Attack on the Rhercyn

The sun hangs mere inches above the water now, casting a shimmering glow over the waves that disappear against a darkening sky. Hooded Men stay focused their tasks of rigging and sail while the Veiled Women sing a song of welcome to the coming Night. Captain Adele keeps a watchful eye upon the sea.

"A dozen nights and we should reach the Black Reef and meet our escort," the captain reports after the necessary pleasantries are exchanged. "For now, we near the Ashlar Sea where the Carmine Temptress drags unfortunate ships to their dooms."

"The Carmine Temptress?" Kendall repeats. "Strange that such a danger would be left to thrive so close to Amber."

"Perhaps the enchantress poses no danger to those of Amber," the captain suggests.

"Is this temptress able to move about in search of prey?" he asks. "Otherwise, there would be no threat except to the unwary or ignorant."

"Tis her hair, Milord," the captain answers. "She casts strands into the waves far beyond her secret cove to seek out passing ships. If one isn't quick to escape, then more come to entangle till you find yourself dead in the water. Then either she crushes the ship, or drags it to her cove so she may feast upon its crew."

Margot unconsciously steps a little closer to him, feeling chilled, but the young Lord's expression betrays avid interest throughout the captain's explanation. "Should you spot some of those strands during the journey, I would consider it a favor if you would inform me so that I might also observe them," he tells her.

"Aye…" Adele agrees. "We watch closely, for sure. Tis said when the Temptress is unable to entangle a ship, she seeks out those sleeping and wraps her coils about their necks. We have no wish for our passengers to be strangled in their cabins."

"How did it come to earn the name Temptress if it need only hair to ensnare would-be travelers?" the princess asks, breaking her silence.

Kendall breathes deeply as he looks out over the darkening sea, as though to search the waves for the telltale signs of waving hair intent on ensnaring them. Soon, he knew, the salty tang in the air would become most tiresome, so best to enjoy it while it was still fresh.

"She is a sorceress, Milady," Adele answers, her expression a bit surprised to hear Margot give voice to a question. "Stories say her beauty is so pure, a mere glance turns men into dogs."

"And does the Temptress possess intelligence, or act upon instinct?" the young woman persists.

As they chat, Kendall's sharp eyes catch sight of swirling patterns within the water near the ship. The movements remind him of pleasant times fishing in the pond near the family estate in Chagodesh. Drawn by memories of throwing barbed lines to catch the ferocious is'ka, he approaches the side of the ship to peer into the water. He vaguely recalled being told certain sea creatures liked to follow boats to take advantage of the trash they left in their wakes. It was a shame he didn't have any meat at hand to toss into the waters.

"It would take someone far wiser than I to answer that question," Adele says. "Nor do I much care, unless this Carmine Temptress starts wrapping her braids about my ship."

"Thank you for sharing your knowledge," Margot says, deciding to set aside further questions to pose instead to Brisbane and Dara. She inclines her head respectfully to the captain and then looks to her companion.

"Do you know if predatory fish also live in these waters?" he inquires of Adele.

"Not in these waters," the captain says, joining him at the railing. "But Rhercyn has a pair of large scell’ar, and some smaller gathra birds hide in the weeds."

Seeing now what Kendall had noticed, she calls for a pole hook which she carefully dips into the water to drag for several ells before pulling it upward. Both see scarlet strands for only a heartbeat before they wrap themselves around the metal hook like serpents and yank the pole out of the captain's hands.

The young Lord leans quickly past the railing to watch the tendrils disappear into the dark water, but Captain Adele springs into action. She barks orders in the language of Tinor through her speaking cone, and Kendall must take quick hold of the rail as the ship suddenly turns hard to port.

Hooded Men scurry in the rigging to raise more sail, while the water around the ship becomes dark with jets of noxious ink released by the Rhercyn. Yet it could already be too late. From his vantage, Kendall can see a wide ribbon of red that stretches to the horizon, moving toward the ship like some great tentacle from a hidden leviathan.

