Reunion: Meeting Diona

Under the vivid light of the Maiden Suns, laughing at some unheard joke, stand their Captain, Dara, and Diona…

Rough around the edges but a tender center
This is my wild abyssal flower
Short and slender with long flowing blonde hair
This is my wild abyssal flower
A loving heart that goes beyond what I can see
This is my wild abyssal flower

Clothed in blood and glory, a gown that flows and changes to show figures upon its silk fighting some ancient battle. Bare shoulders, skin flawless. Dara draws attention to his sister's chest as the former Hendrake general points to a line of mounted warriors charging up to the walls. Diona does a quick spin, allowing Dara to observe the next scene of them dying.

New to her brother, her left eye is covered by a painted quarter mask like actors wear on a stage. Silvery upon her pale skin, a binding spell etched upon its surface that could confine even the strongest of demons.

First sight of his sister drives all thought from his mind and Margot can hear his breath catch. He pauses at the door they had just exited to let the experience sweep over him like a flock of ravens — breathtaking and dangerous. He could not have moved for those heartbeats even had another calamity visited the ship.

The sting was brief, but there nonetheless, as Margot's lover became lost in the alluring vision that was Diona. For the gasp was not that of one that had merely missed a sibling. Margot could sense something far more mesmerizing, and the smile that enthralled him, beckoned him, was the poignant strike of ethereal blade, an unmistakably reminder of where Margot ranked among the women of the Chaos Lord's life.

Rather than give the Lady the satisfaction of Margot's distress, she glances up at Kendall and gifts him with a loving smile, eyes for him alone. Her fingers massage his arm soothingly.

Hardly noticing his lover's caress, Kendall's attention remains arrested by his sister. Her smile releases him from his stasis, beckoning him onward. With Margot's hand still trapped around his arm, he leads his lover across the deck, their adroit feet weaving with nary a misstep around the natural clutter of a ship at sea. The last few steps before they reach the other group seem tortuously long to him, but were in reality accomplished so quickly a bird could not have arrived sooner.

Kendall gives both Dara and the Captain brief nods of acknowledgment before centering his attention on his sister, gifting her with his own, warm smile. He reaches for her hand with his free one, intending to kiss the back. "Diona, my sister. You are always so full of surprises. What brings you to the Rhercyn? Your insatiable love of the sea?" he teases her.

Firm and hard headed but with a loving touch
This is my wild abyssal flower
Always hiding and always scared like a little child
This is my wild abyssal flower
The only one I'm willing to be with anymore
This is my wild abyssal flower

Brushing aside the once feared general, brushing aside the captain of their seaward fate, brushing aside all but the man before her, Diona takes takes him into her arms to hold and embrace like a lover. Lovers these two, upon a fateful sea unknown to all but one another — lonely stewards of a vision that sits upon the narrowest of edges, not of a single blade but a dozen. Those who rule Chanicut, do so always alone.

The kiss she gives is full of life. Full of passion. A lover's kiss, a sister's kiss, and that even of a mother's. Tis a kiss of fire, of chill, and of the one true desire — to know she is not alone.

Diona's arms about him, her lips against his, transport him to a place as close to nirvana as he could ever go. For that critical heartbeat — the heartbeat in which mistakes are carved into stone, never to be forgotten — all thought of their surroundings flee from his consciousness as his mind fills to overflowing with his sister. She was so much more than anyone could ever guess or dream; his own private imaginings painted her as large, mighty, beautiful, and awe-inspiring as the entire Courts.There was simply no room for anything else as their bodies melded together and he tasted her breath.

She sought and he gave, though the seeking and the giving were mutual, both desiring comfort and solace. He was hers, and she was not alone. As yet, no other woman had led his heart astray, perhaps why his beloved Telairen had asked him the impossible: to abandon House and position, realizing this would be the only way for him to truly be hers alone.

Margot isn't certain which is more upsetting, the utter dismissal of her existence by the Lady or the way that Kendall silently dismisses her with a slackened arm so that he may take his sister into an embrace not unlike one shared with her moments before. She was far from pleased. No, she was insulted.

The princess seethes, refusing to be cast aside like pollen blown from a dandelion. Uncertain whether the lustful embrace is completely genuine or a test to see how the little Amberite would deal with having their intimate relationship rubbed into her face like salt and vinegar in a fresh wound, Margot would be damned if she would skulk off to the rail and give them more privacy and the Lady any more lip time than the princess herself decided necessary.

And it was with that steely mindset that she allows them a mere moment — barely long enough to sate the faint memory of their special affection — before taking action for herself.

