I’m posting this and Chapter 01 today and will be following the usual MWF schedule starting with Chapter 02 on Wednesday.
Phoenix Ascendant – What Has Gone Before
Ryk E. Spoor
Previously in The Balanced Sword series
Kyri Victoria Vantage lost her parents to unknown attackers some years before. Even the Justiciars of Myrionar, God of Justice and Vengeance, the patron deity of her country Evanwyl, were unable to discover the identity of the assailants. But she has moved on, and her brother Rion has become a Justiciar himself. Then tragedy strikes a second time, and during a sudden and monstrous attack on Evanwyl, something kills Rion, tearing his soul to shreds.
Shocked and now worried that her whole family is in peril, Kyri leaves Evanwyl with her aunt Victoria and younger sister Urelle, travelling to far-distant Zarathanton to begin a new life. But a chance discovery there reveals the hideous truth: that it was the Justiciars who were responsible, the supposed holy warriors somehow betraying everything they stand for. In rage and shock, Kyri demands Myrionar explain itself–and the god answers. Something far worse is happening; Myrionar is weakened, perhaps dying, but It promises Kyri that if she will be true to Myrionar–will become the one true Justiciar–then she will one day have the justice and vengeance she seeks.
Meanwhile, Tobimar Silverun, youngest prince of the country of Skysand, is forced to leave his country in search of the origins of his people–a quest that is thrust on his family once in a generation, and which amounts to exile for twenty yearsâ€¦unless he can discover their ancient homeland. The mysterious mage Khoros, once Tobimar’s teacher, also warns Tobimar that the next Chaoswar is about to begin, and that this is connected to his quest.
Tobimar’s search leads him to Zarathanton, greatest city of the world, and to a startling meeting with Poplock Duckweed, a diminutive Toad adventurer who has already disrupted the plans of one of the Mazolishta demonlords, Voorith. The two seek an audience with the Sauran King, only to find that he has been assassinated moments before they enter the Throne Room!
Having accepted Myrionar’s offer, Kyri realizes that if she is to be a Justiciar, she must obtain the magical and powerful Raiment–the armor of a Justiciar–that both symbolizes and protects a Justiciar, and sets out to find the half-legendary Spiritsmith who can forge the Raiment. After managing to discover him–and pass his lethal tests–she convinces him that she is indeed the first of the new Justiciars, and takes the name Phoenix as her new title (as all Justiciars have the names of birds).
As refugees from the Forest Sea begin to pour into Zarathanton in massive numbers and word of revolutions or wars in distant lands begin to arrive, Tobimar and Poplock realize that they are seeing part of a vast, coordinated plan to destroy the State of the Dragon King and perhaps the peace of the world–certainly part of the Chaoswar that Khoros warned them of.
The small clues that Tobimar had for locating his country suddenly come into clear focus when he realizes that the god Myrionar’s symbolism and location fit everything he has heard, pointing him and Poplock to Evanwyl. In the company of a new ally, Xavier Ross of Earth, they head for Evanwyl, confronting demonic pursuers along the way.
With her new Raiment and accompanying sword, Kyri begins her work of undermining the false Justiciars and preparing to confront them. She attempts to convince the first, Mist Owl, to change sides and help her, but he fears the force behind the false Justiciars too much to do this, and dies at her hand. A second Justiciar, Shrike, afraid that she will convince his adoptive son, the Justiciar Condor, to follow her, which might lead to Condor’s death, also fails to kill her. Realizing that her confrontational approach is making it almost certain that she must fight each one, she chooses to try another way: to approach them not as a Justiciar, but as their “little sister,” Kyri Vantage. For this, she selects Thornfalcon, the least martial of the Justiciars.
At the same time, Tobimar and Poplock have arrived in Evanwyl, having parted ways temporarily with Xavier. They hear the rumor of a false Justiciar named “Phoenix” who has killed at least one of the real Justiciars, and as this fits with the sort of thing they’ve already encountered more than once, offer their services to help hunt down Phoenix. They come across Shrike’s body and deduce where Phoenix is headed next–although they do not realize the truth yet.
Kyri makes contact with Thornfalcon, who seems open to her approachâ€¦until he reveals the trap he has set for her. He was the one who killed her brother, and who has directed most of the operations of the false Justiciars (although there is someone or something above him).