Margot stifles a scream and scrambles backwards several steps to the center of the deck. Though safely away from the sides of the ship, the princess nonetheless feels strands like spider webs wrapping about her head. They break with ease when she scrubs her face, but that gives little comfort if they are really just stray hairs of this Enchantress, already reaching for her. Eyes wide with horror, she watches helplessly as chaos unfolds around her.

"No need to worry, Milady. You are safe." Dara's voice is calm as she surveys the red menace in the waves. She helps Margot brush the remaining hairs aside.

Kendall spares a glance to Margot while still holding tight to the rail, observing the Hendrake's move to protect her Lady. Unlooked for and unexpected, the Chaos Lady's presence did relieve one of his obligations.

"Why does it ensnare us?" the young woman asks, her eyes searching wildly to see how those born of the sea combatted their watery doom.

"Tis her nature," Dara answers. "One of the safeguards of your former home. Perhaps even your own mother's creation. A reflection of herself within Shadow."

The spell of terror broken by her Lady's reassurance, the princess suddenly gulps in a deep, calming breath. She feels more of the silk spin around her and she scrubs it off, gathering the translucent threads in her hand.

Kendall's gaze jumps from Margot to something beyond her, recognizing the small bulge that hung out over the side of the ship. The gunnery position was still vacant, as all of the crew and captain engaged with the immediate task of escaping. But he was free, and able. Idea and decision blur together, and the Chaos Lord immediately runs along the rail past the women to the cluster of vines that enveloped the s'lye blossoms.

"This… horror… This is of my world?" Margot asks the woman at her side, still overwhelmed and trying to make sense of it all. Her head shakes, denying her mother capable of such cruelty even as the crimson tendrils reached for the ship. "How could she? This couldn't— She wouldn't threaten the lives of the innocent. Those who sail these waters do not forfeit their lives at a whim."

Margot stares at the threads twisted around her fingers. "I must know," she whispers, her hand clenching. "I will know who you are."

Kendall takes hold of the aiming branch and points it at the tentacle of woven hair that sped toward the ship. Care was needed; the cluster could grow only two s'lye, and they would be smallish as was suited to a ship this size. Yet setting good aim was a challenge, as everything — hair, ship, and water — moved quickly and independently. His only advantage lay in the sheer size of the tentacle, which presented a large and easily tracked target. Small favors, perhaps.

A sudden dip takes them all by surprise, and Margot falls to her knees. She allows the silk to gather around her body once more, touching her everywhere until she was thinly wrapped. A question burned inside her, one that demanded answer and radiated brighter than an exploding star. But what finally takes shape in her mind was more of a key in search of a riddle.

You are named many things, yet they are not the song I seek.
A simple note, true to heart, the melody I give will never part.
Essence within so pure and rare, your Name will grant loyalty, o' fair.

Far away, in a rocky cove, a regal lady awash in green lifts her head from moonlit waters at the call.

Daughter.

Kendall aims as best he can and cuts the restraining vine to release the s'lye towards the enemy. Under the silver light, a distant pool ripples as waves of scarlet seek out the child thought lost long ago. The taste of something familiar, a memory and still not, fills Margot's mind. But with a shriek, the contact is broken as the far more deadly Celoith Flowers light up the horizon with a string of deafening explosions.

All activity seems to freeze for an instant, surprise blanketing everyone at the sudden turn in their fortunes. Clumps of crimson hair twist and coil before turning grey and sinking beneath the water. Then the wave catches them, dousing the deck with sea water and a few stunned fish while also pushing them away from the danger. The crew scrambles to stabilize the ship against the sudden onslaught of water and motion.

A laugh of surprise rings across the deck, Captain Adele amazed and delighted that the Chanicut Lord had caused Rhercyn to so quickly sprout just the flowers they needed to escape. Himself drenched and astounded, Kendall leans against the twisted branches of the flower cluster to look over the sea at the disappearing tentacles of hair. A faint smile curls his lips, and he strokes the rail of the ship as though praising a prized horse for performing well.

Margot crouches on the deck, dazed and confused from communion abruptly severed. Were it not for the silken cocoon, she was certain she'd have been washed away in the water's fury. Then Dara once again appears at her side to throw an Orchid Cloak about the princess’ shoulders and begin to comb Margot’s hair over the cloak as well. The plants woven into the coarse fabric soak up the water in her clothes and hair with a ravenous thirst, blooms bursting open about the collar and hem. Margot finds herself dry within minutes.

