Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 08
“What, young Prince? You thought my skills suited only to metalwork?” The Spiritsmith was dipping a pearlescent cloth into some other liquid that shimmered like moonlight.
Kyri saw Tobimar give a wry smile. “I suppose I did assume that, yes. Clearly I was mistaken.”
“When making armor, can one neglect the padding, the straps, the parts that make it truly wearable and secure? And if these be weak, will they not define the weakness of the armor?” The Spiritsmith’s voice, she noted, was not angry or sarcastic, merely instructive, as he watched closely the way the cloth swirled and coiled without even the slightest touch from his hand. “And many are the forms of armor; I know them all, from woven bamboo and leather to chain and scale, solid plate and metal cloth, all the forms and types that have ever been imagined, these I know, as I know all weapons, forge all weapons, here, whether they be blades of metal or mauls of kerva wood, nets woven of shadow and light or a bow to call down the stars.”
“And a good thing, too,” said Poplock from a different corner of the forge. The little Toad was sitting on an anvil, surrounded by hundreds of tiny gears, springs, levers, and other less identifiable components; he was hammering on some new piece of metal even as he spoke. “If you were always working metal, I wouldn’t be able to use your anvil.”
“Ha! True enough, my friend. But for one such as yourself, who has already taught himself much of the craft of metal and the way of machines, I am glad to lend you the use of the forge and what materials you find; even building your largest creations will take but little of what I have.”
Kyri was glad to hear that cheerful tone in the Spiritsmith’s voice again. For the first few days after the Black City had arrived, it had seemed he might not emerge from his shock. But on the fifth day, he had strode out from his private chambers and slammed his massive fist on the table so hard it had cracked the solid stone. “Enough!” he had said. “Terrible the days upon us, and worse to come; but that calls me to action such as I have not had in ages gone, and you are the first who need me.”
She saw Tobimar look to another part of the workshop, where two new swords sat within a glowing pit that glowed with soft golden radiance; they were nearly ready, according to the Spiritsmith.
“So,” she said, “what exactly is that stuff?”
“This?” the massive Sauran said, indicating the swirling material in the vat. “Woven from the webs of the stormsnare, the great spiders of the Khalals. One of the strongest of cloths, and capable of holding strongly to great virtues of power.”
“Stormsnares? You mean the Charahil, the Winds that Walk?” Tobimar said in surprise. “I’ve never encountered anyone who successfully took any of their webs; those who claimed to be hunting them… never returned.”
“Hunting them? How barbarous. The Charahil are wise and ancient as a people, and nothing like the Doomlocks and other monstrous spider-kin. I killed none for these webs; rather, I trade with them, and gain much from the exchange.”
Kyri smiled, remembering a similar question about a vat of Dragon’s blood. “Do you get all your materials voluntarily?”
The Spiritsmith bared his immense bladed teeth in a grin. “Not nearly all, no. Just those that I can. Demon blood and bone and hide, these are not given willingly, to name one obvious example. Many indeed are the monstrous creatures whose bodies yield materials peculiarly appropriate for my work, and most of them will not donate of themselves so freely either.”
He reached in and pulled the stormsnare fabric from the vat; the liquid seemed to bead and run off as though the cloth was waxed… but there was now a new moonlight sheen to the material. “Excellent. This will be a fine foundation for your new armor, Tobimar.”
“I don’t want to impose –”
“There is no imposition,” the massive scaled smith replied, spreading the cloth wide on a granite table. “Soon enough I will have to travel elsewhere – for surely my King and kinsman Toron will have need of my skills now. But you three will be traveling into the heart of much of this evil, and I will ensure that you are all three well protected.” He managed a wry smile. “Khoros knew this would happen, and thus your presence here is as clear a command to me as though he were here to give it.”
“Not to pressure you… but how long until the swords and the armor are done?”
“Your swords… another day and a half. Most of that, however, is infusing the various powers and assuring that they are permanently affixed to the blade in their essence. I expect that I shall complete this armor in that time. It is not, of course, nearly able to match the Raiment of a Justiciar in most aspects, but it will protect you far better than your current equipment and will have certain virtues of its own… as well as being exceedingly light and not bulky, so as not to interfere with your style of combat.”
