Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 06
“Theyâ€¦they seem to be exactly as they were,” Bolthawk murmured, in a tone of mingled fear and awe.
It followed the false Justiciar’s gaze to where Mist Owl stood in conversation with the earlier Silver Eagle, Gareth Lamell, and Skyharrier. “Oh, indeed, they are exactly as they were.” It chuckled. “I suppose your surprise comes from your first reintroduction to your fallen comrades?”
Assured by its tone that this was not a dangerous subject, Bolthawk nodded. “They stank of the grave, their eyes were dull, they seemed graverisen, nothing more. But over the last weekâ€¦”
“Yes, they have perked up quite a bit since then, haven’t they?” It gestured for Bolthawk to take a firmer grip on the damaged piece of Silver Eagle’s raiment which was currently on the creature’s workbench, and then began gently hammering on the metal; faint ripples of green and shadow flickered from the armor as the being worked on it, bringing the armor back together. Ahh, Spiritsmith, your work is supernal; a shame it had to be marred so. My repairs will be serviceable, but hardly up to your standard. Then again, you would rather they were not repaired at all than serving my purposes, so I suppose that’s as you’d prefer it.
“The fact is that for one such as myself, bringing the dead back fully takes a bit of time,” it said, continuing the discussion. “The body must be either repaired or in some cases rebuilt, the soul brought back, and the connection between the two must heal as the bodyâ€¦learns, I suppose is the best term, how to live again. By now, that process is quite complete.”
“You meanâ€¦they are not just wraiths or revenants?”
“They are as fully alive as they were before they met their deaths, yes. If I were somehow felled tomorrow, they would not collapse and turn to moldering corpses or anything of that nature. They are not imitations of their prior selves, Bolthawk. They are precisely who they appear to beâ€¦just with some rather unique experiences that you have been fortunate enough to avoid thus far.”
Bolthawk’s expression was a delicious mingling of awe and fear. “Never have I heard of anyone reviving the dead after so long a span of time, in the case of Gareth, many years indeed. Not even the gods.”
“It does, in truth, require some rather unique circumstances, I admit. But more than that you have no need to know.”
“Where is Thornfalcon, then? Surely you would have wanted him back more than the rest of us.”
Your stolid exterior, Child of Odin, is rather misleading when you show so clear an evaluation of the world around you. “You are of course correct, Bolthawk; he had the best overallâ€¦mindset for the job as I envisioned it. Unfortunately, and rather ironically, his journey along the path to become one of my people led to him meeting the final death, one from which even I could not retrieve him.”
“That path gave him a weakness, then?” Bolthawk’s face suddenly went pale; it could tell that Bolthawk was realizing that the question itself was potentially dangerous, one that could draw an immediate and fatal reaction.
Instead it laughed. “Certainly it did, Bolthawk. Of course poor Thornfalcon, being so new to his power, was far more vulnerable to that weakness than I; I would have been wounded by the same strikes, but not slain, let alone had my soul shredded irretrievably. All things have their weaknesses, even the King of All Hellsâ€¦or me. But while I might, if it amused me, tell you his weakness, I think I will leave mine for others to guess.”
“I would expect nothing else, sir.”
It grinned again, and straightened, looking at the now almost invisible seam. Almost done. “It wouldn’t do you a great deal of good, Bolthawk; the oaths you and the others have sworn would make it inadvisable for you to plan a rebellion, even if I not only told you my weakness but allowed you to prepare to make use of it. It’s more a dramatic preference than anything else; all things must be done properly, you understand?”
Bolthawk started to nod, then cocked his head, and shrugged. “I can’t say I do, sir.”
“I suppose not. If you live long enough, perhaps we shall have this conversation again and your answer may change. But–”
A signal touched its consciousness in a way another might have described hearing a faint but significant sound. “Ah. I have something to attend to. Clean this up and lay it aside; I’ll complete the work later.”
It took only a few minutes to reach the inner sanctum of the Retreat and place the silver-and-gold scroll on its pedestal. “Yes?”
The scroll did not show a face; the person on the other end did not have the capability to make a full connection. “Initial attempt complete. Progress as expected.”
“Good. Do not contact me more often than once every three weeks. The more you disturb the matrix, the greater the chance you will be discovered. Let its truth hide your own.”
“Understood. I will only act under the agreed-upon conditions.”
“Correct. Thank you for your report.”
It leaned back in the chair with a smile. Placing agents at the right places, with the right preparation, could be so much more effective than sending armies or monsters. And–as with Miri, the poor girl–it wasn’t even necessary that the agent understood what their true goals were, or even that they follow its literal instructions. Many agents, again including Miri as well as Master Wieran and Kalshae, were best when they thought it was their agent, or at most ally, and thought that by disregarding its instructions they would foil its plans.
But if you knew how such people thought, you could make sure that even their betrayals were part of the plan. So far, everything was going according to that plan. The most dangerous–and by the same principle, most entertaining–parts were coming soon, however.
But, it reminded itself, even the most careful manipulator could also be manipulated. And as the endgame approached, it had to watch the board more carefully than ever. Even the smallest piece–like, say, a Toad–could upset plans years in the making.
That would be extremely costly for it; setting up these precise conditions had taken more years than even Thornfalcon would have believed. It certainly did not want to lose this particular game.
And yetâ€¦if that were to happenâ€¦wouldn’t that be exciting?
Smiling broadly, it turned and strode out to rejoin the Justiciars.