Phoenix Rising – Snippet 17
Victoria Vantage spun around at the voice. “Kyri! Good gods above and below, child, you’ve had us worried half to death!” In the darkness of the night, this far from the City, Aunt Victoria was barely visible as an arrow-straight figure of deeper black. Kyri let the older woman hug her. “Myrionar’s Justice, girl, you’re shaking! What –”
“Not… not just yet, Auntie, please. Tell the others I’m back and… tell them I saw something, chased it into the forest and got lost. I’m … going to my room. When everyone’s settled, I…” she shook her head. “I need to talk to you. But only you, Aunt Victoria. No one else.”
The tone in her voice seemed to reach her aunt. “Very well. Get inside then and I will call in the others.”
Kyri stumbled up the stairs, exhaustion dragging at her every stride; she noticed that in her absence someone had dragged the last crate upstairs. It was astonishing how difficult the last ten steps were; the shock of her terrible discovery, the run through the Forest Sea, the wild extremes of the emotional highs and lows of the last hours had drained more energy from her than any day of training ever had.
She closed the door behind her and dropped into a chair, glancing at the fateful crate which the same someone had thoughtfully delivered to her own room. The room itself was dark, no lightglobes on, and she didn’t feel like bothering for now. Despite the quiet and the dark and the softness behind her, her mind refused to slow down. Her body wanted to fall asleep, but her thoughts ran fast and far.
She had no idea how long she sat there, still trying to comprehend what had happened, when there was a gentle rap on her door. “Kyri? Can I come in now, child?”
The door opened, her aunt was momentarily silhouetted against the exterior light, and the door closed. “Sitting in the dark? May I give us light, or do we meet here like two thieves conspiring?”
Kyri managed a ghost of a chuckle. “No, Auntie. You can give us light.”
“It’s taken me hours to get everyone back and in bed where they – and by rights we – should be. Dawn is already showing.” She muttered something about no lightglobes in this room, and then the shadow of her aunt crossed the room and pulled on the wooden slide, turning the slat-blinds fully open and letting the soft gray light of early morning fill the room. “There. I never enjoyed sitting in the – Great Balance, girl, what have you done to your hair?”
“My hair?” Kyri blinked in confusion, then turned to the full-length mirror that leaned against the far wall, awaiting her decision as to where to hang it.
Her jaw dropped in surprise. The night-black of her hair was gone, replaced by a rich, deep sky-blue, with a flash of pure silver-white in the very center of her forehead. At the very tips of every strand glittered a hint of gold. She heard the voice echo in her memory: “… my touch is upon you, and you shall see it reflected in morning’s light…”
Blue, silver, and gold: the colors of Myrionar, of the Balanced Sword.
She couldn’t help it; she began to laugh, a laugh that she realized didn’t sound either very comforting or perhaps even entirely sane, and it kept on going, getting louder and louder and less controlled, until all of a sudden a sharp smack reverbrated through the room in time with a flash of quick pain from her cheek. In startlement she paused, finding her aunt’s concerned eyes gazing into hers, Victoria’s long, strong hand raised for another slap. “Are you all right now?”
“I… I think so. Sorry, Auntie.”
“I should hope so. Now are you going to explain?”
She swallowed and took a deep breath, glancing over to the fateful case. “I… I know who killed mother and father. And Rion.”
She saw her Aunt’s eyes narrow, trying to decide if Kyri were still not entirely there. Then Victoria nodded sharply. “I see. You do know.”
“Yes.” Even now, sure as she was, with Myrionar of the Balance Itself having verified all she knew, it was almost impossible to say. But she had to. She didn’t know what to do now, but she did know that she couldn’t possibly do this alone, without even advice and support from her family – from perhaps the only people who would really understand. She found herself on her feet, pacing, and could feel Victoria’s gaze on her as she moved. Finally she stopped in front of the window and opened the shutters wide, leaned on the polished stone and wood of the sill, looking out into the deep black greenness of the Forest Sea, remembering the gold and silver fire speaking to her. She gathered her courage and turned, meeting Victoria’s concerned gaze. “It was the Justiciars.”
The color drained entirely from Victoria Vantage’s face, turning her white as bone, and she collapsed into the chair from which she had started to rise, her pale lips shaping the same “No…” that Kyri remembered herself repeating in futile denial those endless hours ago. Kyri waited sympathetically, knowing that words would be useless now.
But it was only moments before the shock and denial drained away, to be replaced by grim understanding and acceptance… and even a dark, wry smile that startled Kyri. “Of course,” Victoria Vantage muttered, half to herself. “No wonder Rion had to die. No wonder he didn’t want to tell any of us anything. They admitted him to see if he could be brought to their side… and to silence him, if he couldn’t. They knew that otherwise he’d be out searching on his own, harder to watch, harder to control, and something might get out.” The swiftness of her acceptance and understanding reminded Kyri that Victoria Vantage was a Guild Adventurer and had been for fifty years, since she was fourteen. I’m awfully lucky she’s with us.
Victoria looked up. “But you’ve gone far beyond guessing this, Kyri. It’s a good guess – a terribly convincing guess, one that explains so very much – but for you, it’s not a matter of guessing, you know, I can tell. And the simple realization doesn’t explain why your parents were attacked, and certainly not your hair.”
She gave a much more natural giggle. “No, it doesn’t.” She walked over and nudged the crate with her foot. “It started with this…”
By the time she was finished, the full sunlight of morning was streaming across her windowsill, and Victoria was nodding. “Oh, Great Balance. I thought I had faced dangers in my old career, but you’ve been drawn into the Great Game at a level even old Bridgebreaker wouldn’t care to reach – not that he can stay out of it, really, not when he’s playing commander in chief for the Sauran King himself.”
