Parting Ways

He is quiet as the princess leads him to an empty antechamber, dismissing the surroundings and most other distractions as being of no account. Instead, he puzzles over the questions and half answers his conversations with Amber had produced. The flurry and distress of the castle inhabitants, however, is something that bore some slight attention.

It had now become even more dangerous to be a Chaosian in Amber.

Once hidden within the tiny makeshift sanctuary, he brings his attention back to the present as Margot turns to face him. Timidly, her hands extend in an invitation for connection that he accepts by taking her cold hands into his warm ones.

"Thank you," she begins.

Being thanked was not what he had expected. "For what, Margot?" he asks.

"For everything," she replies simply. "For showing up, despite royal decrees, to this debacle of a debut. For giving me the opportunity to experience life in a way that I never anticipated. For… For daring me to be curious and to demand knowledge, even when it only created obstacles. Thank you for being patient and for your indulgence." It was obvious that she was struggling, her voice becoming a whisper as her eyes fill with emotion that threatened to leak.

Her gaze falls to their joined hands. "Terrible things are coming, Kendall. I need to know that you are going to be safe. There isn't much time… You need to go home. Now. Before any harm befalls you. I will— " She pauses to swallow hard, fingers tightening around his as she attempts to shield him from the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her.

"Even if I survive the Pattern, it is unlikely that I will weather the Tempest coming. Grand— Prince Bleys knows my heart…. He is the only one, really," she adds softly, a ghost of a rueful chuckle emphasizing the point. "He knows that my heart is yours to claim, if you desire it. He also knows that I will die on the winding path if I am distracted with thoughts of you. If I am consumed with worry that you are not safe."

He waits patiently through the flow of her words and emotions, and his expression is pensive when she falls silent. He takes two deliberate breaths as he waits for the proper words of reply to come together.

"Thank you for the warning, Margot," he says at last, his voice and demeanor still calm and restrained even in the face of her anguish. His gaze remains steady on her downcast eyes. "I am aware of at least some of what is coming, and I do have intention of departing Amber. Beyond that, I wish to extend an invitation for you to accompany me to Chaos. However, there are some things you will need to consider first."

His words earn him a cautious glance as she dares to meet his eyes with her own. He frees one hand from hers as she looks up, pushing the tendrils of her hair away from her face and then resting his hand on her shoulder.

"Chaos will change you, Margot. We have spoken already of my duty to my House. I have said already that though we may remain lovers for a time, it may not always be so. Should you choose to become a member of Chanicut, you will also be expected to fulfill duties to the House. Should you decide to attempt raising the banner of House Barimen in the Courts once again, there will be much risk and even more uncertainty."

"Uncertainty here… uncertainty somewhere else…" she murmurs, her words more felt than heard. Her love for her mother, father, and grandfather is unquestionable. Her love for the man standing before her now is equally undeniable. But one thing she had discovered as she struggled to understand her place in Amber was that she felt … right … in the Chaosian's presence. Not awkward. Not like some failure to her family. It was as if all the forces of the cosmos aligned and gifted her a sense of wellbeing when she was with him.

It is now her turn to wear the pensive mask as she searches his eyes, wondering what it was that kept him from speaking freely and willing him to do so. "What is it that you want, Kendall?" Her wants at this moment were simple: his safety. If she could do anything to ensure that he would survive, she would without hesitation. She could not afford in this moment to think beyond the absolute present.

"My personal desires are irrelevant." Kendall's reply is definitive, yet delivered with no emotion or emphasis. Releasing her hands, he turns to walk the few steps needed to reach the other side of the antechamber. His hands disappear back into the sleeves of his black robe. Black, like the night, or his mood, or the future.

He may as well have struck her, such was the pain he instilled with his withdrawal. "No, they may not matter in the grand scheme of what is to be, but your desires are relevant. They are important to me," she whispers, a ghost of sound.

"Tis of no account," he insists, his voice roughening with suppressed emotion. "I know, now, why I was sent to this place. To Amber. Tis what the image of my mother said to you in the Hall of Mirrors — I have been a poor Son of Chanicut. Willful. Selfish. Intent on my own pleasures and whims. That is not the way of my House, and now I have seen firsthand the results of those impulses. The fate of Amber is not what I desire for my House. Duty and Discipline are what I must pursue. Not Desire."

She shakes her head out of reflex, denying his words though he could not see the gesture. She did not see a bad man, one that lacked the discipline he seemed to believe was his life's blood. The image in the mirror had not been his mother, this she was certain.