One hand wraps his waist while the other wraps around his opposite bicep, a gentle tug at his arm toward her as her fingers squeeze the muscle with tender and purposeful intent. The smile she wears is one of calm nobility; she would not give any of the Chaosians present the pleasure of seeing her anger and hurt. She was Princess, and was not to be so easily forgotten.

"Kendall," she speaks his name with respectful ardor. "Please do me the honor of a formal introduction to your sister, the Lady Diona. You have spoken so highly of her and with great enthusiasm to see our paths finally woven into a single strand, no matter how short our travels together may be."

Dara watches, taking all within…even that of her Mistress. Their Captain decides her duty leads elsewhere for the moment.

Hands and voice at his waist and ear, touch and sound from another one he held close to his heart, and reality reasserts itself with an almost physical jolt. He and Diona were on deck, not in the privacy of their Ways. Much as he might want to enjoy his sister's embrace far longer, lessons in decorum had been unrelenting from the time he could barely toddle. His arms loosen and he draws their kiss to a close; the first time he had taken the lead thus.

As he draws away, her eyes flutter and lips still moist from his kiss descend into a pout. "Does my sweet little brother not need his sister any longer?"

A darkened hush rises in the sky above my flower
This is my wild abyssal flower
A forest fire begins in the distance soon to consume it
This is my wild abyssal flower
But I laugh at knowing how this fire was lit
By my wild abyssal flower

His free hand comes up so that his fingers can smooth away her pout with a butterfly's touch. "How silly you are," he murmurs, his gaze on hers revealing his heart. "To suggest such a thing. I shall need you always. But enough about me."

Kendall turns to look at Margot, smiling down at the princess. "I must present Princess Margot of Amber to you. Margot, this is my sister, the Lady Diona."

Margot's heart feels an even deeper wound at the short introduction, as though the spear of hair that had attacked him just the day before now pierced her own chest. But with a smile filled with warmth that even managed to kiss her eyes, Margot swallows her pain and pride and inclines her head to the woman with regal grace.

"Lady Diona, it is a privilege to meet your acquaintance," she greets the Chaos Lady. "Kendall speaks very highly of you and holds you in the greatest regard. To have our paths cross on such a stunning stage is truly an enchanting occasion."

"Greetings, Daughter of Amber," Diona answers as her head falls to rest on her brother's shoulder. At its touch, the Lord feels a sense of monstrous power, like unto what swims in the abyssal ocean.

"As to great, I could only be sad," the Lady adds. "For if his enthusiasm for my company is that low, I do feel the need to toss myself into the Abyss!"

"You are cruel to suggest such a deed even in jest, my sister," Kendall scolds her lightly, arms encircling both women, one on each side. "Though were you to leap into the Abyss, it could only be transformed into a tranquil paradise that all would line up to visit. But I would still be bereft without you."

"Not even the Valley of Tears would hold more sorrow than I," he says in that slightly teasing tone one uses to convey the deepest of truths, yet lightly because words are so often too heavy for such delicate things.

"And that's why I love him. He does need me so," Diona whispers as a child appears upon her dress who shares many features with the man she now holds and hugs.

A bemused smile curls Margot's lips as she watches the exchange between siblings. Her stiffened posture the only tell she could not master. "There are many, many aspects of Kendall that make him desirous and easy to become enamored with," she agrees.

"But it would be distasteful to list off his favorable qualities so blatantly in his presence as if he were some—" Margot searches for an appropriate analogy. "Some stallion to be purchased at auction. He deserves greater respect, wouldn't you agree?" she asks his sister with a friendly smile.

Kendall turns to meet Margot's eyes when she looks up at him, and though it might seem for a heartbeat that she spies a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes, it is banished by the warm smile he shares with her. "You are, as always, so very kind Margot," he remarks.

At this, most surprising… Diona laughs.

"A stallion… I like that." Diona says in a hushed, happy voice. "But not for some Hendrake whore."

Her single eye goes to appraise Dara and then turns to Margot. "Maybe not for even you. But then, tisn't my choice is it? Nor would I desire it to be so."

The boy on her gown finds a book. A young girl, face hidden, relents to unspoken pleas and sets him into her lap to read it to him.

"Respect he can get anywhere," Diona says, her voice once more a whisper. "I only offer the purest of loves."

A distinct ripple of unease passes across Kendall's face at his sister's words, the tiny alarms that had been trying to get his attention now finally having gained enough traction to register. "But this is no place for such a happy reunion," he asserts. "We should get comfortable below decks with some wine and you can tell us everything about the Courts and Chanicut I have missed since I departed for Amber."

