This is the “real” last snippet (I think).

Phoenix Ascendant – Chapter 26

Chapter 26

Poplock stared at her, as did Tobimar; Poplock hopped to her shoulder to talk to her more directly. “Um, that’s what we’ve been trying to do for the last couple of weeks, Kyri. With all the magic I’ve got, all of Sasha’s, and even Kelsley’s.”

He could feel her pulse, sense it hammering far faster than it should be. “Magic–at least the magic we have–can’t do it,” she said quietly, still striding towards the south. “The Arbiter can’t. Even the power of Myrionar I command can’t, because I can’t manage to keep the power going once I’m hurt enough.”

“So?” Poplock asked. “You have another idea?”

“A crazy idea, yes. But it’s really the only choice we have. The Watchland’s gone. Our friends…if they didn’t get caught, they must be almost to the Black City by now. Our enemy must be ready to make his move. If I’m gone…Tobimar, I know you and Poplock won’t leave Evanwyl, you’ll stay for my sake…but can the two of you beat him by yourselves?”

Poplock couldn’t even try to claim they could. Together, the three of them were deadly. But take away any of them, they weren’t nearly as dangerous. He saw Tobimar shake his head. “No. No, we probably can’t. And he’s got at least three False Justiciars that we know of–Skyharrier, Bolthawk, and Condor.” He looked at her again. “Where are we going?”

“There’s a hill a little ways outside of town–you must have passed it when you first came here?”

Poplock thought back to the day–which seemed about a thousand years ago now–they’d first arrived in Evanwyl. “Oh, yeah. Over on the left…well, on the right the way we’re going now. Nice smooth meadowed slope facing the east, and the river spreading out across from it.”

“That’s it. Called Trader’s Rest.”

“What’s there?”

“My cure…I hope.”

Poplock eyed the stars. “Hope you’re right. That knoll’s about eight, nine miles down the road. Assuming nothing gets in our way, that’s still a few hours travel. Be well past midnight, and the sun won’t wait.”

Kyri nodded. “I know.”

They walked in silence for a few moments. “What is the cure you think is there?”

“I’ll tell you when we get there,” she said quickly. “Tobimar…tell me about Skysand?”


Even in the darkness, Poplock could see the momentary wide, terrified look in her eyes, a look that silenced Tobimar instantly. “Please, Tobimar; tell me about Skysand.”

The exiled Prince of Skysand looked at Poplock with a worried, confused expression, but then shrugged, and began to talk.

“Well, it’s…it’s a big country, we cover a large part of the northeast corner of the continent. But…no, you don’t want dry description. Of course not.” His smile was forced, but the way he caught and held Kyri’s hand was not. “When I stood in my bedroom and looked out, I could see the sun’s light slant across the city, the shadows of the Seven and the One stretching towards the horizon, over sand shadowed gray and violet, with nodding green of the trees at the springs just becoming visible in the light of dawn. The roofs would go from a gray to rosy pink and white and light green as the sun sprang up from the sea, and you could look down and see into the central courtyards of most of the houses, squares of deeper shadow with people just starting to move. The Temple of Terian would sound the Dawn Chimes to greet the day, and there would be a whisper of movement, as thought the whole city were stretching, rising from its bed. The light would catch the dunes and turn them to molten gold and ruby, sparkling in the sun, and the caravan trails cut through them, lanes still touched with shade in the early morning…”

Tobimar spoke on, telling how he would usually begin his day, describing the great curved sweep of the bay and its blue water, with the wisps of black smoke and ash rising across the endless blue of the sky from the volcanic cone that brooded nearby, naming his sisters and brothers and the people of his household, outlining the city itself in detail–the streets, the sounds, the people. As they walked, Poplock found he was getting a clearer vision of Skysand now than he ever had before. Many of the facts he had known already–it wasn’t as though he and Tobimar hadn’t talked about their homelands before–but Tobimar was now weaving a complete picture, talking for hours without pause, and without letting go of Kyri’s hand.

And–at least at times–he could feel that her terror faded, was forgotten as Tobimar spoke, as she focused on distant shores and the love that her companion had for his homeland.

Finally, Poplock could see a dark outline, a curve of blackness against the night that cut through the stars. “I think we’re here, Kyri.”

He could feel her pulse quicken again. “Yes…yes, we are.”

She turned, walked swiftly–almost ran–up the slope, stopping midway, in the center of a broad meadow, barely visible in frosted starlight. She paused, looking outward.

The view to the east was very nice, Poplock had to admit. The river, as he remembered, broadened here, flattening to a shallow ford three-quarters of a mile across. The rippling chuckle of the water over countless stones was soothing, and Poplock’s eyes could make out the motion of flow and ripple all the way across. Low bushes dominated the far shore, a flat area that Poplock suspected flooded regularly; trees didn’t seem to reappear until near the horizon, a darker darkness in the distance. The horizon itself was a slightly brighter black. Dawn isn’t all that far away.

“Yes,” Kyri murmured. “This is how I remembered it.”

Tobimar looked at her. “Now…what?”

Kyri took off her pack and searched through it. “Here we go.”

