Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 20

Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 20

Chapter 20.

She skipped her way along the hallway, then bounded down the three hundred forty-three steps, taking them three or four at a time, to finally burst through the massive double doors that opened easily for her – and only a very few others.

The room on the other side never failed to impress her – and, in the moments she was honest with herself, sent a tingle of apprehension through her as well. Arranged like a gigantic amphitheater with circular levels descending in ranked order, forty-nine levels each with its own corresponding complex symbology intagliated in silver and gold and crystal on the great domed roof above, the room was both immense and hollowly imposing. Even her light footsteps sent sharp echoes chasing themselves around the room, past the polished metal and glass and shimmering gemstone retorts spaced about the levels and the spaces awaiting other chambers, retorts, tubes, or crystals to be inset, in their turn, beneath the T’Terakhorwin, the Great Array.

In the center of the huge room, beneath the core of the Great Array, was a flat space nearly a hundred yards across, with a floor of polished obsidian inset with platinum and krellin runes so closely spaced that there was nearly as much soft-silver shining as deep black glint. Despite the size of that area, not terribly much of the floor was visible, for arranged all about, in concentric seven-sided patterns, were ranks of alchemical and mystical equipment of more complex and diverse designs than she had ever seen anywhere else.

The master and designer of all of this glanced up as she entered. “You interrupt my work.” His white hair cascaded across his shoulders, his pale eyes stared at her from deep-set, shadowed sockets in a narrow, ascetic face that showed lines of concentration but none of smiles. The only other person present made himself unobtrusive, obviously wanting to avoid being involved in any major discussion.

She flashed Tashriel a quick smile then turned to Wieran with a sigh. He hasn’t the faintest trace of courtesy. I shudder every time I have to have him come up and interact with other people, for fear he’ll forget his instructions. “I wouldn’t do so without reason, and I think you’ll find this reason more than adequate.”

She reached up to one of her armor’s shoulderpads and, with some effort, detached a section which had made the one a bit thicker than the other. Beneath the false surface could now be seen a multiplicity of runes and symbols, engraved in a way that strongly mirrored that of the ground below her.

The blue eyes narrowed, and a hint of a smile appeared – a smile which was not, in any way, comforting. “The data gathering is complete?”

“I spent several hours in the company of the target. That should be enough, right?”

“If it is the correct target, yes.” Without request or preamble, long, spidery fingers snatched the former coverplate of her shoulderpad away from her; Wieran crossed with metronome-precise strides to a complicated piece of equipment a short distance away and fitted the thin plate into a holder.

An entire portion of the array above and below suddenly hummed into life, and a blue-white fire burned for a moment above the plate, a fire whose light both excited and pained her. “Yes, yes, yes! That is the key we have sought!” Wieran said, with the most animation she had ever heard in his voice. “Have it brought here immediately!”

The joy she felt at knowing victory was at last within their reach was tempered by the sudden demand. “Master Wieran,” she said carefully, “They are currently in Murnitenzei, and the key is not alone. We must take care not to alert any of the party to anything untoward, and really, we haven’t anything with a foolproof method to transport someone so far.”

Wieran’s mouth tightened, but then he took a breath and relaxed. “Very well, Miri. I suppose I can take the time to finalize preparations for the unlocking in the meantime; it has not been a priority until now.”

The ground beneath them suddenly quivered – a tiny amount, but more than enough for both Miri and Wieran to notice. Miri glanced involuntarily at the wall she knew lay to the West, and thus beneath Enneisolaten, the great lake. “Is … it… secure?”

Wieran’s reply was matter-of-fact, holding none of her uncertainty or – to be perfectly frank with herself – fear of what lay beyond. “The Array holds him, yes. And once the key has arrived, that will no longer be a concern for any of us.”

“You can keep it restrained for that long? When the cycle is turning in their favor?”

A short, humorless laugh. “Your desperate bindings held it for centuries before I came; with the perfection of my designs? Not even the Dragon King himself could break free! But I understand your fear; if break free it does, I will not be the one it comes for first, but rather those who asked its aid and then betrayed it. Now,” Wieran turned away, “leave me, Miri. I have work to do and need none of your distractions.”

