Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 03

Chapter 3

Poplock gave his own little salute from atop Danrall’s shoulder as Tanvol’s body, clad in a pure white robe with the pattern of the Seven and One embroidered on it in gems and gold thread, was borne towards the shores of Enneisolaten by seven people: Lady Shae, Miri, Anora, Herminta Gantil and another Color whose name Poplock didn’t quite remember, Hiriista…and Tobimar. Tobimar had insisted he be the Seventh, and none had argued with him.

The Unity Guard had been silent as the body was prepared and the seven had stood. But as Tanvol passed the last in line, they began to sing, a solemn and powerful chant, and turned as one to march behind the seven bearers. Looking behind, Poplock saw most of the population of the city, thousands strong. They were following, some grim, some sad, some crying silent tears, but all of them following with proud and measured pace.

As the procession reached the shore–a shore more broad and low than it had been before the Great Dragon rose from beneath its depths–the Unity Guard began to fan out, spreading towards other white-wrapped bodies waiting on simple rafts at the edge of the great lake.

Tanvol would not depart alone.

At that, we were lucky. Even counting the Unity Guards, less than a hundred people died in Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar. There had, of course, been at least thirty-five other tubes that had been crushed along with four other Unity Guards, and Poplock suspected a lot more had died in outlying areas–the ones actually struck by Sanamaveridion’s ravening fires–but while the main city had suffered much physical damage, its people had mostly survived. Poplock hopped from Danrall’s shoulder and, after a moment, bounced back to Tobimar and climbed back to his accustomed place. I owe Tanvol too; I…wouldn’t want to be doing any of this without Tobimar.

Lady Shae yielded the place of honor next to Tanvol, Light of Kaizatenzei, to Tobimar, and instead became honor guard to Light Dravan Igo, the one Kyri had killed in freeing Miri. The others took up places at the side of the fallen, Unity Guard or merchant or mother or, in two heartbreaking instances, child, and stood tall and straight, looking west towards the setting sun.

“Lady Phoenix,” Shae said, “we await you.”

Kyri stood at the very edge of the water, at the farthest point of land remaining. “I do not know your rituals well…”

Lady Shae shook her head. “I was the speaker for the Light, but in this disaster I had a terrible hand; I will not speak our words. You know us well enough, Phoenix, and your friend and companion stands as Final Guide to his savior. I trust you will find the words and gestures of your own that say what needs be said.”

Poplock nodded. Shae carried too much guilt for these deaths to feel comfortable giving the last rites, and the same went for Miri; it made sense that she’d give the position to the next most visible hero, the Phoenix who had shattered wave and withstood the Dragon with wings and sword of flame that had been visible even from endangered Valatar.

Kyri took a deep breath, and when she spoke, her voice was unnaturally strong, but not a shout; it merely carried like a shout, like a crack of thunder, yet spoke quietly, softly, warmly.

“We stand here on the shores of Enneisolaten, at the border between land and inland sea, to say our farewells and give final salutes to those who have crossed the greater border from this world to the Light in the Darkness,” Kyri began. “I will not tell you not to grieve, for grieving is a part of loss; even if we are all to meet beyond death, still it is the departing of friends, of family, of children and teachers and lovers and protectors.

“But they would be happy to know that most of us remain, that their hopes and dreams were not destroyed–that Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar still stands, and will rise again. The Tower is fallen, but the Light endures within us all, and lives most strongly of all in those who gave of themselves that we might live.”

She turned and faced the sun, now a blazing sphere sitting atop the surface of the great lake, drawing a glowing path across the water to where Phoenix stood. “I cannot speak for the Light in the Darkness, for Terian; but I can speak for Myrionar, his ally and friend, and I stand ready to send them on their journey to the Light. Let Tanvol, Light of Kaizatenzei, lead your people to the Light, and I hope and pray that Myrionar will be his guide.”

Poplock held on as Tobimar shoved the little raft out, and it floated free, slowly drifting on the water. Kyri pointed her sword, and golden fire reached out and caressed the wood of the raft, pulling it forward, guiding it to drift outward along the path of gold-shimmering water, flames of the same color beginning to dance along the edges of the raft.

More scrapes within the silence, and the other rafts with their white-wrapped cargo began to drift from the shore. Kyri’s red-gold flame flowed down both shores, directing the drift, and setting each to glow with the same fire.

Flame leapt higher on Tanvol’s raft, which was now drifting farther away. “Terian the Infinite, in the name of Myrionar I commend these people, the fallen of Kaizatenzei, into your care. I ask you–I beg you–to hear me and bring them to you, receive them into the Light, for though they knew not your name, they served you and have held your Light in their hearts for all their lives.”

Kyri bowed her head, and then raised it, gazing steadily at the armada of fiery rafts, all flickering with the golden fire of the Phoenix.

Then Poplock felt Tobimar’s shoulder stiffen beneath him, even as his own little hands gripped suddenly tighter.

The setting sun ignited in blue-white fire, spreading star-bright light across the water, a path of gleaming silver and sapphire that stretched to meet the oncoming fleet, and as it did so their flames turned to argent and sky. Silhouetted against the now brilliantly-blazing orb was a tiny figure, cloak or cape streaming in a distant wind, arms outstretched as if to welcome friends and family home. The pure, brilliant fire rose higher, dazzling all of the watchers, so that Poplock turned away and even Phoenix raised her hand to shield her eyes.

And when the light faded, there were only the calm ripples of Enneisolaten glittering ruby and amber in the last rays of the setting sun; of the myriad rafts and their fires there was not a trace.

For long moments, none spoke; even Kyri was staring in disbelief.

Then Lady Shae gave the great spread-armed bow to the Phoenix Justiciar, lowering herself until her forehead nearly touched the shore, and there was an echoing rustle up and down the shore as everyone from Hiriista and Miri to the entirety of the gathered crowd followed her lead.

Only Tobimar and Poplock stood unbowed and looked into the gray eyes that still showed Kyri’s wonder that she, she of all people, could be the focus of such gratitude and awe…and the heavy awareness of the responsibility that placed upon her. And now she’s become a symbol all over again, to these people, as much as she was to Evanwyl. Oh, Tobimar’s got some of that too, but she’s got the presence…and the god acts through her. They’ll remember the Phoenix of Myrionar first and always.

At last Shae rose. “We–we all–thank you, and through you Myrionar, for Its intercession on our behalf, and give praise to the Light, to Terian himself, for taking our fallen to his side.” There was a murmur of agreement, echoing gratitude that covered the peninsula. “We can now return to our city with the sure knowledge that those we had lost await us in the Light, and wish us all joy and strength.”

The stars had begun to shine out above, the clarity of the sky resonating with the purity that still somehow persisted about Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar, and as they began to move towards the broken, beautiful city, Poplock glanced back, and saw Kyri silhouetted against the fading crimson of the sunset.

Above her, just visible against the coming night, the stars of the Balanced Sword shimmered.