regenlief comes over to him. "This is a good spot, perhaps the best on the field. Have you spent much time fighting mounted men or man-things with a boar spear? I can give you pointers if you would like."

Ossian grins. "Please do."

She nods, but does not grin. "The force of cavalry, of course, is the charge. A spear wall stops the charge because horses will not approach a barrier they think they cannot jump over. Some might, but the mass of the charge will fall apart, and then the cavalry tends to break up and lose their advantage." She goes on, telling him how to set a boar-spear to take a charge, how to set it in the ground by bracing it. Some pikemen lie along it, but that's an older style and doesn't let you react as fast.

"The most impressive move that can happen is if a horse does charge into your pike, it will start to lift it up. If you are strong enough, and I adjudge that you are, e'en if you do not look it, you can throw the horse, rider and all, over your pike.

"That usually discourages others."

Ossian tries a few moves with the spear. "I'll try that, but the two of us do not constitute a spear wall. But maybe we can blunt the charge from the woods if that is needed," Ossian says with a grin. He listens and looks toward the woods, waiting to see what's coming.

"But can we appear more than we are, through your sorcery?"

"Riders of the Moon, hear me!" Conner's voice booms. "I am son of Slays-Like-Wind of Altamar! I will not be felled by arrows. I am of the line of Clarissa! Waste not your petty magics. If you want this land, you must come through me and test your might against the Paxblade. Who will be first?.

The vanguard of the moon riders appears at the edge of the forest, their leader holds up a hand. She takes off her helmet in a move that somehow looks as if it were flowing water, instead of the dull mechanisms of mere bodies. Her hair is long and blonde and she rides a horse that appears to have too many knees.

At her side in a simple hanger is a sword that catches the eyes of all who see it. It bears the imprint of the pattern and appears to his third eye the same as Halosydne or Greyswandir.

"Greetings, son of Windslayer," she replies. "Our fathers have met on many a battlefield. We would pass to the Land of Youth. I name myself 'First-to-the-Fray' and challenge you to single combat for the right to pass this point."

"She is the daughter of the High Marshall, and quite a warrior," Regenleif whispers in his ear, approvingly.

"Then I name myself 'Defender-of-the-Stairs'," Conner announces, "but before we talk of challenges, we should complete the introductions. Conner salutes her with his sword. "Halosydne, Pattern Blade of Rebma."

First-to-the-Fray pulls her sword from its hangar, and it's as if she had poured it into her hand. The heavy blade looks as if it has always been there, and that it will do her bidding with ease. "Her name now, is Tizón, the Firebrand, but of old the sword was named The Flamberge or cutter of flame. They say no man or woman can lie or flee while Tizón is at their throat.

"This is not Rebma's fight, unless you make it so. Do you accept my terms?"

Ossian whispers, "I wonder if Conner is good enough for this. But he is cunning... Let's wait, and observe. This might be a distraction."

Regenlief whispers back. "I hope so. I would hate to get ready for battle and have it be spoiled by a parley." She's not really good at whispering.

While Ossian does keep an eye and ear on the upcoming duel, he also watched the other Moonriders, and for unseen Moonriders turning up in surprising places.


Jerod maintains his position, aware of where Robin points out the enemy. He's convinced there's less than a score of them, but not sure exactly how many.

The wet ground and the sudden chill bring a sound and vision dampening mist up. Jerod prepares for sight-lines to be short.

Jerod sinks lower to the ground, using a spear ready position to cover his forward approaches and keep himself harder to see. He can block, cut or lunge as needs be. The wet ground can serve to warn of approaches, the squish of earth and the ripple of mist. He opens his mouth just slightly, letting the pressure equalize to better his hearing.

Rage is patient, and so is Jerod.

The rangers shift their attention based on Robin's signals, and Jerod is well positioned to take on any rider who comes through along the axis that they are worried about. Jerod recalls Eric's stories about Moonriders. You have to kill them before they have a chance to not be killed.

Jerod waits, stilling his mind, deadening the rage. The desire to use Pattern, to do anything other than strike and fight, can be a detriment now. Death to the enemy must not be seen as forthcoming. It has to be immediate, without warning or understanding to the enemy. It cannot even be a surprise to them. It must be a moment beyond understanding, too quick to consider or formulate. For powers, he must rely on those behind him to do what they think is best. Anything that distracts Jerod from that, any emotion, any desire, will slow his reactions, give the Moonriders time to counter. Even revenge fades now. It no longer has a place in the moments to come.

Jerod waits longer. There is activity behind him, but he can count on his cousins to handle what would be a distraction. Jerod hears the Ranger cadence. It's one of the few phrases most people who lived in Amber know, 'Moon Riders'. It was used in folksongs and plays about Jones Falls until it was common knowledge.

They were right about who the enemy are.

And he waits... patiently. He listens, he watches... and waits.

"Riders of the Moon, hear me!" Conner's voice booms. "I am son of Slays-Like-Wind of Altamar! I will not be felled by arrows. I am of the line of Clarissa! Waste not your petty magics. If you want this land, you must come through me and test your might against the Paxblade. Who will be first?"

The vanguard of the moon riders appears at the edge of the forest, their leader holds up a hand. She takes off her helmet in a move that somehow looks as if it were flowing water, instead of the dull mechanisms of mere bodies. Her hair is long and blonde and she rides a horse that appears to have too many knees.

At her side in a simple hanger is a sword that catches the eyes of all who see it. It bears the imprint of the pattern. "Greetings, son of Windslayer. Our fathers have met on many a battlefield. We would pass to the Land of Youth. I name myself 'First-to-the-Fray' and challenge you to single combat for the right to pass this point."


Edan aims for the clifftop as quickly as possible, so as to avoid any effects the gathered cousins or Moonriders might have on his spell. He lands in a cloud of black smoke and black flame, dressed in black armor that appears almost smudged or painted on. Underneath is an intricate paint design of protection and fearsomeness, drawn in a different hand than his own art. He exudes darkness and death and emptiness. He draws swords, since that seems to be the going trend. It is hard to see the emotions on his face, but his head swivels to take in the Pattern sword standoff and the disposition of forces. Mostly, he's drawn to the new sword of power that's appeared on the field.


Brita is halfway between stairs and woods, lazily swinging the axe to warmup. Her eyes are half closed and she is angled into the wind to scent for enemies approaching.

Brita smells many things, fear amongst the Rangers, the comforting smell of Family, the smell of a forest in winter, the sea far below, the horses they brought, and ... something else. And coming from two directions. Brita thinks it may be the enemy. If it is, then they are being surrounded.

Brita gives a cadence call of 'fore and aft' before also calling out "Ware the Stair". She notes the rising mist and chill, both she is comfortable with from her time in Jutenheim with Grandmother Grid. She draws the damp closer to her, away from the forest and stair.

The Rangers react to her cadence. Ranger Bookworm, the cadence comes back, check the rear-guard.

The water moves to her, sluggishly. As if it's resisting, or impure. It's not quite freezing, but it is definitely colder than Xanadu should be.

Brita snorts slightly as if clearing a bad smell from her nose. She decides that the water must be purified. She brings the purity of the Pattern to her mind, drawing on its strong Order to remind the water at this high elevation of its pure source.

It's cold. High and pure and sluggish because it should be ice. It's like molten ice, it moves, without thawing and does so very slowly. It's like nothing Brita has ever encountered in water before.

The Rangers are reporting back. 'Moon Riders'. The Cadence is clear, and would be chilling, if the environment was not so cold. Everyone in Amber knew those beats of Cadence. They were part of many a folk tale and campfire warning.

Brita is calm and ready. She holds the Pattern in her mind, swirling the axe through the twists and turns of her Walk and scribing its Order on the wet air around her.

"Riders of the Moon, hear me!" Conner's voice booms. "I am son of Slays-Like-Wind of Altamar! I will not be felled by arrows. I am of the line of Clarissa! Waste not your petty magics. If you want this land, you must come through me and test your might against the Paxblade. Who will be first?"

The vanguard of the moon riders appears at the edge of the forest, their leader holds up a hand. She takes off her helmet in a move that somehow looks as if it were flowing water, instead of the dull mechanisms of mere bodies. Her hair is long and blonde and she rides a horse that appears to have too many knees.

At her side in a simple hanger is a sword that catches the eyes of all who see it. It bears the imprint of the pattern and shows to her third eye the same as Halosydne or Greyswandir.

