Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 19
“You wish to see…what, precisely?” Arbiter Kelsley asked.
“Well, that’s part of the problem,” Poplock said. “We’re not sure.”
Kelsley jumped. “By the Balance…were you always able to talk?”
“Yep,” he answered. It was still amusing to see people suddenly have to revise their entire evaluation of him in an instant.
“Then why…ah. Because you were a far more dangerous weapon when not suspected. Obvious, really. But why reveal yourself to me now?”
“Because we know you are not one of our enemies, but an ally that we can trust, sir,” Tobimar said. “It makes it much easier to discuss things with you, and I think that by now his secrecy is no longer terribly useful. Our enemy probably has guessed his nature by now.”
Kelsley nodded, contemplating the little Toad with an amused smile. “Well enough. Can you at least tell me the sort of thing you are looking for in our records?”
“We’re looking for any clue as to how to find the Justiciars’ Retreat,” Poplock answered. “I know it’s probably not going to be so simple as finding a map and following it, but this has been the center of the faith since the beginning. Somewhere in those records might be a clue, and we’re just about certain that the Retreat is what our enemy’s using as a base of operations, along with the fallen Justiciars.”
“Of course,” Kelsley said, his cheerful face turning grim, as Poplock suspected it always did when reminded of how the representatives of his faith had been corrupted. “I recall no such traces in my readings, but I will admit that I have never sought such knowledge, so it may be that you are correct. Come.”
He led them from the main temple through a smaller door at the back of the stage where the rituals of the Balance were enacted. This opened into a set of well-lit, wide corridors with several doors opening onto each. Kelsley led them straight on, deeper into the temple, until they came to a set of unadorned doors of polished olthawin, a deep blue wood that Tobimar had only seen once or twice before and never in such large pieces. The doors were clearly ancient, worn in gentle curves where untold thousands of people had passed over the centuries.
The twin doors swung open, revealing a wide, sweeping semicircular room on the right and a doorway on the left. The semicircular room was lined with bookshelves, and other books, scrolls, and artifacts were also in cases spaced around the room.
“These are the archives of Myrionar,” Kelsley said slowly. “It is said that some of the artifacts, if not the records, go back to the days of the founding of the church, Chaoswars ago. A few other valuable records and manuscripts are kept here, in my office,” he opened the door on the left and showed them a large office, with a broad desk, lamps, chairs, and a safe inset into one wall. Normally,” he went on with another smile, “those not of the Faith would not be brought here, but you are an ally of Kyri and have already done our temple a signal service, and continue that service. It is only just that we provide you with all the support we can.”
He crossed to the safe, touched it; the solid metal shimmered, and the door opened. He extracted the contents and placed it on the desk. “You are welcome to search as long as you like, just be appropriately careful with the more ancient and fragile materials. I will be tending to temple business most of the day, and services this evening, and I will give directions that no one disturb you here.”
“Thank you, Arbiter,” Poplock said sincerely. The holy man was certainly going all the way to be helpful, and he certainly could have tried to be a bit sticky about showing any of the really valuable or old materials.
“You are more than welcome. I only hope you find what you are looking for.”
For the next two hours, Poplock and Tobimar scoured the archives. Most material could be instantly dismissed as not bearing on their search, but there was still a lot to look at. Finally, Tobimar brought two stacks of books and papers that seemed to have a fair amount to do with the Justiciars and their activities, and the two settled down to start looking.
After a while, Poplock said “So…what do you want to do about Rion?”
Tobimar started, then looked up from the huge tome he was leafing through. “What? What do you mean, ‘do about Rion’?”
“You’ve noticed a couple of oddities–like me. Right?”
Tobimar shrugged. “Poplock, we know there’s plenty of ‘oddities.’ He’s a construct, made from a piece of Rion’s soul and at least a couple of other things to create his body. It would be pretty much unbelievable if there weren’t oddities.”
“I’m not talking about that kind of stuff,” Poplock said, hearing a slightly injured note in his own voice. He found it was more annoying when Tobimar didn’t get what he was saying than it was when other people didn’t have a clue, probably because he was used to the two of them being in accord. “I’m talking about the little signs he gives of either not being himself, or of knowing things I don’t think he should.”
Tobimar got a thoughtful look on his face; he was silent for a few moments, paging through the book. Poplock continued perusing the large scroll he’d unrolled, hopping from point to point.
“All right, what little signs are you talking about?”
“You first. You must have noticed at least one.”
Tobimar sighed. “Yes. Xavier’s swords.”
“He recognized them.”
“Or that symbol, anyway. Which bothers me, because I’ve never seen that symbol before; it’s similar to the one the Spiritsmith put on mine, but I’ve not seen it, or its like, anywhere else. And Kyri’s seen those swords, and never said anything about that symbol. So where did Rion see it before?”