“But, Auntie…” Kyri said, and suddenly the weight of her exhaustion was pressing her down and she felt young, frightened, and completely, utterly inadequate to the pledge she’d made. She sank onto her bed and covered her face with her hands. I will not cry. I’ve cried too much. “Auntie,” she continued, and hated the quaver that had somehow crept into her voice, “I… I just don’t know what to do now. I want to ride straight back to Evanwyl, tell everyone…” she shook her head, even before Victoria could speak, “… but I know that won’t work. Even if everyone would believe me, whatever’s behind this couldn’t afford to let me talk that obviously. If I did, I’d probably be just getting a lot of people killed.” She looked up at her aunt.
“That is almost certainly correct,” Victoria concurred with a sigh. “This is a very deep plot, Kyri. Hiding such things from the gods is not an easy task even for another god. There may be a thousand gods or more, but not all of them are equal, and only a very few could manage what we have seen here; Toron said that before, when he completed his investigations into your parents’ deaths, and this only reinforces his conclusions.”
“It’s more than that, too.” Kyri leaned her chin on her hands. “What Myrionar said… I have to be just in all my actions. That means that even if I could beat all of the Justiciars and their backers in one go, I wouldn’t be right to do so without making sure.”
“Sure? Are you implying there is any doubt they’re behind it?”
“No, no.” That much wasn’t in doubt. “Myrionar basically confirmed that Itself. But… Myrionar didn’t say at what level all of them were responsible. Justice, Auntie. Why didn’t Rion just tell us, tell Arbiter Kelsley? Maybe some of the false Justiciars aren’t… aren’t all bad.” Please. Not all of them. She remembered their last speech to her. “Maybe there’s good to be salvaged within some of them. I have to be willing … willing to see the possibility in anyone for redemption, or I’m not being what Myrionar says I must be.”
“I begin to see what a weight Myrionar has placed on you, child. Such fairness could also get you killed.” Victoria studied her niece for several moments. “The one true Justiciar of Myrionar.” A smile began to grow on her face.
The smile itself began to lift Kyri’s spirits. “Auntie, what are you thinking?”
“You don’t dare confront them directly, Kyri, nor merely kill them out of hand. But what if you could force them to confront you?”
She was puzzled. “I’d just have to start speaking –”
“No, no! Not forcing them by apparently threatening them with the truth.” It was a positively predatory smile by now. “Threaten them with a lie. Threaten them with their own lie made truth.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Become a Justiciar, and gain the reputation thereof, Kyri. In their area, in Evanwyl itself. They will have to respond to some impostor running around pretending to their power, wouldn’t you think?”
That makes sense.
“And they’re unlikely to search for me in a group, given how formidable they are and how much area they’ll have to cover to find me.” The plan was making sense. And especially since I know Evanwyl at least as well as they do. I won’t be easy to catch.
“Precisely. And alone, individually, with you having the true powers of a Justiciar as well as the strength of a Vantage, I do not think they could overcome you. You would have a chance to test their true nature.”
Victoria nodded again. “Yes. Except for whatever or whoever it was that killed Rion. I do not think those wounds were the work of the Justiciars themselves, but of their patron, whatever monstrous thing is giving them the power to pretend to be Justiciars.” She frowned. “I would go with you, Kyri, except someone must stay here, and watch the estate and especially your sister. But if you are going to attempt that approach – alone or otherwise – you first need to become a Justiciar in fact.”
“Isn’t that what Myrionar has done? I mean… I haven’t tested the powers, but I think I sense them within me.”
“A Justiciar is not just a set of special abilities, Kyri, and you should know that as well as I do. The Justiciars of Myrionar have abilities that are not that much greater than those of many other priests, holy warriors, and so on, let alone the God-Knights of Aegeia. But the Justiciars have their armor, their weapons, and their symbolic names. We could give you a name, naturally, but the power of the Justiciars in reality is that holding that position, along with the ancient armor, not only gives them the symbolism, but the ability to wield and channel the energy of the god directly.” Victoria stood, looking out the window. “While Myrionar may be unable to do such a thing often, just having such armor will turn you from Kyri Vantage to … well, whatever symbolic name you choose. You need to be that symbol, a symbol which will become a question.”
Kyri frowned. “Well, I suppose there must be armorers in the First City that could –”
“Absolutely not. Do you think for one minute that – even if the armorers there could produce what you need – you could keep that a secret from anyone?” Kyri felt herself flush in embarrassment. “In any event, Kyri, to make your role a true one, you need true Justiciar armor, created in the same way.”
“But that was forged by the Spiritsmith, Auntie! Maybe two Chaoswars ago!”
“And rumor is that he still lives.” Victoria smiled. “Toron told me that himself, some years ago. Besides, Kyri, you will need experience to prepare yourself. This is a plan that runs centuries deep; taking a few months, or even years, to prepare, is hardly a poor idea. By making the journey yourself, by convincing the Spiritsmith to create the armor you will need, you will come to know what you can do, you will perhaps find the allies you need, and find the name and symbol that suits you, and you will master the skills of a warrior which, right now, you have but a student’s experience of.”
She thought of her little sister – probably still sleeping even now. “You’re… You’re right, Auntie. But… where would I look?”
“The search is yours,” Victoria answered, “but I would say that old Toron is the best bet for a hint.”
She said something else, but Kyri didn’t catch it; to her surprise, she realized she’d faded for a moment. “I’m… tired, Auntie.”
“Hardly a surprise. Thank all the Gods that you’re feeling it, actually. You need the rest.” She forced Kyri to lie down, at which point Kyri felt her eyes closing almost against her will. “We’ll talk about this later…”
But by the last word, sleep had already dropped its curtain over Kyri’s thoughts.