Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 15

Chapter 15.

“I have absolutely no idea what is going on now,” Tobimar said bluntly. He rubbed his temples, in the vain hope that the pressure might force the ridiculous situation to align into something he could understand.

Poplock, who had finished checking the rooms to make sure there were neither magical nor mundane spies, bounced his agreement. “This makes no sense.”

Kyri sank into a chair as her Raiment flowed off, leaving her clad in simple pants and shirt. “I wish I could explain it. Your people were driven out of here, by demons that hounded you all the way across the continent, right?”

“And whose curse still follows us; Xavier, Poplock and I found that out the hard way, yes. So you’re sensing the same thing I am?”

Kyri nodded in disbelief. “This … place. It practically sings. You don’t think it’s the effect of getting out of that vileness that was in the forest into a place that isn’t vile?”

“You mean, like stepping out of a cave into sunlight? The way it dazzles you for a bit, seems brighter than normal sunlight?” Poplock said. “No, don’t think so. I think it’d be almost as shocking going just from Evanwyl to here. This place… it even tastes different.”

“I agree,” Tobimar said, and forced his brain to start working on the problem. “There’s a purity here, something way beyond the ordinary.”

Kyri reached into her pack, sitting next to the chair where she was sitting, and got out a bottle of water. “Let’s test that, anyway. This is perfectly good water, in a preservation bottle I bought in Zarathanton; filled it just before we left Evanwyl, and it should be just as good now as the day I left. They have running water here, yes?”

Poplock bounced into the bathroom which adjoined both rooms. “Hmmm… there’s a spigot with red and blue gems on the sides… yep, I touch them and get water at different temperatures.”

“All right, come back out and I’ll do a little test.”

Kyri came out a moment later carrying two of their water cups, both filled with water. “Here, Tobimar. Taste them.”

He reached out and took the cups. “Which is which?”

“Not telling you. That’s the point. I want to know if you can tell the difference.”

“Right.” He took a sip of the lefthand cup. Cool, sweet water, very nice, just as he remembered from the Vantage estate. He swallowed that, then took a sip of the righthand cup.

The cool flow danced through his mouth, invigorating, replenishing, as though he had gone half a week without drinking and now, finally, was given the chance. The water washed away some of the tiredness of the road, the fear and tension of their journey through the savage jungles of Rivendream Pass and the exterior of Moonshade Hollow, and lifted his spirits as though he knew his homeland lay just outside the window. He stood stock-still, astounded, then put both cups down. “It was the one in my right hand.”

“Yes. So it isn’t an illusion of our perceptions.”

“Most definitely not,” Tobimar said emphatically, then considered. “I suppose it could be an illusion of a more sinister sort. We have heard of spirits and monsters – and especially demons – which can construct a pleasing illusion, even a seeming of paradise, for unwary travelers, and as they think they’re sitting down to a great feast or bedding down in a fine inn for the night, they’re actually approaching their own destruction.”

The little Toad gave a bounce-shrug. “Well, we weren’t exactly unwary. But a powerful illusion can catch even the wary. Still, I haven’t noticed anything that tells me this is illusion.”

“How could we tell?” Kyri asked reasonably. “If the illusion’s good enough…”

That’s a scary thought. How can we tell?

“Creepy,” Poplock said, almost as though reading his mind. “And while I’ve got magic, it’s… well, mundane magic, if you know what I mean. It’s not something unique and special.”

Tobimar caught the hint. “Meaning that the two of us do have something unusual. You’re right. Kyri should see if Myrionar will grant her the Eyes of Truth, and I will see if the High Center will reveal anything to me.”

“Fooling a god should be pretty hard,” Kyri agreed. She began a quiet prayer.

Tobimar closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Even if it is illusion, the illusion leaves me my self, and it is the self that gives me the power of my skill, the martial art that Xavier and Khoros call Tor. If I can meditate, it matters not where my body truly is; my mind will find the truth of it.

What Khoros – and his friend Xavier – called “High Center” was the key. It was challenging to reach in combat, but here – surrounded by friends and, at least as far as he could tell, safety – there was no threat to distract him, nothing to interrupt his inner peace. He rose through the Centers and Visions until he stood above himself, feeling the web of probability, the possibility and certainty of the universe’s connection to him, his connection to it.

Tobimar opened his eyes, and he could see. The room fairly blazed in his sight, a solidity of essence that was almost as tangible as steel, as warm as sunlight, as certain as his mother’s love – and almost, almost familiar in a way. He couldn’t be certain, but there was indeed something about this feeling that tugged faintly but insistently on threads of memory.