"I would like that," Diona says after a moment, holding out left hand for a proper escort. He gives his sister another smile, this one seeming more gentle and even wistful, and then takes her hand in his in the proper manner before extending the same courtesy to Margot.

Through the doorway once more, along the dim yet comfortable passage surrounded by the warmth of living wood. The Rhercyn encloses them all in a protective cocoon, safe from the dangers of Shadow, the Courts, and prying eyes. Or so it could be easy to believe. Kendall remarks upon the pleasant aspects of their journey thus far to his sister, to occupy the time while they pass below.

The door to the cabin rustles open all too slowly, or in no time at all, depending on who was waiting. Inside, the cabin had been tidied after the two occupants had departed, not so very long ago, and Rory had left wine and glasses at the ready. Alerted to the occasion, the servant had thoughtfully left four goblets. Just in case.

Kendall brings both ladies to the cabin, leads them to the small table under the portal, and seats them — Diona first and Margot second. Margot smiles up at Kendall at the gesture. She didn't even mind when Kendall sat his sister first; after all, she was a guest in their abode. She remains patient and peaceful, her eyes shining affectionately for him.

"Shall I pour?" she asks.

"Certainly not," Kendall replies, staying her hand with his. He moves around behind her so as not to reach between the two women to pick up the carafe of wine, and then pours a generous amount into each goblet.

As he fills Margot's glass, there is a moment where her eyes meet his, sharing a flurry of tender sentiments for him to read. He pauses in his task to brush his fingers against Margot's cheek with the lightest of caresses, and she looks away quickly with a demure smile of appreciation for his attentiveness.

Finally done with his task, he takes his own seat between the two women with his own goblet in hand. In the back of his mind, he's been wrestling with how to proceed with this visit, realizing that things could turn unpleasant very quickly given his sister's current state of mind. But he was without inspiration.

Taking a single sip from her own cup, Diona then extends it to her brother, who in turn exchanges his for hers after taking a drink of his own. Her gown blurs into a scene of the boy now playing with a flamecat. The kitten gets out of his control and lights a vase of his mother's favorite flowers.

"Having you visit the Rhercyn is a delightful surprise, Diona," he opens, sharing his smile with her once more. "Had you considered whether you will be staying for the entire rest of the trip?"

"Like this glass of wine… I don't consider. I merely sip and enjoy," Diona answers as a younger version of herself appears upon her dress to console the boy at the loss of cat and flowers. The scene changes to both in a garden working to replace the flowers that had been burned to ash.

Margot gives the transforming gown with swirling scenes the required amount of passive attention. It was not lost on her that the gown revealed hints of the siblings' relationship, hints of their past experiences where Diona was his heroine. And while her eyes acknowledge the scenes as they evolve, her expression holds nothing but placid interest in their exchange and memories shared.

"Excellent," he says, swirling the wine in his goblet, his hand warming the liquid within while the heady bouquet rose to tease his nostrils. The scene on her dress sparks brief inspiration, and his smile becomes mischievous. "It will be like the journey to Cathar for Cedric's race, do you remember?"

He chooses for his own anecdote an episode when Kendall was considerably older than Diona's dress portrayed. Older, much more reserved and mature, already somewhat able to hold his own and, indeed, one of those exceedingly rare occasions when he had helped her get out of a potentially embarrassing spot.

"I still have never told our brother why it was that you were not able to attend his event and call for his victory…." He lets the sentence trail off, leading the recollection but not divulging it.

His sister's gown falls back into the grand battle of before as her focus falters. Yet upon her lovely features, there is only calm.

"Nor do I think you ever will," she answers. "Or abandon poor little—" The next word is pure demon speak, hurtful to human ears yet a language the very young of Chanicut learn due to the number of demon servants and bodyguards. But in this case, Diona is speaking more of a beloved stuffed demon toy that Kendall had once given to her for safekeeping.

At an age just a little older than the boy upon his sister's gown, Kendall found himself before both parents and siblings. Cedric being especially vicious, Father proclaiming twas time for his youngest son to start upon the path to become worthy of the name Chanicut. Laying down the threat, if he caught the boy with any more toys, they would not be the only things getting tossed into the Abyss.

Yet after all these years, Diona still kept this small toy of his safe. For while Father might ransack his sons' ways without compunction, his sister's ways were their Mother's domain alone.