Kyri nodded. “You mean unlike my style, which is generally more to hit things harder until they break.”
Both Tobimar and the Spiritsmith gave a snort of laughter. “You do yourself something of a disservice, Phoenix Justiciar,” the Sauran smith said, “but yes, in essence. You have more need of mighty defenses and slightly less of movement – though as you are already aware your Raiment impedes you very little.”
“Yes,” Kyri agreed. “For its bulk it is very light, yet strong.” She remembered other things she’d felt in battle. “And has that peculiar trait of my sword, as well.”
“Peculiar… ah, indeed. You mean the fact that its lightness is only perceived by yourself, but that it retains all its mass to resist blows as the metal from which it is forged.”
“I’d noticed that,” said Tobimar, “though more its opposite, with Thornfalcon.”
“Yes, the lighter blades of the Justiciars are forged with the ability to strike and withstand blows as though they were much greater than they are,” agreed the Spiritsmith. He began to mark the cloth – delineating a pattern for the armor purely by eye, it seemed to Kyri. There were no templates, nothing to show Tobimar’s measurements and ensure its fit, yet she was certain that when the Spiritsmith was done the new armor would fit Tobimar as though it were a second skin.
“So in two days or so, you will be ready to depart,” he said, picking up the earlier thread of conversation. “You may make free with my supplies for that journey; I myself will be departing shortly after.”
“Departing?” Kyri repeated, bemusedly. “I remember you saying something about that earlier, but honestly I thought you lived here always!”
“In the normal way of things, I do,” the huge Sauran agreed, going over and checking the swords sitting in their shining pit. “But the Black City has come to Zarathan, and I know that my King will be mobilizing all he can muster to confront the armies that will – beyond doubt – soon march from those gates. I will go to them, that they can have my aid; perhaps I, who have walked the world far longer even than they, can help them find other allies, even call the Great Dragons themselves to awaken – if they can, for the cycle turns, and not in our favor, I think.” He looked distant. “So I have gone to them before, I can sense, even though the faded memories of the Chaoswars past. When the great wars have begun, then I must heed the call of those who need my arms and armor to stave off the darkness that ever threatens to fall.”
Tobimar nodded. “Of course, that makes sense. So we’ll be heading for Moonshade Hollow while you head for Zarathanton.” He shook his head. “I just wish we knew more about the place, but Kyri says no one knows anything about it – that even Rivendream Pass isn’t known much past its entrance, and there’s a lot of miles of the pass to go through.”
Kyri nodded, looking into the nonexistent distance. “Rumors in Evanwyl say that the Hollow’s really a pretty big place, ringed with mountains, and in the middle there’s supposed to be Darkmoon Lake, but… that’s rumor. No one’s ever confirmed anything except that there’s really dangerous things that like to come out of Rivendream Pass.”
“There is one who may know something of the Hollow, and perhaps even of its past,” responded the Spiritsmith, returning to the table with the cloth laid out upon it. “Knowing that you would wish such counsel, yet have little enough time left to waste in travel, I have called to him, in the hope that he will come here, rather than force you to journey thence. And I believe he shall.”
To say she was startled was putting it mildly; everyone who had ever journeyed into Rivendream pass had either never returned, or retreated to safety after going no farther than a few miles. And its past was before the last Chaoswar, which meant that no one should be able to recall anything of it clearly. “Who, sir?”
“That would be me,” said a voice from behind them, at the entrance to the forge.
Standing in the entry, holding a staff nearly covered with glittering runes and bound with black metal, blond hair flowing to his shoulders, with strange blocky armor that reminded her of that which young Ingram had worn and a black cloak slung over his shoulders, was a figure out of legend, a picture from a storybook.
“The Wanderer,” Kyrie breathed, feeling a thrill of awe through her.
Tobimar was also staring in disbelief, and even the usually relaxed Poplock’s eyes were wider.
He bowed low before them. “I suspect that my reputation exceeds me, but I am, indeed, Erik Arisia, the Wanderer.”