"None of it was true," she insists. "The Hall is a place where Evil dances and Torments wait to play upon the thoughts of those trapped within its malicious walls. It is lies woven in images we want to see, bastardizing what is real into that which is not."

Her conviction carries her words when her voice would not. She wanted to go to him. She wanted to turn away. Truth be told, she didn't know what she wanted, except that during what could be their last encounter, she did not want to deal with — negotiate terms with — the Lord of Chaos.

No, she wanted in this single moment to be with Kendall, to know his thoughts and longings without fear of repercussions. She was terrified for him; for both of them. But was there even such a thing as them?

"Even if the messenger is false, it does not always follow that the message is false as well. And yet…" His voice trails off into waiting silence. "I do have one desire for you, Margot."

Turning to face her again, he closes his eyes for a time as he breathes deeply. He knew one thing she wanted, though she had not expressly said so. He didn't know if he could give her that particular thing, but there was another desire she had spoken, something with which he could help her. Opening his eyes, his expression softens as he looks into her face, pinched and tense with unhappiness and worry.

"I would help you find a place where you belong," he says. "Such is possible in Chaos, with Chanicut perhaps, or another House. But you should be aware ahead of time that this opportunity comes with a price. A price that I have already explained to you."

Her body resisted her, fought against her as she takes one deliberate step after another to approach him, holding her raging emotions in check. When nothing could possibly pass between their forms, she raises her hands to cup his face. Fingers smooth locks from his forehead. "Discipline. Duty. Not Desires. All for the advancement of the House," she says.

With the slightest of touches, she cants his head for eyes to meet eyes. "These are not foreign concepts. Those of House Amber simply pursue such things … differently." She breathes. "But… there is always another option, Kendall."

His eyes look deeply into hers as he digests her meaning, or what he guessed she meant. Then his expression becomes gentler, knowledge of the pain he had caused earlier softening the firm line of his mouth and the coldness of his gaze. He leans closer to press his lips to her forehead, and when he answers, his voice is soft though his tone is decisive. "Not for me."

Withdrawing so that he can look into her eyes once more, he continues. "I do care for you Margot. You are unique in my experience, and I find that I enjoy your company. I would show you the wonders of Chaos, should you decide to journey there. But my place is there, and I find that is not something I am willing to sacrifice. Tis possible you may also find a place there. Perhaps not. As you observed earlier, uncertainty exists in any endeavor."

She smiles tenderly, squashing her disappointment and instead turning her hopes toward the only possibility left. "Then I will see your Chaos and all of its wonders,” she whispers her acceptance. Her fingers trace his jaw, and though her soul felt lighter now that agreement had been made, her brows still threaten to furrow in worry.

"I… I am still worried for your safety. I don’t know what will happen," she adds. She shakes her head, closing her eyes and drawing a ragged breath to calm and steady herself. Opening her eyes again, she searches his face, trying to draw on the strength he seemed to project as naturally as breathing. "Promise me that you will leave Amber at first opportunity. Promise me that you will be safe, even if it's a lie. Please. Convince me that you will be safe."

Kendall's lips press together, his expression not sure whether to smile or frown, and he shakes his head. "I will not lie to you, Margot," he replies, his arms encircling her and pulling her against him. "But I assure you, I will be departing from Amber as soon as possible. But if you are intent on coming to Chaos with me, it seems as though I should wait on news of your progress with the Pattern."

"Then I will do my level best to complete the trial, for it will be awfully difficult to see your wonders if I fail to navigate to its core," she agrees, her voice tight with the struggle to push the doom from her thoughts. "When I am successful, I will find you."

He looks down at her for the space of 10 heartbeats, silently thinking. "You must divorce yourself from your emotions in order to succeed," he says at last. "Do you know how to do that?"

Her head shakes. "No. I think that's why Grandpa wanted me to speak with you." It was unclear whether the idea was for her to be at peace after speaking with him, or if Bleys figured Kendall could assist in some other way. In any event, this would be only her first trial of fire.

Moving to her side, arm still around her waist, the Chaosian ushers her to a low settee under the darkened window and seats her before sitting next to her. "Tis a simple thing," he begins. "But it takes some concentration at first. Start with a visualization. See your emotions as a river that flows through your mind. It may be slow and smooth, or swift and tumultuous. Close your eyes and think on this for a time, and tell me if you can see it."