Bittersweet. There were many such memories held safe and secret behind the closed doors of his mind and heart, reasons he preferred not to dwell on his childhood save to acknowledge its occurrence. The mischief in his expression fades away, leaving him with his other conundrums and curiosities once more.

"Diona," he says, sounding disappointed. "Surely you know your secrets are safe with me. Not even the darkest tortures would tear them from me."

His gaze goes from her visible eye to the mask covering part of her face. The unnerving sensation he'd had when she pressed her face to his shoulder made him… hesitant to mention it. Uncertain. He wasn't accustomed to being uncomfortable and nervous around his sister, not accustomed to being so careful and guarded. Another sip of wine, and he offers his glass to her to trade again.

"And they haven't, had he?" Diona responds, there being only one 'He' in both their lives.

"No, but there are so many much more enjoyable topics we could be covering, sister," he says. "Such as… your new ornament."

He gives her mask a significant look, so she knows to what he refers, and the smile returns, of one wanting to share a secret. "Have you a new lover who gifted that to you?"

Margot's attention returns, also curious. She sat and listened, the goblet remaining for the most part untouched save for the occasional sip when timing or decorum demanded.

"No, just a temporary ally," she answers, looking to Margot as she adds. "This is my key."

"A key?" he inquires, all curiosity, a trait that had so often gotten him into tricky… predicaments.

"Like yours…" Diona says with a smile, her eyes still on Margot.

Margot returned the woman's smile, pretending not to be curious or bothered by the cryptic exchanges. She knew she was a pawn, so Diona's taunts here meant nothing, really. Lifting her cup, she drinks from it slowly before turning her eyes to Kendall for his response.

"Not a pawn," the Chaos Lady remarks with a giggle.

Margot's eyes widen a bit, surprised by the answer and left wondering if the mask opened a window to the princess's mind. Her gaze shifts from Kendall to the other woman, passive interest slipping to more engaged.

Kendall trades looks from one woman to another, ending with his gaze back on Diona and frowning in thought the way he often does. "Yes, but what does it… do?" he asks, his question seeking the deeper meaning of the mask on her face.

"I see things now…." Diona's one eye goes wide. "Things in Shadow, in people… in their heads. Things crawling, and flying, terrible things and wonderful things." Her one natural eye closes. "And sad things that will soon come. The Silver Knight will die in the end, and he cares not."

His lips curl into another, much smaller smile, pale eyes gleaming with acquisitive interest. "Fascinating."

The single word is textured with realization and appreciation, the gears turning in his mind as he begins following paths and possibilities which open up before his mind's eye like a vast plateau of wildflowers to be plucked. Gaze going distant, he takes another drink of wine. There was so much potential in what she was saying, he quickly realized it would take some time to sort it all out.

"A handsome gift from any ally, let alone one who is merely temporary," he observes, his voice distracted as he follows his inner byways. "What was the balance of such a gift?"

Margot lifts her glass to lips, staring deeply into the bottom of the crimson elixir as she sought balance. The princess could see Diona had earned Kendall's complete attention, a commodity she had hungered for from the moment of her arrival. Of course, even Margot with no scheming experience and hardly a nefarious bone in her being could envision the countless ramifications, manipulations, and possibilities of such an adornment.

"Certain ambitions sacrificed…" Diona replies. "And the certainty of displeasing father, which gains many a sort of perverse pleasure."

There's a brief pause while her answer filters through Kendall's thoughts. He puts aside his calculations then and focuses again on his sister. Picking up the wine bottle, he offers to refresh her goblet and Margot's before also filling his own. "And what information can you share of this new ally?"

Margot silently indicates that she would appreciate a little more wine as she waits for Diona's response.

"That would depend on the reasons that fill that question," his sister says.

"Oh," Kendall says as he sets down the bottle, eyebrows rising in mild surprise. "I admit I had thought this the purpose of your visit, to recruit me to your conspiracy."

Any response to be worn upon Margot's face is only shared with the depths of her goblet, eyes peering deeply for some divine awareness before she brings the elixir to her lips once more.

"That's inconvenient…" Diona moans, crestfallen. "With me being here for the exact same reason."

His eyebrows, visible above the rim of his goblet as he takes a drink, rise again even higher in less feigned surprise before realizing her answer likely contained the same amount of truth as the one he had just given her. Nevertheless he looks at Margot, sitting there next to him, silent and likely feeling forgotten as he and Diona traded euphemisms. His smile… changes, almost imperceptibly, becoming gentler for two brief heartbeats.

"I see," he says, his eyes turning back to Diona. "That could be very… helpful."