Kyri found herself opening her mouth, and knew she was about to start absolutely babbling questions. No! she told herself sternly. The last thing he needs is someone asking him questions about his old adventures – whether he really had struck down the great dragon Frostreaver with a single blow of his staff, or outwitted one of the Nine Kings of Night by simply accepting his soul within, or whether he and Larani Darkwood had…
“I… Sir, I had never expected… you came here?”
He laughed – a very human and ordinary laugh, and suddenly she didn’t see a legend, just a young-appearing man of about twenty-five to thirty, leaning on a staff and amused by her stuttering question. “Relax, Kyri. I know I’ve got quite a rep, but don’t be overawed. And yes, I came here instead of lurking in my stronghold waiting to mess with you on the way in. When the old lizard makes that kind of request I figure he’s got a good reason for it.”
There was something familiar – yet alien – about the way he spoke. Tobimar’s eyes narrowed. “Forgive me, sir… but you sound almost like…”
“… like your friend Xavier? Yes, he and I share something of the same background.”
“So it is true! You came here from the sister world too!”
“Most of what they say about me is true,” he agreed. “And most of it is false, and most of it’s also exaggeration and confusion. Some of that’s my doing, a lot of it’s just the way things get repeated.”
“How did you know my name?” she asked after a moment, trying to figure out if he was just being obscure or meant something by all that. “Oh, wait. The Spiritsmith –”
“Didn’t have to tell me. Evanwyl’s not very far from the Broken Hills, and once you started raising something of a ruckus I made sure I know who was who over there.”
A thought struck her. “Do you know how to find the Retreat?”
The Wanderer chuckled. “Know how? Well, sort of. I could probably do it myself, if I wanted to. But I can’t tell you how to do it. I have … a kind of unique position with respect to godly magics, something I can’t lend to you. And I’ve got some other work to do, now that I’ve been pulled out of my shell.” He tilted his head, then nodded. “But I think – when the time comes, which isn’t yet – you’ll find a way in yourself.”
“What do you know about this whole situation?” Poplock asked.
“That’s a nice generic question,” the Wanderer said with a grin. “I know quite a bit about parts of it – a lot of parts you won’t care about. But I can tell you something interesting about Moonshade Hollow. Not details – I haven’t actually been very far inside and that once was a while back – but there is something in there – a god, a mystical ward, something – that suppresses or at least affects the operation of various mystical powers. I think that applies to godly powers, even.”
Tobimar frowned. “So Kyri’s powers… won’t work?”
“I don’t think it’s quite that bad, but my guess is that they’ll be more limited. Moonshade Hollow isn’t the only place like that – Elyvias, for instance. If Moonshade Hollow is like Elyvias, you probably will find a lot more, oh, gadgetry – magic placed into items in one way or another. Summoners and Gemcallers will be a lot more common than your standard wizard like me.”
“Ha! You, a standard wizard,” said Poplock. “That’s funny.”
The Wanderer acknowledged that with a laugh. “Okay, fair enough. I use a lot of standard wizardly tricks, though, and those were pretty damped down in both Elyvias and Moonshade Hollow.”
“What about Rivendream Pass?”
The Wanderer grimaced as he wandered up and glanced into the pit where Tobimar’s swords were sitting. “Oh, that’s as nasty as you think it is. Moonshade Hollow’s definitely got something of really dark nature in it, and the Pass is like a crack in a tank of something nasty; the nasty stuff flows along it until it dries out. And when it dries out it hardens. In this case, that means you keep getting monsters showing up. It’s a dangerous route, but about the only one you can take.”
“Toron said you might know something of the Hollow’s past?” Tobimar asked.
