Invitation to an Execution

Beyond the door, a lace-covered form smiled up at them. "Hello Uncle," she calls out. Since their ages are so far apart, even with being cousins, the little nymph always chose the elder title just to annoy him. Yet her curtsy is proper in depth and form, and she does look so very pretty in her mourning clothes. Even if she mourns his own coming death.

Kendall returns her curtsy with a bow, and then looks down on his kinswoman with a smile chasing some of the tension from his face. He walks over to her and drops to one knee so their heads are at a level. Taking her small hand in his, he presses a kiss to its back. "I am yours to command m'lady," he teases her with gentle flattery.

Margot observes quietly, her presence hardly more than a mere shade in the Halls of Chanicut. It was much to her surprise, though she dared not reveal it in her expression, that the Duke of Chanicut would send one so young to fetch his son. Her garb on any other occasion would have earned the child dozens of compliments from the Princess' lips, but on this day and under these circumstances she remained regally stoic. She offers the child an inclined head of respect but utters nothing to disrupt the reunion.

"Your sword, Uncle," Tia requests, holding in her hands tranquility cloth that will wrap it tight. Her hushed giggle at the kiss to her hand draws away any venom from the request, and at least she hadn't request more of the same upon his wrists to restrict possible forms. But then, Kendall had been in Amber for quite a spell, so such a measure may not bother him as much now.

He looks into her eyes for the space of five heartbeats, feeling an odd pang at the circumstance, and then he nods. There wasn't much else to do except comply. Tezcacoatl whispers of promises and songs as he pulls his blade from scabbard and places it in the girl's hands, then waits patiently while she wraps the heavy sword with the three required knots. He could help, of course, but he did not want to detract from the gravity of her assignment. Though he does catch the pommel with one hand before it could click against stone floor, holding it just long enough for her to regain balance.

With a word, the cloth pulls itself tight as Tia thanks Kendall for his help. Then with a bow, she turns to start the walk to the Way. Solemn as possible, as she holds his sword outward as sign of his compliance. None would interfere now, no invading solider or Silver guard, no servant or Lord. And once at the Way, Shadow Mages would be waiting to guide, or more correctly, make sure he goes back. Once home, it's possible he would be allowed to speak to his mother first. Then the Chamber of Verity, where upon the black floor that hung over the Abyss, each lie would be measured stone by stone till none held him aloft from a fall that would never end.

Kendall stands again, folding his arms and tucking his hands into his sleeves, as was his wont. The three of them walk in silence for several steps, before he looks down at his little cousin again. The sword was almost as tall as her, but she was carrying it like a trooper. "How do you fare, m'che?" he asks.

Tia looks over her shoulder, the smile wide under the veil. But she pauses, as she notices that Margot is now following as well. Confusion crosses her face, since she could not imagine who would be foolish enough to go with him to see the Head of the House.

"Ah…fine, Cousin," she replies as she jerks her head towards Margot, perhaps thinking he is unaware of their third companion.

He follows Tia's gesture and nods. "She has chosen to accompany us," he explains to the young girl. Though strictly speaking, Margot had not been summoned and could be barred from leaving the manor in Silver, it was quite possible that Duke Ulrich would feel a stirring of faint curiosity to meet the latest woman who had caused his scapegrace son to wreak such havoc. And if Tia's instructions did not include specifics about this, then it was possible to pass the princess through.

"I will take responsibility, m'che," he tells his escort. Why not? Like a scrender pack beast that could not tell the difference between one barrel or twenty, Kendall would hardly notice the addition of such a duty at this point.

His second cousin, oh so dear, gives Kendall the look that children reserve for foolish adults. But in the end, he is the adult and her orders were that one other may accompany him. She had expected Rory, his closest servant, but then this strange lady did look a bit lost. Perhaps she was Kendall's pet from Shadow, which brings Tia mind upon her own gift he should have gotten for her in Amber.

"Have you any word on Cedric's health?" he asks, almost innocently. It should be a normal for a brother to ask after his sibling's health.

Margot's ears perked at the question though she remained silent as they walked. Hands folded gently in front of her, she provided a stunning portrait now that the silken bonds were gone and the blood removed from her shimmering silver gown. Poise, grace… these were things she would have to rely upon as they moved in what felt like a wild swirling-twirling undertow. Where they would be spat out, she had no idea.

The little girl shakes her head in the negative, likely not even told… but from the way her eyes narrow, those normally pretty copper eyes reveal what she does know isn't good.

They reach the first of the House Guards, who kneel to respect not knowing what transpired but heartbroken on seeing Lord Kendall leave in such a way. In chains, even if his jailer was so young, barely taller than the Lord's own sword. But fall back do they do, loyal to even this end.

