Unless He Who Writes (Ryk Spoor) changes his mind, this is the last snippet.
Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 25
Arbiter Kelsley wavered on his feet; Tobimar and Discoverer (previously Seeker) Reed caught his elbows, helped him to sit down.
Kyri looked out of the holy circle, and Tobimar felt a phantom pain in his chest as he saw her understanding that even this had failed. “Nothing at all, Arbiter?”
The priest of Myrionar shook his head reluctantly. “I can injure her easily enough, Balance save me. But to break that curse lies beyond the power granted me by Myrionar; I could feel the power simply turned back, dismissed as inadequate. Even with your assistance,” he looked at Shasha and Poplock, “I cannot do more than momentarily blunt it, and it recovers any ground I deny it quickly, once I stop fighting.”
“Poplock? There’s got to be something–”
The little Toad flattened himself in a gesture of perfect despair. “Not that I can do. The Cursed are known all over Zarathan. They’re not like the Stelati, or the Umbrals, or even the Veridiai–those can, sometimes, be cured by the right invocations, or even by the victim fighting it hard enough, praying well enough. I’ve never heard of a Cursed being cured, even early on. Wieran might have been able to do something. The Wanderer. Calladan Wysterios at the Academy. Khoros, if he was around. Idinus, of course. One of the greater gods, directly intervening, if they could. But anyone else? Swimming through thicker mud every minute.”
Sasha Raithair simply shook her head. She can do nothing either.
Kelsley carefully cut across the lines of the holy enclosure, and the power faded. “We have tried for two weeks. Everything we could think of. I am sorry.”
Kyri’s face worked, and for a moment there was a glint of alien fury that frightened Tobimar more than anything he had seen in all his travels. “Failed again? Are you…”
She went gray with horror at what she was saying and buried her face in her hands. “Oh, Myrionar, is it happening this fast?”
“If what Tashriel told you was true–and I am very much afraid it was–he was one of those there the day the Curse was enacted. He is one of the actual ancients of the Cursed, a vampire half a million years old. His blood, mingled with yours, is terribly potent,” Kelsley said, the explanation in a tone of apology and guilt, trying to convince himself that it wasn’t his fault that the last and only Justiciar was about to be lost. “It is astonishing that you have remained…yourself…for this long; he thought that the change would be complete in days, if your recital of his words was accurate.”
“So it isn’t my imagination. It’s not just my being on edge. I’m…turning into a monster.”
She made a savage cutting gesture. “No, Tobimar. No false comfort. You saw that I couldn’t burn it out myself–I can’t keep the power going once the pain gets too great. I think…I think we’re out of options.”
He didn’t attempt to hide the tears going down his face. “I wish…wish I had one. But I think Terian’s power–”
“–would burn me to ashes even faster.” She forced a smile. “But that may be what I’ll ask for.”
“NO!” It wasn’t just Tobimar; Poplock, Kelsley, Reed, and Shasha had said it at the same time.
Kyri Vantage took a long breath; it shook with repressed anger. “If necessary, yes.” She looked at Kelsley. “How…how far is the change now? How long do I have before I go mad?”
“From the records…the time for the madness varies, but tends to be one of the last changes, perhaps the last change. It is moving quickly, though. It is evening now. I…” he hesitated. Then the priest’s jaw set and he continued, “I…believe that you have seen your last sunrise, Kyri. The sun will burn you tomorrow.”
Terian’s Light, no. Not so soon.
Kyri didn’t seem to see them now. He laid his hand on her shoulder and she reached up, gripped his hand tightly; suddenly she reached out and hugged him close; he embraced her as hard as he could.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured to her.
She kissed him, then looked him in the eye; horrific flecks of yellow shimmered within the gray. “It isn’t over yet, Tobimar.”
Suddenly there was a shout from the sanctum door. “Arbiter! Arbiter! Is Lady Kyri there?”
Kelsley glanced at them, shrugged, and went to the door. “She is here, but engaged for the moment.”
“I must speak with her! It is of the utmost importance!”
“Brogan,” Kyri muttered, turning towards the door. “That’s Brogan, the Watchland’s Head of House. Let him in, Arbiter.”
The door flew open as soon as Kelsley undid the bolts and wards. Brogan, a tall man with a head bald and polished as an egg and a drooping mustache above a pointed beard, strode in and immediately dropped to one knee before Kyri. “Justiciar Phoenix Kyri,” he said. “Thank the Balance I…could find you.” His voice was clearly breathless.
“What is it, Brogan? What has happened?”
For answer, Brogan reached into his shirt and withdrew a long, sealed envelope addressed to Kyri in an elegant hand. “The Watchland–he’s disappeared. Just left without a word or warning, with just this envelope and a note to have it brought to you immediately.”
“Oh, snakes and dust, this doesn’t sound good,” Poplock said as he bounced back to Tobimar’s shoulder.
Kyri had immediately taken the envelope; the seal broke with a flash of light, showing it had been keyed to her. She reached in and took out a letter; she held it so that Tobimar could see it as well.
