Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 10
Zogen Josan stared at them from wide eyes. He hadn’t moved for several seconds.
It is, Kyri admitted to herself, an awful lot to take in at once, even if some of it tells you that you weren’t crazy.
Reflect Jenten also had the glaze-eyed look of someone hit in the head hard during sparring. He was the only other person they’d brought in to hear the story of what had happened in Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar. The ruler of Jenten’s Mill had a right to know the truth, but none of them wanted to deal with the questions the whole town would be asking.
Not entirely to her surprise, Zogen recovered first. “By the Seven Lights, Phoenix. You…you swear to us that this is all true?”
“As true as anything I have ever said, Zogen,” she said emphatically.
“It is…still so hard to believe. Our rulers demons? Yet demons who changed their minds? A Great Dragon of legend? Master Wieran the enemy?” He shook his head.
“Yet we have our own evidence for her story,” Namuhuan Jenten said with a nod in her direction. “For did not many of us see her, blazing with golden fire, stopping a moving mountain of water? Did not the Temple of Myrionar itself come awake in blue and gold and silver in that moment? Lady Phoenix, we must once more thank you and your patron Myrionar; it seems that you did not come merely to unravel small mysteries, but to set right things vastly darker.”
I’m at least getting used to the compliments so that I don’t blush all the time, but it still makes me feel so…so…fake sometimes. “Thank you, Reflect. I hope you will understand that we intend to continue on as soon as possible.”
“Of course,” Zogen said, with a nod to the Reflect. “You have said nothing directly, but both the Reflect and I can hear beneath the words; you have a terrible task awaiting you on the other side of the mountains.”
“Terrible enough,” she agreed. “I felt that we had to tell the two of you the truth ourselves, though. I have only one other task here: I must speak with those who have chosen to serve in the Temple of Myrionar.”
Zogen glanced at the Reflect, who smiled. “Of what must you speak?” the former Unity Guard asked. “For while I may be a very poor imitation at the moment, I have undertaken to become a servant of Myrionar, and have been studying your writings–and praying–for the proper guidance. It may be very long before I might call myself an Arbiter, but perhaps I might claim the title of Seeker Josan without being entirely arrogant.”
“You?” She felt a huge grin spreading across her face, and heard Tobimar chuckling behind her. “Oh, Zogen, that’s…I’m so honored, I–”
“Oh, enough of your humility! Take the credit for being such an example that I had not a choice but to follow you if I were to keep my self-respect.” Despite the sharpness of his words, Zogen’s smile was affectionate. “Now ask.”
“Well…they have chosen to found a Temple in Valatar. They need the full copies of the writings I have given you–and I promise you that I’ll send copies of the real holy writings as soon as I get home–so if you could possibly…?”
“Transcribing the words and principles would seem an eminently reasonable thing for me to do, my lady Phoenix; I will learn the words more clearly, and achieve your goal. Worry no more on it, then. I will make sure that a proper and full copy of your words reaches Valatar as soon as possible.”
“So, I guess that means you’re not going back to being a Unity Guard, huh?” Poplock asked.
Zogen shrugged. “Immediately? Certainly not; I must focus on this new path until it is as clear to me as the Necklace. But later…perhaps. There will still be much work to do. Unless,” he turned to Kyri with sudden concern, “there is something in the Way of Myrionar that would forbid me to do so?”
Kyri thought. “No, I don’t think so. It’s clear that Terian himself has accepted the title of the Light as you view him, and Terian is one of Myrionar’s oldest and most renowned allies. Your ultimate loyalty would of course have to remain with the Balanced Sword, but I cannot see that properly serving the interests of the reawakening Kaizatenzei, with its rulers now serving the Light for real and true, could in any way conflict with Myrionar’s goals.” She smiled and looked over at Tobimar.
He returned the smile and turned to Zogen. “Kyri and I even discussed the possibility that someone who serves another–Terian, of course, in my case–could become a Justiciar; there seems nothing that forbids it. Myrionar, Terian, Chromaias, and the Dragon King himself all accept and work with each other; they expect us to do the same here on Zarathan. I think that Myrionar would consider it an honor to have a servant of Terian choose the calling of Justice and Vengeance…and that Terian would be equally honored to have a Justiciar choose to follow him in prayer and worship.”
“Then…perhaps I shall return to the Guard, one day. Once I feel I have truly understood the new calling I have chosen.” Zogen rose and bowed to both of them. “I thank you again, Phoenix, Tobimar. Rest assured, I shall myself carry the transcribed materials to Valatar.”
Kyri rose and took his hand. “Thank you, Zogen. To know that someone like you has taken up the Balance…it means a lot to me.”
“And to all of us,” agreed Reflect Jenten. “He’s gone from our strange recluse to our new holy man, and we have needed one. Now go, go. You traveled far out of your way to come here, and you don’t need to be mobbed by all our citizens and slowed again. Take the side door from my mansion; no one’s likely to see you there.”
“If you don’t think it will be a problem–”
“Oh, there’s plenty who will be disappointed. Just promise me you’ll return here to visit once your mission is complete, and I’ll explain it all to our townsfolk.”
She smiled, relieved. “That I can promise. Tobimar and I very much want to come back.”
“Then it is done. Go, now, and may the Light follow you.”
As they exited the meeting room, Rion looked up from where he had been playing cards with Poplock and Nimally. “Done? Just as well. These two have succeeded in halving my meager resources.”
“Oh, just a little luck,” Poplock said unconvincingly, as he scraped coins into his little pouch.
