[ Ryder attempts to help Margaret, and pays with his life. - 24 Nov 98 ]
[ Cathedral of the Church of the Serpent
The weight of ages presses down upon this amphitheatre-like room, the main part of the Cathedral. Between the myriad rows of pews are gently downward-sloping stairways of frozen flame, each step glowing, yet absolutely still. Every sound echoes, murmurs carrying far across the room when it's not full. The glossy black stone walls shelter a few nooks and alcoves, which clergy can occasionally be seen using.
At the front of the Cathedral is a raised dais, the back of which is open to the Pit itself. In its center is an altar formed of the same glossy black stone as the rest of the cathedral. To the rear of the Cathedral are a pair of massive doors in an arch of frozen flame which lead outwards. Candles are placed at each end of each pew, and in groups on the dais, as the sole source of somewhat dim light.
Senusia dismisses an acolyte with a wave of her hand, and walks across the Cathedral towards Ryder.
Margaret has arrived.
Margaret appears suddenly from shadow.
Senusia inclines her head. "Brother."
Margaret looks... empty. The curls of her hair tangle horribly over her shoulders, a rat's nest of faded blonde. Her eyes are white, flame crawling in an eerie corona around her irises, seething in a bright ring eclipsed only by wide pupils. Her frame and features are rounded and diminutive.
Her face is grimy and caked with dried blood. She wears the tattered remains of a blue velvet dress, the skirt charred, a matching jacket buttoned over her chest and shoulders. Her feet are bare.
She seems hollow, her movements fragile and disjointed. Her fingers are webbed.
Ryder slouches on a pew in a cloud of cigarette smoke, but sits up when Margaret arrives.
Margaret falls in a heap on the dais.
Margaret mumbles, angrily, into the floor, "No, I told you, we were already HERE."
Senusia turns at the sound and hurries to the dais. "Lady Margaret?"
Ryder stands, languidly, and walks over to the dais, as well.
Margaret sits up, says, "Remember, the walls were falling... well, *I* remember." She shakes her head in disgust.
Ryder steps up close behind Senusia, and says something.
Ryder mutters to Senusia.
Ryder whispers "Don't let her leave."
Margaret sighs, says, "No, that was with the DRAGONS. Can't you just try to make a little sense?"
Senusia crouches next to Margaret, her robes shifting around her. "The walls have been repaired, Lady Margaret." She nods once to Ryder. "I have been worried about you."
Senusia tilts her head, glancing around quickly. "To whom do you speak?"
Margaret waves a hand, says, "No, not there either. We were there three times and you didn't listen to me then EITHER."
Ryder looks at Margaret for a time.
Ryder says "I have a thought."
Senusia sits back. "Mm?"
Ryder flicks his cigarette away, and looks beyond Margaret at the Pit, for a moment.
Margaret says, still looking into nowhere, "It's your priestess, and, um, the guy that broke up with Rapture."
Senusia raises her eyebrows slightly, and looks up at Ryder.
Margaret shouts, suddenly, "I CAN'T ANSWER YOU IF YOU KEEP INTERRUPTING!"
Ryder says "Is there any point in asking her, first?"
Ryder takes a few steps, around by Margaret's head.
Senusia says "I believe so." She eyes Margaret at the outburst, then waves a hand in front of Margaret's face. "Lady Margaret!""
Margaret says, irritated, "Be quiet for a second," and looks up to Senusia, inquiringly.
Senusia smiles softly. "Lady Margaret, I have two questions for you."
Margaret sighs, with that eerie gaze, says, "You'd better hurry up before he wants to go SOMEWHERE ELSE we've already BEEN." A scornful glance aside.
Senusia says "Firstly, to whom do you speak? If.. well. And secondly, I believe my brother would like to attempt something to aid you, if you consent."
Margaret says, embarrassed, "To the Serpent, but He won't shut up." Her expression grows cunning at the mention of aid, and she turns white eyes to Ryder.
Ryder shrugs, and rubs his hands, thoughtfully.
Margaret says "Can I go to sleep then?"
Senusia gets a strange expression on her face. "Lady Margaret, you cannot command the Serpent.. it isn't right."
Ryder glances at Senusia. "Worry about that later." Back to Margaret. "I think so, yeah."
Senusia almost says something else, but stops and nods to Ryder.
Margaret says, to Ryder, "Good," and then blinks at Senusia.
Ryder says "You've got to not fight me, though."
Ryder says "Tricky enough as it is."
Margaret seems lost again, in some internal dispute, her jaw setting stubbornly.
Margaret mutters, "No, it was *green*."
Senusia says "Your plan, brother?"
Ryder shrugs bonelessly, and concentrates.
Ashnah passes through the grand entrance doors, into the Cathedral proper, and pauses on the center stairway.
Ashnah has arrived.
Margaret sits on the dais, looking disgruntled.
Senusia watches intently, as if memorizing every detail.
Ashnah wanders in from outside, its hair singing quietly, skin transparent over sparks and minature lightnings.
Ryder seconds later jerks as he makes some sort of connection with Margaret; one hand is splayed in the air near each side of her head.
