Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 04

Chapter 4.

Tobimar hadn’t recognized the tall Artan, but he knew the name that Kyri gasped as the warrior nearly fell face-first to the polished stone floor. He taught her entire family, including her parents, her brother, and her sister.

Kyri reached the Artan warrior, whose deep-violet hair pooled slightly on the floor before him as he sat on all fours, arms and knees supporting him so he looked like a man broken. “Lythos… Sho-Ka-Taida, are you all right?”

The head lifted then, and Tobimar could see a tiny smile, a glint of amusement in the eyes that matched the hair. “More exhausted and worn than I have been in many generations, but my injuries are minor. I have… perhaps driven myself too far, too fast, and have so failed to take my own advice, eh, Kyri Vantage?”

“You… you…” To Tobimar’s astonishment, Kyri suddenly burst into tears and threw her arms around Lythos; by the Artan‘s expression, it was at least as great a surprise to him. “Lythos, I thought you might be dead! Thank the Balance!”

A great sadness descended upon Lythos, clouding the long, aristocratic features and dimming the smile. “Ah, of course you would have. Nearly I was, as well. It has been a trying time – but no less for you, I think.”

Leaning slightly on Kyri’s arm, Lythos stood. “If you will allow me to sit at table with you, I can refresh myself some and speak with you a while, before I must rest. But now that I acknowledge my body’s warnings, hold them no longer at bay, I will admit that rest must come soon.”

Kyri helped him sit. “You said you were injured, Lythos.” She said the word as though she found the concept impossible to grasp. Then she shook herself and straightened. “I’m sorry, I’m babbling. I sound like I’m fourteen again.”

Her hands rested on Lythos’ shoulders, and the gold-fire glow of the power of Myrionar shone out, the power that Kyri Vantage could wield because she was the one, the true, and only Justiciar of Myrionar. Even though this was far from the first time he had seen that power, the sight still sent a tingle of awe through Tobimar. His own god, Terian, rarely granted such powers to warriors who walked the world, nor did He often intervene directly.

Lythos’ head came up, and in his eyes Tobimar saw an echo of the same awe, and, at the same time, something else: vindication. “So it is true, Kyri Victoria Vantage. You are now the Phoenix Justiciar, the one to reclaim the honor that was lost and cleanse the stain from Myrionar’s name. So I heard rumor as I approached.” His voice was stronger, though still exhausted, and the lines that had hinted at pain and injury were gone.

Kyri bowed. “Because you taught me, and I learned, I suppose, enough.”

“Enough, yes.” He smiled again, and that simple expression made Kyri smile back at him. For a moment Tobimar found himself wondering if there was something else in that smile, then kicked himself, mentally. If there is, it is no business of mine. Besides, he is Artan and ancient; he wouldn’t think of … and there I go again! It’s not my business! Stop thinking about it! WHY am I thinking about it?

Vanstell himself laid a plate with carefully prepared delicacies before Lythos. “Welcome home, Sho-Ka-Taida,” he said. “You have been greatly missed.”

“Many thanks, Vanstell.” Lythos took several bites, sipped at water, and seemed to finally begin to relax. “Milady Kyri Vantage, I bring to you a message from your aunt, your middle namesake Victoria.”

Formality; it is an important message, then.

Kyri had clearly caught that implication as well. “May I have the message, then?”

From within a case bound to his armor, Lythos withdrew a gem and placed it in Kyri’s hand. Tobimar saw Poplock rise up in startlement. Gem of Speaking; haven’t seen one of those since I saw one conveyed by linkstone to Toron himself. They’re expensive and used only for carrying messages of great import.

Kyri took the gem and held it tightly. “I am Kyri Vantage. Show me the message,” she said.

Tobimar had only seen Victoria Vantage once, from a distance, in front of the Palace of the Dragon, but from that glimpse and the portraits around the house he could instantly recognize the older woman – hair streaked with silver, proud and sculpted features not terribly different from those of Kyri herself – who suddenly appeared in the air before them. She wore a brown and green travel outfit, with a pack perched on her shoulders and a staff in her hand.