“You’re welcome,” she muttered under her breath as she ran back up the stairs. Even his most polite behavior would get him killed in some places.

But that was only a minor annoyance today. The singing, painful brilliance she had seen stayed with her and erased her resentment at Wieran’s arrogance. Once past the wards at the top, she concentrated and in a flash stepped straight to the hallway outside her own chambers.

Inside, she quickly set up the mirror-scroll and invoked its power. For several minutes the gold-shining surface remained blank, showing only her own face; but then, without warning, it darkened, and a cheerful, blond-haired man – or rather, something that had the outward appearance of a man – looked out; his boyish grin widened farther as he saw his caller. “Why, Miri! What a pleasure, as usual. How are you?”

“Well enough, Viedra. I have called to thank you; the key we sought has indeed arrived. Master Wieran verified that this morning.”

“You doubted me? I’m almost wounded, Emirinovas.”

“Say rather I was not going to celebrate until I was sure,” she responded with a smile of her own. “But now it is certain. In a month or two, once he has arrived, the entire work will be completed.”

“A month? Oh, I imagine the old man is a bit put out by that.”

“He’ll have to accept it. We need to understand both the key and his companion; we don’t want unexpected events undermining the final seal and release.”

He nodded. “Oh, certainly not. His companion… yes, she is quite interesting. Please keep me informed – especially as to her ultimate fate. I’ve been following her myself for a project of my own.”

Miri raised an eyebrow. “You did not say she was important to any of your projects! I thought we had full operative authority here!” Her jaw tightened. If he puts restrictions on how we can deal with them –!

Instead, Viedra laughed. “Oh, but of course you do. Take whatever approach you require, just tell me of the outcome, yes?”

Mollified, she nodded. “As you wish. Do you have any use for Wieran afterwards?”

“After?” The smile was not quite human, the teeth suddenly a hair too sharp, too shiny. “Oh, I think by then Master Wieran will have outlived his usefulness. Don’t you agree?”

She giggled, a sound a listener would have found distressingly incongruous with her thoughts. “Oh, I think both Kalshae and I would agree on that.” She smiled in anticipation. “The real question will be whether I get to kill him… or she does.”

Viedra’s laugh was as human as his appearance usually was, big and cheerful and warm. She appreciated that incongruity herself. “Well, then, I wish you all the success possible, and that sounds like a wonderful thing to look forward to. I thank you for confirming things with me. Now, I must be going –” he broke off. “Oh, dear. Yes, there is one more thing.”

There always is. “What?”

“There’s another young man following that delightful Phoenix. It’s very important to me that he not catch up to her. Can you make sure of that?”

“Do you want him killed?”

Viedra shook his head. “Oh, no, no! I want him to keep following her, just not reaching her, until you are all done, that is. Preferably not even have much contact with those who have seen her. Can you arrange that for me?”

She was relieved; this would be both simple and amusing. “Oh, I think so. I’ll lay a false trail for him in the opposite direction around the lake from the one they select and periodically check on him. Good enough?”

“That will be splendid, Miri. Oh, yes – Phoenix doesn’t know she’s being followed, and she shouldn’t be allowed to know.”

“Of course.”

“Excellent. Then I will leave you to it – our Father has tasks for me today.”

Miri waved and the scroll went blank. Glancing at the timecrystal, she bounced up and headed to the Valatar Throne.

Lady Shae saw her come in and waved absently. Miri, seeing she was busy hearing the grievances of the people and making decisions, went to one side of the Throne and waited patiently. Even small details like this were crucial to the overall plan.

Finally the last of the morning’s petitioners left and the doors shut behind. “Kerlamion’s breath,” Kalshae muttered venomously, “I grow so weary of this charade at times. Such petty issues they have. Hardly even a decent bout of hate or killing rage or spite.”

Miri laughed. “Oh, if you take the border areas you can get a lot of that!”

Shae looked at her askance. “You have the option to patrol; that’s rather limited for me.”

