Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 14
Kyri forced herself to step forward, belatedly following Miri as the much smaller woman strode quickly in the direction of the beautiful city below them. She exchanged a disbelieving glance with Tobimar, and could see even Poplock’s eyes wider than usual.
Thisâ€¦ makes no sense at all. Yet I can sense nothing dark. My powers may be reduced here, but they are not gone, and the only darkness I can sense at all is the forest that lies behind us, barricaded on the other side of that wall.
It was more than that, she admitted. It was not merely the absence of darkness; that was the way of the world on the other side of the mountains, of Evanwyl and most parts of Zarathan not immediately under the sway of something demonic or otherwise corruptive. This “Kaizatenzei”, or at least the part of it they were now in, shone to her senses. Everything â€“ from the armor on Miri’s shoulders to the grasses bordering the pathway down which they walked to the great trees that grew like sentinels throughout the city â€“ glittered with promise and strength, a rightness that she had only felt in moments before, when Myrionar Itself touched upon her, as though this entire city was holy ground, infused with the essence of the divine.
As they approached the town, a tall young man with a long yet handsome face, dark brown skin, and ebony hair, in armor which seemed as ceremonially delicate as Miri’s but less brightly colored, in muted shades of green and brown rather than Miri’s brilliantly shining sapphire and emerald, stepped forward and waved, performing a perfunctory bow which Miri returned. “Light Miri, welcome back! We had not expected your hunt to end so soon!” His voice was strong and clear, reminding Kyri somehow of Rion’s when he had become a Justiciar.
“No more had I,” Miri said with a laugh. “But that is the least of surprises today. Shade Danrall, allow me to present Tobimar and Phoenix, who saw me facing a nalloshoth and thought me endangered, and so came magnificently to my rescue.”
“Truly?” Danrall looked curiously at them. “Well, courageously done, even if unneeded. From which Sha do you hail?”
“Ah, there is the true wonder,” Miri answered. “For they say they come from beyond the mountains, and I believe them.”
Kyri saw Danrall’s jaw drop, stretching his already-long face into comic disbelief. “From the â€“”
“Yes,” Kyri said, unable to keep from smiling herself. “And allow me to say that for us, this is just as much a surprise. We thought all of this great valley was like the forest outside your walls.”
Danrall recovered quickly. “Then I am doubly surprised that you dared even enter!” he said with a smile.
“Truly said,” Miri agreed. “Now, Shade, I want you to keep this quiet. I cannot avoid some attention, of course, but I don’t want our newcomers bothered until they have had an opportunity to rest; they have travelled through the Pass of Night and the belt of corrupted forest twixt there and here, and surely they need some time to recover and refresh themselves.”
Kyri couldn’t argue that, though a part of her was still concerned about just what the whole impossible situation meant.
“I understand, Light. What would you have me do?”
“Tell the current Color â€“ it is still Kerrim, is it not? Yes, I thought so. Tell Kerrim that we have two visitors, heroes I think, from beyond the mountains, and that we should have a proper welcome and council with them upon the morrow; I expect he’ll have you notify his Hues and the other Shades of the city. I will inform the Lady of Lights myself, once I am done here.”
“As you will, Light.”
Miri turned to them as Danrall jogged off. “I hope I am correct in thinking you need some rest â€“ and perhaps time to re-adjust your expectations and thoughts, yes?”
Tobimar laughed. “You are certainly correct, Miri. This is completely opposite to our expectations, and we have indeed been exhausted by our journey through what you call the Pass of Night and what we call Rivendream Pass. If you have only sent scouts up that place before, I do not wonder that you believe nothing good exists outside.”
“Good. Then I’ll guide you to the Sunlight Rest â€“ the best lodging house here â€“ and you may take your ease until the meeting is arranged, probably tomorrow at this same time.” She turned and led them past the small, open shelter that Danrall had been sitting in â€“ obviously a guard post â€“ and down the path which was now becoming a paved street running straight into the center of the wooded city.
“So your title is that of Light, and from what I heard you have your otherâ€¦ what, military ranks? â€¦ of Colors, Hues, and Shades, yes?” Kyri asked.
“Military is a bit grandiose,” Miri answered with another smile. “The Tenzeitalacor are more guardians of the Sha, or cities. We resolve any arguments, investigate crimes, deal with monsters and such problems.”
That at least provided an opening. “More police than soldiers then. But crimes and monsters? Those seem hardly imaginable here, from what I see,” Kyri said. They were now passing one of the great trees, a massive red-brown trunk farther across than two wagons placed end to end holding aloft branches that stretched hundreds of feet wide and high. Beneath, multiple buildings â€“ houses and shops â€“ were arranged along the streets that branched off from the main roadway they walked along. Multiple people â€“ mostly human, though Kyri saw at least one or two that appeared to be Artan and possibly one Child of Odin â€“ waved or nodded to Miri, who returned their greetings cheerfully but showed no tendency to pause or talk, leaving the various people to stare curiously at the two figures walking just behind the Light.
Miri shook her head. “Kaizatenzei is beautiful and peaceful, but people are still people. And in the regions between the seven great cities and the Unity, there are wilder areas, not nearly so hideous as that jungle we met within, but still not places without danger.”