My most dear and respected Kyri,
If you have this in your hands, then I have gone. I have been frequently seized with the desire to hunt down the one responsible for using me as a puppet and a false face, and at the same time found myself unable to speak of it; merely writing this down has proven nigh-impossible.
You and your friends were right, I fear. Somewhere within me remains the knowledge of how to find our adversary’s stronghold, but it will only reveal itself when this compulsion grows strong enough to triumph over my reason and will. This I am sure it will do, for it has only strengthened over each day, without my being able to inform any of this matter.
Rather than be caught by it unawares, perhaps to the detriment of others who might bar my path, I have therefore resolved to fight it no longer. I will prepare myself to confront our enemy as best I can, and let it take me whence it will; I believe, as do you, that this will be the Justiciars’ Retreat.
Understand, Kyri, I am under no illusion that I will somehow be able to vanquish this enemy, this Viedraverion. I am a powerful warrior–perhaps stronger than you know–but I am not a Justiciar. But it may be that our enemy will not slay me outright, and so I write this note that you will know what has happened, and–if the Balance should smile upon me–perhaps be able to rescue me once more.
I do not ask you do so purely for my sake, although I certainly do not wish to die. I know you will attempt it no matter what the reasons. However, as your Watchland I give you this one command: do not risk Evanwyl for my sake. I will not be used as a hostage, and I insist that you not accept me as one. I will die for Evanwyl, as I know you would. Rescue me if you can, certainly–but not at a cost I will regret.
The compulsion has begun. I will place this in a sealed envelope to be found in my study, and then leave, locking the room so that–hopefully–I will not be able to undo what I have done here.
In the name of the Balance, I remain,
“Myrionar’s Unbalanced Sword!” Kyri cursed. “Brogan, when did the Watchland leave?”
Looking slightly shocked at what Tobimar suspected was great profanity on Kyri’s part, Brogan answered, “We cannot be absolutely certain, Justiciar Phoenix, because the Watchland sometimes would isolate himself for thought or other private matters for a few days. But we believe he left last night.”
Tobimar cursed this time. “That’s twenty-four hours ago. We could never catch him, and the trail will be cold. Sand and storm!”
“Add ‘drought and freeze’ to that, too,” Poplock said. “If we’d been able to get on his trail quick–within an hour or so, say–I think we could have gotten through the diversion wards. We’d have clear indicators to follow and the wards couldn’t change those all that quick. But after this much time? Not a chance.”
Kyri’s fist had clenched down on the paper, crumpling it into a compressed wad. “Kyri…”
“What? Oh.” She slowly relaxed her grip, then nodded. “Thank you, Brogan. I will do what I can. Get back to the estate and let them know.”
“I will, Justiciar. Thank you very much.”
Once Brogan had left, Kyri straightened. “Come on, Tobimar, Poplock. We don’t have time to waste here.”
“But, Kyri…in your condition,” began Kelsley.
“My condition isn’t going to change for the better sitting around here, is it?” At Kelsley’s reluctant nod, she smiled. “Then I might as well try to do what I can.”
She kissed the priest on the cheek, then bowed, and led the way out.
Tobimar studied her narrowly from behind. “Poplock?”
“Yep. She’s not angry. She’s…scared. Scared half to death.”
“But that note didn’t have anything frightening in it.”
“I know.” The two continued in silence, as Kyri strode ahead of them, through the main temple, towards the doors. “But then why is she so frightened?”
It wasn’t obvious to anyone else, perhaps, but he could see it–it was in the way she stood so straight, so tense, as rigid and unyielding as the stone pillar she was now walking past. Kyri was deathly afraid of something, and as he walked a little closer to her, he could hear her breathing, a little too quick, a bit too ragged.
Outside, in the night-dark streets of Evanwyl, Kyri turned south. Tobimar quickened his own stride. “What is it, Kyri?”
She didn’t pretend not to understand. Her hand reached out, took his. “I believe in Myrionar.”
Tobimar didn’t quite get what she meant, but her tone showed that she was trying to explain. “I know.”
“But…Tobimar, will you trust me? Will you believe in me?”
He stopped her, put her hands on her shoulders. “Kyri, I will always trust you. I will always believe in you. Curse or no. Always.”
“Goes for me, too,” Poplock said.
She closed her eyes, and two tears fell. “And will you do whatever I ask you to tonight, no matter what?”
“Are you going to ask me to…to end it for you?” Tobimar asked quietly.
The anger of the Curse tried to flare, he could see it in the tension of her arms, the twitching of the lips–but it subsided, left only the beautiful face surrounded by its gold-tipped blue hair, a face that tried to smile and failed miserably. “Not…not now. Not that way. But…something you won’t want to do.”
He almost started to question her, but an internal voice told him to stop!
She’s asking me to have faith in her. To believe in her. And I just said I would. “Then yes, I will. No matter what.”
Her shoulders slumped in relief. “Thank the Balance. Because I can’t do this myself, and can’t trust anyone else.”
“Since I’ve agreed…what do I have to do?”
“We have to cure the Curse,” she answered.