“The price you pay as the Lady of Light.”

“Ugh. I feel so contaminated.” Kalshae shuddered and for a moment her form wavered, becoming less human, darker.

“Oh, I don’t mind; I can switch back and forth between the self I’m being for the game and who I am; it’s become almost its own reality.”

Kalshae looked at her sharply. “Be careful, Emirinovas! Dalurshinsu and Yurugin said similar things before …”

“I know perfectly well what they said. I also haven’t been playing around with the Stars and Sun directly like they were.”

“Still, you should come down and sit next to our prisoner more often. His darkness is a welcome antidote to that agonizing light.”

“I’ll try. But unlike you, I have a lot of places I have to travel to. You can always go downstairs in between duties.”

“Just watch yourself. I’m not sure how either of us could handle all this by ourselves.”

Miri nodded, but smiled confidently. “Oh, I will. But really, it’s only another few months.” The smile sharpened. “I’ve directed this plan for thousands of years; what could possibly break me now?”


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26 Responses to Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 20

  1. sensei says:

    It’s always comforting to know that unless you’re reading George R R Martin, that Miss Prism’s words can always be counted on: “The good ended happily, and the bad, unhappily. That is what ‘fiction’ means.”

    • Books first, food later. says:

      I heartily agree! I cannot even bring myself to read Mr Martins work anymore. I read for the edification of my soul…not for the purpose of bringing more darkness and existential nihilism into my life. The real world does a good enough job, more often than not, of making us feel that good actually *doesn’t* win in the end, and that the Light is a myth. I don’t need my fiction hammering at my hope and faith as well. “No sir, and thank you kindly just the same!” ;)

      Now…I wonder…at first I thought maybe they’d imprisoned Terian…but than Miri said (or was it Shae?) “our prisoners darkness is…” (something… maybe refreshing?) Which means, unless she’s referring to a totally different prisoner -which is entirely possible

    • Books first, food later. says:

      I heartily agree! I cannot even bring myself to read Mr Martins work anymore. I read for the edification of my soul…not for the purpose of bringing more darkness and existential nihilism into my life. The real world does a good enough job, more often than not, of making us feel that good actually *doesn’t* win in the end, and that the Light is a myth. I don’t need my fiction hammering at my hope and faith as well. “No sir, and thank you kindly just the same!” ;)

      Now…I wonder…at first I thought maybe they’d imprisoned Terian…but than Miri said (or was it Shae?) “our prisoners darkness is…” (something… maybe refreshing?) Which means, unless she’s referring to a totally different prisoner -which is entirely possible- (oh bugger…my phone apparently posted this before I finished…how? No clue. Dammit…I’m gonna finish it and post it…sorry folks)
      As I was saying. Unless she was talking about another prisoner, that means the prisoner is dark, or at least has dark energy, rather than light. I can’t see how it could be Virigar…he’s just too damn scary for midlevel thugs like these to screw with, I think…Vernes son? Whose name I always remember right until I have to type it? Hmmm. But where is all the light energy coming from? The surrounding area, sure, but it sounds like miri and shae were talking about divine level stuff…hmm… FASCINATING snippet! Also torturous…

      • Ryk Spoor says:

        I wouldn’t call Emirinovas and Kalshae mid-level. Yes, they’re not at the absolute top, but they’re a *lot* more powerful than the Big Bad of the last book, Thornfalcon — and Thorny was no pushover. These are demonlords, fairly high up in the hierarchy of Kerlamion.