"Greetings, son of Windslayer. Our fathers have met on many a battlefield. We would pass to the Land of Youth. I name myself 'First-to-the-Fray' and challenge you to single combat for the right to pass this point."

"Then I name myself 'Defender-of-the-Stairs'," Conner announces, "but before we talk of challenges, we should complete the introductions. Conner salutes her with his sword. "Halosydne, Pattern Blade of Rebma."

First-to-the-Fray pulls her sword from its hangar, and it's as if she had poured it into her hand. The heavy blade looks as if it has always been there, and that it will do her bidding with ease. "Her name now, is Tizón, the Firebrand, but of old the sword was named The Flamberge or cutter of flame. They say no man or woman can lie or flee while Tizón is at their throat.

"This is not Rebma's fight, unless you make it so. Do you accept my terms?"

Brita flows with the watery mists to her brothers side. "I, Brita - Daughter of Asgard, Creator of Clear Waters - Will Stand as Second to Defender-of-The-Stairs...If Needed." She says the latter to Conner with a slight bow.

As the situation between the Moonriders and his cousins plays out Vere continues to watch the stairs and their flanks with his Third Eye, alert to any signs of treachery.

Jerod watches and listens, patient as he waits for the fight, even as he mutters. "Screw the duel. Time to get to it."

Conner smiles at Brita and nods. "I offer the following terms. If you win, you may have free passage to the stair. If you lose, you and your vanguard will withdraw and not return. If that is agreeable, I will accept your challenge and appoint Brita my second."

First-to-the-Fray smiles and looks at the rag-tag group of cousins and rangers on the cliff top. "I should not accept such one-sided terms, when I can get what I want by force of arms, but...."

She turns to look at a late arrival, on the edge of the cliff, Edan has arrived, himself and his horse clouded with smoke and reminiscent of death. His sorcery pushes at the pattern, and sorcerers can assume he is being pushed upon by the pattern users.

"But," she continues, "I do accept, if only to deserve my name." She dismounts, smoothly, and hands the rains of her horse to another rider. "My cousin, Paints-With-Blades, will second me. I would speak with any of yours who would speak with me, while the seconds confer and prepare the field."

Conner nods and confers briefly with Brita. "Leave the option for Sorcery open during the duel. By not mentioning it, if you can. If they will accept it, I would prefer the duel not be to the death." Conner smiles thinly. "The rest I leave to your discretion."

Edan heads straight to Conner. Softly enough so his voice doesn't carry, he says, "If you're doing what I think you're doing, is this a good idea? Lilly and I were in this exact situation not too long ago. It didn't end well."

Conner steps back with Edan to aid with their voices not carrying. "You've heard the stories of Jones Falls. You see their forces as compared to ours. If there is any chance that I can stop this without mass bloodshed, I think it a risk worth taking." Conner replies. "Worst case, it gives you all time to come up with something clever."

Brennan strides up to join Conner and Edan. He may have heard some of that, but it's not clear how much. His voice is also pitched low, and he takes the measure to place himself where the Moonriders can't see his lips and even blocks Conner from their view if possible. He's not exactly subtle about that. "Conner, I have one piece of information that might be useful, but I need an answer to this like your life depends on it: Who is the master of Halosydne? You? Moins? Someone else?"

"If my life depends on that answer then I am truly in hazard." Conner replies. He takes a moment to think. "I am not her master. I serve at the pleasure of the Queen." Conner decides. "Moins and Khela are dead and Moire is false. That leaves Celina. Now, what is your possibly useful information?"

By his expression, that is not the answer Brennan had been expecting. "Your answer turns possibly into probably not, but you should probably know this anyway," he says. Then, dropping his voice again, "I had it from Weyland himself that the only way one those blades could break is to turn them against their master. It didn't seem important enough at the time to clarify between the wielder or the scribe of the Pattern. You can see the chain I was trying to build, I'm sure, but even had you answered differently it would still assume that Weyland forged that blade," Brennan moves his head in the direction of the Moonrider, "which I honestly would not take as given.

"Any other less than useful information I can impart before I go talk to Jerod?" He asks. "Anything you need done that a Second can't do?"

"Wish me luck and use this time wisely." Conner replies.

Brennan's eyes narrow, and he nods.

First to the Fray salutes Edan with her sword, and smiles at him.

Edan looks startled when Conner makes his admission, but is stone-faced after that. He leans forward and imparts a quick primer on Moonriders in general and everything he's seen as far as First-to-the-Fray's movements, how she controls her horse, the fractured Time attack...it's quick and dirty and not nearly enough, but it's all he can give in this situation. "I don't know where she's walked a Pattern. I don't know that sword. I expected something Chaosian, not this. Good luck, Conner. We'll have your back. But I can't blow up the battlefield like I did with Lilly." He offers an arm to clasp, then canters Aramsham off towards First-to-the-Fray.

Conner accepts the arm clasp and nods. "When all this is over, you must tell me the story of how you know her. Thanks for the support."

Brennan listens carefully to Edan's advice, too, even though he heard a different version of it... just that morning, actually. How time does fly when you're moving from crisis to crisis.

He watches Edan recede out of earshot, then says, "For what it's worth, I'm not seeing signs of ambush, although it's never guaranteed. I'm going to go talk to Jerod and figure out how to use our time wisely." Through long exposure to the nuances of Brennan's ever-expressive scowls, he can probably read into that that Brennan's still waiting for redheaded inspiration to strike. "Last pieces of advice-- and I risk giving offense because we are not our parents and I believe our friendship can weather it: Blow the deal up if you don't like it. Best and cleanest if it's done through you and Brita, obviously, but if you deem that not an option, I might have a messier way short of just stabbing someone. Oh, and no Moonrider time tricks like first touch and then touching you five minutes ago. Unless you think you can do it better," he offers with a wry smile.

He likewise offers Conner a hand-clasp and, if Conner's got nothing else, departs.

Conner watches his cousins busy themselves while Brita sets up the contest of skill. To keep his nerves at bay, Conner begins to move through a sword form. It is specifically not one he intends to use in the battle. It is much like a tai chi form, meditative and precise when done slow but deadly if done at speed. He continues his focus upon Halosydne. Only as one does Conner have any chance at winning the contest before him.

First-to-the-Fray approaches the meeting of seconds, nods, and takes off her armor. "I am ready," she says, and casts a spell that draws a half circle behind her.


Edan slows his horse to a walk when he approaches First-to-the-Fray and her forces. His swords are sheathed, and he raises his non-reined hand in a return salute, or perhaps an indication that he's not about to start swinging a sword at her. He waits for her to do the same, or at least he stays out of melee range.

"Look at you," he says. "You've come far, Chases." He glances up at her forces. "I guess you decided there wasn't another way, after all."

"Son of the Sun, congratulations on your victory. I have not decided anything, the day is far from done, and things may not be as they seem. Still I am the first of my people in half a millennium to see the holy steps, and that is a moving thing.

"We have not met for the ultimate time, Knife-Giver, and even if the meeting I foretold at the Inflection Point is our last, we shall meet yet again before that, for things happen in threes.

"But what of you? Have you enjoyed being a Lord of Chaos and Order?"

Edan thinks she has another question she isn't asking.

"'Enjoy' might be too strong a word," Edan says. "There has been much conflict, internal and external. The catchword of my life would likely be 'choices'. Xanadu, for one, I have made my home. And Family. And the cause of Order." After a pause, he adds, "If you want to ask me something, please ask. And in return for the answer, tell me which victory for which you congratulate me."

"Why your victory over Prince Orlon. You must tell me how you escaped being the Ducal heir? It is traditional." She looks pleased. "I was pleased when I heard you escaped the two-fold trap that he had unwittingly laid.

"I... have no time for personal questions, Knife-giver. I must not distract myself from the duel to come. I will not ask for a token, for I know we stand on opposite sides of this matter. But if your cause is Order, be aware that ours is as well, and ours has been in need of righting for centuries."

She nods at the seconds. "I think they are almost done, and I shall need to ready myself." It's not clear if they are or are not, but Edan thinks she's trying to suppress his line of questions, at least before she has to fight.

Edan looks like he wants to say plenty, but after a moment he nods. "We haven't even mentioned your Queen or your father, their contributions to the war effort. Very well. I'd wish you luck, but...no. We will speak again, when there is less contention. I hope."