“Kyri,” Victoria Vantage said, “As you have this message, you already know that – by great good fortune – Lythos has returned to us. I hope this message finds you well and … successful in your quest.

“I had hoped,” and her voice was wry, “to return to Vantage Fortress relatively soon; I hardly intended to leave you with no support, even if the Dragon King could not aid you, and I was certain I could find someone to watch over Urelle while I returned to assist you.

“However… Urelle took things into her own hands, and has run away.”

Kyri gasped in shock. “Run away? Oh, Myrionar, no!”

Victoria Vantage shook her head. “Now, don’t panic. At least, not terribly much.” The apparently apropos comment reminded Tobimar strongly of the message he’d received from Khoros, where every comment he thought to make had already been anticipated and answered by the ancient mage.

“She didn’t run away from despair, nor to try and catch up with you,” Victoria continued, and Tobimar saw Kyri relax the tiniest bit. She doesn’t want to have that responsibility, of her sister’s safety, added to her problems. “Unfortunately, it is, in a way, your fault. And mine, I admit.”

The tension was back, as the recorded message went on. “You of course recall young Ingram and Quester, who helped escort us here to Zarathanton. I also have little doubt that you noticed that Urelle seemed … rather taken with the young man. Which I cannot entirely blame her for, he is formidable, polite, and rather pretty. But a few weeks after you had left… well, obviously I had to inform your sister of what had happened. Keeping such secrets from her would be an insult to one of our family, and she had to know why you had left, and what it meant.

“In any case, she was as you might guess more than a bit annoyed – one might even say quite put out – that we chose to keep her out of the adventure to avenge Rion and the rest. I believe she actually went out one night and tried to get Myrionar to call her as well!”

Nervous as she obviously was, Kyri laughed at that. “Oh, she would. And I’m half-surprised Myrionar didn’t.”

“Well, a few weeks after that, Ingram received a courier message from home – from Aegeia itself, one that had been spelled to find him – and it apparently contained dire news of his homeland. I of course gave him leave to return home – we had found a decent household by then – but when he did –”

Kyri finished the line along with her distant Aunt, “– Urelle had gone with him.”

“Without warning,” her aunt added. “I don’t believe this was a romantic action – or not entirely. Urelle’s a bit more dramatic in that area than you, Kyri, but she’s not witless. I believe that she got details out of Ingram of what had happened back home, and decided that if she couldn’t help her sister, that she’d help Ingram who’d defended us and guided us. How she convinced him to let her come… I have no idea.”

Victoria Vantage sighed. “So, Kyri, you understand that I cannot come home now. As you can see, I am leaving – the moment this message is finished – to try to catch up to her. Urelle’s not helpless, but you have seen what is happening to the world. I am afraid – I am very much afraid – that what is happening in Aegeia is a part of that. I cannot let my youngest niece and that half-grown boy face it alone, or even solely with Quester’s help.”

She looked momentarily sad and worried. “I pray to the Balanced Sword that you are well, and that you understand, and that – please, Myrionar – you do not need my help now. I know that Lythos will help you in any way he can. May the Balance guide you and support you. I love you, Kyri – and I am as proud of you as I would be of my own daughter. Be well, be safe…” and her smile suddenly returned, “and be victorious.”

The image faded and Kyri stood there for a moment, unmoving. Then she looked down to Lythos, who had continued eating during the message. “So you –”

“– had arrived only a short time after she had discovered Urelle’s departure, yes. She begged me to carry this message to you, if you could be found, and I agreed.” A shadow passed again over his face. “There is… nothing left for me in the Forest Sea, now.”

“My sympathies, Artan,” Tobimar said.

“Thank you. And I forget my manners as well; I am Lythos-Hei-Mandalar, called Lythos by those whom I call friend or ally. As you sit here as a guest, I take you to be at least the latter, if not the former.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Lythos!” Kyri looked mortified. “I should have at least done that much before grabbing Auntie’s letter. Lythos, this is Tobimar Silverun of Skysand, Seventh of Seven, and one of three reasons I’m still alive after facing false Justiciar Thornfalcon. That little toad poking around through the fruit is Poplock Duckweed of Pondsparkle, the second reason.” Poplock waved but said nothing; given that his mouth was bulging, Tobimar suspected he couldn’t say anything right now.