        • Books first, food later. says:

          Heh, I kinda figured they were pretty dang powerful…I was mostly being intentionally dismissive (hence, thugs rather than…the plural of sorceress, however it’s typed. Should’ve been demonlords, not…sorceress tho, huh? Oops) towards them because 1 they are villains and it made me chuckle to type (I pictured them scowling…lol) and 2 I was thinking about them vs Virigar, so…I thought midlevel (from his air-is-rarefied sky-high level of the power spectrum) sounded like it gave them a lot of power compared to most things, but not even close to enough to take on Virigar. If that makes sense. And no, I’m not sure why I’m typing all of this except, perhaps, because I talk too much, and because I’m hoping to tease out some hint about this prisoner of theirs… ;P

          PS: fantastic new villains btw! I know I didn’t say it earlier, but I meant to. Lol, I already can’t wait for their joint demise. Skipping. …Diabolical. The most innocent, childlike way to get from place to place…and a purely evil demonlord is using it as part of her diabolical disguise. Virigar would be proud, if they were wolves, I think. ;) The next snippet can’t come soon enough…greedy though I know that must sound. ;D

      • Richard H says:

        I may be completely off base here, but I get the impression that the artifacts of Terian that this land was originally founded on are some divine-level stuff. After all, it seems that’s the main reason these communities around the towers manage to survive. Well, that, and the power of whatever these demonic beings are that have infiltrated the top of the government…

        There also seems to be a scheme in the works to use our friendly local follower of Terian to unlock some sort of power in the artifacts in order to summon something that said power is not supposed to be used for.

        • The Seven Stars and the Sun are artifacts of Terian, the Mortal God, one of the most powerful deities in the multiverse. So yes, deific-level, capable of incredible feats, power beyond mortal comprehension.

    • Ryk Spoor says:

      You mean, despite all appearances of having completely suckered the good guys and them being nothing but tools in the hands of evil, you expect that my heroes have to get out of this somehow.

      Well, this IS the middle book of a trilogy; it means a lot of bad crap has to come down/develop, but OTOH I can’t kill my main heroes yet. Martin also has the luxury (or method) have having Loads and Loads of Characters, which means he can treat them like Doritos — crunch all you want, I’ll make more. I only have three primary characters and I’m still developing them, so obviously I can’t kill them in THIS book!

      And of course those familiar with my preferences know that I really don’t like stories in which my heroes get toasted.

  2. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Seems to me that Viedravarion is counting on Emirinovas and Kalshae failing, though what he hopes to accomplish by that failure is a mystery to me. Still, his attitude, and the plans and thoughts he has expressed in previous snippets cause me to think that he knows Emirinovas and Kalshae will fail, and, somehow, that will further his plans.

    Very interesting snippet, Ryk.

    • Very good. Or rather, he is not counting on their success, but on certain events happening, and whether they succeed or fail in their own personal projects is irrelevant to him. Of course, it’s fairly likely that the events HE wants to see happen will interfere in what THEY want to see happen…

  3. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Miri nodded, but smiled confidently. “Oh, I will. But really, it’s only another few months.” The smile sharpened. “I’ve directed this plan for thousands of years; what could possibly break me now?”

    Someday in the future, that quote will end up in a compiled list of “famous last words.” :-)

    • Doug Lampert says:

      If those words are prophetic of her actual downfall they might not be her last words even metaphorically. If she ends up “broken” by the problem being mentioned it would be possible for her to live. The worry seems to be that she’ll get caught up in all the “sweetness and light” after all, and back in Chapter Nine she seemed genuinely regretful at losing assistants.

      Mind, the most common fate for reforming villains is Redemption=Death, but switching sides is her most plausible road to survival (she’s not the series big bad, so she’s not getting away to provide a foe for the sequel or anything like that). And if the foes of this book are all that much more powerful than Thornfalcon then SOMETHING needs to break really badly for them to lose. One of them having an epiphany and switching sides seems the most likely point of failure, and Condor and Emirinovas look like the two most likely to do so.

  4. Cobbler says:

    From Ryk’s comments in splinter 11:

    It’s called “magic”. If you try to apply physics to magic it won’t work. While physics applies on Zarathan, it can be changed by magic. That’s the POINT of magic; it modifies the basic rules of reality.

    To be more detailed, you can transfer qualities such as intelligence using magical means, regardless of the physical equipment of the target. As seen later on in Phoenix in Shadow, this means that even things like swords can be intelligent.

    The Intelligent Toads claim to be the oldest intelligent species on Zarathan; this may be true, and if so would indicate that a deity of some sort made sure they were intelligent, probably “uplifting”, so to speak, their less-intelligent mundane ancestors.