She smiles. "Of course we shall, if it is what you wish."

He turns his horse, then, and means to head back to the Amber lines; if left unmolested, he checks the compass around his neck when he gets there. It's for triangulation's sake, if nothing else.

The compass points towards the grove, from whence Edan just came.

Wait, what? Edan stares at the trinket, because that was not remotely where he thought it would be pointing. So he rides a bit farther out and attempts a small Working. A tube of black flame appears in his hands, and he looks through it, much like a telescope, in the direction of the Grove.

Edan can't see anything special in that direction, even with the telescope. Also, it's really hard to get even a basic working near so many pattern users actively using the pattern.

At least he's learned something, if only a feel for the limitations he's facing. The rest, that concerns him mightily, and he decides to get more opinion. He turns his horse back towards the Jerod/Brennan/Raven group, trotting up with the muted sounds and icy feel of his death magic, but still visible as his painted self.


Brita moves to meet with the designated Moonrider second. She bows to him, briefly but formally, and then relaxes with a soft snort and shake of her head. "My Second Duel as Second," she notes. "Does Your Cousin get into Many Duels? I am Hopeful We can Avoid Bloodshed in This One."

Paints-With-Blades bows back, matching hers quite precisely. He is also relaxed. "'Tis my first, your Highness. We do not duel freely; we are warlike, but not with each other. My cousin is brash, young, and unpredictable, but she has led us here, which says something for her methods.

"If your brother and your allies yield then bloodshed can be avoided, but I do not think that is your meaning. I think we all wish to avoid a death curse this day, so we as seconds should ban that outcome. Likewise 'until a combatant yields' could go too far and thus is not an equitable term."

He frowns. "I would have suggested 'to first blood', but you wish to avoid it. Is 'to the first touch' acceptable then? Would honor be satisfied?"

"Ehn," Brita shakes her head. "First Blood is Not the Bloodshed I Meant. Mere Scratches are Easy. I Would Suggest something More Challenging. Disarming seems Unlikely Given the Weapons. A Lock of Hair with No Blood, Perhaps?"

Paints looks happy at the suggestion. "A proper sword duel then? No armor, nothing on the head. Hair may be tied back, because the finesse blow will be to cut it from close to the scalp, rather than from loose tresses.

"A circle, 15 feet across, I propose, and our principals may not step out without forfeiting. This is not a race or a chase, but a wager of skill at arms.

"It goes without saying that we, as seconds, are responsible if there is interference or trickery."

He frowns. "I have her absolute order to tell you that should your man win, our forces will withdraw from this place peacefully, but that others may approach, and we may take a different route to the Land of Youth."

Brita nods along with his description of the duel but stops at the last. "Others Already Approach. What Can you Tell Me about Them?"

He looks confused. "We are her highness' personal guard, and no other force would dare go against the combined wills of her and her father. You have no reinforcements coming, not by non-magical means in the time it would take for a battle here to be decided, nor do we. The matter of here and now will be decided by those who are here, unless your chaosian cousins arrive unexpectedly, and it would be worse to let them take a pattern realm than us. We would fight with you if your dragon or grandmother appeared caparisoned for war."

He pauses. "Are we ready? Do we need to go through the formalities of each asking the other side to yield and be reconciled?"

"If Your Others Arrive From the Moonlit Stair, What Would Your Response Be? I can Smell Them on the Wind. What Will You Do If They Already Have the Prize? We are Ready When You Answer the Question. No Formality is Required," Brita still seems fairly relaxed. She waves a hand through the fog. Creating eddies and patterns....and Patterns.

"If you saw others on the stair they are temporal resonance, for there is no stair tonight. They might even be our own selves, come down to meet us, but that is unlikely. Such a reflection is a possible state, and not a serious thing. At best one might take warning from it."

He smiles, lightly. "Still, it is good to know that we will gain it in the past or the future."

Paints watches her hand with a certain fascination. "I admire your influence on the elements, or at least on the water. One way or another I expect to leave here tonight, but if we meet in the future, under less warlike circumstances, I would wish to learn of your ways."

First to the Fray approaches. "Your pardon cousin," she says to Brita. "Bladepainter, are the terms set?"

The tall moonrider nods. "A lock of hair, cut without blood, from your opponent."

"I accept," says First. She begins removing her armor. "Return this to my father if we separate, Blades."

Once she is in lighter clothing, the young moonrider casts a spell causing a half-circle to be drawn. "I am ready."

Brita moves to her Brother and cousins to relay the decision.


After he and Conner make their brief exchange, Brennan walks over to Jerod.

"This is not how I saw this night progressing," Brennan says, "But I don't consider any of this as settling my right of vengeance. I couldn't see anything through the mist, only up the stairs that aren't really there, yet. Pick up anything useful in the field?"

"No." Jerod says. "Multiples on the fronts, but nothing of significance beyond the stuff Conner's got.

"Something's not right though. If they've got the troops, why wait and negotiate? Beyond the option to get troops into better place or await reinforcement. The fact they are facing Family doesn't square with previous attacks. They were facing Family then...so why not continue?

"Either way, this isn't going to end well I think. If we win, they'll break the agreement or they'll go another route. If they win, I'm not sure we can let them pass. Not with the stuff mentioned about the King."

"I'm waiting to hear the fine points of the terms," Brennan says. "But I agree, I can't see them bargaining away anything substantial in good faith, like their claim on the place entirely. Assuming that to be true, it doesn't look like this solves a whole lot for us. Reinforcements... maybe, although if they were expected so quickly, why not just wait the extra watch? Robin or Vere could probably find out, though."

He glances around the field, "It applies to us, too, though. Edan and I have forces we could reach by Trump in a pinch, and I have some I might be able to bring in from Avalon..." his face sours, thinking of how much his own situation has changed in twelve hours and what might be going on with the Maghee. "Be pretty noisy, though, and not exactly a sign of good faith."

"If you're not worrying about good faith, let me know and I'll go get the Weir." Jerod says. "It's a good thing they're not here right now, or the battle would have already started. They were chomping at the bit when I met them."

"They're nearby? Close enough?" Brennan asks, interest piqued. Then: "I'm worried about what that act does to Conner's and Brita's honor, frankly," he admits. "I'd be pretty angry, someone sprung that on me-- and I'm the one who just said it, so what does that make me."

"So..." Raven still has one eye on the opposing forces, even as she strolls over to join the conversation. "Does that mean we're taking this seriously and actually thinking this ain't a trick, or...?"

"With the legend of Moonriders, you take everything serious." Jerod says.

"And no...not close enough I think." he comments to Brennan. "I could get some probably pretty quick, but the main group, that would take a bit to march them here. We'd need a trump path and a marshalling location otherwise. The Count was very well prepared...they've been planning for awhile now. He was offering me siege equipment to go Gateway. I might go collect some to deal with the zombie threat...after we're done here."

"About the same here," Brennan says, nodding. He's angled his body to include Raven in the conversation. "One force in the city that Marius wants to keep there, that needs Trumps to move. One in Avalon that I'm pretty sure I can reach by other means-- remember how Ambrose arrived at the coronation? That way. Which means, better to go by sorcery and come back by Trump. Dicey."

That out of the way, he addresses Raven's question. "I don't know if we know enough to expect it's a trick. Which means, I plan for the worst and hope it doesn't screw up the best. Frankly, other than ancestral claims that would be a bit like trying to keep us out of Amber-- or Xanadu," he corrects himself, "I don't even know what they plan on doing if they get up there."

"They don't exactly look like they're on their way to a garden party," Raven says dryly. "And that's why I asked if we're taking this as they're giving it. Sounds to me like either they're playing a trick or they think it's their only chance to get what they want. Whatever that is," she adds, with a nod to Brennan. "So if we can't directly cheat without pissing our people off and it sounds like more army ain't an option... what's plan C and how can I help?"

"Plan C is to improvise and survive on the fly." Jerod says. "Need to figure out what they are up to, as best we can."

He looks over at Brennan. "By the way, that's Raven." he says. "Good in a fight, tends to burn down taverns. Clearly one of us."

Raven snorts in amusement at that.

Turns back to Raven. "That's Brennan. His dad was Brand and he's a redhead but don't hold that against him. He's decent." he says before turning back to survey the field, such as it is.

Brennan will recognize the clipped speech for Jerod...he's definitely got the anger on. Having Moonriders this close and not being able to go after them...