“That’s our climbing gear. What do you–”

Her swallow was audible. “Tobimar, I want you to take the stakes and ropes and bind me down. Hard. This is shadespider silk, it should hold just about anything, but still, don’t take chances.”

“Bind you down–” Realization struck Tobimar and Poplock simultaneously.

“Terian and Chromaias…Kyri, you’re not–”

“Yes,” she said, and her voice shook. “I am.”

“That’s suicide!”

“Maybe…maybe not, Tobimar.”

“If Kelsley’s right,” Poplock says, “it is. When the sun rises, you go up in smoke.”

“It hasn’t got a complete hold on me. Not yet.” Kyri put the rope and spikes into Tobimar’s hands. “I can’t burn it out of myself with Myrionar’s power because the pain makes me focus on it. I have to stop. But the Sun symbolizes purity. I know it will burn me–and from my trying to use Myrionar’s power I know how much it will hurt.” Her voice was still unsteady. “Tobimar, Poplock, I know how crazy this is. But it’s the only thing I can think of, and I have to have faith in Myrionar that I’m right. I will accept the purification of the Sun and hope that the power of…of the Phoenix,” she managed a smile, “will let me somehow pass through that trial alive.”

“And what if it doesn’t?” Poplock asked bluntly.

“Then I die myself, not a monster. And that’s a happier ending than any other I see before me now.”

Tobimar stood stock-still for long moments. Then his head bowed. “As you ask, Kyri.”

Her voice was filled with relief. “Thank you, Tobimar.” She reached up and removed Poplock gently. “I…need to be exposed to the sun for this to work.”

“What? Oh. Got it.”

The Raiment of the Phoenix flowed off her–all but her helm, the symbolic profile of the bird of prey clear even in the predawn gloom. “Keeping that on?” asked Tobimar, in the most unconvincingly casual tones that Poplock had ever heard, as he began hammering stakes into the ground.

“I do this as Phoenix, not as Kyri Vantage,” she said. “The helm…won’t make any difference otherwise.”

Poplock couldn’t argue that. Aside from simple travel support for her breasts and brief underclothes for her lower body, all of her was now completely exposed to the night…and soon to the light. I feel so completely useless here. All I can do is advise Tobimar on how to make sure the bindings will hold her even if she struggles hard. Which she will. No way that she won’t when she’s burning alive, even with Myrionar’s power to keep the pain down.

Sound of hammer striking metal, looping of rope, more hammering, and the grim, grim look on Tobimar’s face deepened. Poplock didn’t want to look. But he also couldn’t look away. If this didn’t work…this would be the last time they ever saw Kyri alive.

Finally, Tobimar straightened. “It…it’s done.” Multiple stakes surrounded each of Kyri’s limbs, but even with many strands of rope, very little of her skin was covered. “Try to break free.”

Kyri threw her strength against the bonds. Poplock heard a faint grunt that showed more fear and desperation than Kyri would want to admit. But that does mean she’ll be giving them a fair test.

But the bindings held firm. Even the Vantage strength could not overcome all of the many loops of spidersilk rope and multiple spikes buried deep in the earth.

Tobimar sighed. “All right. Looks like it will…hold.”

The faintest ghost of a smile. “Yes. You…did that well.” Suddenly her eyes went wide. “Oh, no, I forgot!”

“Forgot what?”

Poplock found it amusing–and heartbreaking–to see that even in this circumstance Kyri was able to look embarrassed. “Um…could you go into my pack and find…” She hesitated, then plunged forward, “find the phoenix and dragon figurines that I have in there?”

“I’ll do it. I couldn’t do any of the real work.” Poplock bounced to Kyri’s pack. He remembered the figures she was talking about, and what they meant to her. The ones she and her brother played with. The figurine she got the name “Phoenix” from, really.

It only took a few moments. He came back and put one figure in each hand. Kyri smiled at him, though her face was visibly pale in the slowly growing light. “Thank you, Poplock.”

“At least it’s something.” He leapt back to Tobimar’s shoulder; there was nothing left to do on the ground, nothing really at all left to do but wait.

He glanced backward. The horizon was lighter. Kyri was now easily visible, bound immovably to Trader’s Rest, facing the east. “A few minutes now.”

“Yes.” She shifted slightly, though the ropes did not allow much movement. “Tobimar…I–”

“Survive this,” Tobimar said. “No farewells!”

She was quiet, but in the predawn light Poplock saw two tears flowing down her cheeks from beneath the helm.

But then he heard movement behind them, fast movement.

Tobimar heard it too, started to turn, but something smashed into both of them, an impact like a Dragon’s claw. Tobimar tumbled away like a broken doll, striking a tree so hard that the trunk shattered, continued on; Poplock leapt clear, tried to roll, but another tree was right there in his path–

The pain was accompanied by the high-pitched greenstick splintering sound of his own bones breaking, despite the defensive wards he’d painstakingly woven into his harness over the last months. Poplock slid from the dented treetrunk, falling limply onto his back. Something was still moving near Kyri, and he tried to rise, to roll to his feet, but he could barely manage to raise one leg before red-tinged pain caught up with him and pushed him down into darkness.