Kendall pauses to acknowledge the salutes of his subordinates. Though not among the ranked such as he, these were the ones upon which Chanicut was built, who gave their bodies and souls for the sake of the dream and the oath. Once safely beyond them, he turns his attention back to his cousin, giving her a teasing smile and a sidelong glance.

"Do you think you are old enough now to properly use my lyrr'ah?" he asks her, remembering the times she had asked him to play his pipes for her, to help her to sleep after an unhappy dream. The "game" of trading was something he had missed, and if naught else, it would be better for his pipes to go to someone who would like them.

Copper eyes brighten as Tia nods, excited. But then remembering what he wants, the smile falters. Only after another step, matched by two of hers, does she complete the trade. "It's bad…. really bad. He may not survive another Cycle."

A single nod from the Lord, and he looks forward with an intent expression for a time as they approach the first of the ways that would take him to his fate. He ponders Tia's answer, turning the words over in his mind and listening to the way they sounded inside. Try as he might, he cannot smother a tiny yet malicious smile at the news. Without doubt he now faced difficult — even dire — circumstances as a result of Cedric's injury, and yet he refuses to completely discount his small victory. Unwise, unfortunate, unplanned, and unfavorable the situation may be, still… if one could not even enjoy one's victories en route to the gallows, those victories were without value entirely.

"Unfortunate," is all he eventually says. Again a sidelong look at the little minx, wondering what all she might be hiding behind those wide, copper eyes. "And what of my mother?" he asks, curious. He could conjecture some things, but he had no way to know yet where Grania might be standing in this matter.

Margot continued to observe with interest. Indeed, they reared their children on intrigue while she was reared on very different values. She knew why Kendall wanted her to run. Now she questioned whether her love for the man at her side had clouded her ability to listen to wisdom. Different worlds. Different cultures. Margot had chosen the path less desirable to stand in solidarity; to show allegiance and love… even if it meant her life for either Lord's.

"At his bedside…"

"And what of you?" he asks, because he was ever curious, and because he didn't know how to ask the question he actually wanted to ask, not to one so young.

"I am here…" Tia answers, giving him a curious look over her shoulder as they continue to the Way Gate.

He makes an amused sound, smiling at her once more. "So you are. I could not have imagined a better escort." And indeed, it was more than teasing gallantry or flattery in his heart. Of all the people in Chanicut he may have missed during his travels, for some reason her youth made him feel… happy. It wasn't a familiar feeling, and one he couldn't explain, but being accompanied by Tia — one so young and so dutiful — was a salve to his troubled soul.

Tia leads onward, and now Kendall finally witnesses the bloodshed his delay caused. Hardly a spot on floor or wall was untouched by the gore. The weapons used burst any flesh touched in brilliant death for those tasked with defending Silver. And the invaders paid their own cost, even protected by their thick exoskeletons. More than a few had fallen before the concentrated fire of the young Lord's guards, not restricting themselves to the more limited weapons type.

And so, the Abyss will get many other souls this Cycle besides his own and his brother's.

Kendall's brief feeling of ease dissipates when they come upon the carnage. Guards of Silver and of the Qa'mr lay in various states of death and dying, giving up their life's blood to the other elements. His young escort doesn't seem bothered with the horrors, though. Searching her pretty eyes, Kendall sees cataracts formed from some blessing to shield her from the sights of ghastly combat.

He does not speak of anything he sees, to spare their young charge any hint of the sights that had been blocked from her. Still, he pauses in the hall to look at the end result with a solemn expression. He had seen sights like this before, of course, but never had he been so exquisitely bound up in the conflict in quite this way.

Sorrow seeps into his heart. Yes, he bore some responsibility for the loss of these, and the knowledge chained another weight to his soul, a weight that could pull him even more quickly into the depths of the Abyss should he misstep. A tiny corner of his heart could still rebel; surely he was not the only actor in this unfortunate string of events. But even so, he was the only one here, at this time, to see the results and give the blessing of the House to those who had paid his price with their lives.

And so he pauses to stand for 20 heartbeats in the hall and bear witness to the pain and suffering of the loyal members of his House. He removes an ornament from his robe in the golden shape of a beetle with antennae of the tiniest black diamonds. A breath against metal releases the enchantment, and another golden messenger rises from his fingers on finely wrought wings. This one bears the names of the fallen to the House Record, there to be listed in the Rolls of the Honorable Fallen. Its whirring wings sing a dirge of mourning as it passes through the Gate, announcing its passage to all as it travels to its destination.