Brennan extends a hand in greeting. "Pleasure, despite the circumstances." His grip is strong without trying to be crushing, and the Family regenerative processes are fighting a losing battle against the callouses on his hand.

Raven's got a sailor's hands still, and a steady, no-nonsense kind of handshake. "Aye, nice to meet you," she says, with a nod.

"Let's put brainstorming as part of Plan C, which this is," Brennan says. "And let me play against Redhead type and suggest that one of us could actually go suggest to Conner that playing for time to gather more forces is an option. Brita could be alerted by Trump without giving it away. I don't know if it's a good option. But it's an option. So is figuring out something tricky and Pattern based that would help Conner." He sighs. "I don't know about you," he looks at Raven, "but my Pattern is self-taught and subject to blind spots." He looks at Jerod, "but you were mentored by your dad, right? Robin, too, by Julian I think. Anything come to mind for how to tilt a Pattern Blade fight?"

A sudden thought strikes him and he scans the field again, which he'd been doing periodically anyway, with some intensity. "By the way, just assume they have Trumps of their own, place and person. I don't know that they do, but I'm sure that they could."

"Great. Well, pretty much everything I know about Pattern, I got from him," Raven says, jerking a thumb in Jerod's direction, "on a ship from here to Gateway. And it wasn't that long ago - weeks? Ain't crazy enough to think I'm anything but wet behind the ears with all of this still." She shakes her head. "Playing for time's got issues of its own, aside from hoping those two are willing to do it. We'd still have to get folks here. That means either not caring if they get upset by us bringing in reinforcements, or sending some folks out into the fog to get far enough away that they don't notice men coming in and hoping there's no nasty surprises we haven't spotted yet. This fog ain't going anywhere any time soon."

"We're also sitting on a Pattern." Jerod says. "Tilting a battle in our favor would be near impossible given its strength. A Pattern base overrides everything else like a blanket.

"The only thing that I would think, and this is a big IF, would be if the Pattern that we're sitting had other interference Patterns conflicting with it. Pattern is a power, like anything else. It's not omnipotent though otherwise we wouldn't be having issues with relatives. They'd have been destroyed or subverted long ago. It's strong here at its center and weaker as it extends, so it has a power limitation at some point.

"Logically, bringing another power source very close would cause interference ripples to occur. The Powers start fighting each other. One wins, one loses. But there's interference, turbulence. If someone was good enough, they might be able to use the turbulence to cause disruptions. Like trying to use Hellriding to thread a needle. Ride the turbulence to find the points where Pattern isn't working and then use your own.

"That's just a theory...not sure anyone could pull it off, even if it were feasible and you could pull another Power close enough to this Pattern to create the ripples."

Brennan gives a half shake of his head in disagreement, but finds more to agree with than not in what Jerod says. "I'd say we're not so much on top of a Pattern as we are exactly at a static interference point between Xanadu's and Tir's. Just like the strange status chamber between Paris and Rebma. I've made a long effort to understand the Faiella-Bionin for just this reason and others like it: we don't need the Road, but many of our adversaries do. Understand their geography, and you're halfway to understanding the strategy and tactics. But.... yes, you're still right over all-- working here is hard. Not impossible, but hard.

"What I don't know is whether the Primal's influence here is stronger, weaker, or equal to Tir's and Xanadu's. Not to mention Rebma's Pattern at play through Conner's blade and whatever the hell Tizon represents, both of which will resist change." Brennan glances in that direction as though the sword's unaccounted-for existence is its own affront. "The question is, can we usefully do that from here to advantage Conner even if it can be done at all?"

"Other side's under the same handicap, right?" Raven asks. "We wouldn't be fighting against all of that and them trying to do the same thing we are?"

"Logically, yes." Jerod says.? "Since they have access to a Pattern, we assume they have the same capabilities, especially since one of them has a Pattern blade.

"Whether there is anything we can do here at this interference point is unknown. We would only know if we try. But whoever tries is not fighting. That kind of Pattern means they're not doing much else besides sifting reality. So we have to balance the value of the advantage we think we can achieve vs the loss of one of us on the line."

"Short answer is, I reluctantly agree with Jerod," Brennan says. "Long answer is, they're supposed to be under a greater handicap than we are. They're not supposed to be able to take the Pattern and use it directly as we are. No one should be able to do that except Oberon's descendants, and not even all of us. The Rebman line can't unless they've been sitting on a big damn secret for about two thousand years, and likewise the line of Tir. Why?" he asks rhetorically, then shrugs. "A lot of us have been trying to figure that out for a long time. Add that to the list of things that shouldn't be possible: A fourth Sword, a Moonrider attuning it, the Stairs on the night after a full moon, Vialle taking the Pattern."

He glances at Jerod, "Makes me wonder just as pointedly about her ancestry, as I do about Vialle's. But I wasn't thinking about trying to use while fighting directly, just to aid Conner from the side. Hypothetically."

Brennan is still part of the conversation, but he's also trying to adjust his senses, Astral and Pattern-based, to see if he can even detect Jerod's hypothetical Pattern interference pattern. The best way is probably indirect, treating the somewhat distant Patterns as light sources and himself, Jerod, and Raven as objects real enough to cast shadows. If that doesn't work, he tries the aural approach, too, recalling his conversations with Folly and her musical metaphors.

Raven nods agreement. "If we get to where more than those two are fighting, then we're right back at the beginning. All the ways I've run into before to make sure the right side wins a fight like this need more time than we've got and somebody on the other side that's about as straight as a river's course." She pauses, then looks at Jerod. "Getting Weyland here would be the same as the army problem, right? And way more possible trouble than it'd be worth?"

Brennan nods at the first part, that if anyone other than Conner and First are fighting, then the whole thing has broken down. Which means Brennan is going to be watching from the base of the stair and nowhere else. "I don't have a Trump of him and don't know where he is, which makes it almost impossible for me. My brother might be able to manage it-- he contacted me once without a Trump or my location, but I don't fully understand how. Weyland is on my list of people to hunt down, because he's old enough to remember the events of Tir directly, and might be the most accessible person who has any true understanding of it. Not looking forward to paying whatever price he'd ask for that knowledge, but it might be worth it and I have other things to discuss with him anyway. And now there's that extra sword. What makes you think he'd be helpful here, though?"

Raven shakes her head. "Not totally serious with that. Another head wouldn't hurt anything, and I'm pretty sure that head's got some things in it that might be helpful - but can't say as how I'm sure he'd actually be helpful. Or willing. Or quiet about whatever he came up with. But we do know where he's supposed to be, at least right now."

Edan and Aramsham trot over, the death magic muffling the steps and blurring perception, but it's still easy to see Hannah's handiwork and the compass trinket Edan holds in his hand. "Something's wrong," he says. "I expected this to point out Tir's location to the Gheneshi, but it's pointing way over there. Towards the Grove. I don't know what it means for all the rest of this."

Brennan says nothing, but glances at the compass and then trains his Astral vision in the direction Edan and the compass indicate. Cautiously at first-- there have been enough nasty surprises in the last 24 hours-- and then as keenly as necessary and possible.

Brennan looks Astrally, and is immediately overwhelmed with the number and proximity of active pattern initiates, real places and pattern swords. Edan has what Brennan tentatively decides is sorcery all around him, but it seems to be under stress. The direction he indicated is not any more clearly special than the stair or the city. It could be the city, or part of it it.

But it's most likely the grove.

Brennan shakes his head, "Too much other astral clutter to see anything special about that direction. Assuming there's time, I may want to study that gadget to see how it gets its sensitivity. And whatever that working is around you," he says to Edan, "it's under a lot of pressure. It's the place and the great profusion of Ordered influences." To Raven he says, "Weyland's help comes with a price-- I'm told to be very careful about striking a bargain with him, not that I haven't been tempted to myself."

If Raven and Edan haven't met, Brennan can remedy that based on his ten minute acquaintance with Raven.

Raven nods. "I wouldn't go making a deal with him if it weren't a dire thing," she says flatly. Weyland clearly made an impression. Possibly not a good one. "Even aside from other peoples' advice. But he was after the same thing we were in Gateway, sort of. This seems like the kind of thing that might impact him too, make him think about helping for free. Like I said, it was a thought, but not a totally serious one. Even aside from what I can see, what you two just said makes me think there's enough unknown things around here right now."

