Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 21

Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 21

Chapter 21.

Kyri took a deep breath of the morning air, which once more brought that sparkling feeling into her, something beyond the freshness of an ordinary dawn. I wonder how I’ll manage to adapt to the ordinary world when we go back, she mused. Evanwyl will seem dull and grimy by comparison. Even Zarathanton may pall.

The three of them stood at the eastern gate of Sha Murnitenzei, looking at the rolling hills that led off into the golden haze of dawn, Poplock sitting comfortably on Tobimar’s shoulder. Next to them, Hiriista was adjusting a large backpack, jeweled bracelets and necklaces chiming as he did so.

Shade Danrall stood nearby, straight as a column; he was to escort them a short distance as he was going on patrol in that direction. Kyri gave him a narrow glance as he looked away. Something about him’s… different. She remembered their first encounter with the Shade; he had been stunned by their arrival, a bit nervous, instantly ordered away by Miri to run an errand. He’d shown up at the party, too, and been similarly nervous and diffident.

He seemed the same today. Even now, he was being a bit wide-eyed and nervous about escorting them when they’d already shown how formidable they were. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that he’s not nervous at all. That he’s completely focused on the situation and not in any way affected by it.

What was really maddening was that this whole situation rang a faint bell of memory and her brain was refusing to come up with the connection. Let it go. The connection will come in time, when you’re not trying to force it. And you may be imagining things.

“You’re not coming with us, Miri?” she asked. “I thought –”

“Yes, I’d planned on at least starting the journey with you, but last night, just as I was going to bed, I got a message that there’s something wrong near Sha Vomatenzei; sounds to me like something got over the wall and is skulking around the farms there.”

“Yes,” Tobimar said thoughtfully, “I suppose that the wall can’t do much to stop things that fly or are really good at climbing or jumping from surrounding trees.”

“Do not underestimate the Tenzei Kendron,” Hiriista said. “Powers are woven into it which prevent easy contact even by the denizens of the surrounding forest, and which discourage and confuse those which attempt to pass above or below it. It takes something of considerable power or skill, or both, to pass it.”

“Which unfortunately means that if something does make it over – or under – the Wall, it’s very dangerous,” Miri said regretfully. “So I’m heading off in the opposite direction. I’ll catch up to you as I can.”

They exchanged bows and Miri impulsively embraced them both; Kyri was startled but returned the hug; there was something inherently lovable about the little Light, and the strength in her arms reminded Kyri that she was no more delicate than Tobimar. “You be careful, Miri,” she said.

Miri looked startled, then smiled brilliantly. “I’m not used to people worrying about me! But I guess if anyone’s got a right to worry about me, it’s the people who crossed the Pass of Night. Okay, I’ll be careful. You too, Phoenix! And Tobimar! I don’t want to have to explain to Lady Shae how we lost our special visitors.”

And a significant magewright,” Hiriista said dryly.

And a most significant and beloved magewright,” she agreed with a laugh. “Goodbye!”

Miri skipped away, a casual-appearing gait that still somehow took her down the road back into town so quickly that it was only moments before she vanished from sight.

Hiriista gave a sigh and rattled the feathery spines on his neck; the sound gave her the impression of exasperated fondness. “And there she goes, bouncing like a hatchling. Sometimes I cannot grasp how she can manage her duties half as well as she does.”

Magewright Hiriista!” Danrall said, a shocked tone in his voice. Yet… it still seems a bit off to me. “How –”

“Oh, pissh!” The mazakh dismissed the comment with a wave. “She’s hardly unaware of my opinion. Don’t worry yourself with the reputation of your superiors, they can well ward themselves.”

“O… of course, sir.” He bowed to them. “Are you ready to begin?”

“Lead on,” Kyri said.

“So,” Tobimar said as they began walking east along the road, “when exactly are we parting ways?”

“I would expect sometime after noon,” Danrall answered. “My patrol’s going to take me out to a particular cross-road that leads south to the Wall, then west along it to the Gate-Post where I’ll spend the night, then continue west about an equal distance until I turn north and join up with the road.

“Shade Ammini,” he continued, mentioning one of the other Shades, a broad dark-skinned young woman Kyri remembered from the Party, “will be leaving about now and going in the opposite direction, but she’ll turn north, then after she reaches Nightshine Rock she’ll go east and spend the night at Rimestump, then patrol east to Sentry Hill and return to the road at about the point where I’ll be leaving it.”

Kyri could envision the described paths easily in general terms – two rectangular loops, one to the south and one to the north of Murnitenzei. “So each patrol takes two days. You do this how often?”

“Dual patrol’s done at least once a week and sometimes twice. The Hues roll dice to determine which day, and sometimes whether it’ll be night or day patrols. That keeps anything from being able to be sure of our patrol timing. And of course the timing shifts if we run into something.”

“Does that happen often? Running into something inside the Wall?”

Danrall spread his hands uncertainly. “Well, it happens. Not very often, but … maybe two or three times a year here. I’d guess it’s about that often in the other cities. Twice a year we send a big patrol – all three Hues and four Shades – along the Necklace –”

“Necklace?”