The Wanderer turned and looked at Tobimar quietly for a moment; Kyri was suddenly struck by the intensity of both mens’ blue eyes, eyes that were as nearly identical as hers and Xavier’s. “I am not immune to the effects of the Chaoswars,” he said finally. “But I am… more resistant, I suppose you could say, than others. So I do know a bit. I remember Heavenbridge Way, and that it was a green and pleasant place, a fine journey with a great road that ran from one side to the other, to end in the realm of the Lords of the Sky.” He nodded to Tobimar. “A land that was called Silavarian, which in the ancient Dragon’s tongue means, roughly, the Land of the Eight-Starred Sky.” Tobimar heard the Spiritsmith repeat the name, as though recognizing something of distant memory. The Wanderer went on, “Or maybe of the Sky of Eight Stars on the Land – it’s clearly a contraction of some sort and figuring out the missing pieces isn’t easy.”
“Silavarian,” repeated Poplock. “That could become ‘Silverun’ very easy.”
“Very,” agreed Tobimar. “Anything else?”
“Some. Though both Evanwyl and Silavarian were small, they both had power and influence considerably greater than their size. Myrionar was at its peak of power then, worshipped by many across the continent, and Evanwyl was the center of the faith. And the Lords of the Sky…” he grinned again. “There was a good reason for that name. They had either discovered a secret, or developed a technique, which allowed them to make airships, that traded across the continent, and by the end were well on their way to helping to unite most of the countries – not under one flag, but in trade and better understanding. Powerful enough to travel without concern of attack by any save a Dragon in the air, swift, much more reliable and less able to be interfered with than teleportation or other such spells, the airships of the Lords were the bedrock of trade and diplomatic communications.”
Kyri felt cold and knew Tobimar had the same thoughts. “And that’s why it was singled out by the Demons in the Chaoswar.”
The Wanderer was grave. “I would guess so, yes. With the usual disruption by the forces unleashed in a Chaoswar, only the Lords’ ships could have maintained any sort of cohesion between countries. They had to be taken down. The fact that – according to strong rumor – they were blessed of Terian and held the Seven and the One merely made them a greater target.”
Kyri saw Tobimar nod, at once more solemn and more confident. Of course. This is what he and his people have been searching for, and now the Wanderer’s finally confirmed everything he hoped to believe.
Then Poplock said, “So… what are you hiding?”
The Wanderer raised an eyebrow. “How do you mean?”
“You’re good at ducking and weaving, but so am I.” The little toad squinted at him narrowly. “You didn’t answer my question, really. Just diverted off into talking about what you knew about the Hollow, but I didn’t ask about that, I asked what you knew about the situation. And I think you know a lot. You’re the guy they say the gods tread lightly around, that’s not bound by destiny, that’s faced down Dragons and devised weapons against demons, that’s tricked one of the Nine Kings with a handful of sand and his own pure will. You’re living a hop or two from Evanwyl. I think you know what’s going on.”
Kyri turned to look at the Wanderer, who was smiling bemusedly at Poplock. “Cogent and well stated, little Toad. I don’t know everything that’s going on. But I do know a lot more about it than you do. And I’m not going to be able to tell you much.”
“Why not?” Kyri demanded. “Do you like playing games with people? That’s not what the stories say!”
Now there was no sign of a smile on the Wanderer’s face; instead there lines of worry, of pain that had not been visible before. “No, I don’t. It is not that I don’t want to tell you, Kyri, Tobimar… Poplock. It’s that I cannot. I dare not.” His gaze caught hers. “Recall the words that Myrionar spoke to you, the night It called you to its aid: ‘What I know would be too dangerous for you now, and there is still much hidden from me‘, yes?”
She was stunned. Only five people other than herself had she ever told of that particular speech: Aunt Victoria, Toron, Tobimar, Poplock, and Xavier Ross. “How do you know that?”
“Because Myrionar told me,” he answered, and his voice was cold iron. “And those words are just as true now. There are truths you cannot – you must not – know.”
Tobimar’s fists clenched. “So. You, like Khoros… perhaps even with Khoros… are playing a chessmaster, using us like pieces on your board, pushing us to perform some set of acts you need done.”
“Yes… and no,” he said quietly. “Your wills are your own. In fact, they must be your own. It is just that there are things you must do in your own way, without direction or control. In fact, if I were to attempt to direct you, to tell you everything I know, or part of it, I would likely destroy everything we all hope to accomplish. Even though I know that there will be points at which not knowing something could get you all killed, and that, too, will destroy everything we hope to accomplish.”