“Right. So, my turn; he recognized the name Tor for you and Xavier’s fighting style, and it gave him a jolt.”
“You’re right. I remember, he stopped for a split second. A good recovery, but not quite perfect. Anything else?”
“When we were leaving Jenten’s Mill, remember that he and Kyri were talking a little ahead of us?”
“Well, I was able to catch some of that, and at one point Rion went…kinda blank on her. Couldn’t remember something that was obviously a big deal when they were younger, the roles they always played as kids; she was a Phoenix, he was the Dragon.”
Tobimar stretched, obviously thinking. “Well, he was just a soul fragment, and one slashed from the original by a monster. I think it’s kinda surprising he’s as intact as he is.”
The Toad had to concede that. “More like astonishing, I’d say. Like someone who knew him did the repair job.”
“Well, if Viedraverion’s been playing Jeridan Velion, that might be the case.”
“Hmph. True enough. But about Tor–remember when we were helping put things back together, both Miri and Shae told us that Tor was something that scared demons half to death. Why would Rion get all startled hearing about some martial art no one ever mentioned before? He should have been just thinking ‘oh, some new name I have to remember.'”
He could see that stopped Tobimar for a bit. There was a furrow between the Skysand Prince’s brows as he continued searching through the tome before him.
“Well,” Tobimar said at last, “we know he was made from something demonic, too. What if the soul that was used to provide the structure for Rion wasn’t just a human, but part of a demon? Then he might have some faint memories or reactions from that.”
“Ooo. You know, I hadn’t thought of that.” Poplock pulled a dried beetle out of his pack and chewed thoughtfully for a bit. “Might be true. On the other hand, it might not, which would mean…what?”
Tobimar waited, obviously wanting Poplock to continue; when the Toad simply kept looking at him silently, he cursed. “Shiderich! Fine. It means that there’s at least part of something in there that’s afraid of Tor, a demon probably, and that means that at the minimum Rion isn’t just Rion.”
“And at worst it’s a demon somehow pretending to be Rion. One that somehow can hide its deceptions from both Kyri’s truthsight and Gabriel’s senses, which Aurora says are pretty darn impressive.”
Tobimar’s blue eyes narrowed. “One that’s listening to a lot of what we’re doing.”
“Most of it, actually. Kyri trusts him–and I can’t really blame her. She might be the big ol’ Phoenix Justiciar, but she’s no less a person than the rest of us, and I know I would probably really, really want to believe that someone I loved that much had come back.”
“That’s why you waited until we came here to talk.”
“You see clearly with those squinty eyes. After what happened with Xavier’s sword, I knew Rion wouldn’t want to take a chance on what might happen to him if he walked straight into the actual Temple of Myrionar. And that meant we could have this talk and be absolutely sure neither he, nor Kyri, heard it.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t trust Kyri!”
“When it comes to acting sensible about her brother? Well…yeah, I guess I do trust her, if we can present a good case. She’s honest with herself that way.”
Tobimar looked somewhat mollified. “All right. But Sky and Sand, what a mess this could be. What do you think we should do? Confronting him won’t do any good–we’ve accepted him for a while, and there’s perfectly good excuses for any of these issues, I’m sure. I’d be disappointed by our adversary if there weren’t provisions to explain little lapses.”
Poplock grimaced, rolled up the scroll, dragged over one of the books and started paging through it. “You’re right. Confronting him would be useless unless he’s dumber than a dung beetle, and he’s not.” He thought for a bit, while looking for Justiciar references. They talk a lot about how awesome the Justiciars are, but not much about the practical stuff. “I guess all we can do is make sure he’s never not being watched. Unless he’s a telepath or mindcaster mage, he’s not going to be able to communicate with his boss while around us without us noticing something–and I’m pretty sure he’s neither of those.”
“True. So does that mean we make sure he’s always accompanied?”
“No, no. We need, as I heard a fisherman say once, to let him wade out far enough to hit the dropoff. If he tries to go off on his own, someone has to follow him and watch him. And as far as I’m concerned, that ‘someone’ has to be me, you, or Xavier. I’m not trusting anyone else.”
“Xavier likes him a lot, though.”
“Saw that, playing that poker game. It’s that brother thing; he knows Rion isn’t really his brother, but he can’t help but feel like there’s a connection there. Still, I think Xavier will go along with it. If he won’t, well, it’s me and you. You in?”
Tobimar hesitated, then nodded. “I’m in. I hope we catch him doing nothing more interesting than taking walks.”
“You and me both, Tobimar, believe me,” Poplock said. “Because if he’s up to something bad, our enemy’s got all the info he needs to trap us.”