Her breathing is shallow for several moments as she closes her eyes and attempts to find center. Meditation was not a foreign concept, though were she asked, she would admit that she did not practice as often as she should. Eventually, the tension in her shoulders fades as her breathing deepens and becomes more rhythmic and even. And in her mind's eye, an image forms of rocky banks that barely contain a raging stream that threatens to overflow its banks and destroy all that fell in its path. Powerful, turbulent, the current races with a ferocity that refuses to be tamed.

"I see it," she breathes.

"Good. Rivers can be harnessed, dammed, and redirected, but ultimately, they cannot be controlled," he says next, his voice a soothing murmur while holding her hands to ground her. "There are times when you will want to swim in its currents, and other times when you must remain apart, standing on its banks. Picture yourself outside of the river, standing apart from it. The emotions still flow, but they do not touch you. You remain at peace. Calm. Centered."

Both had known that Margot had nothing if not an active imagination. Slowly, she paints herself into the scenery sitting next to a boulder, her bare toes digging into the lush green grass. Her likeness rests with her eyes closed, listening to the powerful flow. Breathing deeply, she could smell the newness of the grass and the earthy flavors spicing the waters. On her face shines the warmth of a spring morning. Through it all, she continues to breathe.

He hums softly while giving her time to create her own imagery in her mind, and she infuses the simple, calming melody into her vision. This was something he had learned at a much younger age, and certainly not on the eve of doing something extraordinarily dangerous. But even in calmer circumstances, standing outside one's self could be difficult, and was not something even he had complete mastery over. Yet it was possible that even this small bit of teaching would assist her.

"This applies to other things as well," he adds, and she feels his fingers trace the line of her jaw delicately. "Emotions and sensations arise from the body. Being able to separate your mind from your body helps to bring focus. You are aware of what is happening, but you control your instinctual reactions. You will act, not react."

His thumb caresses her lips and she feels his fingers drift down from her cheek, along her neck and shoulder to follow the line of her arm. Her eyes scrunch tighter, her jaw tightening as her lips press together in a thin line of concentration. When his ghostly caress leaves her face to follow an invisible trail along her neck and shoulder, she shudders uncontrollably, her fingers balled into tight fists.

He knew she was sensitive, extremely ticklish, and almost immediately he had broken her concentration. Shoulders slump and her head tips in failure. Her exhale is nothing short of defeat. How was she going to survive this if she could not even manage to keep her concentration through a simple brush of her skin?

Swallowing hard, she could feel the panic growing in her chest. Hands still clenched in her lap, she rolls her shoulders and her neck. Her lower lip quivers as she draws another cleansing breath. "Again. Please."

Kendall's fingers leave her as she breaks down, struggling for control. "That was too much at first, perhaps," he says. "Find your river again, and your place place on its banks."

He waits whilst she works again to achieve calm. Her expression remains serene, but lurking beneath the mask lay steely determination. She knew that there were only two options if she was going to go through with this: success or death. Which meant there was no option.

The noises from the hall had faded somewhat, or perhaps this was merely a short break. How long they would have before her grandfather came looking for her was unknown. Or would Bleys wait for Margot? Again, unknown. Kendall finds himself thinking, of all things, of Vanya. Would he be able to retrieve her and take her home again? So many unknowns. Setting those thoughts aside, he turns his attention again to the young princess.

Her face is calm and relaxed again, and so he asks, "How is your river?"

Her only response is a brief nod, indicating that she is ready once more. He waits quietly for a few heartbeats, mulling his next move. "Your father despises me, you realize," he begins again, tone conversational. "I wonder if he would prefer death for you rather than to see you in Chaos with me."

Once more her fists tighten, knuckles turning white. Her eyes tighten shut as if by her will alone she can make the blackness of his words disappear. She loved her father more than anything; he would sooner see her denied access to the Pattern than risk her life.

It isn't true! Papa would never prefer me dead! But then doubt assails her, leaping from the deep recesses of her mind. Her mother had been quick to condemn her choice, making her choose between exile and her lover. But Papa showed compassion and mercy. He granted my wish.

The water in her river splashes violently, barely restrained by its banks. Spray slaps at her vision's face, chilling her even beneath the warmth of the sun. Still, she did not react to his words beyond the minuscule break in concentration. Her determination and concentration interlinked once more, and she feels the tension slowly dissipate.

"Very good," he says with approval. "Practice will make it easier, in time."

It might be difficult to continue, but time was not their ally. He gives her several heartbeats to solidify her equilibrium before proceeding with the next barb. "It may be that what I am instructing you in today will lead to the predictions you saw in the Hall of Mirrors. It may be that you will one day swim in the waters of your river as you revel at my death."