“It is an honor to meet you both,” Lythos said, and rose to give them the wide-armed bow of the Artan. “And I suppose that Myrionar’s favor is the third reason?”

Kyri’s blue eyes twinkled. “Well, okay, four reasons. The third I can’t introduce to you because he’s not here, but his name is Xavier Ross of Zahralandar itself.”

The lavender eyebrow quirked upward. “You have indeed found some most interesting allies, Kyri.” He leaned back, and his weariness was clear in the way that he sagged slightly in the chair. “You also obviously know what has passed in the Forest Sea and elsewhere, so I will not insist on telling you that dark tale, not now; I have passed through it and survived, and I do not wish to dwell upon it any more.” He nodded to her. “There are some things I must speak of with you alone, even though these are obviously boon companions and Adventurers of much worth. But before that, I will say this: if leave you must, I will take the stewardship of Vantage Fortress, maintaining its name and strength for you. If this will meet with your approval, that is.”

Meet my approval? Lythos – this is more than I could possibly have hoped. Everyone in Evanwyl knows you, you’ve been with our family for generations, and even the false Justiciars won’t dare go after you casually.”

That’s for sure, Tobimar mused. A Sho-Ka-Taida of the Artan, someone who trained two Justiciars and their parents… and theirs… Doesn’t matter if he’s not favored by a God, he’d still be open gates of Hells to fight.

“Then it shall be done… as long as you have a clear destination in mind? For I will not approve of just a random wandering to find your answers in this world.”

Kyri’s smile was now brilliant, a flash of white against skin nearly as brown as Tobimar’s own. “Oh, I do have a destination, Lythos.” She looked to Tobimar and Poplock. “Sorry, but if you…?”

“Of course.” Tobimar reached out and plucked Poplock from the table – the little Toad giving him an offended look but hanging onto a small cluster of Pixies’ Apples as Tobimar placed Poplock on his shoulder. He bowed to Lythos; Poplock was good at clinging, so he didn’t fall off. “We will speak later, then.”

“Just as well,” Poplock said finally as they exited the room. “I’ve got something for you. Well, something I think will work and I want to test before I gave it to you.”

“Something you weren’t going to show to Kyri?”

“Well…” The little toad scrunched his face comically. “It’s something only one of you can use, and honestly, she’s got a lot more going for her right now. If it works, it’ll be a useful secret that we have as a little backup.”

“Okay, what is it?” he asked. They emerged into one of the small side courtyards of Vantage Fortress. “Small” was of course relative; while Vantage Fortress wasn’t the size of his home castle, and utterly dwarfed by T’Teranahm Chendoron, the Dragon’s Palace, it was still a big building and the side courtyards were large enough to fit a good-sized house into. This particular courtyard was a sparring and exercise area, one that Tobimar had used a lot for practice of late.

“Here,” Poplock said. From inside the little pack on his back, the toad produced a carved crystal; it was about two inches wide and looked like frosted glass.

“Oh, a summoning crystal? What’s it for?”

“That’s what I want to test.” Poplock bounced off his shoulder and all the way over to the other side of the courtyard, near a notched pell for sword practice. “Okay, now that I’m well away –”

“– are you expecting something dangerous to happen?” Tobimar studied the sphere suspiciously.

Trust me, Tobimar. Now, all you have to do is say “Come forth!” and throw it down, concentrating on calling something to your aid.”

Despite the Toad’s occasionally low sense of humor, Tobimar knew that Poplock was very much his friend and he would, in fact, trust Poplock Duckweed with his life. “All right,” he said. Envisioning a sudden and powerful need for aid, he gripped the gem. “Come forth!” he shouted, and threw it down.

The crystal sphere shattered with a brilliant flash, and in its place was…

Poplock Duckweed.

Tobimar stared in disbelief, then looked back to where Poplock had been an instant ago. “A teleport sphere?”

“No, a summoning sphere.”