Tobimar pointed to some other figures Kyri had noticed, ones that had not waved, bowed, or even stared. “Who are those?” he asked. “I notice they are doing the more menial tasks.” The nearest of the figures, clad in a simple gray tunic and apparently bald of head, was sweeping up dust from the street; that explained, at least partially, the cleanliness of the city.
Miri looked where he pointed. “Oh, now, say not who, but what,” she said with a laugh. “Come, I will show you.”
The diminuitive warrior quickened her steps to bring her in front of the working figure, which straightened up as it noticed her. At this range, Kyri could see that it was indeed not a living creature. The body appeared to be made of something like fine pottery, with glints of metal at the joints; there was a face, but mostly just painted or inlaid, with only bright green crystal eyes and a mouth that could move. It bowed to Miri. “I recognize you, Light,” it said, in a calm, even voice. “Do you require a service?”
“Merely that you tell these strangers of yourself, then you may return to work.”
It repeated the bow; Kyri found it somewhat eerie to watch, because unlike a living being, the repetition was absolutely exact, yet the fluidity of the thing’s movement was nearly equal to that of a human being; even its hands were detailed and fine enough for the most delicate operations, while their material hinted at the potential for immense strength. “I am an Eternal Servant, number fifty-seven of those assigned to Sha Murnitenzei, named Patina for my finish.” It held out an arm, so they could see the patina of fine cracks in the glaze of its body. “I was created one hundred twenty-two years ago by Master Wieran and assigned to this city one year following. My primary duties in the time since have been maintaining the cleanliness of the streets and building exteriors.”
Having completed this description, Patina returned to sweeping up the dust of the street.
Kyri noticed Poplock’s tense posture, the pose that generally showed that he was bursting with the desire to ask questions but knew he couldn’t. Still, she’d studied enough basic magical theory to guess what he wanted to ask. “Hundreds of automata, all running for hundreds of years? How? Building such things is extremely difficult, as I understand it. Where we come from, people still do most such work.”
Miri shrugged. “How is a question for Master Wieran, for he was the one who designed them and produces the Servants for us, a few every year, but over the years he has dwelt with us that has added up to considerable numbers indeed; I think there are about one hundred and eighty in each of the seven cities, and somewhat more than that in Kaiza itself.”
She looked up. “Ah, here we are.”
Sunlight Rest was an imposing building, stone-fronted with support beams of deep reddish-brown wood and a large double door in front of a lighter, amber wood, carven with a complex pattern of twining vines across a setting sun; currently both doors stood open, splitting the sun down the center, half on each. Miri led them inside, ignoring the curious stares of the various patrons within and walking straight up to a white-haired older woman who was just finishing giving instructions to two youths and one of the Servants.
The woman glanced up as the small group approached her, and rose from her desk smoothly. “Light Miri, a pleasure as always.”
“Oh, you don’t have to be so formal.”
“Miri, then,” she said with a smile, “What can I do for you?”
“Something simple enough, Dania,” Miri said. Gesturing to Kyri and Tobimar, she continued, “These two are to be guests of the Lady of the Lights herself.”
“And does the Lady know this yet?”
Miri laughed, a cheerful ringing sound that brightened the shaded interior of the inn. “You know me awfully well, I see. She will know. But true, for now, they are my guests.”
“Well enough,” Dania said. “Two rooms, then?”
“Adjoining, if you can,” Tobimar said quickly.
“Of course,” the older woman said. “You can leave it to me, Miri.”
“I knew I could,” Miri said with another bow that caused the ribbon in her hair to bounce. “Phoenix, Tobimar, I have other duties now, but you’ll be as comfortable here as anywhere in the city, and I’ll send word later when the meeting is all arranged.”
“Just a moment, Miri,” Kyri said. “We’re still trying to understand exactly where we are. Do you have anything about these seven cities, your Unity, and so on?”
Ignoring Dania’s sharp, startled glance, Miri nodded and dug into a tiny pouch at her side â€“ a pouch that allowed her to insert at least half her arm inside. Neverfull pouch, at least. “Ummâ€¦ here! This is a simple map we makeâ€¦ oh, there’s a few notations on the backâ€¦ Ah yes, I don’t need those, so it’s fine, you can have it.” She handed the folded paper to Kyri.
“What about tomorrow?” Tobimar asked. “Do we stay in our rooms until â€“”
“Oh, no, no, you don’t have to do that!” Miri said, an apologetic look on her face. “I didn’t want us all bothered on the way here, but you don’t have to be some kind of a secret! If you want to, by all means, look around, see whatever you wish. Just check back here every so often so you will get my message.”
“All right, then,” Kyri said. “Please don’t let us detain you any longer; sorry for the trouble.”
“Oh, it was no trouble at all,” Miri said, and then with a rather girlish squeal said “Oh, this is going to be so exciting!”
She recovered her poise instantly, looking slightly embarrassed, and bowed with the uplifted arm again. They returned the bow as best they could, and Miri left with a wave and a spring in her step.
Dania, still studying them more intensely than before, led them upstairs, where two doors at the end of the hall opened into a pair of high, clean, fresh-smelling rooms.
Nowâ€¦ we need to talk!