But more; the song of the world stretched beyond. He could sense the possibility of danger away to the south, beyond the wall, but nothing here. There might – possibly – be a hint of danger to the north or east, but he could not be sure.

Most important was the absolute conviction of solidity. This was no trick or illusion. He was as certain of this as he could be of anything. If this was an illusion, it would be something so powerful that he could do nothing at all against it, so he would assume it was, in fact, real. He released High Center and leaned back. “Real. Exactly as we perceive. As far as I could sense, everything is as it seems to be. If there is anything dark here, it is hiding itself behind a very real cloak of light.”

Kyri opened her eyes and nodded. “I feel the same thing, Tobimar. This is Truth. Enemies could be here – must be here, I think – but they are well-hidden.”

“Hm,” Poplock grunted. “Maybe even using the light of this place almost literally, like shining a light in someone’s eyes so they can’t see what’s behind it.”

Tobimar didn’t like that thought, but it fit all too well with the situation. “You’re probably right, Poplock. We’ll have to be even more on our guard. On the positive side, at least we don’t need to worry about the local environment killing us.”

“I suppose – to be just,” Kyri said, with a smile, “I should look at the other side. Aside from what we assumed coming here, do we have any reason to believe there is something … wrong here?”

Tobimar was taken somewhat aback by the question, but he thought about it. Instead of assuming, based on what they knew coming through the pass, that there had to be something wrong, did he have any actual evidence for that?

“Yep, we do,” Poplock said after a few minutes.

Tobimar felt there was something, but he couldn’t quite figure this out, either, so he shrugged. “All right, Poplock, what have you got for us?”

“They can talk to us.”

Kyri looked askance at the little Toad. “And? I can and have talked to people from Evanwyl all the way along the Great Road and off it, and so have you.”

“Ahh,” Poplock said, lifting a finger in such a scholarly way that Tobimar couldn’t repress a small snort of laughter, “but those places are all connected. Remember that Miri said that as far as they knew, nowhere outside of this ‘Kaizatenzei’ was habitable. The Chaoswar was about twelve thousand years ago.”

Now the Prince of Skysand understood, and he could see that Kyri was starting to grasp it. “Language changes,” Tobimar said slowly. “It’s said that after the Chaoswar, when the peoples emerged from the catastrophe and started to find their neighbors, the farther they went, the harder it was to understand them. It took centuries for language to re-stabilize. There’s enough contact all through the Empire of the Mountain and the State of the Dragon King so that we all keep roughly the same language… but there’s no way they just happened to keep the same language. All I hear from Miri is an accent, no worse than Kyri’s or yours.”

“Or yours,” Kyri pointed out, “from our point of view.” She nodded. “So they should have developed their own language –”

“They did,” Poplock said. “Let’s look at that map, shall we?”

Kyri spread the map out on the table and Poplock hopped up to get a better look.

“Sure, look at this. Name of this country is ‘Kaizatenzei’, and they asked what Sha we were from. These things are all labeled Sha, so I’m guessing that means “city”, or something like that. And the city names… Murnitenzei, Vomatenzei, Alatenzei, Ruratenzei… all with a theme. Not sure what “tenzei” means, though… she said Kaizatenzei meant, um, Unity of the Seven Lights, so Tenzei could be Unity or Light, or even Seven I guess.”

“Seven? That wouldn’t make sense.”

Tobimar snorted again. “Wouldn’t it? It would make sense for us, you know. That is, Skysand. Now if –”

Suddenly he broke off, staring, thinking. Can’t be… but it fits. It fits so well.

He became aware that Kyri was poking him. “Tobimar? Tobimar, what is it?”

Tobimar Silverun felt dizzy, lightheaded at the thoughts chasing through his mind, but the thoughts didn’t just make sense, they felt right. “Seven, Kyri, Poplock. Seven Stars and a Single Sun.”

“What… Oh. You mean there’s seven cities plus the big one –”

“More! More than that! By Terian Himself, it’s right here! The Stars were lost! But look on this map! Seven Stars and a Single Sun hold the Starlight that I do own. What if the Stars are here, somewhere? What would a place be like, where the artifacts of the Light in the Darkness were left to themselves? Like this place, maybe?” He reached out and touched the cities marked on the map. “And look. Four cities here. Three here. The capital, Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar, here, between the groups.” His finger traced a slow curve, going around the four, passing through the capital, then around the other three, back through the capital. “These Eight combine and form the One… form the Sign by which I’m known…

Kyri gasped. “It is. It’s Terian’s symbol!”

“The symbol of the Infinite. They’re here, Kyri! The lost treasures of the Silverun, of the Lords of the Sky! The Seven Stars, and the Sun itself, are here!