Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 05

Chapter 5.

“A far finer parting, this, than the last time you left us, Kyri,” said Jeridan Relion, the Watchland of Evanwyl. The ruler of the little country bowed extravagantly low to Kyri, and took her hand in his. Poplock felt the tiniest twitch from Tobimar at that, and wondered how long it would be before his friend talked to Kyri about what he felt. I mean, he can’t be unaware of it… can he?

“That it is, Jeridan,” Kyri said, and her smile held a grateful laugh. There was no sign of the subliminal tension he’d seen in her a couple of times around the Watchland – times that, she admitted, for some reason she found the Watchland to feel more distant, though there was nothing overtly different about his behavior. “I have avenged my brother, we have found the rot at the heart of our country, and have begun the healing. But we can’t stay longer; there are still so many questions left unanswered, and we must seek the answers.”

The Watchland nodded; he had walked, rather than ridden, to bid Kyri and her friends goodbye, and Poplock could see why. While one of his chosen Arms to guard and assist him today was Torokar Heimdalyn, a Child of Odin in massive armor that was obviously styled something like that of the Justiciars (and thus reminded Poplock of Bolthawk), the other was Gantrista-[unpronounceable], a Shellikaki. Usually called Gan, the gigantic land-crab with his carefully-crafted shell was one of only a few that lived in the forests near the river. Gan obviously wasn’t one to ride on any ordinary mount, but was so formidable that accommodating his slowness was generally well worth it.

“So where do you seek?” Gan asked in his sharp, whirring voice. “To the East and the Wanderer? To the North,” his massive claws made a shielding gesture, “and the Hollow?”

“Eventually to Moonshade Hollow, I think, yes,” Kyri answered, “but first to the Spiritsmith.”

“What?” Torokar Heimdalyn spoke up in surprise. “Is your Raiment damaged, then?”

“Oh, it’s not for her,” Tobimar spoke up. “It’s for me.” As per their agreement, Tobimar did not draw attention to Poplock. Thus far, the fact that the little Toad was often overlooked, and even if noted discounted as a familiar or a pet, had worked drastically to their advantage. Even here, Poplock tried to mostly maintain a stolid, dumb-Toadlike façade and be taken as such. Whoever the enemy really is, he, she, or it might still have spies here.

My equipment isn’t up to the standards of the Justiciars,” Tobimar went on. “So Kyri believes we can get better equipment there.”

“You most certainly shall,” agreed the Watchland, “if, of course, the Spiritsmith will see you.”

“There is that,” admitted Kyri, “but I think he will not refuse. He implied that I might be able to return without having to run his gantlet again.” She turned and gestured. “And I will not be leaving Vantage Fortress unwarded this time.”

The Watchland’s face registered genuine surprise and gratification as Lythos came forward. “By the Balance, I had heard rumors, but it is truly a wonderful thing to see for myself. Sho-Ka-Taida, I could not hope for better hands to hold the Fortress while its masters are gone.”

Good, he’s happy. Or he’s a really good actor. Poplock, honestly, didn’t like having to be suspicious of everyone, and everything, but after what they’d gone through, it just made sense. The Watchland was trusted by everyone in Evanwyl, which to Poplock’s mind made him one of the prime suspects. In theory that was true of Lythos, too, but he and Tobimar had checked the Elf out pretty carefully after his reappearance, and Kyri had no doubts he was who he had been the last time she saw him.

But the Watchland seems to be, well, who he seems to be, too. Poplock studied him carefully through his two front paws, held to guide spell-born mystical sight. General aura’s positive, very positive, not dark at all. No sign of shapeshifting. Some traces of magic, but everyone uses some, and he may have quite a few spells around his armor or home. Don’t see anything else around him that doesn’t belong. That doesn’t prove anything, but it’s a good indication. Neither of his Arms look suspicious, though that shell of Gan’s has got some fairly hefty wards on it!

“I thank you, Watchland,” Lythos was saying, and bowed deeply before Jeridan. “I shall do all in my power to ensure that Phoenix Kyri’s work is not undone.”

“Then we shall have few fears indeed.” Poplock saw Tobimar’s distant expression as the Watchland looked down the road that led to the south, and the little Toad recognized that his friend was exercising the strange not-magic disciplines to sense the way of the world about him. Good, he’s double-checking me.

“You have returned from Zarathanton,” the Watchland said. “How was the journey? Can we expect –”

“No, Watchland,” Lythos said bluntly. “I was myself sorely beset three times on my journey. Evanwyl is cut off, now; be grateful that the great war keeps the larger powers occupied, with no effort to spare for such a small country as ours. The forces behind these disasters are great, and subtle, and wide-ranging indeed. Evanwyl must rely upon itself alone.”

Tobimar moved his shoulder front-and-back – a subtle cue that would just look like a man shrugging or loosening a tight joint, but that they’d agreed meant All clear. Obviously Tobimar didn’t see anything wrong with the Watchland or his entourage either.

The Watchland nodded. “Alas; I had suspected as much, when no messengers I had sent returned, and no travelers but young Tobimar here. So then I must ask, what of Lady Victoria?”

“My aunt,” Kyri said slowly, “has sent, with Lythos, the direction that Vantage Fortress shall pass to me. She does not know when she will return, for she has other duties which have become more pressing.” They had decided not to detail those “other duties”. After all, Poplock thought, whoever the overarching enemy was, it was probably responsible for all the disruptions around the world, including Aegeia. No need for there to be any hints as to the family’s involvement in that mess.

The Watchland looked surprised. “That has a ring of finality about it. Is she well?”

“Last I saw her, excellently well, Jeridan, and so Lythos confirmed, but she can’t return and doesn’t know when she will. From her point of view, since I’ve taken up responsibility for Evanwyl anyway, it’s time for me to inherit everything.” Kyri looked down. “I’m still going to think of it as hers, though.”

Jeridan laughed. “As will every one of us, I am sure. She was mistress of Vantage Fortress in the time of my father, let alone in my time. So still I shall hope for her return.”

“If she does,” Kyri said, “I’ll give this right back to her.”

There was a chuckle around the small group. “I see you have your traveling pack on; you are leaving this very minute?”

“We are, sir,” said Tobimar. “Now that we’re assured of the Fortress’ safety, we have to move quickly. Kyri’s time was well spent here, I think, but we have taken a great deal of time and given our adversaries a chance to recover.”

“Then we shall delay you no longer,” the Watchland said decisively. “May the Balanced Sword guide and protect you all.” He bowed again to Kyri, shook Tobimar’s hand – and flickered the very slightest of winks at Poplock.

Hm. So he does know. Does kind of limit how much I can rely on those results of my vision. Still, hiding significant facts from those spells took a lot of work.

“Farewell, Jeridan! Goodbye, Gan, Torokar! Goodbye, Lythos!”

The small party turned towards the south and walked onward, towards the distant mountains of Hell’s Rim. Poplock, as he often did, watched behind.

And he could see that Jeridan Relion did not move, but kept his eyes on Kyri, until they disappeared into the forest.