Margot returns Kendall's smile, her own surprise at his notice reflected briefly in her eyes. Not that she had been a non-entity; but that he had been engaged in some sort of verbal and mental sparring with his sister while she tried hard not to reveal any sort of feeling or pass judgment now that she suspected the Lady had the ability to peer into her thoughts. It was something she simply was not yet practiced in shielding herself against. So, she remained quiet and calm, taking all the information in, absorbing it and waiting for a private time to assess and question for clarification.

"If you had a plan, little brother," Diona says with a smile, playful at its edges. "But you don't, do you? Finally getting your girl, and then not knowing what to do with her."

With a giggle, she can't stop herself from adding. "Our brother would have thought up a thousand ways before lifting his head off the pillow."

He frowns, nettled in spite of himself. She could irritate him more than anyone else. Several possible responses spring to his lips, but he deliberately takes another sip of wine without giving voice to any of them.

"The plan is not at issue," he says after the pause necessitated by his drink, deciding to see if truthfulness could really be as effective as other weapons of verbal fencing.

"Not yet, but it will be…" His sister muses. "Poor mother, for we take after her much too much."

"Yes, of course it will be," Kendall agrees, still irritated. "Before many wheels are put in motion, however, I have need to evaluate… how to proceed."

He looks at Margot again, somewhat including her in the discussion since she was aware already that she was part of these plans and proceedings. She wasn't a dog to spoken about as though she was there merely to take orders and look pretty. "Margot has much to learn before an effective plan can be executed."

Once more, Margot attempts to keep the surprise out of her expression as she returns her lover's gaze. Now placed with a light upon her presence she felt the overwhelming urge to contribute something to the conversation and yet everything that sprang to mind seemed contrite or at the very best naive.

"It would be irresponsible of me to make boasts contrary to my lack of understanding to Chaosian ways and customs, this is true," Margot responds diplomatically. "In the past I have been applauded for being an astute and dedicated student, and I intend to dedicate myself with unequaled commitment so as not to become a hindrance to future developments and aspirations."

"Then you do have a plan, little baby brother," Diona delivers with a giggle. "Sharp, sharp, the little knife. Take it to bed, oil it well. Dress it up, wave it forth. Sharp, sharp, little blade on hard stone." Which sends her into a fit of giggles; perhaps the wine is too strong in her weakened state.

"I have the beginnings of one. Dara has one fully fleshed out for her Lady, which may have potential," he says. "But that does not answer the question of what interest you might have in my plans, considering your access to an ally that gives you such fascinating gifts. Mayhap your ally would also have interest in these plans?"

"Dara is without House… never forget that, little brother," Diona cautions. "Her blood was poisoned with theirs. Icky, icky blood of cold… no warm flames to toast your fingers as you cut them. Dancing plans, dancing roses, thorns cast about the room like proses. But you know that, don't you, my beloved little brother…lover. Brother, even the words taste the same."

Kendall swallows the sip of wine he had taken as she spoke. "But we are not lovers, Diona," he says, his voice calm and factual. "And though Dara no longer has Hendrake, she is tied to Barimen through oath to Margot."

Despite best efforts, Margot could not completely hide the shine of pride in her eyes as Kendall addressed his sister. No, he didn't explicitly state that she and he were lovers; but she had a feeling that Diona knew. He succinctly defended her honor and firmly stated that whatever they possessed was past.

His words cause Diona to pout, though. "Already you have replaced me… sad little heart is mine. Lady Dara's word can only be suspect now." She starts to hum, a Chanicut dirge for a mere twenty beats of his heart.

"I did not say I trusted her, dear sister," Kendall points out, ignoring her pout.

"And Dara?" his big sister asks, all innocent-like.

"What of her?" he asks, puzzled at the inquiry.

Diona giggles, before saying. "I do love you so…. so innocent. But that was mother's fault, she kept you under her wing far too long."

Kendall gives her a sort of tolerant smile, disinclined to become angry with her, and says nothing. He merely drinks from his wineglass and waits. She had never been one to let a silence linger too much.

"Will you discard her, even if she carries your child?" Diona asks, looking at them both through her wine glass. "She can do so, even if you take every measure… Tiny Horn was always like that."

"Should any child be sired, despite best efforts otherwise, I am certain you will prove to be a most doting and loving Aunt, given your obvious adoration for your brother," Margot replies with a smile as sweet as the wine, though her eyes carried a glow that reflected a strength not so easily bullied when pressed too far.

