Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 07
“You know, I really hate to say goodbye,” Poplock said, as he shook Hiriista’s extended claw between his forepaws.
“As do I, more than I can express. We make excellent teammates, all of us, do we not?”
“Beyond any doubt,” Kalshae said with a laugh. “I learned this to my sorrow…and my joy. A strange yet satisfying end to many things, despite our losses.”
“And one that’s resolved so many of our questions,” Tobimar said. “Not just my quest, but some of Kyri’s as well.”
Poplock bounce-nodded. “Including where all those monsters came from.”
The experimental laboratory where Wieran had worked on his life-shaping had been–as Poplock had suspected–down the third portion of the underground portion of the Valatar Palace, the branch to the right as one came down the stairs from the Throneroom. Shae and Miri had both verified that it was a place that contained almost uncounted monstrous things–both “successes,” like the enhanced itrichel they’d encountered in Jenten’s Mill, and far more failures–which were the things that had come through the gateway at Thornfalcon’s estate.
“Wieran had some way of controlling them, preventing them from tearing each other apart–mostly,” Miri had said. “I asked him once why he didn’t just destroy them, and he looked at me–as he often did–as if I were an idiot, and gave two reasons: first, that they represented data that he might want to reexamine, and second, that even the failures might serve a purpose.”
“Yeah, like being cannon fodder, as Xavier once put it, for someone like Thornfalcon,” Poplock had responded.
But whatever might have been down there before, it was no more. The third corridor, and whatever lay beyond, had collapsed. Uncounted thousands of tons of rock had obliterated Wieran’s third laboratory.
Poplock bounced again, shaking off the memory. “Definitely good to have those answers, but now that we’ve got the one answer about who the Big Bad is, we really need to get moving.”
“I’m sorry we have to go–” Kyri began.
“Light, will you stop apologizing?” Miri said with exasperated fondness. “You came to our country, woke me to the light, defeated our enemies–including the Elderwyrm himself–and helped us get back on our feet. You’ve got to take care of your own people. Of course I wish you could stay–so does all Kaizatenzei. But you need to go.”
“Shame old Wieran’s upper workshop got ruined,” Poplock said. “We might’ve been able to get a couple of those teleport gems and cut weeks off the trip.”
Tobimar shook his head. “Do either of you really think you could have figured out how he did all that–even if his lab was intact?”
After a hesitation, Hiriista shook his head and hissed a sigh. “No. No, he was far, far ahead of us. He had clearly mastered aspects of magic that I have not an inkling of.”
“Shame he was a total nutcase,” Poplock said. Then he sat up higher on Tobimar’s shoulder. “I guess you guys let everyone else know we were leaving?”
Kyri stopped dead on the top step of the mansion they had been staying in while part of Valatar Castle was restored, and stared in consternation.
A cheer so loud and deep that it became a roar shook the air, and the gathered people of Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar waved and cheered again. “Kyri! Tobimar! Poplock!”
Miri and Shae laughed at Kyri’s expression. Poplock had to admit that she looked pretty funny. “Oh, how, now?” Shae said with a broad grin, and then gave Kyri a sisterly hug that almost tipped her over–Shae being significantly taller and bigger than Kyri. “Did you think we would let you leave our city without the people knowing, and at least telling you with their voices how much you will be missed?”
Her face three shades darker than normal, Kyri muttered, “I had hoped you would…”
“Come on, Kyri!” Miri grabbed her hand and started pulling her down the stairs. “You’re leaving now, but we’ve got something to show you on the way.”
“Something to show me?”
The crowd had looked disorganized to Poplock, but as the two women approached it parted in a straight line up Dawnlight Way, the central street of the city. The rest of the little party followed Kyri and Miri; Poplock glanced to his right.
Rion returned his glance. “I still can’t believe my little sister’s come so far, so fast.”
“She had a lot of motivation. And a little help,” Poplock said. Inwardly, Poplock still wasn’t completely convinced that “Rion” was who he appeared to be. Oh, the story made sense, and it was hard to imagine that someone could have planned out the sequence of events that put him in their party…but Poplock felt that there was an awful lot of evidence that the head baddie–this “Viedraverion”–was just exactly that good. Still, Rion had passed all the tests they could figure. There were a few minor quirks of magic around him, but since there was no telling yet exactly how his new body could have been supplied, that wasn’t very informative.
“Still…” He gave a disbelieving chuckle. “I thought I was the one who was going to be the Justiciar in the family, the hero to bring our parents’ murderers to justice. And here’s my sister doing the job for me, while I was…dead? Or something close to it.”
The crowd closed in behind them, not quite close enough to be intimidating, but following the group as they moved up the street.
“Just be glad she and the rest of us did, or you’d still be in that tank. Anyway, as I understand it, you’re something pretty darn tough yourself. We can use all the help we can get.”
Rion ran his fingers through hair vastly lighter than his sister’s; according to Kyri, Rion got all the traits of their mother, while Kyri and their little sister Urelle both took after their father. “I’m pretty good, yes–and now that I’m feeling more myself, I’ll be able to help.” He glanced down at the armor he was wearing. “This stuff isn’t bad, and I’m grateful to our hosts…but I need to get better armor and weapons. If we’re going up against the other Justiciars…”
“We’ll keep an eye out, but from what he said, the Spiritsmith was heading out a little while after we left, so I don’t think we can get you a real replacement for the one you lost.”