Hiriista laughed, a hissing sound like a boiling kettle. “Yes, you did not hear that name before? That is the name many people use for the main road that circles Kaizatenzei, through all the Seven and to the One, because it is like a necklace with jewels spaced along it.”

Kyri smiled. “That does make sense. A nice image. So you send patrols along the Necklace twice a year – all the cities do this?”

“Yes. That way there’s a force to clean up anything that’s gotten through and is hiding in the parts between cities, bothering outlying villages but not rooted out by the normal patrols, that kind of thing.”

It sounded like they had a pretty good system in place to maintain the safety and peace. She presumed even the outlying villages had their own ordinary defenders, but the things outside the Wall would require something out of the ordinary. “That still seems like a fairly small force, having seen what lies outside your Wall – each city has one Color, three Hues, and seven Shades, right? So that would be for all seven – no, eight – cities, eighty-eight plus the seven Lights, ninety-five for the whole country?”

“It may seem small, but given our training and abilities, it is enough,” Danrall said with some pride.

“That must be impressive training,” Tobimar said.

“Oh, it is. We are taught…” he shook his head as though catching himself. “… but no, I can’t tell you. Secret, honestly. It is not safe, though.” He looked down, sadness clear on his face.

“You lose candidates in the training?”

Danrall hesitated, then nodded. “Over half… do not make it.”

Myrionar’s Name! Half of their carefully selected candidates die from the training? “You lost a friend or two, I guess.”

“Two. One of them was my best friend since I was three, so long that I couldn’t remember not being her friend. We were all so excited to be chosen, but I was scared too. Khasye kept my spirits up, gave me the confidence… and then…” He trailed off, and for a few moments they walked in silence.

“I’m sorry,” she said finally.

“Thank you. It was a couple of years ago… but it still hurts to remember it.”

“I don’t know that it ever stops hurting,” she said honestly, thinking of her parents and her brother and feeling anew the stab of loss and anger, “but I can tell you it does get better as time goes on.”

Danrall looked at her with new understanding. “You…?”

“My father, mother, and older brother. Yes.” And a lot of other people, not as close… but just as important.

They walked in silence for a while, and when conversation resumed it was about more mundane things – the types of animals and plants found in this region of Kaizatenzei, what they could expect along the road ahead, and so on. Finally, shortly after lunch, Danrall bowed to them and began walking south along a less well maintained, but still clear and reasonably level, path to the south.

Finally!” Poplock said as the Shade disappeared from sight.

The rest of them laughed. “Ahh,” Hiriista said, rattling his crest in amusement, “it must truly be a challenge for you to be so silent at all times, Master Toad.”

“Sure ain’t easy, I’ll say that.” He looked over at the mazakh. “So, are people going to think we’re one of these patrols?”

Hiriista tilted his head quizzically. “In truth, I had not thought of that. But indeed they might; Tobimar and Phoenix are of a reasonable age to be Hues or Shades, and I have been known to accompany such patrols.”

“Does it matter?” Kyri asked. “My sworn duty is to protect and aid any in trouble anyway; even if we aren’t your Shades and Hues, we’ll still be willing to help anyone who needs our assistance.”

“My duties are much the same, as a magewright instructed by Lady Shae herself,” Hiriista admitted. “Then we may consider ourselves just such a patrol, in spirit if not in fact.”

“I’m betting that troubles are most common at the midpoints between the main cities,” Tobimar said. “Given what you’ve all mentioned about the way in which the cities grew and all.”

“You are correct, of course. And sometimes the problems are purely … internal. While none of us like to think of other people being capable of evil, it does still happen on occasion, especially farther away from the great cities.”

“Well,” Poplock said, “We’ll hear about it if we hear about it, I guess. In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of questions that I haven’t been able to ask!”

They all laughed. “I am sure you do, Master Toad,” Hiriista said, still chuckling like a clockwork whistle running down. “But the ones I think you are most interested in must wait until this evening.” He took in Kyri and Tobimar in his glance as well. “We will have much to discuss, I think.”

Was there something else in his voice… a warning?

“I’m sure we will,” she answered, feeling a new hint of caution and disquiet rising within her. “I’m sure we will.”

 

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24 Responses to Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 21

  1. Terranovan says:

    I hope that there’s nothing habit-forming in the air. While I’m hoping, how much of the valley is genuinely Good and how much is masked demon(ic influences)?

    • That is, indeed, one of the major concerns for Our Heroes…

      • Bibliotheca Servare says:

        Dun dun dunnn! ;-P

        PS: Two biggest fish? Gah! Tell me mooore! *plaintive whimpering* Pleeeease… Were they the ones that decided Atlantaea could not be permitted to experiment with the power of Creation? Or was that just Kerlamion? Or is Kerlamion one of them? *shudder* If he is…then so too must Virigar be…oh dear… So many questions!

        • Drak Bibliophile says:

          Well, Ryk has commented that there is an all-powerful being within his multi-verse (don’t remember if Ryk has this being as the Creator).

          This being has a “brother” who is less powerful than “his brother” but is more powerful than any other being in the multi-verse.