With her eyes still shut, she has only his dispassionate voice to go by, sounding relaxed as though speaking of the best wine to serve with dinner. Yet his words strike her to the core. Her heart rages and weeps simultaneously as his venomous words surrounded her, threatening to smother her.

What we saw in the Hall was all a lie! I could never become that monstrosity! Yet the ichor of doubt strangles her heart and she could feel the panic rising once more. Lips press together to the point of turning white from the strain. Her eyes squeeze closed in a desperate attempt to hold on to the tranquility of the river, but it was no use. With a shake of her head in protest to his summation, a single tear streaks her cheek.

"Come, come, my sweet," he says, his tone encouraging now. "Tis difficult, but by no means impossible. You are more than your body and emotions, Margot; you are your intellect as well. Left to its own devices, your river will consume you if you allow it. You would be swept away by its current, smashed against its rocks, and doomed to its depths. Besides, tis equally possible at this point that what I teach you now will allow you to control your anger and hatred and not be destroyed by it, not be transformed into the image in the mirror. It may be that you will remain… as you are now. More temperate, perhaps, more poised."

Her breathing slowly calms, a hand leaving her lap to remove the evidence of emotion from her face. Even her eyelids seemed to release some of the strain they had been carrying. She feels terrified of such repression. It was too much; her emotions and empathy were what made her… well they made her Margot.

And yet, there was more to her than this, parts that had not yet been cultivated in such a brief life. The part that called to her when she trained with her sword, infusing her with a serenity that came with the simplicity of movement and bringing mind and body into alignment. Her vision transforms. Her river continued to rage, powerful and angry at the world around it, but no longer did she rest against a boulder, passive and static.

Now she bore the garb of her training: breeches and vest and sword that was not Greyswandir, but the blade her grandfather had gifted her under the guise of the Masked Master. Upon her wrist she wears her charm bracelet — another gift from Bleys — though it carried more baubles than before. Blade and Bear are there, as always, but now accompanied by a pearl wrapped in sterling, and a bird in flight.

She feels the truth in his words; pushing her emotions aside she could see the logic. She walks along the river now, watching over it as waves fight against their confines. It was another tiny moment, and again she nods in readiness for him to continue. A short pause ensues, a pause pregnant with the venom that might issue forth from his lips, but then instead she feels him close the distance between them. The heat of his body draws close and his lips meet hers to drink from her lips, inviting entry into deeper caresses.

"Emotions and sensations arise from the body.”

She felt her resolve weaken as he closed distance with her. His cinnamon-like scent is warm and inviting.

"Being able to separate your mind from your body helps to bring focus. You are aware of what is happening, but you control your instinctual reactions. You will act, not react."

Her heart races as she felt his breath caress her skin. His supple lips brush against hers and she feels herself wishing to melt.

“You are more than your body and emotions, Margot; you are your intellect as well.”

Her lips remained soft, but she did not indulge her hunger to sample his lips. His words spin dervishes in her mind. He could feel her desire, tempting her to return his affection and accept his invitation. Her breathing catches, if but a moment, as she works to remain passive against his ploy.

She is a daughter of Amber, born of the royal blood. Even deeper than this, she is Margot, an entity that refuses defeat, even by her own hand. To survive, she had to abandon everything she knew, everything she desired, everything the loved. Only in surrendering to the Void would she triumph.

Slowly, she becomes aware of the sensation, appreciating it but not driven to reciprocate the press. Her mind carries her along the tumultuous river. The warmth she feels is not from the sun; rather it flowed from a comforting sensation that filled her from within. In her meditation, her fingers brush against her lips, recalling a fond memory as she continues her journey.

The pressure on her lips slackens, then disappears completely. She can feel him move away as he sits back again. "Open your eyes, Margot," he directs, voice still calm and unruffled. "You are as ready as you will be at this time."

Several moments pass before her eyes flutter open. Her gaze rests upon her hands for several more moments before she manages to seek out his. When she looks up, she sees he is watching her with his faint smile in evidence. Leaning in, she cups his cheek, her lips brushing against the corner of his mouth.

She lingers there, not overly long, before she rests her forehead against his temple, her thumb tracing his cheekbone. "Once more, you bestow gifts upon me and I don't know how to express my appreciation."

They sit in quiet intimacy for a time, and one arm finds its way again around her waist. "You credit me far too much, shayna," he whispers eventually. "Perhaps tis merely that I wish to have another opportunity to make love to you. Many more opportunities, in fact."