"That didn't go badly," Dara comments as the ship catches the wind to flee even faster.

Margot stands still, allowing herself to be tended to. She felt stunned. That was really the only word that came close to expressing what she was feeling. The cloak was just another bizarre wonder like everything else swirling around her. Dara's words roll over the young woman, making no sense at first.

"Yes," she agrees vaguely. "I suppose that's very true." But then she snickers, and before she knows what is happening, her giggles erupt into delighted laughter.

Kendall turns away from his survey of the horizon at the sound of the princess' laughter, scanning the deck to find its source. With the ship hurrying away from the scene of near disaster, all appeared to be well. He steps down from the weapon cluster and maneuvers along the rail towards the captain, but he pauses near Margot and her attendant first.

"Adventure already on the way from Amber," he observes. "Is the journey shaping up to your expectations?"

"Are you alright?" she asks. Her laughter trails away as concern creases her brow. She wants was to throw herself into his arms, but instead scowls and begins tidying the lapels of his robe in a fit of nervous energy.

"What were you thinking?! I was worried for you. But what an exciting display!" Her eyes brighten again with delight. "Not that I want such things to become habit, for you or this journey. But flowers that explode? Cloaks that drink the sea from your clothes and skin and blossom with beautiful flowers? This goes beyond anything I could possibly imagine."

He smiles, pleased to see Margot's excitement. "All is well," he reassures her, taking her hands in his. He raises one and presses a kiss against its back.

"These are mere…amusements, Milady," Dara remarks. She waves her comb to shoo away a ship's butterfly. "Yet I must say, it was a most impressive show from the sorceress. To reach across so many Shadows is no easy trick."

"Perhaps that is part of the secret she shared," the princess muses.

He gives Margot an inquiring look. "What secret is this?"

"I am not certain," she confesses, her expression turning contemplative. "I was angry. Very, very angry, and my temper got the better of me. I am tired of titles. Enchantress. Sorceress. Temptress. I wanted to know who attacked the innocent. Even if this ship is not innocent of past deeds, we are leaving Amber and have done nothing wrong since we have departed."

She pauses, and her brow furrows in concentration as she thinks back. "I remember the ship becoming unstable as I was walking toward you. I was so focused on knowing the name, who it was that I was dealing with, I lost my balance and fell to my knees. But this was before the explosions. The silk wrapped and bound me."

Margot shivers at the unpleasant memory. "The next thing I remember, a riddle was filling my head. Then an image, and…and another voice responded with a single word. Daughter." She glances between the two, bewildered. "Then explosions and waves and lurching and…and now we're here."

"That was very daring," Dara says. "Even if that creature was just a faint shadow of your true mother, it was very daring indeed." She finally plucks the obstinate gold and violet butterfly from the comb and transfers it to Margot's fingers.

"Daughter," Kendall repeats. He tucks some loosened locks behind one of the princess' ears. "You already appear to be almost notorious in Shadow. Or perhaps…quite tasty." The last is delivered with a quirk of amusement to his lips, but his eyes are serious.

Margot returns his smile, though her eyes echo his concern. "I don't understand, Dara. What do you mean?"

"It is a well-known fact that your kind cast shadows, reflections of themselves into Shadow," Dara explains. Thinking over the facts, she admits, "It was always our suspicion the Carmine Temptress was a darker reflection of the Queen of Amber. But now, knowing Amber better, perhaps I would say she is just a flawed sparkle of the true Morgana."

Margot pauses in consternation, not knowing how to interpret what Dara had said of her mother. She did not want to think of her mother as a merciless, murderous monster. The image was of a redhead wearing flowing green, but there were other redheads in her family, on both sides. All of this was very perplexing.

"The captain did indicate earlier that we were in dangerous waters, within reach of this enchantress. Yet you seem to suggest there was more to the attempt than mere opportunism," Kendall says to Dara, turning his attention to her. They both knew if more motivated this attack than opportunism and greed for an easy target, it was possible — maybe even likely — another attempt would be made.