Edan neck-bows to Raven. "Pleased to meet you, Captain," he says. "I wish the circumstances were better. This," and he holds up his arms a bit for Brennan, "is Death as a Principle. When the surviving Riders went back to warn their earlier selves of this battle, they could truly say death took them. Or at least, when there was going to be a battle. Here and now with Champions fighting and more of us concentrating on Pattern, it is harder to hold."

"Aye, nice to meet you as well." Raven nods in greeting. She's got nothing to add to the sorcery discussion, so she listens - although she does glance dubiously at Edan at the mention of death.

Jerod looks over briefly at Edan, but returns to reviewing the situation, still waiting.

The corner of Brennan's mouth quirks up at Edan's description of his Sorcery, even if he does think that's a bit far to go to make a point. "You missed the discussion, but there was a bit of back and forth before their arrival where we came to a tentative consensus that Pattern was the right tool for this fight, over Sorcery. That's the line I've had from every Uncle who's faced them on the field and it's the tool common to all of us and that supposedly they lack." Beat. "Then one of them showed up with a Pattern sword.

"Speaking of which, Captain-- I gather you've been initiated, but can I ask after training in the Family Arts?" Brennan asks.

Edan waits, because the answer to this is important; but he doesn't yet drop the spell around himself or Aramsham.

"Pretty sure the answer you're looking for there is 'basic,'" Raven says matter-of-factly.


Brita moves to Conner's side and explains, "A Battle of Wit and Skill, Brother. You Must Cut a Lock of Her Hair, Without Blood. You Can Dazzle Her with Your Skill." His sister has full faith in Conner's ability to do this simple task. "They Have No Knowledge of Others on the Unexpected Stair," she adds. "They Promise to Withdraw when they Lose, Although they Will Not Stop Trying Other Paths to their Ancestral Home. Her Second also Noted that Others May Approach."

"Your faith in me is touching, Sister." Conner offers a slight smile as he contemplates the unexpected goal of the duel. "It is to be expected that other Moonriders would feel bound by this deal. I suspect many of our cousins feel the same. We shall do this all the same."

Conner takes off his cape and drapes it over his left arm in the Italian style. He strides over to First to the Fray and with a bit of concentration casts a spell to complete the circle. Conner salutes First with the Paxblade and with a smile. "Let's make this a tale worth the telling, eh?"

First to the Fray salutes him back. Her sword is bright, more like Werewindle than Greyswandir. "It is always a tale when two such blades cross each other. It's going to be refreshing to fight where no one can use sorcery, and sheer skill will win the day."

She takes a few practice swings. Conner notes how loose her joints seem, and how she hyperextends them without noticing. Conner may be a good choice to fight the Moonrider, as he's related to and spent time with their Altamarean cousins. "I hope some day to meet your father, Defender of the Stair. And also your Mother. She is a legend amongst our people."

Conner fights defensively at first to get a sense of First's speed and strength. He has a suspicion that he is in way over his head and wants to see just how deep that is.

First is fast, and happy to take the offensive, probing Conner's defenses and moving freely within the circle.

It's rapidly apparent to Conner that First is faster, more skilled, and has reach and flexibility he can't match. Physically, it's hard to tell if she's actually stronger than he is, but he wouldn't be surprised. She may also have more staying power in a long fight. Physically, it doesn't look good for Fiona's favorite son.

What First is not is Conner's mental equal. A few times, Conner catches her hesitating when he does something unexpected. Her skill is almost ingrained, but if she goes outside her training, she has to think about what to do, and that will cost her time. And, Conner hopes, a lock of her hair.

Conner's ability to react and to keep her off guard is what keeps the fight from ending soon after it starts. However, she only has to get lucky once.

Brita is absolutely sure of her brother's ability to prevail despite the chaotic, cleph-like nature of First-to-the-Fray's movements. She stands outside the circle, arms crossed as she watches the fight. She keeps two things firmly fixed in her mind and heart - first, the probability of her brother being taken by surprise is exceedingly low as he is always aware and engaged with his surroundings and, second, her brother has a high probability of being surprising as he has shown in his ability to navigate the twists and turns of politics with style, grace, and charm. She boosts her beliefs with the support of The Pattern, the Swirls of Order overlaying her sight and reinforcing her thoughts.


Conner enters the dueling area and magically draws the second half of the circle. They salute each other with two pattern-swords. The duel begins, and it's clear to everyone that First is a better swordswoman and Conner is being pressed hard. It's hard to see how he'll pull it off.

It's fascinating to watch her fight. Her joints hyperextend with no damage or difficulty. She's also amazingly graceful.

Raven frowns at the fight. "Looks like it's time to try whatever we've got..."

Edan isn't happy about this whole "champions" plan, and less so that Conner looks overmatched in swordsmanship. No doubt that all shows up in his voice when he yells, "Get her, Conner!"

Brennan isn't thrilled about it, either, but when the fight starts, his eyes snap to Conner and the Moonrider. He watches like an eagle, unblinking, unwavering. After a few passes, Brennan says-- quietly to Edan, Jerod and Raven, not to be overheard-- "She hasn't done anything with Time, yet. It's just swordplay. I'm not sure if that's a gesture of honor, a biding of time, or if the blades prevent it. But if that holds, he can do this. There's a path. But he'll have to bleed for it."

It goes without saying that Brennan is comparing First's skill with his own as she and Conner fight.

Jerod watches, studying, analyzing. He is no mere student curious to the outcome. This is a duel of Pattern blades.

He has seen war and duels uncounted, an apprentice to some of the finest sword fighters to ever exist. Jerod did not become as fearsome as he is being a dilettante.

And this is something he would crave to be a part of.

So he watches, studying, looking for weakness and openings.

Because if Connor doesn't beat First, someone else might have to.


There is some movement in the woods. At least a bit of it is moonriders getting better vantage points to watch the fight.

"About time," says Regenlief. "I thought I was going to die of negotiation."

Conner enters the dueling area and magically draws the second half of the circle. They salute each other with two pattern-swords. The duel begins, and it's clear to everyone that First is a better swordswoman and Conner is being pressed hard. It's hard to see how he'll pull it off.

It's fascinating to watch her fight. Her joints hyperextend with no damage or difficulty. She's also amazingly graceful.

"I like her,' says Regenlief. "I'd take her to Valhalla."

Ossian grins, also fascinated by First, but likely for different reasons "Doesn't that require soul? Does she have one?"

"That overextension she is doing. How would one counter it?"


As the duel begins Vere quietly begins to make the circuit of the Rangers, keeping them on the watch for the movements of the Moonriders and anything else that might show up. He is keenly aware of just how distracting this fight is likely to prove, and wants to ensure that their opponents do not take advantage of that potential distraction.

**************************************************


Holding hands, Celina, Valeria, and Silhouette step from the Xanadu longboat into the chill waters of Rebma. The Trump rainbow shift ends. Celina drops Llewella's hand and gives her aunt an informal hug. The hug is much warmer than the nearby glimmering crystal braziers.

"Conner has taken the lead in Xanadu," Celina states without preamble. "He asked me to withdraw. So I agree we should have troops standing by if he calls. Volunteers preferred for the first wave. I suspect nasty magics are going to be loose, so if we have some mages who wish to make their reputation, we are taking those sorts of volunteers also."

Celina smiles at Llewella. "Would you debrief Lady Valeria this time?"

Llewella smiles back. "It would be my pleasure."

Valeria swallows, and looks visibly pale. "I had no idea the situation in Xanadu was so dire. If you need trusted family members at the front, Your Majesty, I am at your service."

Celina's face does not express it, but she admires how Valeria covers her reaction to personal questioning by Llewella, with a reaction to front lines combat.

Silhouette bows her head respectfully to her aunt, but keeps her distance. Instead, she focuses on the other woman, dutifully looking her over. She makes special note of Valeria's movements and measurements... as she'd likely need to provide her with armor.

"We must be ready, things could move fast and my favorite uncle may be in jeopardy," Celina adds.

Then she makes a small follow gesture to Silhouette as she heads for her own chambers. "Let me see what sort of armor I can salvage from the Queen's wardrobe. Valeria is more my mother's build than I am."

Celina leaves Llewella and Valeria to chat and exits. She moves through the corridors but stops halfway to the Queen's chambers. She turns around and looks at Sil. "You mentioned Blood Magics of Huon as if you knew quite a bit about it? What principles are involved?"