Tobimar and Poplock arrive at Thornfalcon’s just in time to prevent him from murdering Kyri, and instead find themselves in a fight to the death. But Kyri escapes her imprisonment and joins them. Together the three kill Thornfalcon despite his nigh-demonic powers, but are then caught in a trap that is unleashing an apparently endless horde of monsters into the midst of Evanwyl. At the last minute Xavier shows up, and together they locate the source of the monstrosities. Kyri calls upon the power of Myrionar and destroys the gateway through which they are coming.
Once all four have been introduced and understand each others’ stories, Kyri, Poplock, Tobimar, and Xavier make their way to the Temple of the Balanced Sword where they confront two more false Justiciars, Bolthawk and Skyharrier, and reveal them for what they are.
The truth has been revealed, but they know that there are more mysteries–who was truly behind Thornfalcon, how a god’s chosen emissaries can be corrupted, and how this all connects to the rise of war throughout the world. With Xavier now gone on his own quest, it falls to the three of them to find the answersâ€¦
Phoenix in Shadow
In a prologue, the unnamed true enemy examines the aftermath of the battle against Thornfalcon, and realizes the identity of the Phoenix, as well as deducing more of the nature of her companions than she might suspect. It then returns to the corrupted Justiciar’s Retreat, just ahead of Aran Condor.
Aran demands their patron find some way of giving him the power to confront and destroy the Phoenix. Their patron calls on Kerlamion, King of All Hells, greatest of demonlords. Addressing the patron as “Viedraverion”, Kerlamion agrees to provide the power Aran seeksâ€¦if Aran comes before his very throne to request it.
Meanwhile, Kyri and her friends have done their best to help and restabilize Evanwyl after the terrible shock of discovering the other Justiciar’s corruption. Finding Tobimar’s weapons heavily damaged after the battle against Thornfalcon, Kyri leads them to the Spiritsmith’s forge. The Spiritsmith agrees to forge appropriate weapons and armor for Tobimar.
As they are talking, something monstrously wrong happens, shaking the earth, darkening the sky, and in horrified shock the Spiritsmith points to a shadow that now stands on the horizon; the Black City of Kerlamion has somehow come to Zarathan, and the King of All Hells now walks the living world.
The Spiritsmith completes the forging of Tobimar’s gear, and also contacts the legendary Wanderer to assist the travelers in determining their destination and understanding the forces arrayed against them. The Wanderer confirms–as they had guessed–that they must journey through corrupt and deadly Rivendream Pass to Moonshade Hollow, and that much of what is happening he knows, but cannot tell them. Kyri says: “A prophecy. You have a prophecy.”
The Wanderer responds with a strange smile, and answers, “Notâ€¦precisely. Though, perhaps, close enough for your purposes.”
He gives them only a few cryptic hints, emphasizing that while he would very much like to tell them more, doing so could jeopardize everything they are all trying to accomplish–but that Myrionar’s promise that they can succeed is very much true.
Aran Condor has made his way through the wastelands nicknamed “Hell”, and then finds himself confronted by the real thing–standing before the doors of the Black City itself. His anger and need for vengeance (barely) overcomes his more sensible fear, and he continues forward. Kerlamion gives him the Demonshard Blade, a piece of Kerlamion’s own sword, a weapon of tremendous demonic power which the Lord of All Hells says should be capable of destroying anything–even the Phoenix Justiciar.
The three heroes make their way through Rivendream Pass, which is even worse than they had expected. During this trip, Kyri and Tobimar finally (with a bit of pushing by Poplock) admit their attraction for each other. Shortly after entering the corrupted forest in Moonshade Hollow, they come across a small figure about to be attacked by a monster.
The diminutive, beautiful girl introduces herself as “Miri, Light of the Unity”, and leads them through a barrier wall into a land she calls “Kaizatenzei”, translated as “the Unity of the Seven Lights”.
Impossibly, Kaizatenzei seems to be not only not corrupt, but in actuality a haven of purity, a supernaturally right place where it is almost impossible to imagine the existence of the evil that lies just outside of its walls. The people know nothing of the world beyond the corrupted forest and are astounded by the three new arrivals. Miri is the right-hand servant and troubleshooter for “Lady Shae”, the Lady of Seven Lights. Lady Shae bids the group travel to their capital, Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar.
The three are joined in their travels by Hiriista, mazakh “magewright”–master of magical talents tied to more physical sources, such as alchemy and the discipline called “Gemcalling”. Despite his species, Hiriista appears to be very much on the side of good and develops an unexpectedly strong bond with Poplock.
