Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 05
“It makes all too much sense,” Tobimar said quietly.
He saw Kyri nod, still pale under her dark skin. Rion had nearly collapsed after that last revelation, and it was clear that he needed rest badly. Now he and Kyri stood at the edge of Valatar, and he rested a hand on her shoulder.
She started at that, then nodded again. “Of course. And fits perfectly with that sensation I had around him–the one that first led me to be suspicious of the Unity Guard.”
“That’s right, you sometimes really liked him and sometimes got a creepy feeling about him,” Poplock said, nibbling on a beetle he’d caught bumbling by.
“Exactly. Just like the Unity Guard when they were being switched from their real selves to their other…mode of operation, I guess?”
“But if that’s the case…this Demonlord isn’t a simple Eternal Servant type simulacrum or anything,” Tobimar said, trying to make some sense out of the situation. “What does this…two sided sense mean?”
Kyri shook her head. “I can’t say for sure. Just…there were times that I’m absolutely sure that the man I was talking to was a man, and one who sincerely cared about me and my family. Perhaps the demon possesses him on occasion? Maybe this Viedraverion has trapped the soul of the original Jeridan? I don’t know, but I’m sure that it’s not as simple as the demon simply pretending.”
“I’m sure too.” Tobimar remembered how accurate her senses were; he wasn’t sure if that was because she was the Justiciar of Myrionar, or if one of the reasons Myrionar had chosen her to begin with was that she had such a keen ability to see through deception. “Though Thornfalcon fooled you.”
“That’s been bothering me a lot, too,” Kyri admitted. “But I think I know why. I’d been raised with him around–much more than the Watchland, too–and with everyone treating him on face value. I think I’d learned to shove those warnings away even when I was very young, because it was obvious that he couldn’t really be a bad man. And by the time I was older, he’d really perfected his role and, maybe, could use his powers to hide his very nature.”
He saw her face suddenly lighten with surprise. “What is it?”
Kyri looked both angry and sad. “Just remembered another clue that I missed. When the Justiciars came into the house and gave me their…apology, something I guess was almost honest for some and less so for others…they kept glancing back, through the door, watching someone else. I thought it was just worry about privacy, and later I wondered for a while if it was Mist Owl they were watching…but now I realize it was the Watchland.”
She looked up towards the green-shadowed leaves of the trees before them, slightly touched with gray as a huge cloud changed the sunlight to dusk. “We can’t wait much longer.”
“No, we can’t,” agreed Poplock. “Tobimar’s solved his riddle, you’ve paid us back for our help, it’s time for us to help get to the bottom of yours. And with what we just found out…”
Tobimar cursed. “Great Terian. The Watchland’s in charge of your entire country, and we just left him there while we walked off into what everyone thought was a deathtrap!” He had a sudden vision of what could have happened to that tiny, isolated country with a Demonlord in charge, one who now had no one to hold him back and whose plans were now well underway. Even Kyri’s Sho-ka-taida Lythos would be no match for such a creature; Tobimar remembered the other people he had met and come to know during the weeks he’d remained in Evanwyl–Arbiter Kelsley, priest of the Balance and one of the most truly holy men Tobimar had ever been privileged to meet; little Sasha Rithair, Evanwyl’s resident Summoner and all-purpose magician who’d done her best to teach Poplock her craft; Master of House Vanstell, dryly competent and faithful retainer; Minuzi, tall, dark-haired apothecary and housewife who despite her business found time to visit Kyri often as a neighbor and family friend rather than someone looking for the “Justiciar Phoenix.”
The thought of them under the rule–or worse–of the demonlord who had planned the assassination of the Sauran King was almost more than he could bear. “You’re right, we have to get back. With us out of the way, there’s no telling what he’s been doing since we left.”
“Yeah,” Poplock agreed, “and even our friend Xavier might be in trouble. He said he’d be trying to meet up with us once he finished his trip, right?”
“Balance, you’re right. And he started out weeks before we left for the Spiritsmith. If he actually made it to the Mountain…” Kyri trailed off. “Well, he either did or he didn’t. But he could easily be on his way back right now. And if he gets there and doesn’t know what Jeridan is…”
“…things could get real ugly,” the Toad finished. “Lots of reasons to go, not too many to stay.”
Tobimar could see her hesitation, and took her hand. “I know–Rion. Don’t worry, Kyri. Do you think I’d tell you to just leave your brother–if that’s what he really is–behind?”
She looked embarrassed. “I…don’t want to make other people wait just for–”
“It’s not just for you. Or him, for that matter,” Tobimar said emphatically. “His presence here can’t be a coincidence. Maybe what they planned was to have him sent back to Evanwyl at a certain point. Wieran would have been able to implant all sorts of directives in him without him even knowing. But Wieran never got around to it, not with his main project consuming his time. Maybe Rion was a backup plan. But there’s no way this doesn’t connect to you, and we’re not ignoring it, or making you ignore it either.”
She looked at them both gratefully, and then hugged him tightly; Tobimar could see one of her hands give Poplock a pat, including him in the embrace. “Thank you both. And if you’re right…if Hiriista’s right, and that really is Rion…”
“…then we’d be plain stupid to leave behind another real honest-to-gods Justiciar of Myrionar when we’re going to face down a demonlord,” Poplock finished for her. “If their country didn’t need ’em so bad right now, I’d be begging Miri and Shae to come with us.”
Tobimar thought of that and smiled. “And I think we could probably convince them even so; they owe us a lot, and I can tell that Miri, at least, would rather like to see Evanwyl and the rest of the world as it is now, rather than the way it was thousands of years ago.” He shook his head. “But that wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”
“No,” agreed Kyri, still not quite letting him go. “Kaizatenzei does need them, and I think they need Kaizatenzei.”
“Oh yeah,” Poplock agreed. “We don’t want them away from the bright shininess and going back to being demons. They only changed their minds a little while ago. Let that set a bit, I think, kinda like pourstone. ‘Course, I don’t know how long that shiny perfection’s going to last now that the Sun’s gone poof.”
Tobimar shrugged. “You’re probably right that it will fade in time,” he said, finally stepping away from Kyri after a quick kiss. “But I’d guess that’ll take quite a while, especially since the force that was causing all the corruption beneath was probably Sanamaveridion, and he’s gone.”
“I hope so,” Kyri said, looking out at the peaceful shining of stars above the city. “I’d like to think it will always be like this.”
“So do I,” Poplock said, but his tone was serious. “But that’s sure not gonna happen if we wait much longer.”
Tobimar nodded. It had been a wonderful, terrifying, and in some ways healing journey through Kaizatenzei. But now they knew that they had left the architect of the world’s disasters–of what in fact must be the next Chaoswar–behind them, and Viedraverion was surely not idle.
Time was running out.