Silhouette cocks her head, "While negotiating his surrender, Lord Huon and I communicated through the utilization of Blood Magic. Regrettably, circumstances prevented me from observing more beyond this. However, I hypothesize its core principles revolve around the shaping and manipulation of our divine quintessence through one's willpower. Huon formed small birds, which would bind with my flesh - thus allowing us to speak through Shadow, not unlike a Trump. Said creatures can traverse Shadow and possessed rudimentary intelligence, so carry a portion of our Nature, as well." She pauses for a moment, reaffirming they are alone.

"Our Blood's destructive effect the Pattern and the sympathetic connection it provides makes the form of Magick highly dangerous and likely frowned upon. But its potential is virtually unlimited."

Celina nods slowly. "Oh, that's not what I expected at all." She considers, twists, and discards her previous strategies. "All right. So what do you know about seduction magic?"

Silhouette lightly smiles, "That you would not require its use to achieve the desired effects, my Queen?"

A low chuckle, "It is beyond my purview, but in my homeland, alchemic and soul magic could be utilized to twist the heart. I suspect our kind would be adept at seduction magic, due to our unconscious manipulation for the world around us."

"So I want you to guard yourself as best you can. Armor against seduction. There is something wrong with King Random, and if it worked there, it could sweep other Family up." Celina thinks for a minute, then asks, "Will you take my blessing as Queen?"

Silhouette cocks her head, curious. "Of course, my Queen. I am yours."

Celina concentrates then, bringing herself to the steady intangible place that allows her fear to melt to the smallest thing and her heart to be ready to walk the Pattern. She closes to Sil and puts hands gently on her shoulders.

"Rebma, hear my blessing on Silhouette, Designer of Dragon Beauty, and Earthen Guard of the Sapphire Throne,
May her sight always be True,
May her enemies always be Late,
May her Necessity always be First,
May she honor and cherish the Privileges you Bestow."

Celina leans in and lightly kisses Silhouette on her Third Eye.

Closing her eyes, Silhouette remains stock still as Celina delivers her blessing. Her skin radiates with heat like sun-baked stone.

At the end, she opens her eyes and smiles, "Thank you, My Queen. You honor me." For an instant, she leans forward as if seeking another kiss, but quickly catches herself.

Celina makes a tired noise and looks in the direction of the Queen's own suite. "I'll have to review troops that Llewella has assembled, which means I need to change and take a catnap." She strokes a finger across her collarbones. "I wish I knew more about what sort of Sympathy may be involved with this Seduction."

Silhouette cocks her head, "Sympathetic magicks typically require personal possessions or bodily products, such as hair, blood, or nails. These are the correspondence for the fetish. Anyone close to the King could have acquired these. A servant. A family member."

She steps forward, touching the Queen's wrist. "Let me be your handmaiden for tonight. I will assure you are rested for the coming matters, as well as lay out your attire."

"We are to be ready for battle," Celina says, looking down at Sil's hand on her wrist, "so it shall be armor from the treasury. And we will find something to fit you as well." The Queen studies her face. "You will assure I rest?"

"I shall inspect the armor myself," Silhouette says. "I am certain it will require adjustments. My Queen's protection is paramount."

She smiles under the scrutiny, "Yes. Rest. You deserve a moment without troubles weighing upon you. In this, I wiIl be most persuasive."

"Then I agree," Celina nods once.

Celina turns and continues to the royal suites. Upon passing the guards and sending a page with notice of what is required of the armory, she tells Sil, "But I disagree, I don't deserve a moment without troubles until Rebma is safe."

"Forgive me, your Highness, but that stance is foolish and ill-advised," Silhouette says plainly. "Rebma will never be safe. There shall always be threats within and without. It is the natural order."

She glances over at Celina, narrowing her eyes. "Even tempered steel breaks under fatigue. You will be no use to your people, if you do not pause."

Celina turns and begins taking off her clothes, her voice is urgent, intense, but not angry, "No! That same logic says the natural order is for threats to come through me before reaching my city. Rebma will never suffer because I shall never break. I shall bend, and twist, and be the Flow that endures. My people, my Court, will understand I'd rather be lost than undone. My banner shall be Necessity and the Sapphire shall be besilted or hidden, but never anything but sharp and hard."

Silhouette collects the shed clothing as Celina speaks, folding each item to crisp perfection before laying them aside.

As the silence falls, she walks over to the young Queen and takes her hand. With a gentle, yet insistent tug, she guides Celina to the bed. "Lie down," she says softly, yet leaves no room for dispute.

Celina looks at Sil, searching her face. She does lay out upon the bed.

"Forgive me, my Queen. Normally, I would have prepared aromatic oils for this," she sighs, Using a combination of friction and nerve-touches, she begins massaging the tension from Celina's upper body. Between her strong fingers and preternatural warmth, she is exceedingly deft at this.

Her voice draws out like a blade. "Celina. I've buried untold nations beneath ash and bone. I've erased entire civilizations in the name of Progress. So, heed my words now, for I know of what I speak. Rebma shall not be consumed by the currents of time. Your people shall know your character and strength. Your banner shall endure in the sea of blood to come."

She leans over, lightly blessing the tip of Celina's ear with a kiss. "So, you can afford yourself a moment of peace tonight. So be quiet. Or I shall be forced to take measures to see you do."

Celina chuffs a sound that may be rude agreement. She relaxes under the persistent fingers. The queen's muscles seem to side completely with Silhouette, and they melt into good order.

And then, Sil can feel a vibration, a tiny trilling sound from Celina at rest. She is definitely asleep. Snores? The sound beat was low, indescribably mellow, a music so fantastic that it might defy description. The trill seemed to filter from everywhere; it was as if the very water were saturated with it.

Satisfied, Silhouette blesses the back of Celina's neck with a kiss. For a moment, she hovers, feeling the gravity of the woman's body calling to her, pulling her down into serenity. The weight of wanting is almost too much.

And then, reluctantly, she rises goes about her duties. Walking on cat's feet, she prepares the room for the Queen's awakening - laying out everything for ease and expediency. She contacts the staff, arranging for all possible correspondence to be delivered, along with the Queen's armor, which she inspects personally. With uncanny precision, she has food and strong coffee arrive as Celina returns to the world.


Celina awakes, not in her bed, but floating on a current above it, just under the surface of a running stream, her hair loose around her. It seems no time has passed at all, but she knows that cannot be. She feels a stirring, like a trump contact, but before she can ask, a strange voice speaks. "Who calls?" it says, the standard response, and a way to buy time. The voice is old, female, and unfamiliar. Celina can not quite make out the woman's face, hidden in currents and shadows.

"Who calls, I say again?" The voice is sharper this time, and seems used to being obeyed.

Celina wipes at her eyes and says, "It is Celina, mated to the Rebma Design, sitting Queen of the Sapphire Throne."

She chuckles, ruefully. "Not while I'm alive, which means I must be dead to you. How stands the circle of cities in your time, child?"

"There is danger from the Lady of Air and Darkness," Celina responds, holding half her mind ready for betrayal. "Is this my grandmother, the Queen Moins? Or some deeper mystery?" Celina centers and balances, ready to defend or attack.

"Thou speak'st aright. I am that merry wanderer of the night. Although perhaps not as merry as the Puck, for all that. My sister Queen is, in my day, contrary and warlike but given our brothers, it can be hard to blame her o'ermuch.

"Is it she, or her heirs who vex you? As if there were a difference."

Celina remembers this moment now as it happens and later when she understands she has fallen in love with the voice of a mentor she may never meet. "Vexed of Her and her Art, all of Oberon and his Art, all of my Moire and her Art, all left, all returned, and all me and my Beloved Pattern, guarded in this one dear Sleep by a daughter of Pattern I would have as a true Sister and more."

She is asleep and calm and only herself now so she weeps. Even a Queen is allowed to confess in her sleep, if she keeps up her guard.

"My Conner carries the Forged Edge of Rebma to stand opposed to Lady Air and Darkness. Upon waking Llewella and I shall gather Our Best. If I have your Blessing or Counsel it will be a better morning than I have seen in a very long time."

"The Warlike Queen stands beside her mount, all caprisoned for war, while her protectors, the heirs of Lir, stand between her and her foe. The card is clear and the meaning is less so, which is the way of the cards. I know not how to counsel you, for in my days we had peace, then war, then peace again. But I ask you this: if you cannot defeat her without destroying her pattern outright, how will you make peace with her?"