The group learns that Hiriista has noted some oddities concerning the “Unity Guard”–the combined police and military force of Kaizatenzei, a group that includes Lights, Colors, Shades, and Hues, with Lights such as Miri at the top. These oddities fit with a few unsettling feelings Phoenix has had around Unity Guards.
Unbeknownst to the adventurers, Miri and Shae are the demonlords Emirinovas and Kalshae, and they have some plan which requires Tobimar Silverun, whom they refer to as “the Key”, and also the assistance of the cold and calculating researcher named Master Wieran.
Aran Condor enters Kaizatenzei in pursuit of the Phoenix. The purity of Kaizatenzei breaks the corrupting hold that the Demonshard Blade had gained on Aran’s mind, and Condor successfully defeats the blade in a contest of wills. Miri, as asked by Viedraverion, meets Aran and sends him traveling around the central lake in the opposite direction from Phoenix and her companions.
Miri is stunned when, during their travels, Phoenix manages to summon the power of her god to heal children who should be unsalvageable (infected by a soul-damaging parasite). She also fears that her constant contact with the magic that has made Kaizatenzei so pure is corrupting her demonic essence.
The travelers reach Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar, and all seems perfect–except for a momentary flash of sensation by Phoenix, where she detects two dark presences, one filled with anger and hatred, the other cold and amused.
Tobimar is allowed to approach “the Great Light” in the Valatar Tower, and its response to his approach proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Great Light is the Sun of Terian, one of the greatest artifacts of one of the most powerful gods of good, and because of that Tobimar now knows that Kaizatenzei is what is left of the true homeland of his people.
Miri discovers that she is totally corrupt–or, more accurately, purified–when she finds herself drawn physically and romantically to Phoenix.
As a celebration is prepared for them, the adventurers notice a much larger number of Unity Guard entering the city, and recognize that this whole setup could be a trap. Their attempt to escape fails, and they are captured and Tobimar placed on a sacrificial altar; Miri is also caught out and captured by Kalshae.
As Wieran’s and Kalshae’s ritual is nearing completion, Tobimar connects the events with the last advice Khoros gave him, and realizes that an old childhood prayer is in fact the key to accessing the power of the Sun of Terian. For a moment, Terian himself manifests through the body of Tobimar, freeing and healing the Skysand Prince and his friends. Kyri and Hiriista leave the room to rescue Miri, while Tobimar–with more than mortal power–and Poplock confront Kalshae.
Kalshae is defeated when Poplock tricks her into triggering a summons of herself, and Kyri reaches Miri in time to keep her from being locked away. The group confronts Master Wieran in his laboratory, but cannot fight him directly–his Great Array includes hundreds of tubes in which are still-living human beings. Poplock manages to play on Wieran’s ego and desire for an audience, distracting him long enough for Hiriista to notice a secondary magical array and damage it, releasing something which has been sealed up beneath the central lake for millennia.
This disrupts Wieran’s attempt to attain something even beyond the godhead, and Wieran barely escapes; worse is the fact that what is rising now is Sanamaveridion, an Elderwyrm or evil Dragon of incalculable power.
Aran Condor, who has been performing small acts of heroism in his travels around the lake, uses the Demonshard Blade to disrupt the tsunami thrown up by Sanamaveridion’s emergence, while Kyri does the same on the other side of the lake with the power of the Phoenix. Aran cannot do more at this point, but is now certain that where the Elderwyrm has risen, the Phoenix must be waiting.
The heroes confront Sanamaveridion, and after a tremendous pitched battle defeat him through the combined efforts of Tobimar, Kyri, and Miri, with an inspired last-minute summoning by Poplock finishing the job.
Miri attempts to recover the communication scroll she has used to contact Viedraverion–this turns out to be a trap. Miri discovers that “Viedraverion” is not what it seems, but is instead some other terrible being, one she calls by the name “Lightslayer” before it erases her memory of key facts.
The remaining Unity Guard, now no longer under anyone’s mental domination, confront the group for answers once the immediate search-and-rescue after the battle is complete. To the surprise of everyone, Miri confesses everything, and Lady Shae reappears–having been herself purified by the Light of Terian. With the entire party, including Hiriista, now supporting Miri and Shae’s redemption, the Unity Guard accept them as leaders once more.
But the now-unknown adversary has seen everything going according to Its plan, and in the final scene it has also reached beyond the grave to bring back three of the old Justiciars in preparation for the final confrontationâ€¦