Ashnah whistles a small tune, and it falls silent, walking towards the front of the Cathedral.
Margaret twitches at the same time, says, wearily, "Now you've done it."
Senusia murmurs a brief prayer in ancient High Thari quietly as she watches.
Ryder's eyes come alight, a silver glow instead of black, and the connection between himself and Margaret becomes somewhat visible in a similar aura.
Margaret adds, exasperated, "No, I don't know what he's doing. Just let me sit here for a while, I'm *tired*." She twitches again, her head moving strangely.
Ryder mouths words along with Margaret, but without any sort of understanding.
Margaret shudders, limbs moving as if she's being shocked with low-level electricity, disconnected.
Senusia seems to notice Ashnah finally, and motions for him to approach, but not too closely.
Ashnah stops and stands a few feet away, eyes spinning into a deep amber color.
A new energy comes into play; a green shaft of light lances from the Pit, oddly, and seems to lance through Ryder's back but not come out the other side.
Margaret twitches again, and some unseen force pushes her body maybe two feet along the surface of the dais. She whimpers.
Ashnah looks at the light.
Senusia frowns slightly, but remains where she's sitting.
Ryder stumbles to keep in place with Margaret, his eyes shifting from silver to green. His hands have moved apart a few inches more.
Margaret cries out again, in fear, or confusion, and she reaches one webbed hand out to flatten uselessly on the dais, pulling. Her legs slide in the opposite direction.
Ashnah's skin shades to the color of pale jade, its hair shortening and darkening to a coal black.
Ryder's Logrus energies darken and turn emerald, as well; the same color now glows hotly from a spot somewhere inside his shirt.
Senusia chants another prayer to the Serpent quietly, looking from Margaret to Ryder and back.
Margaret slides a good ten feet along the dais, stopping close at the edge near the stairs. She rolls onto her back, gasping for air, and her neck and back arch with an audible cracking noise. Her voice comes, strangled. "Mine."
Ryder doesn't follow this time; his feet braced and his face pale, he appears to, in fact, resist movement in the same direction. It doesn't look easy.
Ryder's doublet appears to be smoldering, somewhat.
Senusia stands, taking a few steps forward. "Ryder!" She holds out a hand, then draws it back.
Ashnah looks closely at Ryder.
Ashnah steps backwards several feet.
Margaret says, savagely, "NO." Her eyes brighten with sudden, intense flame. Another cracking noise, her outstretched arm twisting and popping in its socket.
Senusia looks at Margaret, alarm beginning to show on her face. "Give me a sign!"
Ryder says, "Almost--" through clenched teeth, just before everything goes white and green and loud; the explosion rocks the Cathedral, tumbling pew over pew over pew.
Ashnah floats backwards gently, almost as if willingly flying, before crumpling in broken and disturbing fashion as it hits a pew.
Ashnah bounces upwards, then lands in a sodden heap behind the pew, oozing clear liquid from broken skin.
Margaret flies in the opposite direction, slamming into the wall that supports the archway leading directly to the Pit below. Bones shatter.
Senusia falls to the ground, as newly-repaired stone again falls from the ceilings and walls. The altar itself breaks, split into two pieces.
Ashnah lies on the ground mewling, hair singing like broken crystal on paving stones.
Ryder is missing entirely for a time, until enough smoke clears to reveal him face-down on the dias, unmoving.
Ashnah's limbs move incoherently, and independently, flashes of electricity coruscating under its now transparent skin, a strange song rising from it.
Senusia coughs, then pulls herself upright, looking around. Her robes are torn from sharp rocks, and one dark sleeve is wet.
Margaret lies crumpled next to the broken altar, one foot hanging over the edge of the Pit. She does not move.
Senusia sits further upright, coughing dust from her lungs. Worried calls from priests and other clergy come from the main hallway; one acolyte arrives at a run, then runs off to fetch help.
Margaret's broken body lifts gradually, puppetlike, until she dangles, floating with unseeing eyes over the dais.
Ashnah's limbs straighten with flashes of light, until it is lying there, a seemingly intact glass statue of a young androgyne, filled with light and sparks.
Senusia calls, voice unsteady, "Ryder! Ashnah.." She half crawls, half stumbles over to Ryder's body, then looks up at Margaret.
Margaret hovers there, silent.
Senusia sketches the Sigil of the Serpent in the air before her. "Serpent Guard us..."
Margaret's right eye swivels in its socket, follows the Sigil as Senusia sketches it.
Senusia visibly concentrates a moment, then reaches out to Ryder.
Ryder makes a feeble sound, but remains face down.
Margaret's body floats closer towards Senusia, bare toes dragging.
Senusia tries to turn Ryder over, using one hand. "They are my family. What have you to do?"
Margaret says, blankly, through a crushed throat, "Fffffamily." Her left eyelid twitches.
Ryder is light -- too light -- and turns over, easily. Part of the problem is immediately evident; a startling portion of Ryder's chest and stomach is gone, the remains cauterized rather unpleasantly.
Ryder's eyes open; they don't appear to actually be looking at anything, though.
Senusia starts, then makes a sort of strangled noise. She lowers her head, emotions flickering on her face.