          The first being can be considered Good but his lesser brother is Evil.

          Based on what Ryk has said, Kerlamion is not either of the “brothers”.

          As for Virigar … Tum, te, tum, te, tum . . . .

          • Cobb says:

            Mind you, I don’t know for certain. I’ve never asked RFC.

            When I first saw that written, it was obviously Dragnet. I never had reason to doubt my conclusion jumping.

        • Ryk Spoor says:

          The Creator is one. The Creator’s (originally unsuspected) remnant that went bad is the other.

          Kerlamion was just a tool.

          • Bibliotheca Servare says:

            Hmmmmmmmmmmm… *scratching head madly* hmmmmm… I can’t even come up with a decent question now, darn it. Creator…and…lesser…remnant that went bad…hmmmmmm… *stroking imaginary goatee*

            PS: I always wonder: is that “Tum, te, Tum, te, Tum…” thing supposed to have a meter or something? Like is it an onomatopoeic writing of the Imperial March or some equally devilish thing? I’ve tried to figure it out ever since the first time I saw RFC do it, and I’m still stumped. Not that that makes it any *less* effective, of course…quite the opposite, in fact. *groan of pain* lol. ;)

            • I’ve never seen the ““Tum, te, Tum, te, Tum…” before interacting with barflies. I think it’s supposed to be the equivalent of whistling or humming innocently.

            • Cobb says:

              Tum, te, tum, te, tum has its roots in a musical sting from the old police procedural, Dragnet. I only ever heard it—usually sung to match the Dragnet theme—after that show got popular. Find the a rerun of the original Dragnet and you can learn the tune.

              The same thing happened with the theme from The Twilight Zone. We use it to this day to label something weird or science fiction-ey. “You saw a flying saucer?” Wordless hum “ Do de do do, Do de do-do.”

            • Cobb says:

              I was only quoting the second phrase. Which is what I remember sung most often.

              It was used to suggest the imminent lowering of a boom on someone.

              As for the spelling; how you spell a musical phrase is up for grabs. Except for Beethoven’s 5th.

              • Cobb says:

                Mind you, I don’t know for certain. I’ve never asked RFC.

                When I first saw that written, it was obviously Dragnet. I never had reason to doubt my conclusion jumping.

  2. Bibliotheca Servare says:

    Also, I totally adore Hiriista already. I want to give him a giant hug. Because hugs are good for you. And not many people probably hug a giant snake-lizard looking fellow like him, however unquestionably awesome he is. Which makes me sad. Hence: surprise bear-hug! ;D

    • Ryk Spoor says:

      Hiriista is certainly one of the characters I most enjoyed writing in this book; partly that’s because he is (quite deliberately) a scaly Sherlock Holmes, down to the pipe.

      • Bibliotheca Servare says:

        I saw the observational capacity when he first spotted Poplock, but I hadn’t marked him as a Holmes with scales yet. Awesome! Looking forward to seeing (reading? I’m an odd person) him in action! Now to find Watson…Pollock seems a bit too “main characterey” for that role…or maybe that’s not a problem? Or maybe Holmes doesn’t always need Watso- *gaaah!* *commenter has been killed for literary heresy and blasphemy* ;-P

      • Steve Winkler says:

        Huh, I was thinking more of the one good Sleestack in Land of the Lost.

        • Actually, in Kaizatenzei all of the _mazakh_ are decent types (well, as much as human beings are). They got cut off from the regular mazakh civilization when the Lords of the Sky fell and were forced to cooperate with the surviving humans and others, so that by the time a few centuries went by they kinda lost their hostility.

          • Doug Lampert says:

            Remember that when first encountered by Tobimar Poplock was actually working for a mazakh family. So a decent mazakh isn’t all that shocking even outside, just fairly unusual.

            The Dragon kingdom didn’t expel mazakh, so it presumably doesn’t just assume they’re all demon worshipers.

            The claim made by a character in this book is “about 99%” demon worshipers outside, but I doubt that this is based on a strict demographic analysis.

            My personal observation is that when someone else says 99% and I know they aren’t a mathematician or working from actual data it actually means “something in the 80-90% range”.

            When it’s as high as 90%-95% real people start using words like “all” or “always” or “maybe there’s a few exceptions, but not enough to matter”.

            • You have it reversed; Tobimar was the one working for the _khallit_ (not demon-worshipping) Mazakh family, trying to retrieve their eggs or at least find out where they went.

              Statistically in greater Zarathan it’s probably about 99% not-nice Mazakh, though in areas like Zarathanton which have more protections for varied groups that proportion drops significantly. But there are areas like Elyvias where the number of good mazakh to bad ones will be 1:10000.

  3. Bibliotheca Servare says:

    I seriously just recognized how incredibly similar this situation is to the false Justicar situation in Evanwyl(sp?). Yes, I’m slow. It seems our Big Bad (name starts with V, but it isn’t Virigar…Viedravon?…) has a favored technique. Or his “frenemies” Miri and Shara the demonlords have elected to adopt similar tactics to his. Either way, it’s interesting. And I still feel silly for not seeing it sooner.

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