“But… you… It’s summoning you!”

“Yeah, pretty darn neat, isn’t it?”

“What… how do you do that? You can’t summon yourself!” Tobimar stopped, took a breath. “Okay, wrong, obviously you are doing that. But… how?”

Poplock hopped onto a nearby post, his motion somehow conveying smug satisfaction. “Well, you understand how summoning works, right?”

“Sort of, I guess. I know there’s a lot of different types of magic. Summoning… you bargain with a being or a spirit, right?”

Poplock waggled back and forth. “Sometimes. Little minor spirits don’t have much thinking ability so you can’t do much of a bargain, just pull them up, bind them, and let them pop back home when they’ve done the bound service. Bigger ones you can still bind whether they like it or not, but if you do that you’d better be real good at defense, because they’ll be really nasty to you if they get a chance. You would too, if someone just dragged you out of your house and stuck you in a crystal, or forced you to promise to come when signaled – even if you were, like, in a bath at the time or something.”

“Yeah, I get that.” Since he was already here, Tobimar decided to do a little post-dinner exercise. You can never get too much practice.

“But a lot of summoning is more… contacting the target and working out a deal where you can call on them, and in return you give them something. Sometimes you bind them directly into the summon crystal, but usually it’s more a trigger power that just pops open the gate keyed to the target, with their participation helping to draw them to you.” The little Toad bounced up to his shoulder. “So I wondered if I could summon, you know, regular people. Sasha thought that was kind of funny; a lot of summoning students ask that question, I guess, and the answer is yes, you can, if they’re willing, but there’s a catch: the summoning crystal gets really, really big.”

Tobimar burst out laughing. “But that’s because it’s related to the physical size of what you draw through, right?”

Poplock bounced affirmatively. “Quick on the uptake there! Exactly. If you’re summoning a spirit – something that’s not physical – the crystals top out pretty much at a couple inches or so, but if you’re pulling through something solid, mundane, it’s gotta be proportional to what you’re calling, and that means, for a human being-sized summon, a rock about the size of Kyri’s helm.”

“Oof. Even with a neverfull pack that’s not something you’ll carry dozens of.” He shook his head, looking down at the little brown Toad. I think he’s smarter than either me or Kyri. “But for you, it’s just a little crystal.”

“Right. And it’s not hard for me to get in contact with myself and convince myself to agree to work for myself, so the summoning and agreement work out pretty well. Now that we know it works, I’m gonna make another of those, and you get to keep it. Just in case something happens.”

Tobimar could imagine a lot of scenarios where having that little crystal could come in handy; Poplock Duckweed was formidable in a way that even people who recognized that he was, in fact, a full-fledged member of the team often just didn’t grasp. “That’s a drought-damned good idea.” He looked down at the spot where he’d thrown the crystal. “I have to invoke it, trigger it with my own power, link it to me when I use it, right?”

Poplock bounce-nodded in reply. “Right, that’s why you have to say ‘come forth’ and concentrate hard on the calling.”

“What happens if you invoke it yourself?”

The Toad’s face scrunched up, one eye practically pulled into the head, the other staring wider in concentration. “Well, it would… hmm, I’d be invoking the magic, but the connection has to go to… But no, wait, that doesn’t work, because…” He shook his whole body. “Grrrgg! Gives me a headache! I have no idea what would happen, and I am not going to try that. No.”

Tobimar laughed. “Wouldn’t want you to risk it. But it seemed a sort of final conclusion to the whole self-referential idea.”

“True enough.” The little Toad hopped back onto his shoulder as Tobimar began practicing combat movements. “Training again, after dinner?”

“If we’re going to be leaving soon, yes. As we so astutely observed before, we’re completely outclassed as things stand; we’d better practice whenever we can.”

Poplock grunted. “Can’t argue that. So just solo practice, or you want to spar?”

“Against you, alone?”

“If you’re afraid…

“Maybe I should be,” Tobimar admitted. “I’ve seen you in action. But a Prince of Skysand can’t back down from that kind of challenge.” He let the little Toad bounce down and get to the other side of the courtyard. “All right – come at me!”