Kendall blinks at Margot in surprise, though he is not entirely surprised she entered the conversation. Such as it was.

"I have no intention of discarding Margot," he adds to the end of the princess' statement, returning his gaze to Diona. "Though you know well that things can become…complicated, in the Courts."

"Are you willing to share her?" Diona asks. "And she, you?"

He looks again at Margot, studying her, knowing her answer to that question. Though he might puzzle over some things about their relationship, he did know she would only unhappily share him, and that she had eyes for no other… for now.

Yet so much could still change, in spite of what she might know or believe right now while still safe in the confines of a ship on a voyage to Chaos. There were many temptations in the Courts, and though he was certain of her loyalty right now, he was certain also that loyalty would be tested. His own answer, though…

"That is of no real interest to you, Diona," he dismisses the question entirely. He could not tell whether his sister was being deliberately provocative to test Margot, or merely following the meandering passages of a twisted mental landscape.

"What should be far more interesting is for you to decide who best to introduce the young princess to, given your vast knowledge of the Courts. I have been away, and for that matter, so has Dara. You are likely to have better knowledge of who is where and what is of concern right now," he says.

"Without your adumbrate, I won't know where to start," his sister retorts.

"Now I see exactly what you were referring to when you suggested that I required time to … appreciate the nuances of Chaosian communication and culture," Margot remarks to Kendall as she sets her goblet down. She folds her hands in her lap as she looks from one sibling to the other.

"For the life of me, I cannot discern whether the Lady is simply trying to bait me with insult or guilt your conscience into elaborating on matters you have already addressed," the princess continues.

"This has to be an ancient rite; a delicate exchange of request and refusal, chase and abatement, the constant and eternal cycle that leaves the pursuer not quite within reach of the pursued. A game, if you will, that must take place before the topic must be laid to rest and another actively hounded and hunted."

Diona beams, covering her mouth and the laugh. "You so need to keep her away from brother," she says to Kendall, amused by it all.

Stuck in the middle, Kendall gives Diona an aggrieved look. "Margot's correct, as far as that goes. My goal at this point is merely to bring her to Chaos and have her learn. While that occurs, I will be exploring options, but until I have some idea how Margot's education will go, I have left my plans open."

"There are educations, and there are educations in Chaos," Diona shares. "A queen needs far more than than, say, a mere…" She taps her lips with a finger, trying to recall what once said in her presence. "Arm candy."

"I am almost embarrassed to admit it, Lady," the Princess begins with a demure smile. "But I am beyond enchanted by your gown! I could appreciate its majesty when I watched the battle unfold, but to witness personal memories… It's almost as breathtaking as its wearer."

Another pause for Kendall to sip his wine and let Diona's teasing roll over him, though Margot's sudden change of topic is unexpected. He looks from one woman to the other, his eyes ending up on Diona with interest to see where his sister would take this next.

"I will accept the compliment, since its form is pleasant in its sensations," Diona says with a slight nod. "Twas a special commission of the artist Moreau for my most recent appearance at the Royal Court. Tis a lesser form of what you Amberites would call Trumps, with the pricey option for the wearer to evoke their own memories for a time."

She smooths a fold where demon knights charge a line of bright blue humanoids with burning spears. Then upon the fold she holds instead appears an image of a naked and very young Kendall. A Diona in her teens, naked as well, picks up the child and places him into an amethyst tub, and he laughs as the bubbles dance about them before she joins him.

"Tis most tiring, and requires a focus that eludes me most Cycles," the Chaos Lady observes.

The boy Kendall, at most around five in human years, becomes stoic as her fingers touche a bruise upon his small shoulder. What could only be affection and comfort is spoken as the young and radiant Diona rubs some balm upon the small hurt. Then the scene upon that section of the gown reverts back to the battle.

"I think one of these Cycles, I will burn it to ashes…"

Kendall feels all the irritation, frustration, and bafflement that had seeped into his being during this conversation drain away as he watches the younger Diona soothe the bruise. He remembers that incident all too clearly, both the cause of the bruise and the care she had given him. Those fleeing emotions leave room for sadness, and his gaze moves from the dress now displaying battlefield back to his sister's masked face.

"You have not spoken of the other price your new gift has exacted," he changes the topic back to the one that seemed most immediate to him. His voice remains low and calm, but with that gentleness in it that Margot heard on occasion. "Do you know what else you have paid for it?"

Margot was about to inquire further about the fabric, but Kendall's stoicism faltered just as Diona had undoubtedly predicted with her tender display dancing across her gown. Such blatant manipulations, obvious even to her naive eyes, turned Margot's stomach. So instead, she faded to the quiet background once more, smiling supportively for her lover.