"From what I've overheard, it's possible that you draws this flawed shade like a Krus'taf Lantern does a moth," Dara says to Margot. "Yet as a Daughter of the Unicorn, you could speed us on our way with ease."

"The attack could be my fault?" Dismay crosses Margot's expression, and her gaze flickers between her Lady and the Lord. There was just so much she didn't understand. "And how could I alter the pace of this ship? With ease? I think you may exaggerate a touch, Dara."

"I believe the Lady Dara refers to your recent initiation to the Pattern," Kendall supplies.

Margot's eyes narrow as she concentrates, attempting to understand. "I know about Shadow…" she begins slowly. "And I know it is possible to manipulate the environment. But Kendall, honestly, I haven't the faintest clue how such a feat is done or whether it would work in the middle of the ocean."

"He who sired my line once mentioned mere desire is enough to have the road become what you demand from it," Dara says.

"Have you not finished the book from Amber yet?" Kendall inquires of Dara curiously, referring to the book the lady in waiting had been reading during the carriage ride to the ship. "Is it of no more assistance?"

"It's of a depth I would rather not chance without further study," the Hellmaiden looks past her mistress's shoulder to the Lord. "In fact, if Prince Benedict was truthful, the Pattern is more a creature of the Heart than of Thought."

"Then it may be a good match for you," he says to Margot in a serious voice. Kendall's words cause even Dara to pause, having never considered such for her new mistress' benefit.

"I don't understand any of this," Margot says in frustration. She did not like feeling helpless or ignorant and at the moment she only felt both. "Am I to simply wish us to our final destination? To hold it close to my heart? How am I to possibly do that when I do not know our destination? I've never been to such a place."

Dara considers the questions for a minute. "I think, the desire not to be here would be enough. Merely heading away from Amber will be enough to move us closer to Chaos, but I would not risk travel by Pattern past the Black Zone, nor near the Abyss. The book may hold answers to your questions. From what I was told, it is the same one given to the young of Amber before their first Walk. A most strange idea. For those who gain the favor of the Serpent and survive the Logrus, its use becomes one's very nature."

She looks to Kendall to gauge his reaction to her words, and he nods. "I would not risk extensive experimentation under these circumstances," he agrees. "I have no desire to become lost in Shadow far from ways to return to Chaos."

He turns his attention back to Margot. "But should you wish to attempt use of your new abilities, now could be a good time to try. Yet, as always, there are risks. If the Pattern is a denizen of the heart, one which dwells within you now, the best answers can only be found within yourself, rather than from either of us. What think you of such an endeavor?"

Margot looks from one to the other, suddenly realizing both her allies at the moment were Chaosian. One, she trusted implicitly, while she remained uncertain of the other. After some silence to ponder, she says, "I think what I want is swift and safe passage without the dangers, delays, and distractions of witches and their sea monster minions. I would rather leave the navigation from Amber to Chaos to those that know the way, but…I may assist by removing obstacles, especially those born of Amber. And perhaps it would be most helpful to put a strong wind to our sail and see to it the creature follows us no more?"

The young Chaos Lord looks up to through the rigging to the sails, squinting in thought and evaluation of their situation to decide whether simply changing the wind's course would suffice as the princess' first step.

"Shadow witches are like spiders," Dara says, perhaps to reassure. "Once away from their webs, you're beyond their power."

With the Lord's gaze upon the sails, the princess' upon him, and Dara's upon their captain, none see strands of scarlet upon the rail weaving together into a pointed rope as thick as a staff. Quick as a serpent strike, the rope thrusts through the air like a spear and buries itself into the Chaos Lord’s back, bursting through his chest where his heart would be — if he was an Amberite. Kendall staggers at the impact, his eyes wide with shock and gasping in anguish.

Even as Margot's scream cuts through the air, the Hellmaiden's sword appears in hand almost as if conjured there. Darting to the rail, her blade severs the rope of hair as though it was parchment, hitting the wood with a thunk as she utters a Word to ignite the tendrils that still clung to the ship. Margot wraps her arms around her lover to help ease him to the deck as his legs give out. But even though blood oozes quickly from the wound to stain his clothes, his body had already begun its recovery. His breath is short and labored from a pierced lung, but with both hearts still intact, all he would need for full healing is rest.

