Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 24
Kyri found her hand on Flamewing’s hilt, the sword already half drawn, before she caught herself. The horrific thought echoed through her, a sentence of death and failure. Not summon Myrionar’s power? Be barred from Myrionar? No!
“That fast?” Xavier asked, unbelieving. “C’mon, she’s gotta have some time!”
“The Curse is already on her,” Tashriel said, the same horror in his voice, and a part of her understood that he knew what she felt. “Perhaps she hasâ€¦a few minutes? A few hours? But no more than a day or two.”
She concentrated, called on the power, intending to heal the scratches on Poplock from Tashriel’s sandblasting assault.
Gold-fired agony exploded along her skin, danced through her veins like molten steel. She heard her own anguished scream and dropped to her knees. “Iâ€¦think I haveâ€¦no time at all.”
Tobimar whirled on Tashriel, and it took Xavier, Nike, and Aurora to restrain him. “If we’re going to kill him, fine,” Nike said, “but not like that. We will do this with justice and judgment, not impulse and hatred. Right?”
“Right,” Kyri said, and despite the pain which was slowly ebbing she felt a warm gratitude towards Nike. I swore to Myrionar that it would be Mercy and Justice before Vengeance, and that is more important for me than for anyone else, because I am the one who will be judged.
The pain had, strangely, cleared her head, and in its aftermath she felt less anger, more sympathy for the damned boy-demon in front of her. Her instincts told her that Tashriel was telling the truth now; it fit with what she knew of many demonic tales, and the way in which she had been told vampires of his sort worked.
But Tashriel was speaking again. “And you–you five–don’t have time, either.”
“Why not? We could at least take a few–”
“Then you have to kill me now,” Tashriel said, and a blood-tinted tear ran down his face. “I will have to go back to Balinshar, and if he learns what I know of you, the Black City will be prepared–Kerlamion will be prepared, for Balinshar will surely tell him the truth, to ingratiate himself with Father and undermine Viedra.”
Kyri heard multiple curses, and knew one of them was hers. As Rion, Tashriel had been present throughout their discussions; he knew the goal of the five from Earth and much about their abilities.
“Maybe we could lock him up, at least for a while,” Tobimar said slowly, sheathing his swords.
“Where?” Poplock demanded. “If we were in Zarathanton, okay, sure, put him in the Star Cell where they locked those guys up, that’d probably hold him, but there isn’t a place in Evanwyl that could do the trick. Didn’t you watch this guy? If he hadn’t been holding back, we could’ve all gotten bad hurt before we took him down.”
“The Temple of Myrionar,” Kyri said. “Maybe they could–”
Tashriel shook his head. “Arbiter Kelsley is a good man, and honest, but you know as well as I that Myrionar is very weak now. Weaker now than mere months agone, despite the works you have done–because Viedra’s plan has taken all this into account, to weaken that faith beyond any easy point of return. All of the god’s power is bound within or tied directly to you, outside of the simplest powers of the priests. I do not think he could create a sealed prison strong enough to hold me.”
“Do you f–fricking want us to kill you?” Xavier said in outraged tones. “Because you’re like really trying hard to make it happen!”
“I’m trying to keep you safe! Iâ€¦he let me stay with you too long, with her too long! Don’t let me be a weapon against you! I DON’T WANT YOU TO DIE!” Tashriel shouted.
Silence fell in the wake of that agonized declaration, and Kyri saw the bleak choices lying before them. But only one of them allows mercy or justice.
“Stand up, Tashriel,” she said quietly.
He rose, slowly, eyes fixed on hers. She could read his readiness for the end in the way he kept his mouth clamped shut, tension in the jaw and down the neck clear in the lines of muscle and tendon.
She reached up, let Flamewing rise from its sheath, a foot, two feet–
–and let it drop back with a ringing chime. “Go.”
The sight of that jaw dropping, the eyes practically popping from Tashriel’s head in Toadlike fashion–an expression echoed by all the others–would have made her laugh under other circumstances; as it was, she managed a smile. “You are someone’s tool and weapon, and perhaps in cold, hard policy I should kill you. But you were a companion, and I think–from your words, your voice, and your willingness to pass on–that you mean what you say, and thus in your heart you are no enemy.
“Were we still in the heat of battle, yes, I might well strike your head from your shoulders; but I will not kill you in cold blood.”
She looked at Tobimar calmly. “Would you kill him as he stands?”
She saw the lean, dark face go grim; the hands grasped the twin swords. But the swords stayed in their sheaths, and with a curse Tobimar let his hands drop. “No.”
“No more will any of us,” Toshi said. “Which leaves you, Poplock. If any of us could do it, I think you could.”
The little Toad drew his blade Steelthorn and bounced to Tashriel’s shoulder. Despite the nearness of the glittering steel, enchanted–Kyri knew–by the spirit mage Konstantin Khoros himself–Tashriel did not move so much as a hair.
“You would let me do this, wouldn’t you?” Poplock said after a moment. “Just run you through the throat and chop the head off.”
“Well mudbubbles. I can’t do it either.”