    …magic could make ANY object intelligent, if the magician in question wanted to go to the effort of doing so, whether that object was a stone golem, an apple on the kitchen counter, or a carefully-replicated human body.

    Making that a self-reproducing intellect — i.e., making it so that, say, intelligent cockroaches pass their intelligence down — requires more work, but is also feasible. This is of course one of the common PROBLEMS on Zarathan; a lot of small groups of mages may well decide to see if they CAN do some particular thing without considering whether they SHOULD. Thus things like the Maelkodan (in Paradigms Lost), Doomlock spiders, and so on.

    In Snippet 16, speaking about Virigar, Ryk said:

    A black hole won’t hold him at all; he’ll eat it.

    To be fair, any other Great Wolf would do the same; you *cannot* kill a Great Werewolf without either silver or soul-destroying attacks.

    I’m trying to understand how this magic works. There must be some ground rules, of only for story coherence. I’m not getting it.

    For a compare and contrast, look at Lord Darcy’s universe.

    Master Shawn uses magic roughly based on The Golden Bough. He follows rules like:

    The Law of Similarity: (Like attracts/produces/affects like. Effects resemble/influence causes.) And:

    The Law of Contagion. (Objects in contact remain in contact. Symbols resemble/influence reality.)

    Not to mention the notion of the scapegoat/soter Sacred King given in Sacrifice.

    All of that governed by the Law of the Pun—a rule Garret never got from Frazier.

    Are there ground rules for magic in this universe? Does sufficient magic trump all of physics? Is there anything to keep a magician or deity from unbinding fundamental laws? Collapsing creation into quantum foam? Splitting every atom in creation?

    Why does this universe still exist?

    • Ryk Spoor says:

      The description of the interaction of the fundamental principles (the three M’s — Matter, Mind, and Magic) took me 20+ years to work out.

      Unfortunately, the actual written version of that was destroyed in one of my basement floods, so it’s pretty much impossible to reconstruct in great detail.

      Matter (technology), Mind (psionics) and Magic all “come together” at the very top end. Each one has its own particular advantages and disadvantages that, in the large scale, counterbalance each other. On Zarathan, you have literally thousands of gods being part of the counterbalance. Even Kerlamion Blackstar doesn’t want to DESTROY Zarathan.

      Zarathan itself is a nexus of all realities. It is a fundamental keystone of everything down to the original Creation, although there are only three beings that know that particular fact. Destroying it would be a nontrivial task for even the mightiest deities, and if they DID succeed, they’d destroy themselves in the process. The STRUCTURE of the world is reinforced in reality by the fact that it does, in fact, connect to all of multiversal reality everywhere, and thus the basic subconscious imagery of the entirety of intelligent life throughout all the cosmos maintains its foundation.

      Things like “Law of Similarity”, “Law of Contagion” are *WAY* down the hierarchy; they’re part of specific disciplines of magic. There ARE types of magic that work that way, but there are literally dozens if not hundreds of types of magic on Zarathan, especially if you include alternative parallels of Zarathan.

      Each type of magic has rules and limits. As you get higher up and more comprehensive in your magical use, the fewer your limits.

      This is, however, also true of technology, and one of the MAJOR limits of magic is that you have to be somewhere that magic WORKS. Which, until the Great Seal is undone, means Zarathan itself, pretty much. With considerable effort you can get relatively minor magic to work on Earth, or if you have a magical device that somehow maintained a mystical connection to the source you can use it and maybe use magic in a very limited radius around it, but you can’t leave Zarathan and go Detonate the Reality Bomb in the Medusa Cascade magically; you need technology or, possibly, ultra-level psionics to play that game in the wider parts of the main multiverse.

      In other parts of the multiverse, other rules apply; for instance, if you access the sheaf of realities that include the Darcyverse, THOSE rules apply.