The brief respite provided the young Amberite in their midst time to reflect upon mortality and loyalty. Both concepts weigh heavily upon Margot in the brooding silence, a silence that reminds her that she is a stranger unworthy of notice or conversation even from her lover. The feeling of invisibility shredded her heart and left her wounded, vulnerable should any guess the means use her pain to their advantage.

Returning from his silent homage to the fallen, Kendall raises his head and takes a deep, settling breath. His eyes come to rest first on Margot for two heartbeats before shifting to Tia, and then he moves to rejoin their guide. The little girl, still holding the sword, leads them with careful feet and blind eyes into the mouth of the Gate. Margot can feel the energy of the portal as they step near, similar to the way that Kendall had taken her through such a short time ago when he departed Silver and left her alone.

Now, stepping into the way behind the two Chaosians, suddenly her body is squeezed through a thimble, whirling and spinning with a gut-wrenching twist for a mere heartbeat before being spit out to the other side. Despite her best efforts, Margot nearly tumbles to the ground after being unceremoniously turned inside out and dumped onto the floor, wide eyed and shocked at the unexpected sensation. A hand to a handy nearby cabinet steadies her in time to keep her feet.

She did not expect sympathy or even notice, which was all to the good. Still preoccupied with his own worries, the young Lord hardly spares Margot a glance as he continues to follow Tia toward their destination. They were both so accustomed to the experience, neither miss a step at re-entry nor give thought to the princess's comfort. A shock of red stains her cheeks as she fumbles to regain her regal posture. She must let go the reassuringly solid cabinet much too quickly in order to follow after her guides lest she be left behind. Yet walking seemed to help more than clutching the furniture, building a sense of solidity within only a few hesitant steps.

Wonders surround them, hardly noted by either Chaosian. The lively moving murals were all too familiar to them, murals that continually played out alliances, victories, defeats, loves, and deaths depicted with ink and paint. Another time, perhaps, Margot would have enjoyed lingering at the marvels; never truly seeing pictures so alive as these. Yes, she had created a book filled with enchantments for Kendall to teach him of her Shadow visually as much as through reading, but this was so beyond her little gift.

She found herself once more clenching her gown in her fists to remind herself that she was NOT a guest, merely a witness — a stranger. Only those who enjoyed welcome by the House were granted the privilege to enjoy the wonders enveloping them, wonders that Kendall no doubt hardly even noticed, so accustomed was he to seeing such things. Still, despite her stubbornness, she could not help but steal the occasional glance at one mural or the next, noting details in hopes of someday asking about the tales the masterpieces displayed.

Kendall's eye is drawn to one as they pass, though, as it always was no matter how many times he had walked these halls. Within the frame, a man very like to Kendall himself in appearance and bearing, though older, eternally paced towards the blackness of the Abyss with a gathering of witnesses looking on. The young Lord's ancestor and namesake, as remembered generations later, at the beginning of his quest to gain the blessing of Lord Serpent and secure the House Pact of Chanicut.

As they walk the unendingly long hallway of his ancestral home, footsteps muffled in deep carpeting as green as a field of grass, he talks to Tia of minor gossip and doings of the House during his absence. While there were so many more heavy and potentially important topics he might have asked her about, those questions refused to find utterance. His heart knew, deep within, there was no way to learn all the things he would need, not in the space of this walk, not even if he convinced Time Herself to stand still once more and wait on his whim. So instead, he finds ease and comfort hearing about the small doings of the place he had come to miss far more than he had ever expected when he departed for his journey to Amber.

A cousin with a new baby, an amusing prank pulled on a hapless servant by two of Tia's brothers, the death of the old gre'll, loyal beast of mountainlike proportions who had watched over six generations of Chanicut children as they played in the Jumbled Garden. These were the things that brought him solace; news of his home. Margot listens quietly to the conversation shared between adult and child. Throughout this journey, she found herself vacillating between mourning the child's innocence and admiring her strength of character. She had hoped that Tia did in fact have time to enjoy the Jumbled Garden of which the two Chanicut spoke.

But conversation tapers as they approach the doors at the far end of the hall within the grand Manor that sat within the Courts themselves. Taller than two men, the polished doors formed of black stone quarried from the edge of the Abyss swallowed their reflection as they came near. Golden vines clambered with graceful elegance along both sides of pillared frame, their massive leaves softening the portal's harsh edges. The vines, one male and the other female, met at top to create a single, colossal bloom which hung closed and secretive. There, they stop to wait for the doors to open.