"All, and nothing…" Diona whispers, a single blood tear forming upon the corner of her real eye to roll down her alabaster cheek. Once free of that perfect cheek, the tear erupts into deep scarlet flames that fall upon the deck to burn an indelible mark in the wood.

Her brother pauses five heartbeats before asking his next question. "And what price, Diona, for returning it? Or destroying it? What price for you to rid yourself of it, and become as you once were?" His voice falters on the end of the last question.

As if awakened by Kendall's tender concerns, the madness that grips Diona flees for the moment. Yet sanity's return has a price, as pain strains her exquisite features.

"Kendall," she whispers, her expression confused. "Why are you back in the Courts?"

A trembling hand snakes up to trace the lines of the restraint and confinement enchantments, bringing a shiver and hiss of agony. Quickly he captures her hand in his own to prevent her from hurting herself more. She doesn't fight, yet it isn't because she can't.

The sound of agony draws Margot's gaze, only to flicker askance to Kendall, wondering what to do. But the Lord's eyes and attention are completely centered on his sister, sparing the princess not even a heartbeat's thought at this critical instant.

"We're traveling to Chaos, and you came to me on the ship, Nee-Nah," he explains quickly, hoping to get some information before she slips away again. "Your gift—" he flicks blue eyes to the mask. "Is it the mask itself, or something behind it?"

"A gift?" Diona hisses, the hate within it unmistakable. "Twas a price. They needed someone to utilize the Lost Eye like those of Amber use their Jewel. But while we may be the Serpent's children, we are not of his blood. Even a shard is too much, and it takes my all not to be depleted by it."

A very careful probe of the enchantments surrounding the mask reveal they had not been woven by Diona, and while there was no signature, Kendall could tell the skill required to create an item such as this was possessed by only about a dozen Lords in all of the Courts. Four were amongst the Shadowlords — Houseless servants of the Throne — while the rest were scattered within the different Major Houses, with one an Uncle in Chanicut retired to his own manor due to age.

The young Lord gives a single, sharp nod of understanding to her reply. There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but most would keep until a better time. "Why you? And can it be undone?" he finally asks Diona, his thumb stroking the back of her hand in a soothing caress.

"Yes, it can be undone when no longer needed… I do not have a deathwish!" she hisses, angered that he would even suggest it. "As to why, being the only one youthful enough, and incredibly foolish, was how it was decided for me within the cabal."

Kendall's lips turn down into an unhappy frown at her response, knowing full well that though she might not have a death wish, she also may not have all the information… or her information might not be entirely accurate. Even so, she was part of a cabal, and this was her part to play in it.

"Who decides when it is no longer needed? And what is the goal of its use?" he asks, trying to wrap his mind around it all as quickly as possible.

Margot felt helpless and useless. Absently, she massages the charm bracelet that her grandfather Bleys had given her, trying to determine if there was any solution to this puzzle that would not require sacrificing Kendall's beloved. She hardly notices the prick of pain when fingertip meets sharp point in unhappy coincidence.

"Sweet little brother, tis my choice in the end," she answers, her voice almost sad. "As are yours…"

But before anything else can be said, a flare of scarlet and gold energy erupts from Margot as her fingers find a tiny silver castle that once hid a secret trapped inside: a shard of the once whole gem which became the Jewel of Judgement. And though only a minuscule shard no bigger than a tear, still it takes Margot's bloodgift, magnifies it, powers it with the Pattern that infuses her very essence to enact her desires upon this shadow and those within.

It happens quickly, so quickly. The Pattern manifests, unwelcome and anathema energy swirling about the two Chaosians like foul waters. Dara, upon deck, is the first to react. Rippling flesh and popping bones announce her transformation into her toughest demon form before she charges below deck — and woe betide any who might get in her way.

Diona, much nearer, is enveloped by the swirls of transformation. With a shriek of rage, her nails grow and twist into a dagger that would impale a treasonous heart. Or two…

Kendall's head snaps around to stare at the Amberite with wide eyes, expression astonished and betrayed. Yet he still moves quickly, interposing himself between Diona and Margot before his sister can strike. He does not shift, though his form ripples as he controls the urge to do so, hoping to keep the situation from escalating.

All Margot can do is stumble backwards out of her chair, her hands held out in surrender. "Kendall! Please… I mean her no harm! Tell her. I don't know what's happening!!"