Ryder says, quietly, but with surprisingly clarity, "Senusia."
Senusia answers quickly, "Ryder, brother."
Margaret hangs, observing from above, through one eye.
Ryder gives a sort of forced smirk. "Looks worse than it feels. Rac was big on redundant systems. Need you to promise me something."
Senusia touches Ryder's cheek lightly. "I am your sister."
Ashnah's skin glows a pale blue, St. Elmo's fire spinning over it in
Ryder nods, slightly. "Why I have to ask. No save attempts this time. Let it go."
Senusia frowns, then nods slowly. "We will be enriched."
Margaret's fingers curl, and she whimpers, in pain this time, clearly.
Senusia looks up. "Is it enough?"
Ryder nods again. "Arrogant of us to lengthen lives. Just like Amber -- unhappy and half mad." He coughs, and continues, "Time to go find Rac. Let him know you said hi."
Senusia says "And Father. If he's there."
Senusia says "And... my mother. Please."
Ryder grimaces. "Parents." He pauses an uncomfortable moment before saying, "Give my things to that bastard Melloran. Make him help his children."
Senusia says "He shall, or I shall send him to meet you."
Margaret's body retreats, floats toward Ashnah, with faint crackling noises.
Ryder laughs, a rather nasty rasping sound.
Ryder says "Time to rest, I think."
Senusia says "Serpent Bless, my brother."
Ryder blinks again, and his eyes focus briefly, deep brown pupils within normal whites.
Ryder says "He shall. Or I shall send him to deal with you."
Ryder gives another laugh, then closes his eyes, and stops talking.
Senusia smiles slightly, then sketches another sigil, this time on Ryder's forehead.
Margaret circles Ashnah, floating deliberately, and then is drawn back to the dais.
Ryder lets out a tangled breath, and is still.
Senusia struggles to her feet, turning to face Margaret, and extends a hand to Ashnah's body.
Margaret twitches, cries out again, rough with pain.
Senusia quotes to Margaret, perhaps, "And thus the Serpent spake unto the First One, Kahl, "I will not burden you beyond your ability to bear, for in the trying you grow strong, not in the failing." And Kahl knew this to mean that great trials would come upon the Serpent's Children, but that they would survive and change and grow strong."
Ashnah floats over towards the dais, sparks swirling inside him.
Margaret's right eye stares at Senusia, fascinated, but the left one closes, tears spilling out onto pale, bruised skin.
Senusia glances briefly at Ashnah as he settles to the floor beside her. "Say you more?"
Ashnah whines as it touches the floor, pale fluids seeping slowly from the cracks in its skin.
Margaret's right arm rises, forearm hanging at an angle, elbow swiveling. Her hand is guided, grotesquely, in the Sigil of the Serpent.
Senusia echoes the Sigil. She says softly, "The Serpent can create as well as destroy, and has given that power to Its Children. First the body, then the mind, then the world."
Senusia says "Do not allow this body to be destroyed."
Senusia gestures towards Margaret as she says this.
Margaret rasps, "Only one. To see... mine."
Ashnah croaks "Mother."
Senusia says "Each is precious; every one is unique." She bends down stiffly towards Ashnah. "My child, you will survive?"
Ashnah says "I."
Ashnah says "I must give you a thing to hold for me."
Ashnah's lips do not move, his throat seems to work to create noise.
Ashnah's skin shudders, the lightning and sparks contracting into his belly.
Margaret dangles, sliding a bit closer.
Senusia pauses, and the Logrus dancing around her shimmers into view, a pair of tendrils dancing at the ready.
Ashnah moves, wetly, and two small balls roll free from the body of a naked teenaged boy, just entering manhood. A long face, reminiscent of Rac's, Senusia's eyes look out from under lowered lids.
Two heavy silvery shimmering balls roll out from the man's palms, his broken bones clearly evident in this more human form.
Margaret's entire body tilts forward to get a better look, that right eye swiveling downward.
Senusia carefully coils a tendril around each sphere, holding them close. She nods concernedly, then looks sharply at Margaret.
Margaret's splintered fingers curl, and she moans again, the sound strangely disembodied. Blood dribbles from the corner of her mouth, then stops.
Ashnah groans once, then faints dead away, normal red blood mixing with the stranger fluids on the stone floor.
Senusia says "The Serpent's Sign can heal, you know, Lady Margaret. Perhaps you were not taught the techniques, however."
Margaret grins, her teeth bloodied, and her spine straightens with a rippling series of popping noises. The white of her left eye shows underneath fluttering lashes.
Senusia watches Ashnah, then kneels on the floor beside him, concentrating. "You will forgive me if I consider my family first." Tendrils dance over Ashnah's body, touching lightly here and there.
Margaret's eye drops down again to study Ryder's unmoving form. She says, absently, voice clearer, "Mine. Do not command." And vanishes.
Margaret has left.
Ashnah quiets, and lays more easily.
Senusia sets back with a tired and saddened sigh, and only remembers her own arm after a moment.
Senusia summons an acolyte, and gives him some instructions. She then stands and picks up Ashnah carefully, and takes them both home.