Yet it would not be quite so simple for him.

His brain registers Margot crouched nearby, but before he can even imagine her intention, his world explodes when the Amberite grasps the blood-slicked spear protruding from his chest. Agony courses through his entire being, electrified from hands to blood by energy anathema to all who claimed home in the Courts of Chaos. Blind panic lends sudden strength as he twists away in a desperate attempt to free himself from Margot's grasp, a whimper escaping his clenched jaw. The only greater pain he had ever felt before had been the torture of Louella's Unicorn-blessed blade as it sliced through his body.

Too little, too late. The spear collapses into limp hair as the Pattern dissolves enchantments upon the strands. His sight dims again as blood gushes freely from both wounds now free of impediment. Sounds fade behind a rushing in his ears, and the best he can do is cling desperately to consciousness as his wounded body suddenly forgets how to heal itself in the wake of the Pattern's blast of deadly stability.

Margot's sharp, authoritative voice penetrates the roaring noise in his head. "Dara! Tend to Kendall. NOW. He is your life's priority."

Margot's face becomes cold and hard as marble as she gathers up a handful of the bloody hair still dangling limply from his chest. Rage smolders in her eyes, but he is too dazed to stop her from reaching into his sleeve and taking the tiny knife she knew would be strapped to his arm. He can only watch with a sense of gathering dread as she storms to the rail armed with scarlet strands and blade.

He could taste blood in his mouth — a natural consequence to the wound in his chest — and he leans over to spit it out weakly. A cough wracks his damaged body. Then a hand on his back warns him of Dara's arrival, as ordered by her mistress. He knew she would take pleasure from inflicting as much pain in the healing as in the original injury, and her lips draw into a wicked smile as she prepares to speak the needed Words of Power.

Their gazes lock and he shakes his head, attempting to push the Hellmaiden's hand away. In fact he could not move Dara's hand without her assistance, but the intent was clear. Strength and pride still burn in bright blue eyes. "I shan't give you a life debt," he whispers brokenly through bloody lips.

Amusement plays on Dara's face, yet she takes a step back and leaves him to his fate. The injured Lord turns his attention back to his own peril, but both Chaosians feel the small poof of power flow out from the princess as she sends death on wings of magic to destroy the enchantress seated next to her distant pool. Margot's curse strikes like a fury, blowing out her enemy's life-candle with a single puff of hate. Then it was done.

Kendall holds onto consciousness with grim mental fingers, conserving strength so healing can begin. There! Finally! He senses the power of change rekindling in his body. But long, so long after the injury. He was just so tired, so full of pain, focus eluded him; it was at times like these a shapeshifter depended on the power of instinct. He had never needed before to discover how to reawaken this instinct.

Down and within, he reaches for that inner center that would bring forth calm and healing. It was the work of a mere five heartbeats, though within his spirit it felt like endless Cycles. Yet even as he desperately seeks his own salvation, he begins to sense a strength equal to several hundreds of himself, and a life force beating with energy and vitality.

Turning towards that vitality, he beheld in his mind's eye the energy of Rhercyn, pulsing like a slowly beating heart and surrounding them all with warmth and light. Some fragment of memory flitters through his consciousness — a sailor on another voyage with a living ship such as this, sharing how the ship could aid the crew that populated her by bringing life back to the exhausted and injured. Hope sparks and Kendall reaches without thinking into the pool of light that was Rhercyn, asking the ship for aid in healing him of injury inflicted by vile weapon of Amber.

Still at the railing, Margot blinks almost sleepily as she returns to the moment. She turns to see Dara standing idle near Kendall, who still slumped against the mast with closed eyes in an alarming pool of blood. All thought of the enchantress and what had just happened flee from her mind, and she rushes back to his side as panic grips her heart. She carelessly stuffs his little knife under her sleeve, slicing her arm in the process, but she doesn't even notice the pain or blood from the small wound.