“I begin to suspect that there is no such thing as ‘luck’ where you are concerned,” Nimally said. “I cannot believe you hid your nature for your entire passage across Kaizatenzei.”
“Not entirely. Old Hiriista figured me out almost at a glance. Sharp old lizard.”
“That he is,” Nimally agreed. “And a kind healer, as well. I followed his advice and I am finally healed.”
She said these words with only a hint of a shudder. I don’t think I could speak of it so casually if I’d been through her ordeal. Nimally had been the host of the master-itrichel, the horrific mind-parasite that had used the children of Jenten’s Mill for its brood. The nightmares she must have; I would never wish that on anyone. “It is very good to see that you are healed, Nimally.”
“Thank you. I see you are leaving already?” She sighed. “And I was just thinking of the appropriate seating arrangements for the banquet.”
“Not another banquet!” said Tobimar in mock horror.
“Get on with you, then,” Nimally said with a smile. “The side door’s just that way.”
As the Reflect had indicated, there were none to see them leaving from the side door; a few minutes brisk walk took them into the woods, and an hour of more sedate progress led them to the road that would bring them back to the Necklace.
“I don’t think you’ll escape a banquet in Sha Murnitenzei,” Rion said. “From what I’ve heard, anyway.”
“No,” she agreed, “we probably won’t. That’s the first city of Kaizatenzei we saw, and the last one before we have to leave and enter the corrupted forest and go through Rivendream Pass. They’ll want to hear something of our story and celebrate, and–honestly–I’ll want one more night here in Kaizatenzei before I have to go back into…that.”
She shuddered. Rion reached out and touched her shoulder. “Is it that bad?”
“You have no idea, Rion. It’s…it’s like…” She paused a moment, searching for a way to describe the hideous wrongness of Rivendream Pass that her brother could grasp. “It’s like…that moment when Thornfalcon let you see what he really was? That instant when something normal and safe and sane suddenly turns to be completely, utterly corrupt and evil? That. Imagine the entirety of nature, every tree, every beast, every insect, the very air itself being as corrupt and hostile and lethal as Kaizatenzei is pure and uplifting.”
Rion frowned as he tried to imagine what she described. She saw a slight shiver. “If it’s that bad, I’m amazed you got here.”
“I wouldn’t have without Tobimar and Poplock.” She nodded at the other two, walking some distance ahead.
“So…do you love him? Really?”
I must really believe he’s Rion, because that question doesn’t feel like an intrusion. More like Father questioning me. “Yes, I do. Really. I know it seems abrupt to you…and I guess in a way it was. He and Poplock saved me from Thornfalcon.”
“Hm. They tell the tale slightly differently. Tobimar says you saved him.”
“Well…both are true. If Tobimar and Poplock hadn’t arrived just in time, Thornfalcon would have…tortured and sacrificed me.” She saw no point in detailing just how Thornfalcon had obviously intended to carry out the torture, but Rion’s expression showed that he could probably guess. “Then when I got free, I guess I did save them. And then all three of us barely killed Thornfalcon. After that it took all of us plus Xavier to deal with the gateway of monsters Thornfalcon had left behind.”
He looked at her, then shook his head again with a smile. “And they say you did it by yourself, with the power of Myrionar. My little sister…a Justiciar.” Rion looked at her armor. “But why Phoenix?”
“You ought to know that.”
“Well, yes. Rebirth.”
He looked…blank for an instant, then smacked his head. “Ugh. I’m not quite…perfect, I guess. Whatever they did to bring me back. Took me a second to remember. Things are foggy…” He blinked. “But…yes, of course. You were always the Phoenix and I was the Dragon.”
She felt a slight creeping chill. She had almost managed to forget the macabre nature of Rion’s reappearance, but this brought the disquiet back in full force. The association of Dragon and Phoenix went back to her youngest memories. It’s Rion…but is it all of him? Or is there something else there as well?
“Does this mean you’ll be having a whole new set of Justiciars?” Rion continued, apparently unaware of her thoughts. “Dibs on being Dragon, then.”
Kyri forced the thoughts back. No point in second-guessing. He’s still Rion. Just maybe a little…injured. “If you meet the qualifications.”
“Oh, ouch. Am I going to have to go through all the Trials again?”
“We’ll see. If we all live through this, I think that’ll probably qualify as trials.”
“You’re likely right.” He looked up to where sunlight trickled in green-tinted gold through the canopy. “The old Justiciars were named after birds; you’re going for, what? Legendary flying creatures?”
“Makes sense to me. Phoenix, Dragon, Thunderbird, Eonwyl–if I can get the blessing of a temple of Eonae, anyway–Griffin, things like that.” She made the sign of the Balance. “We need a clean start, and the old Raiments will at the least need to be reblessed and probably reforged by the Spiritsmith.”
He looked at her with the fond smile she remembered so well, and the cold discomfort faded almost entirely away. “And reforged in the image of our old toys.”
She realized that he was right; that set of figurines hadn’t just had the Dragon and Phoenix but all the others she had named, and more. “Oh, by Myrionar, did I actually do that?”
He laughed and impulsively flung an arm around her, hugging her close. “Of course you did, little sister. But with perfectly good reason and symbolism even a god couldn’t complain about…and,” he looked serious again, “with the heart that a Justiciar needs. I’m not a Justiciar now–I’ve tried, but the power isn’t there–but if one day I am…I know my sister’s made an example for me to live up to.”
She hugged him back; for now, things were exactly as she’d hoped, and she thanked Myrionar for that. “And I know you will live up to it.”