“Then we do have to leave now,” Toshi said grimly. “Can you at leastâ€¦dawdle on your return?”
Tashriel gave a weak but definite smile. “I promise to drag my feet as much as my compulsion allows. And I have more advice for you.”
He turned to Xavier. “Xavier, you are the greatest weapon your group has for this. Not because of your stealth, though I’m not ever going to discount that, but becauseâ€¦well, of who you are.”
“Who I am?”
“I can’t say–not for absolutely sure–if it was your father, or your grandfather, or, at most, one of your great-grandfathers, but one of them was–had to be–the being that the demons fear above all others. You–and to my surprise Kyri!–have his eyes, but you have more; you have his face, his build.”
“Torline Valanhavhi, the Eternal King of Atlantaea,” Tashriel said. “I met him, once, long ago, when I was living, a child younger than any of you.” Tashriel gestured.
The figure of a man appeared, tall, slender, dark-skinned. Kyri stared; except for the appearance of greater age–the man seemed to be about thirty-five–it was like seeing Xavier in a mirror, even to the gray eyes. Before him, the figure held two silvered-green blades identical to those which Xavier carried.
“And you wield blades like his. By your appearance, by your image alone, you will frighten and dismay any demon–up to, and including, the King of All Hells himself. So I say to you that you should remain hidden, even more than your friends. Show yourself only at the end, when you will need all advantages, and your adversary is the worst of all.”
Poplock had straightened. “You knowâ€¦he’s right.”
“What?” said Tobimar. “What do you mean?”
“Remember when we got ambushed by those demons, with Xavier? That Lady Misuuma?”
“Well, if you remember, she actually bailed on the whole battle right in the middle. I was chasing after her and I heard her sayingâ€¦” The toad’s face wrinkled as he thought, “umâ€¦’Those blades and eyesâ€¦it is worse than she believes. If this new ally is truly what we think–c’arich! We must retreat.'”
“She seemed to have a thing about eyes–she was looking at mine before–”
Poplock waved that away. “Yeah, we know, but that got cleared up once we saw that you had Terian’s blood in you. Terian’s eyes are the same color, a pretty weird color for people from your part of the world, so that’s what she was looking for. But then they got a good look at Xavier, and what’d she do? Flipped right out of her pond, that’s what she did, and tried to run out on her own allies–when she’d set the trap to catch Tobimar.”
“You’re right,” Tobimar said slowly. “Just the sight of Xavier’s eyes and swords were enough to convince her to abort her own mission so she could carry the news backâ€¦”
“Except I punched her ticket canceled,” Xavier said. “And thinking back, there were a couple demons I fought in my own quest that sure looked kinda panicked when I drew the swords and they got a good look at me. Makes sense.” He looked over to Tashriel. “Okay, thanks. We’ll remember that. But before we go, I’ve got some advice for you.”
Tashriel bowed his head. “I will listen.”
“You don’t want to work for these guys. You’ve tried to help us. But then you say you can’t fight ’em. I dunno, maybe you’re right. But you know what?”
When Xavier didn’t continue, Tashriel raised his head, met the Earth boy’s challenging gaze. “No, what?”
“I think that’s bullcrap.”
“But I am controlled by the Curse! I am bound to the–”
“Bullcrap!” Xavier repeated. “You’ve got your own mind now, right? You’re not formally with one or the other now, right? Okay, maybe it’s not gonna be easy, but you’ve stayed here to tell us all stuff I know your bosses didn’t want you to say, and you know what? You did that because you fought to tell us.
“I think you’ve been so convinced by those bastards that you can’t fight that you’re fighting yourself hard enough to keep you imprisoned. My sensei told me that there isn’t any enchantment that can hold someone forever, if the enchantment isn’t binding the person’s will, their mind. If they can fight it, they can break it. ‘The waves and wind can wear down a mountain, Xavier, and so it is with any binding, any enchantment; with enough time, none can withstand constant work, constant pressure, constant determination. All that is needed is the will to do it.’ That’s what he said.”
She saw ages of conviction warring with a spark of hope. “Butâ€¦”
“Yeah, but. But you have to find that will. You have to decide to do it, even if that’s maybe going to get you killed. But hey, you were willing to die right here. You’ll have to make a choice: is your own freedom worth dying for, even right after you get it?”
Tashriel stared at him for a long moment, then bowed deeply. “Iâ€¦don’t know. I don’t know if I can believe in what you say. If you’re rightâ€¦I’ve lived as a slave because I bound myself there, as much as they bound me.”
Kyri remembered the ancient, ancient tale of the Fall of the Saurans, and the tragedy and redemption of the Hell-Dragon, and its title. “Chains of the mind, Tashriel. Remember the lesson Syrcal learned.”
The white-haired youth nodded, face still conflicted. “Iâ€¦will think on this.” A smile. “While I drag my feet.”
“Stillâ€¦we’d better stop dragging ours.” Gabriel looked at her gravely. “But Lady Kyri, how–?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps the Temple of Myrionar will have an answer there. But I know there is an answer, for I have kept faith with Myrionar, and It told me that always there is a way for me, if only I believe.
“And I still believe.”