Uncertain of what to do, the Princess smooths her shimmery dress and folds her hands before her. Margot admired the twin columns with vines that fought to meet their partners, their lovers, the other half of their existence. Such ironic similarities to what unfolded in her present. This distraction brings a small, appreciative smile to her lips as her eyes focus on the sleeping blossom, attempting to imagine the beauty that lay enveloped in the protective husk.

Kendall breathes deeply, struggling to quiet his mind and maintain his focus even as his awareness is drawn irresistibly to the young woman in silvery white who had accompanied him on this journey. Her presence posed both a burden and a comfort, a contradiction he could not hope to reconcile in the space of time he had to devote to it.

So instead he turns to give her his full attention for the first time since they had left her suite in the manor. "Please remember," he cautions her quietly. "Houses do not meddle in the internal affairs of other Houses. Hendrake does not meddle with Sawall. Sawall does not meddle with Chanicut. Chanicut does not meddle with Helgram. The affairs of the Houses are their own."

His voice drew her attention away from her own thoughts, concerns and observations. It had been the first time he had spoken to her since they had left. "I will not speak unless spoken to and I will honor your ways to the best of my abilities," she replies, her tone calm and soothing yet also formal. She had little doubt the child was well aware of who Margot was and what she was to Kendall; she also probably knew far more of what Fates were conspiring against her lover than Margot could ever hope to grasp.

She he care to look, he could have seen the young woman he held dear and the love she felt in return. A silent promise, only uttered in a gaze, that she would not interfere unless called upon… no matter how painful or dire the circumstance may appear. His expression remains remote and does not soften, however.

"In this place, there are no other ways to honor than those of the House," he replies. That being said, he turns his attention back to the massive black stone to await the next step in this journey.

"Then it will not be difficult for me to confuse the issue," she murmurs, her gaze lingering on his profile. "Having only one path makes the choice of how to proceed easier."

She also returns her attention to the twin monoliths. The curiosity was maddening; she wanted desperately to know their story and the story of the vines that found their way to loving bonds at the apex of the hard, lifeless stone. Kendall's somber silence and distance did not invite questions, though, so she swallows her questions and squares her shoulders proudly, her whole persona embracing her birthright. She would meet whatever lay beyond the heavy doors with a calm heart and commanding presence befitting one born to greatness and power.

Hardly were Margot's words past her lips than the enormous doors crack open outward, swinging silently without the grinding noise one would expect of such heavy stone. And from the other side of the portal emerges… something. In Margot's eyes, its like some great demon from whatever hell pit she dares imagine. For Kendall and Tia, though, this fiend has a name: Neqa'el.

A cousin of sorts. Head of House Security, left hand of the Duke, and half-demon through his mother a fire angel within the higher circles of demonkind.

"KENDALL," it growls in greeting. Its voice, like a blast, sends Tia's hair swirling about her head as she answers the unspoken question Kendall never dared asked. She extends her index finger and points towards Neqa'el as his attention is elsewhere. But that doesn't prevent her from offering his bound sword to her larger demonic cousin.

"SPLENDID," it coos, with a gesture sending the sword elsewhere in the Manor as a precaution.

To say Margot is surprised would be redundant; everything about this trip was beyond her apprehension. Her eyes did widen at the one named Neqa'el, but she quickly regains her composure, watching family welcome one another with respect if not fondness.

The Lord returns the half-demon's greeting with a nod, cordial and formal as always. "Neqa'el," he answers. "It has been some time since last you disarmed me."

Its laughter shoots a glob of flames to the floor. "WELL PLAYED, LITTLE COUSIN," it roars, closing a taloned hand as large as Kendall's head onto the Lord's shoulder. The squeeze given is one of welcome, one of family.

He manages a smiles in return after a wince of pain, and brings one hand up to grip the creature's forearm in return, which was basically all he could reach. The smile fades quickly back into a much more accustomed tense and serious expression as he looks at his father's assistant.

"It pains me to be the one to bring this news to you… but Go'echel is… gone. During the battle," he explains in a sober voice. That was one form he recognized amongst the ones scattered in the hall of the manor in Silver. While he knew telling Neqa'el this right now might be risky, he still felt responsible for conveying the news personally.

Margot manages to remain respectful and still remove her gaze from the engagement and the volley. Whether the cousins were enjoying a ruse or were deadly serious, she had no clue. But she had made a promise, and even if this was merely casual greeting, it was not her place to interrupt or disrupt what transpired. Instead, she remains mindful of etiquette — even if not all the rules were the same — and waits patiently with a pleasant expression with eyes that missed nothing.

"Then we will mourn, as is our tradition. We're not Hendrake after all, Little Cousin," Neqa'el replies with another fire-dripping laugh, moderating its voice after hearing the crack of Kendall's shoulder. "Come. We will get you to the Therapists. Your father would be displeased not to have you in the best of health at your execution."