“I didn’t lose it. I was killed in it.” When he spoke with the angry iron in his voice, Rion did sound very like Kyri. “And I plan to get it back from the people who took it from me–the ones that played at being our friends.”
Poplock bounce-nodded. “That’s our plan, too.” He glanced up. “Ooo, looks like we’re almost to the show-and-tell–whatever it is.”
Miri and Kyri were standing in front of a building that Poplock thought, thinking back, had been some kind of large storefront before the big battle. Now the front was covered with a huge piece of cloth held in place by a few ropes; the little Toad squinted and was able to make out a few people standing on either side of the building, holding ropes. Ah, it’s an unveiling. They’ll pull those ropes, and the cloth gets pulled apart like a giant curtain.
“What’s going on here?” Kyri asked, staring at the cream-white cloth as it rippled in the breeze coming down the street. There was a similar ripple in the chuckles that ran through the crowd.
“We wanted to make sure that you all saw this before you left.” Shae raised her hand, and the veiling cloth fell away to each side.
Poplock stared, then wished he could grin as widely as Tobimar.
The face of the building had been reworked, its front now in deep sky blue with touches of silver and gold, and over the doorway, the symbol of the Balanced Sword. And clearly visible inside, by light shining down through what must be a skylight, was a statue of a tall woman holding an immense sword aloft–a sword that was suspending two great balance-pans on its point, one pan on each side.
Considering how they had to be doing this in little spurts of their spare time, probably dozens of them–they got her pretty well. The fall of the hair, the overall shape of the armor, and the stance–that was, beyond a doubt, Kyri Victoria Vantage, the Phoenix Justiciar.
“Oh, great Balance…” Kyri murmured, managing to combine joy, embarrassment, and shock into a single expression.
“I see we succeeded in hiding it from you,” Hiriista said proudly.
Poplock looked over to the mazakh magewright narrowly. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“Ahh, my friend, your first loyalty is to Tobimar and the Phoenix; I would not have strained your discretion so.”
“Bah. It would clearly have been worth it.”
“But you already have your own temples of the Light,” Kyri was saying. “You don’t need–”
“We don’t need to,” interrupted Shae gently. “We want to. Within the first day after the disaster I had thirty-six requests for a temple to your god Myrionar, to honor Its emissary on our behalf.”
“But you put me as part of the Balance! That’s…that’s too much, it’s using me to symbolize Myrionar. Please…Please, if you must, keep the statue, but…but put up a plain Balanced Sword, all right?”
Miri started to laugh, then saw the deadly seriousness of Kyri’s face. “You mean it.”
“Yeah, she does,” Poplock said, bouncing to the Justiciar’s shoulder. “It’s a big thing in the religion–I’ve learned a lot about it, traveling with her. The fact that there isn’t a face for Myrionar is important. Makes it so there’s no arguing that Myrionar really favors humans, or mazakh, or Children of Odin, or Toads. It is purely for justice for all. Right, Kyri?”
“Yes, that’s it. Thanks, Poplock. I…I don’t want to offend any of you, it’s…its so incredibly touching, I never expected this, but that statue, it’s just too much…”
“Understood,” Shae said firmly. “We shall move the statue to a place of honor that is not at the altar, and place the simpler sword and balance symbol above. We have only begun to understand your ways–most of what we did here came from Miri and Hiriista, who were present when you prepared your more extensive teachings for those in Jenten’s Mill. We didn’t dare ask you for similar writings at the time, not if the surprise was to remain a surprise.”
Kyri smiled more naturally–it was easier to relax, Poplock guessed, if you weren’t worried that your image was being used in a sacrilegious representation of your own religion. “I guess not. We were leaving now, but…”
“Fear not; as you know, the Unity Guard are now preparing to return to their customary cities. I will have one of them–Danrall, I think–go to Jenten’s Mill and acquire a copy for use here in Valatar.”
“No, leave that to me,” Kyri said. “It’s my job to spread Myrionar’s faith, and we did plan to stop at Jenten’s Mill so that Zogen would know that he had been right to worry…and does not have to worry any longer. Maybe he’ll even bring it himself, and rejoin the Unity Guard.”
“If you would do that for us, we would be very grateful,” Shae said.
“I will be grateful,” Kyri said, face darkening with several shades of embarrassment anew as she looked back towards her statue, “for you give Myrionar new life, so don’t thank me anymore. Just…let us finish this quest. We’ll come back, I promise!”
“If we survive,” Poplock observed pointedly. “But yeah, all three of us will want to visit you again. Don’t think you’ve seen the last of us.”
Miri and Shae laughed and then bowed low. With a whispering rustle, the entire crowd echoed the gesture, a bow that rippled outward through the city like a wave. “Then be on your way, Phoenix Kyri, Tobimar Silverun, Poplock Duckweed, and Rion Vantage. May the Light shine upon you and illuminate your souls and the blessings of Kaizatenzei follow you always. Good luck,” and Shae’s face suddenly acquired a fierce grin, “and good hunting.”
The crowd rose and parted, and the four companions turned, walking towards the risen sun, from the steps of the Temple of Myrionar.