Celina sees a current of faces, recognizing a few, Huon, Conner, Martin, Brennan, her father, and others. She sees Llewella's shocking extremes of kindness and fierceness. She also sees herself draped in graceful red silks and bright shells. "I can give her an heir and access to realms that do not go through Xanadu. Would she make peace if not bottled?"

"You are asking the wrong dream-of-the-past, my dream-of-the-future. But the four connected realms are connected, and just as the sea-realms Rebma must always be separate from Amber and Paris, so too must be her sky-realms be distinct, lest she lose herself completely.

"So, her Kingdom must be her prison, as mine is, but it should be enough, in its infinities."

"And if her Kingdom is half as lovely as Rebma, why should she War on Xanadu? Why is she not already at Peace? Is it a truly a Madness for Deeds done by Oberon then?"

The queen's voice gets harder, as if she has suddenly changed. "The war was hers, not from madness, but love. The madness came later, as she tried to repair the damage she had done. She broke herself, her pattern, and threatened to destroy us all. If father had not sacrificed himself, the imbalance would have ripped everything apart. The question is simply has enough time passed for her to try peace and sanity, or is the doom upon her too great for her to overcome, even now?"

"The Ocean Throne is deep with secrets, my Queen," Celina says. "I have walked the Pattern of Rebma and lead our People. I am willing to try Peace. Is there a cache within your Chambers? A place where you might leave Trumps or personal effects? I could try to parlay with the Lady of Air and Darkness." Celina is cold with the idea of what she might lose by trying such a thing.

"Child. Our trumps are written in stone.Masterwork self portraits written into the living rock in the darkest, most protected part of our realms, You need but find a way to take in the entire thing, and you can use it just as you use a tiny pasteboard." The voice pauses, and adds a warning. "Do not make physical contact, though, it would not go well."

Celina pauses. The entire thing? She cannot mean walking to Tir to access Her Pattern, so she must be saying the Patterns allow the connections between rulers. But am I written into the stone? "I hear, Grandmother. I can reach other rulers through the Rebma Pattern. I shall parlay but not touch."

The voice stops her there. It doesn't sound exactly patient, although the words are not harsh.

"No, child. You can reach me through my pattern, for what truer picture of me can there be? And each King and Queen the same, even those that came after the first order. If you wish to achieve the ambitions I see in your heart, you will need to train yourself to think in larger and longer fields than you now imagine possible."

"I shall do as you say," Celina whispers, "and speak to you again whenever it seems right. Grandmother, an unworthy hand has taken the Sapphire from Rebma. I would imagine a current bringing the Stone back where it belongs. Do I have your blessing to call every ocean to this task?"

"You will need it, or the master gem, or else you cannot master my pattern ." She pauses. "As to my blessing, I presume that if I am dead, then I have left a Death Benison for all Rebma. I will share with you what I planned, from the day I learned that the death of a Princess of the Realm meant that she could offer a Blessing instead of a Curse. 'No matter how long it be, may Rebma be the last of the four realms to fall, and the first to rise again.' It was a desperate ploy during a desperate war, but if you are here, then it has at least worked summat.

"Do all you need, for I bless your necessity, as long as it serves Rebma. That is all a Queen can do."

The voice fades, and Celina's dreams turn to a disturbing fight at the base of the stairs. Her sleep is not restful.

And there is the Shining Gallant Conner felling enemies of the Pattern. Halosydne weaves and sings. It lifts Celina's heart.

Celina knows Necessity. She once held it close in her heart without knowing the Dark Depths it would take her to. She is sad and frantic to realize how many times she has allowed Necessity to push her hand, whisper choices, feel the anxiety now in this dream.

Celina sees what turmoil would arise if she pushed her Necessity to Conner's aid.

It would lend opportunity to the Lady of Air.

Instead she wrestles her fears, turns the energies aside and sings encouragement and love to Halosydne. And trusts.

Finally, she rests, and awakens.

Celina realizes only once she is awake, how far she had to travel to come back to Rebma. A soft word brings the cindercoal braziers in the corners of the chamber up to temperature.

Celina sits up. She knows, wants, to move immediately into her TaKhi exercises. She remembers Silhouette then, guarding her, insisting she rest with a watch.

Today could be war. Bright armor, blood in the sea, are the things a Queen must encompass and celebrate in order to hold a Truth steady. Celina puts her forehead on her drawn up knees. She brings her attention to her Pattern but does not close her eyes.

Truth doesn't survive without a defender.

And once Celina settles all that she is upon the Device as if holding hands after the Vows, she turns her head to smile at the congregation. Silhouette will want to fit her to war.


Upon her return, Silhouette's home greets her with silence and shadows. Its interior is darkened, except for the stray phosphorescent glows from neighboring buildings. All is peaceful and as she left it some days ago.

Mostly...

Yet, she immediately knows she is not alone here in the dark. Silt drifts lazily in the store area, tiny motes of sediment disturbed by currents which should not have been present.

Silhouette smiles vaguely, "You can come out now," she says to the gloom. "If you wish this encounter, let us do so without pretense."

A moment later, an emerald skin woman drifts into view from the rear shop. Her coral hair is pulled back; her athletic body painted in shark's skin. A predator, so different from the demure creature who'd visited her shop weeks before. Had her hooks finally caught the fish she'd desired?

"Sedna, wasn't it?" Silhouette says.

A faint nod, still framed in darkness.

"So, do we talk... or dance?" Silhouette says, touching the thin blade hidden along her forearm.

"Talk, Lady. But it may seem as a dance. You are newly come beneath the waves and have heard only a few beats of the great symphony, and it is unclear if the new melodic line will hold or just be a brief counterpoint to the main theme."

Relaxing slightly, Silhouetted drifts toward her pantry, "Then may I offer you refreshment, so we might clear the way between us and begin this shared performance of words?"

She fixes two bulbs of green tea, shaking them to stir the leaves and release their flavor. She offers one to the woman.

The woman takes it, but does not drink. "I am but a messenger, you understand? I have nothing to offer, my death or torture would reveal nothing of importance. I am expendable, and thus not worth expending.

"It is like dancing on the edge of a knife, but that is the role I am destined to play."

"I honor the life of a messenger beyond most, yes?" Silhouette said, nodding. "For they provide Enlightenment and Opportunity. To shirk either is to invite Discord and Ignorance."

She takes a seat, gesturing to the chair across from her. "Sit and fulfill you destiny."

She laughs, "The crux of my destiny shall be much later in my life, Lir willing." Sedna leans in. "Opportunity would be a sudden change, for instance, and to take advantage of it one would need to be considered... if not sympathetic, not hostile to the ascendant faction.

"Opportunities have risk, but offer reward." She puts down her tea. "And trust is built over time. What would you offer as a token, that my friends might trust you?"

"I would say my word, but I suspect your friends may not understand its worth," Silhouette replies.

"That leaves coin and information, both of which may only be provided in proper amounts and only when requested. Which would best sate your associate's misgivings?"

"Coin is not an issue, Lady, for my patrons, and information is a two-edged sword, in that the use of it can expose one as much as the passing of it.

"We would prefer something more... demonstrative. Trust generated through shared risk.

"Would you wear a copper starfish on your lapel at court? One will be delivered to you here. Those who knew, would know."

There is a scratching at Silhouette's door and Sedna rises, ready to retreat to the shadows once more.

Silhouette's head snaps around like a moray eel, eyes narrowed. She hisses faintly through her teeth in frustration. Without turning to the shadows, she nods. "Yes. Deliver it and it shall be worn. There's a green sewing box in my workshop, if you must hide it."

She rises, "Go now, before your risk outweighs the rewards."

So saying, she heads to open the door, slipping back into her mask of warm indifference.

The woman fades into the darkness of the inner apartment, and somehow Silhouette knows she will find neither her nor her egress route easily.

The page bows when Silhouette opens the door. "Her Majesty the Queen is awake and asking for you, Lady."

Silhouette nods, "Of course. If you wait, I shall be with you momentarily. If you need some tea, do help yourself."

She heads off to change.

The Page waits and when Silhouette returns, leads her to the Queen's chamber.


Celina appears in the doorway of the Queen's chambers wearing the soft spongewraps that fit under armor.