Kendall shakes his head. "Mayhap you can find one last exception to add to my tally?" he asks. "I would prefer no delays."

His cousin nods in understanding. Tia waits till proper farewells can be given, their parting to mark when her duty would find its end, as would her cousin. Few ever escaped such a despicable charge in the House, and Kendall has always been a bit of a provocateur within the Families.

The Lord turns to his sweet little cousin, a young girl who would no doubt grow to be one of vast influence in the fullness of Time. Once more going to a knee before her, he searches her young face for a glimpse of his own past. Yet no matter how similar their origins, her childhood still would be vastly different than his own. In time, he leans in to place a chaste kiss on her lips. "Fare thee well, m'che," he says. "And try to remember the lyrr'ah is for making music, not for filling with sand."

He stands and walks through the door, followed by his demonic cousin and the Amberite princess. Nega'el's talons raise sparks upon the stone as the internal fires within him illuminate them all like some illustration from Dante's Inferno. He points to a Refreshing Pool with a growl, reasoning at least his cousin would wish to wash the grime and exhaustion away before seeing his father. It wasn't much in way of kindness that a Lord of Chaos could expect, yet it was at least something.

Kendall accepts the offer with a grateful nod, immediately descending the nine shallow steps into the pool. His robes undulate in a wind that could only be truly felt within the spirit as he walks to the center of the basin. Once there, he stretches his arms out to his side and then raises his hands above his head, turning his face up and reaching into the air in a pose of supplication. High above, a shimmering white-gold stream begins to rain from a crevice in the wall, gentle drops falling to coat his fingers, arms, face, and hair. He closes his eyes as the liquid etches its way across his skin and passes through his clothes to trickle over his body. The rain gathers up and carries away the tiny, invisible residues of his travels, leaving him refreshed.

There had been nothing like this in Amber, Shadow, or Silver — a cleansing of the spirit and energy that he had craved for so long that the craving itself had become an unconscious part of his reality. Amber's dusty halls of stasis, the Rhercyn's wild and bloody Tinor nature, even Margot's Fae Magick and the Pattern itself, all had left their residues on him like dark smears on glass that darkened the world and smothered his spirit. He could not say how long he stood there, while the waters traveled his skin and healed his heart, bringing light and peace to a troubled mind. But when the stream finally ceases, he opens eyes that had been reborn.

Refreshed! He brings his hands down to press palms together in front of his chest as he breathes deep, sucking in air and feeling his lungs expand, smelling everything around him more sharply, sweetly: Neqa'el's distinctive firey tang, Margot's special musk, the special perfume of the Hall ringed with gently burning punks of incense. Sounds and sights were bright and clear once more, and he smiles, finally feeling himself. Oh, to go and enjoy it, too! He wants to leave this place and return to the hallowed halls of his House, see and hear and talk to everyone he could. Feel the rippling of blood and muscle as he changed his shape without effort, becoming one with the elements. Ride the fields of Chaos in the cold winds of the Abyss. But…

He exhales, and his expression sobers as he returns to the here and now. There was nothing beyond these walls for him. Not right now. Right now, there was only his next meeting, and with the clarity of mind brought by the waters, he could return his mind to this task with ease, even if not wholly without regret. Kendall shakes his sleeves, returning them to their proper hang as he exits the pool, climbing the nine steps and returning to the level with Neqa'el and Margot. Bright eyes alight on his cousin once more, and he puts a hand to his heart and gives him a bow. "Thank you," he says, sincere with his gratitude for the courtesy offered to him, spare though it might be. He had no doubt his father would have foregone even this simple gesture, had he only his own say in the matter.

With a single talon, pointed, as a dark stone wall unbuilds itself by neat invisible hands. Each stone block, place off to the side as till a huge tunnel is revealed beyond. On its dark waters, is a small serenity garden upon a floating inland of amethyst rock. Nega'el waits till the energy bridge is spun before speaking, as he looks to see if the wardguard has been violated.

"This conveyance will take you to the proper wing of the manor, for your judgement. Any divergence or delay, will be considered an admission of guilt and the response will be as such." This warning is given not with a threat but a care to the desire not have such a commotion to happen within a House that would soon be in mourning.

Kendall nods in understanding. Saying the words was a little unnecessary, but he realized that Nega'el needed to make sure all was clear. "Good-bye," he says.

He turns to his companion then, some of the stress and strain having been released enough for him to remember his manners and duties. He extends a hand to assist her step from the chamber floor to the island, ready to continue on their journey.

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Shadows and Possibilities

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