Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 02
Tobimar caught at Kyri’s arm and pulled her back. “Don’t! We don’t know how these open, remember?” He caught her gaze, staring steadily into the huge, gray eyes, waited until they focused on him. “You all right?”
She closed her eyes and then nodded slowly. At that point, the recognition of the name she’d screamed hit him. “Wait. Rion? Your brother? But…he died in front of you, didn’t he?”
“Yes…yes, of course. You’re right.” She cast an agonized, confused glance at the tube as Lady Shae slid a floating cradle under it. “But…but that looks like him. I mean, it really looks like him.”
“You’re looking through a not-perfectly-clear window at some guy floating in whatever-that-stuff-is that Wieran filled these tubes with,” Poplock pointed out. “Your eyes might be tricking you. Shae’s got that one; let’s finish this work up. We’re not opening any of these things yet, so there’s nothing more to do with that mystery anyway until we’re done here. Right?”
Kyri tore her attention away from the receding, mysterious tube with a visible effort, then gave a rather forced-looking smile. “Of course, you’re right. As usual.”
The two of them worked in silence for a few minutes. Tobimar couldn’t help but think about the bizarre event. What could that mean? Kyri’s got really good senses, and if anyone would know her brother, it should be her. What if that is Rion?
“Could be another trap,” the little Toad muttered in his ear, making him twitch.
“What? Are you reading minds now, Poplock?” he murmured back.
“Not hard to guess what you’re thinking about. Probably what she’s thinking about too.”
“I suppose. Yes, it could be a trap. But for what purpose?”
“That’s the murky part, yeah. It’s not an illusion in that oversized jar, I can tell you that; if her eyes weren’t just confused, then whoever’s in there must look awfully like her brother.”
“But looking like him would be pretty useless.”
“Very useless,” Kyri’s voice spoke from behind them, making them both jump. “Sorry to startle you.”
“We were trying not to…”
“I know. But it isn’t as though I’m not thinking the same things.” She shook her head as they started maneuvering yet another sealed tube up and out. “I watched Rion die. An impostor won’t fool me for a second.”
Poplock made a face. “Don’t be so hopping sure. We couldn’t even tell that Miri and Shae were demons until they dropped the masks. We’re dealing with great demons and gods–they can fog even Myrionar’s sight, and you know it.”
Tobimar could see Kyri try to come up with a countering argument and fail. “An Eternal Servant maybe?” he suggested. “Like the Unity Guard?”
The Phoenix Justiciar shook her head. “Possible, I suppose, but it makes no sense. Why put one of those artificial things in a suspension tube? They don’t age on their own and I can’t think they’ll be better off soaking in liquid than operating. And what good would such a thing be without the original alive anyway?”
“I don’t have answers there,” Tobimar admitted. “But I’ll tell you what: once we’ve got every tube out of here, that one will be the first to be opened. We know the tubes are stable, so the Guards will be okay as long as they’re out of here, and your tube constitutes a mystery that we really want to solve.”
Kyri smiled gratefully at him. “Thank you, Tobimar. You know it would eat at me if I had to keep waiting.”
“Well, assuming that Shae or Miri or Hiriista don’t come up with some really convincing argument that we should keep waiting, I’ll go along with that idea,” Poplock said. “But remember that this is their country and…Oh, drought.”
“What?” Tobimar suddenly became aware of a faint hissing noise in the background. He whirled, seeking its source, and found it; a grayish line shimmering from the far wall. Water. The wall has finally sprung a leak.
Kyri ignited in golden flame. “Move it, everyone! I know we’re exhausted, but the wall holding back Enneisolaten is giving way!”
Muttered oaths echoed around the room and the exhausted salvage crews redoubled their efforts, yanking the tubes from their foundations, desperately dragging them to floating cradles, sprinting out with them. Kyri placed herself against the far wall, which had begun to crack across its surface, and auric-orange flame spread, dug in, anchored, refused the movement, denied the water entrance. But Tobimar knew that her power would not last forever, or even for terribly long. Both of them had drained their reserves almost to nothing in the battle against Sanamaveridion; he saw the strain on her face already.
He saw Poplock scuttling around the wrecked mystical machinery at the center of the Great Array, shoving various things into his neverfull pack. Don’t know what he’s doing, but there isn’t too much he can do to help in carrying these things, so I suppose he’s doing whatever he thinks is best.
There was a cracking, grumbling noise from above, and part of the ceiling sagged.
“Everyone out!” bellowed Tanvol, his deep voice echoing around the room. “We’ve done what we can! Phoenix! Phoenix, run!”
But instead of running, Kyri walked, backing away from the far wall a step at a time, golden fire streaming from her arms, covering the wall, trying to climb higher, to grasp the bulging ceiling above.
Poplock bounded to Tobimar’s shoulder. “Come on, go, go, go!”