She sends a page with message:
to the Honored Hierophant
the Throne asks for volunteers from the Triton brothers
those who know war and wish to deepen their legends
there may be activity from the Bionin Stairway or the Nedra Kelp Forests
beware outlander invaders
send the Brothers to the Palace
yours
Celina, Queen of Rebma

She sends a second page to let Llewella know she is rested and prepping for conflict.

She sends a third to find out where Silhouette may be.

She sends a fourth to alert the mages Conner was working with that there may be hostile magics gathering outside of Rebma.

Conner's mages are the only ones who answer promptly, sending the page back with dire warnings of astrological and aqualogical catastrophe that the Queen must prepare herself against. They are quite emphatic about this, but they fail to specify how the Queen may prepare.

In the privacy of her own chambers, Celina is annoyed with these mages. Perhaps all mages. She regrets she ever became one for several heartbeats, then she remembers the dark dreams of strangulation and Khela easing her through hard TaKhi relief of the flow of magics.

Awake, Celina seldom thinks of Khela. She is not queen in public for the nonce. She begins to sob. It's my city and I'll cry if I want to...

Before she has spent her tears, there is a scratching outside the door. Most likely one of the pages returning.

There is something to be said for the timing of the Pattern. Celina puts the heel of her hand to mouth stifling her emotions little and goes to open the door. Pulling at the heavy metal door she sees the page and Silhouette. Apropos of little, she says, "Aqualogical catastrophes be frelled."

This may be the first time any palace staff has heard the Queen swear.

Silhouette curtsies, her arms filled with properly folded clothing. "My Queen. I hope you slept well."

Celina gestures Sil into the chamber, waving off the page, "Yes, I slept well enough."

Once the door closes, Celina grasps Sil firmly by the upper arms, "What happened to you? I thought you were going to be here?" Celina holds an intense gaze.

"Forgive me, milady," Silhouette says, bowing her head. "I needed to fetch some items for your armor. You woke sooner than I'd expected."

She sighs, "I should have remained. Perhaps I..." Her eyes look up into Celina's for a moment, cheeks flushing uncharacteristically. She wants to say something, but swallows it down.

Instead, she stands taller, "I will understand if you dismiss me for my failure and graciously accept it."

"Is that the best way to not tell me what took so long, ask to be dismissed?" Celina lets go. She shakes her head at herself. "Do not trouble over it. Nothing was wrong and nothing should happen within these walls. It was a comfort to think you were there... or here. But I am safe and so are you. That's what matters." Celina slides her hands up along the outer upper arms as if to warm herself. Plainly not needed here.

Silhouette pauses for a moment, considering. Then tentatively reaches over and touches Celina's hand, as it rests upon her upper arm. The fingers are strong and smooth, radiating heat like cooling metal. "Celina," she says, her voice wavering. That she's uttered Celina actual name is something of an admission, in of itself.

"I believe I used my Duty as an excuse to distract myself from other... thoughts. And for that I am sorry. I've not dealt with these feel... these issues before."

Celina covers Sil's hand with her own off hand, "Oh, Dolphin. We all distract ourselves from Necessity as she is a hard lady."

Celina leans closer, lowering her voice, "I found a measure of peace in sleep. That's more than I expected. I wish to assume it had something to do with you offering to guard me so. But I admit the sleep was full of wondrous concepts and fearful royal measure. The Throne is a mountain and sometimes I am but a hungry dance scholar. I get to be a queen, even though I failed my Queen. It makes me feel a wretch often enough. I shouldn't yell at you because I'm angry with myself."

Silhouette cocks her head lightly, "You did not fail her, my Queen. If I may be so bold, I believe she would be proud of how far you've come. And how far you shall go."

She offers a smile, "And do yell at me, yes? I deserved it in this case."

Celina runs her thumb back and forth over Sil's knuckles. "Mmm. All right then, you deserved it. Now we shall get ready. I sent messages to Llewella and she will expect me to be prepared. The Tritons should send someone to me, if only a few. We should be wary of Nedra at our backs." Celina moves back to the armor laying in wait.

Changing subjects, only a little, Celina adds, "These Rebman mages are more politics than magic. Look at this message, 'beware and be ready'. And not even a guess to the portents of that. Useless."

Silhouette follows, falling into her more subservient role and preparing the Queen's armor. Its sublayer appears exceedingly light, almost sheer. The exterior layer resembles shark's skin, smooth and grey. "Do not run an unprotected hand against it," she warns. "However, a backhand or block can cause significant damage to an opponent."

She begins fitting Celina, "Are you concerned of Loyalists within your ranks? And who will protect Rebma in your absence?"

"Those are fair questions," Celina watches Sil closely to learn the proper fitting of custom made armor. This is something a queen should know. "Not lightly answered. I shall answer them because you are so much more than a kinswoman. Rebma protects its own and itself. That is why Khela is not here and I am. If I am away, it can call me if it knows I can help and I will rush back. But I do not anticipate being far from the City. Random and the Others will not think me a warrior to add to what they are doing, and providing a strong place to have at their backs is most of what we provide right now."

She adds, "As to Loyalists, such an odd term. I am not concerned for what they do to me, but what they do to my City. If the Loyalists find a better person to sit the throne, so be it. I only know of one such and she does not want it. Hence, the Loyalists are thinking we are enemies when we are not. I can try to protect them, but it is also my work to discipline them to Truth." She thinks of Loreena then. Mutual failures. "In my absence, if that happens, you and the Court can protect the Realm."

Silhouette dresses Celina with care and precision, making certain everything is tailor fitted to her body. It requires surprisingly few adjustments,and adheres to her form like a second skin. Suddenly, she drives her fist into Celina's side - a blow strong enough to crack ribs. And yet, the Queen feels little more than a dull thud like a child's punch.

She steps away, pressing wounded knuckles to her lips - scarlet plumes drifting through the water. "Be wary, my Queen. You have enemies closer than you think. If Rebma is to prevail, trust no one."

She goes to fetch the armor's outer layer, "What are your wishes, if events transpire for the Court and I to govern in your absence?"

Celina watches this with obvious small surprise. She frowns at the blood in the waters of her chamber. She sniffs at the crimson stain.

"You are a twice-made outsider, Sil," Celina says carefully and kindly, "Some will have been digging to find out your story. They won't like the hints they might find there. I think largely you are safe regardless. However, my wishes if events transpire are that you give all your loyalty to Llewella if it comes to that. If my Aunt is absent or dead, you will not be the first choice of the Families here for leadership. Protect the Pattern at all costs. Let no one into that chamber that you do not personally trust with a knife at your throat. And then sing me a nice lullaby in the Pattern Room and I'll find my way home. If possible."

Silhouette nods to this, clasping the last of the armor in place. "The Pattern shall remain protected beyond all else," she admits. "And, as I trust no one, those I allow shall be a small group, indeed."

She touches Celia's bare hand, "You do not wish me to sing a lullaby, my Queen. Although the cacophony alone might make your return easier." She leans in closely, whispering with shy warmth, "Please, do not require me to do so, Celina. Return freely and expediently."

"I shall always return as I may never leave," Celina whispers. But she adds, "you sing as you like, and my heart will hear what it needs, and my limbs will pull me to where I may always lay my head."

Though she knows she shouldn't Celina leans to Sil and kisses her soundly.

Silhouette stiffens at first, but soon melts into the kiss, pressing forward longingly. The forge heat of her skin warms the waters around them, as she gingerly pulls Celina to her.

She leans back, slender fingers tracing Celina's jawline. A tinge of guilt flickers in her eyes. "Celina. No matter what happens. No matter what you see or hear. No matter the betrayals you endure. Remember this moment. And that I am yours."

"How would I forget?" Celina wonders.

"What you perceive may cloud this memory," Silhouette replies. She kisses Celina again and then floats back from her.

"I should cease my affections, for the moment. Otherwise, this armor fitting will quickly be reversed." She smiles, "Your Majesty."

Celina looks briefly at Sil and then towards the Bionin... "Very well," she says.

Then she gives herself a blessing, expecting it will find resonance with Sil and the City, "may such clouds stay far from the Throne."

She tests the fit. She steps and kicks. "Likely the threat above pushes another at us even now below. We should get to the throne and receive news from the Hierophant."

Silhouette makes the appropriate adjustments, of which there are few.

She falls in beside Celina, "Could you not close the Way above, so you can focus upon what is Below?"

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Last modified: 21 June 2018