Diona's bone spike doesn't stop till it presses firmly against the vein upon his throat. Her words send even more of the chill into his heart. "Yet you would interfere?!"

He does not fight back, and Diona can sense his anger vibrating within as he answers her as she had spoken: in the tongue of their House. His anger is not for Diona, but for the young princess.

"She is young, and foolish, but I don't believe she meant harm. Though you would be within your rights to kill her, then you must deal with Dara, and are you ready for that?"

Not knowing what she did to summon the Pattern in the first place, Margot does everything she can think of to banish it from their existence. Though dismayed and confused, the Princess doesn't cry or even shrink away in fear. Instead, a hand on Kendall's shoulder asks him without words to step aside.

"Lady, I have offended you when I only meant to find a solution that would free you and ease your brother and my beloved's heart. The best of intentions and the purest of hearts does not excuse foolishness. I swear to you on my own life's blood, I meant you no harm. I don't know what happened just now. If it is my life's blood you demand for my ignorance, it is yours to take."

Her voice held an authority of certainty, not faltering with fear. Eyes focused on Diona's, she knew she was at the elder Chaosian's mercy. Yet even then, the young Lord does not take his attention from his sister or move aside.

As her bone spike retracts, Diona answers in the same secret language. "Never could I not indulge you, so I release any claims to you. Little brother…"

Getting nowhere, Margot now holds her wrist up to display the charm bracelet. Quickly, she unclasps the jewelry and drops it to the floor. With her heel, she grinds it and stomps it, though the charm resists any attempts to damage it. The enchantments laid upon it by Prince Bleys were far too strong for a mere shoe.

"No, this isn't right!," the princess insists. "I was only trying to think of a way to help you, not cause harm."

"She is so precious… can we keep her?" Diona asks, the wide-eyed joy on her features returning with the madness.

And then Dara interrupts their tableau. Like a bull, the armored warrior charges through the door all spikes and bony plates. Little of her face can been seen, yet there is no doubt who this was. The bone blade which has replaced an arm leaks a toxin that sizzles on the floor and eats tiny holes into the wood. With such injury, the ship recoils in pain even as the door beetles shriek in alarm for this intrusion.

"LEAVE!" Margot commands her Lady in a voice strong and devoid of emotion. "Step out, Lady Dara. NOW!"

There is no room for discussion, the whip crack of authority echoing in the small chamber. "Your services are not required."

Her eyes never leave Diona's as she contemplates stepping close to the Lady to demand that she take her pound of flesh. Dara, warrior born, and knowledgeable of the perils of court doesn't retreat quickly as her mistress demands. Eyes search all those within, their posture and features, testing for any enchantments or domination that might leave a clue that her mistress wasn't herself anymore. The eyes, as red as embers, turn to the charm bracelet upon the floor.

Diona merely smiles at the Hendrake, and then begins folding upon herself like she was paper. The power within the Jewel, now embedded as her eye, takes her elsewhere in Shadow. It's not like a Trump, yet neither is it like any magick Kendall has ever seen. His sister simply becomes…. not there!

"Diona!" Kendall calls after his sister, an instinctive reaction though he feels it to be useless. Her departure is like another wound opening in his gut, bleeding out a part of his being to leave him feeling hollow and bereft.

But there are plenty of emotions ready and waiting to fill that empty space: anger and frustration are the most eager candidates, rushing in where other, more gentle emotions might fear to tread.

There were no words to be said. With Diona gone and threat abated, so too does Dara leave. Shedding the form of demon warrior for something easier to move within the corridor, her shifting form is quickly obscured as the door returns with thorns and a burst of growth.

Margot, for all her good intent, tastes once again the bitter tang of failure. All she wanted was to figure out the puzzle, to offer something to free Kendall of his torments and Diona of her madness. It was an act of generosity, not treachery.

Amberite she was; from Amber she was not. But that would not matter to Chaosians, as she had just witnessed. She was merely…a stranger in a strange land. No different than going to Amber. Quietly, she moves away from Kendall, leaving the bracelet on the floor. She lifts the chair she had knocked down before moving to the others.

The Amber princess's presence or absence makes no impression on the Chaos Lord. He can feel the force of rage pressing against him like his sister's bone spike against his throat, clawing at him and begging for release. And so he seeks outer peace in order to restore his inner peace. Stalking to the door without another word, he exits the cabin without a backward glance.

Only the cooing of a few of the Qur remain to give any comfort to the disappointed princess as the door becomes secure one more.

Original poem "Wild Forest Flower" by Branden Aeling, found at

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Anger & Waves

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