His answer is a melodious laugh, her hand slipping from his cheek to rest at his heart. "That is a powerful motivator, indeed." Her fingers find comfort in the folds of his robe. Sighing, she closes her eyes once more to calm her nerves. Not as scattered or frantic, the adrenaline fills her veins nonetheless.

"Have we calmed your fears, then?" Kendall inquires. "I believe your grandfather suggested a warm bath to relax you before your ordeal. Certainly that would be more restful than most of my suggestions."

Eventually, she nods. "Frolicking naked with you or making Margot soup? That's hardly a fair choice," she returns, an impish light coming to her eyes. The smile that finds her lips is soft and affectionate, as though even in jest she cannot completely abandon the gravity of what came next.

"Perhaps, if you joined me in the bath it would be less like punishment…" she offers, the crooked smile indicating her serious doubt that it would happen.

He chuckles at the answer. "I have no doubt that would not be like punishment at all," he says, his other hand coming up to tweak her nose. "I must prepare for departure, however. When you have completed your task, seek me out, and we will proceed from there."

She nods and with that decided, a short silence falls as though neither of them really knew what to say or do next. Margot sighs. "It means everything to me that you were a part of my celebration. Such as it was," she finally admits. "Though I am fairly certain I do not wish my debut to be forever tied to the destruction of Amber. That is over-dramatic, even for me."

He makes an amused hmph as he stands and offers her a hand up, pulling her close when she rises to her feet. "Twas memorable, Margot. Very few will forget this event," he replies. "But you are welcome, nonetheless. Now you should return to your quarters and prepare. If there is a page to be found, send any things you would like to take on your journey to me."

She thinks about what she would bring: the blade Bleys gifted her, Lady Bear, the necklace that hung at her neck, and the charm bracelet that clung to her wrist. They were all gifts from her grandfather, and that alone spoke volumes of her connection to this place. "I came here with the clothes on my back; I doubt I will leave with little more."

"Please do bring at least a few changes of clothes," he says. "Preferably not one of these inaccessible dresses. Trousers or breeches for riding, boots; items of practicality. I am uncertain what our trip to Chaos will entail, apart from much lovemaking."

"Perhaps clothing should be forgotten all together," she says with a warm smile curling her lips. "In my little experience traveling, practicality was of the essence. I think you will find that I am an efficient packer. Though perhaps I shall bring a single corset, to be destroyed with great ceremony, pomp and whatnot."

"If you desire it, my sweet, it will be done," he agrees. "But some clothing is a necessity for those, like you, who cannot shift to accommodate the surroundings." Hands travel down her back, over her rear, lifting her so he could taste her lips with ease. Her arms cling to his shoulders as step by careful step, kisses never slacking, he moves them both toward the door of the chamber.

Margot feels the warm wood of the door against her back as they finally reach the portal that would soon open to the rest of the castle. He presses her against the hard surface, pinning her between it and the heat of his body. This close, even through layers of clothing, she can feel the thrum of his heart against her chest. Thus immobilized, his lips and tongue rove over her face, cheeks and across her neck, hitching her up higher so he can nibble her shoulders.

It is another of those indeterminate moments when nothing really seems to register except the scents and tastes of the other as they both speak their farewells without words. Armed with a new metaphor, she can imagine him wading into his river of emotion and sensation as they kiss and caress each other. There was no telling when or if they would meet again.

Yet… There is a time and a place for all things. His kisses slacken, and he moves his head back just enough to look into her face again while still holding her braced up against the door. "Remember what I have told you, Margot," he murmurs.

Reluctantly, her grip around his shoulders loosens, her body slowly sliding down his. She would remember until their paths crossed again or death fell upon her. It wasn't so frightening, staring up at him now. She had chosen her path and was empowered by the decision. She never imagined peace feeling like this.

"I will send my things as discreetly as I am able," she says. "When it is time, my grandfather will take me to the Pattern."

Once more, a hand strokes his cheek. "I will see you soon. And Kendall, please, be careful." He nods to her entreaty, though it was difficult to assure that anyone was safe right then.

Hand moves to heart as she steals one last kiss, savoring him against the possibility this may be her last opportunity. Several moments pass before tenderness simply comes to a close. A soft smile for him alone rests on her face before she leaves him, and though he thinks to wish her well, the blessing of the Serpent seems inappropriate in this situation.

And so she departs to face her next trial, leaving him to wait and plan.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
Conference with Brisbane

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