Kyri stared at him, anger, concern, and confusion making a nauseating mix in her gut. “What do you mean?” She made a leap of intuition. “A prophecy. You have a prophecy.”
For a moment, that smile returned, sharp and lopsided, too knowing yet edged with sadness. “Not… precisely. Though, perhaps, close enough for your purposes.”
“A prophecy we cannot be told?”
He sighed, turned away, looked at the cold fire on the other side of the room. “Telling… can change the actions of others. Sometimes knowing can be worse than not knowing.”
“Explain that,” Poplock said after a moment.
The Wanderer rubbed his neck. “Hmm. How to put it… All right. Imagine that I had dropped by Pondsparkle a little before you guys hit your panic mode. I come in, let you know what’s going on, maybe give you some assistance in getting that group shut down. Then what happens?”
Poplock scratched his head. “Well…”
“Poplock doesn’t leave his hometown,” Tobimar said slowly. “Or at least he doesn’t leave it at the same time. So he’s not there in the Temple when I’m cornered.”
Kyri felt a dull ache of grim understanding and continued for him. “So the two of them never meet, and aren’t there at the murder of the Sauran King. And don’t join with Xavier. So nobody’s there to distract Thornfalcon…”
The Wanderer nodded slowly. “I don’t like the term ‘playing’ in this circumstance… but at the same time, it’s appropriate. We – including you – are playing a game of bluffs, of shadow-moves and strategies and tactics that interact with each other on a thousand layers. Even an apparent disaster may lead to victory, but if someone KNOWS about that apparent disaster, they may choose the apparently better path, and lead us to real disaster. It’s bad enough that I know all of this!” The Wanderer slammed his staff down in frustration, an impact that echoed throughout the forge. “Do you think I don’t want to just set things right? Hell, it’s what I came here for. It’s my job.” He looked up, into a sky beyond the stone above. “But we don’t know everything, especially about our adversary, and one wrong word… could ruin it all.”
Kyri closed her eyes. She thought she could – vaguely – understand what the Wanderer was trying to get across, and it was terrifying, and frustrating, at the same time. But… “Wanderer, can you tell me one thing?”
He looked at her steadily. “I don’t know. Depends on the one thing. But ask.”
She looked at her two friends, then took a breath. “Did Myrionar tell me truly otherwise? If … we have faith in this, will we come through? Can I truly have full measure of justice and vengeance, can I find the true enemy behind everything and take them down? Can we all survive this?”
He looked at her steadily, his expression now so carefully controlled it gave away nothing. “I can answer that. You can come through. You can survive. But there is no certainty that you will, and much will depend on your choices – all of your choices. We don’t know all the details; Khoros doesn’t tell anyone everything – sometimes I wonder if he tells himself everything – Myrionar hasn’t revealed everything It knows to me, I’ve got secrets I can’t tell them, and of course our opposite numbers do their level best to tell us nothing at all. I can’t warn you, even if I wanted to, of many specifics. A lot of this really, truly is on your shoulders, not just a set of moves plotted out in advance. I honestly do not know exactly what waits for you in Moonshade Hollow… just that you three, and only you three, can face it and emerge to victory.
“And that is all I can tell you.”
Kyri felt for a moment that she might burst from the frustration, but then took a breath. Let it go.
Tobimar looked little different, and she saw him do something very similar. “Well… I thank you for what you could tell us, sir,” he said. “You did, in fact, tell us some things that will be very useful. Being warned that our powers will be limited in the Hollow… it’s sure a lot better to know that ahead of time.”
The Wanderer nodded, then smiled again. “Another minor correction… I didn’t say that all your powers would. Unless I miss my guess, your abilities should be very little affected, as yours – and your friend Xavier’s – are not, precisely, magical in origin, nor from some outside source like the gods.”
“But I’d better prep and load up now,” Poplock said wryly, looking at his stuff spread out over the anvil, “because I’m starting out behind and now my brand-new magic’s going to have a brand-new handicap.”