“I should help–”
“She knows what she’s doing! You don’t have enough control of your power yet!”
Tobimar gritted his teeth but couldn’t argue. He could use the power of Terian to reinforce himself, and to deliver incomparable strikes against his enemies, but controlling that power to reach out and hold something without possibly making it worse…no, he didn’t know enough to do that.
But Lady Shae and Miri knew how, and did. The two former demons flanked Kyri and their power–white and aqua–reached out, building columns and braces of temporary might and evanescent energy. The workers were streaming out, Tobimar now passing most of the stragglers, glancing over his shoulder at the three women, still methodically retreating, holding uncountable tons of stone and water at bay through unbending will as much as immortal power.
Tanvol was surveying the room himself, making sure all the others were getting out. “Lady Shae! Miri! Phoenix! We’re all out! No more time to waste, come on!”
Tobimar, Poplock clinging tightly to his shoulder, and Hiriista ran through the open doors of Wieran’s lab, hearing a creaking, ripping rumble starting, shaking the stone below them. Light Tanvol and Anora Lal sprinted past them with Unity Guard speed.
Tobimar couldn’t keep from turning around.
A blaze of white-gold light appeared in the entryway, and he saw all three women flying towards him, Kyri’s gold-fire wings stretched out and nearly touching the sides of the corridor, while Shae and Miri streaked through the air seemingly by will of light alone.
And a rumbling roar echoed out behind them; dark-roiling movement seethed into view.
“Great Desert!” he cursed, and ran.
Kyri caught up with him after only a few strides and caught him up, speeding up the stairs, weaving between the support columns. Behind them the water roared like Sanamaveridion’s rage, and Poplock gave a terrifed, wordless squeak. Cold, foul-smelling wind blew past them and Tobimar saw to his horror that the water was catching up, channeled by the tunnel into unspeakable velocity, reaching, hissing spray vaporizing from Kyri’s flaming wings, and then–
–water caught them, coiling, grasping, filled with stinking bottom-mud and shards of stone, propelling them onward–
–smashed into a wall, a stunning blow, Poplock torn from his shoulder–
–and again, forward, unable to breathe, lungs beginning to protest, tumbling over and over, hammered by pebbles and rocks and timbers torn from the bracing below, racing at unguessable speed–
–breath burning from being held in, unable to see, water dimming even the brightest lights, or perhaps there were no lights anymore…
Tobimar felt darkness greater than that surrounding him starting to close in on his consciousness, a red-tinged blackness that meant death; once he gave in, he would try to breathe, and the vile water would fill his lungs. But he couldn’t hold on much longer. Poplock…Kyri…
Abruptly he struck stone, rough but symmetrical, cut and ordered, and the headlong flight had slowed, the water was becoming sluggish, hesitating, going backward. With the last of his strength he reached out, grabbed hold of the stone beneath, and held on as the water streamed by, first slowly, then faster and faster, as knives seemed to be impaling his lungs and his grip weakened. He felt his fingers starting to slip–
–and a massive hand closed around his and yanked him up.
The gasp of pure air was the most wonderful thing he had ever felt. For a moment he simply hung there, letting the air force back the reddish-black haze that had nearly taken him. Then he managed to open his eyes again.
Tanvol was holding him half-suspended in air, the huge Light gasping for breath himself, draped across a brace that was jammed diagonally in the stairway that ascended to the Valatar Throneroom.
“Thanks,” Tobimar managed.
“Think…nothing of it…Prince of Skysand,” Tanvol replied slowly. His grip slackened. “Glad to…have been able…to provide a last…service.”
A sliver of ice pierced Tobimar’s heart. The massive, boisterous, inexhaustible Light seemed to be…fading. “Last…what do you mean?”
“It appears,” Tanvol said, with his brilliant grin wan and regretful, “that one of the few capsules…we failed to retrieve…was my own.” His eyes were clouded. “I…see two places at once…here, and…a dark place, with vague shimmering against glass before my eyes, and it is cold.”
“T-Tanvol? No, no, no!” Miri was stumbling up the steps. “No, I won’t let–”
The rumbling chuckle was a ghost of its former self, but the humor was there. “Alas, my one-time demonic comrade, I fear you…cannot forbid…death.” The black eyes blinked, glazed, the head was drooping, even as Lady Shae and Phoenix staggered up. “I see…cracks forming. Slow enough…to allow a farewell…swift enough to not draw out the pain. It…was a good life…Lady Shae…Miri…do not mourn, but…sing for me. The Light…awaits me. I see it now…Light beyond here…beyond the glass…that drips water upon…my unmoving face.”
Tanvol’s eyes closed, but he was smiling, and the lips parted once more. “…and with…such glory ahead…who wants…to live…forever?”
The massive Light’s body sagged, and Tobimar caught it as it slid, now lifeless, to the ground.