She falls to her knees next to her lover, peering anxiously at his strangely calm face. Was he even breathing? She couldn’t tell right away. "Oh God… Oh God… Please be well… Please…" she whispers desperately. She turns worried eyes to her handmaiden as she pushes his hair away from his face, unaware of the danger she still posed to him. "What can I do?"

"Nothing," is Dara's answer, the word delivered with cool acceptance as the Hendrake waits to see if the Lord would stand again on his own, or finally prove his weakness.

Beyond their words, within another world of pain and darkness and light, Rhercyn inspects the one who pleads for Her help.

He was not Tinor.

The ship shies away from a spirit devoid of the wild violence that ignited the denizens of Her patron House, except…No, perhaps not devoid of the wild spark of Tinor, but a spirit in which these and other impulses were kept carefully and safely controlled. Emotionless, by comparison. Ruled by Reason. Cold. Aloof. And yet…Recognition blossoms. Kinship blossoms as She recognizes the one who had so recently touched Her with his guiding hand and defended Her crew against the dread enchantress.

Acceptance.

Energy flows into him like a song, his body abruptly remembering what it is like to be whole. Flesh regrows, beginning with vein and sinew knitting and stretching across the gap to create a base for muscle and skin. The flowing stream of blood tapers, trickles, and stops, and the Lord's eyes open as life renews and survival becomes recovery.

He blinks and levers himself upright so he can look about the ship and at the princess. His eyes search her relieved face, his own expression intent and perhaps even tinged with dread. He feels pinpricks of pain on his scalp as she brushes back his hair with bloody fingers. "Is it done, then?" he asks her. "The Shadow enchantress is dead?"

Her pale skin becomes ashen. "She will be a threat no more," she whispers her answer. Margot slowly withdraws her hand from his forehead and returns it to her lap. Her eyes observe how her blue suit was beginning to turn purple where her hand gripped the skirt. The moist inside of her forearm was already lined with the same shade, but she felt no pain and the phenomenon seemed meaningless.

He nods and then slowly climbs to his feet. He moves carefully, mindful of aches that would be relieved in time and weakness brought on by blood loss. Stars cover his vision, and he sways, closing his eyes and putting a steadying hand on the nearby mast until the world becomes manageable again.

Margot stands as well, and though it pains her to realize she had somehow inflicted pain on him, she respects his implicit desire not to lean on her. Slowly, with care not to cause harm or threat, she retrieves his blade from her sleeve and offers it to him hilt first. Some small part of her soul wonders if the ship dipped in just the right way, she would fall upon the deadly point and end her own pain and confusion.

"You were right," she adds, still whispering. "No one is what they seem."

Blood covered fingers grasp the hilt of his little knife, taking it from her before further harm could befall her. He surveys the ship and the princess with a critical eye. His face is unnaturally pale, and when he speaks, his musical voice lacks its usual resonance.

"You should have your injuries looked to," he directs her. "I am certain your lady would be pleased to dress them for you. We shall speak of these events soon, but I must first retire for a time. If you will excuse me."

Her eyes remain downcast. "Shall I send for Rory?"

"He knows already that I have need of his presence," Kendall replies. He brings his other hand up to her chin, tipping up her face so that he can observe her eyes and ashen complexion. He can see conflict, confusion, pain, and sorrow in her gaze. A loss of innocence, a veil removed as what had so long been held upon a pedestal with delicate care came crashing to the ground and shattered Margot's perfect world.

"Come to me in our cabin when your wounds are dressed, Margot, and we will speak," he invites her.

She nods slowly. "I will be there as soon as I am able," she promises. "You should go and rest."

Dara approaches, holding a nesting bag of what could only be Iuvo spiders, tiny arachnids bred to take care of surface injuries and control blood loss by weaving bandages of silk upon the flesh. Leaving Margot to the care of her servant, the Lord bows to both ladies and then turns to make his way below.

One step in front of the other, he maneuvers carefully through a fog of weakness and pain on the long journey from deck to cabin. He wanted nothing more than to remove his ruined clothing and have a good glass of wine in peace. The first wish would be accomplished easily enough, but the second one could prove more challenging, depending on the stock on board. He would have to leave it to Rory.

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