    • Bibliotheca Servare says:

      Because it feels like it. ;-P Or rather, because the entities with the power to unmake the various universes residing in the reality Ryk has built…aren’t bored enough to unmake it yet. *ominous silence* But really…it still exists because *its* omnipotent creator (Ryk) hasn’t seen fit to make it go poof. Or at least that’s my thought. And yes. If magic -in general- trumps physics, then “sufficient” magic trumps physics as well. Unless Ryk responds and tells me/you I’m/we’re wrong of course. ;) Personally, I love a universe where physical laws are negotiable. Fun! I mean…look at the Droodverse. (Simon R Green…James Bond…with magic…) So. Much. Fun! Irritating at times also? Yes. But fun! And now I go back to lurking. ;)

      • Ryk Spoor says:

        At the top end, magic trumps physics, except when physics trumps magic, and except when either is trumped by psionics. They all blur into the Power of Creation at the top, something that only one recorded civilization really started to master. That one civilization was, of course, Atlantaea, and that very fact is, basically, the reason that Someone decided “it’ll have to go.”

    • Ryk Spoor says:

      To put it more simply, there’s always a bigger fish until you get to the top, and the two biggest fish of all are playing an eons-long game of “who’s going to take the prize” which requires that the multiverse remain reasonably intact (barring the minor galactic explosion, imploding secondary universes, trivial things like that), which means that the main universe and its close temporospatial relatives are of interest to both of them to not overly disrupt. And the big fish in the tier below them also don’t have any interest in multiversal collapse.

      This is also true of technology, magic, and psionics; you have to go all the way to the top of the power and skill level to present a threat of the scope you imply, and, well, there’s probably already someone above you in that tier who ISN’T going to let you do that.

      So in THEORY, yes, magic can do anything. So can technology, given time and effort. So can psionics, given scope and reach. But in practice, reaching effective infinite power takes effective infinite time.

      • Cobbler says:

        Thanks, Ryk.

        Sorry about the flood. But look on the bright side. We’ve solved one mystery.

        Now we know that Water trumps God.

        I also wondered about local accidents. Some amateur fools around and accidentally sparks the Universal Fission Bomb (except for hydrogen). Even wonder how many time gunpowder was invented before the “inventor” survived?

        Does this mean wizards and demigods aren’t able to work on quantum mechanical levels? Or can they, but they can’t spark self-propagating reactions? Or by the time they have the necessary power, they know better?

        I have a feeling I’m asking the wrong questions. Probably because I don’t know enough to guess the right questions.

        • Ryk Spoor says:

          Magic is an *active* force. Yes, there are ways of setting up super-cascading reactions, but you still need the skill and power to make it work properly. You can’t accidentally create the cascading quantum foam collapse any more than I could accidentally put together a Formula 1 Racecar.

          You could, if it helps, think of magic as ANOTHER approach to technology, in the sense that you can’t just wave your hand and make things work unless you understand exactly what you’re doing in detail, in one way or another. There are many ways to throw a fireball using magic, but all of them involve either considerable skill at manipulating energy, some particular trick for getting energy, or, for summoners, really good negotiation skills to get someone ELSE to provide you energy.

          Gods have more instinctive control of their power, but they are bound by their natures and their spheres of influence. A God of Fire can do pretty much any fire-like thing you can imagine, but summoning a single ice cube is probably out of his league unless he does it the hard way by actually learning to cast such a spell like a mortal.

          The problem you’re encountering is that the way the world works is very complicated and interactive and I’ve been working on it for approaching four decades now. I *KNOW* almost instinctively what will and won’t work, but to verbalize the details is very hard, especially when to make the details make sense, I would have to explain OTHER details, some eventually going back to the origin of the universe itself.

          • Ryk Spoor says:

            Addendum: The fire god would of course be limited by how much deific power he had to use; “god” is a classification that actually has at least 5 subcategories, and spans beings whose power scales range from “makes a hard deal out of pounding down a mountain” to “creates universes on a whim”.

      • Bibliotheca Servare says:

        I am so insanely curious about those two “biggest fish”…I can’t even adequately articulate it. Gah! Was one of them the one that decided Atlantaea couldn’t be permitted to experiment with the power of Creation? Oh boy oh boy… *puppy eyes*

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