Phoenix In Shadow – Chapter 18
Tobimar didn’t have to look at Poplock to know the little Toad’s eyes were even wider than normal. It has to be that thing about it being easier to focus magic into solid objects; they can use much smaller crystals for summoning living beings.
The red-haired woman immediately bowed deeply to Kyri and Tobimar, again in the same way as Miri. Tobimar imitated her and saw Kyri do the same. “Welcome to Kaizatenzei, Phoenix, Tobimar,” she said, in a warm, rich contralto. “As I am sure my Miri has told you, I am Shae, Lady of the Seven Lights.”
“Lady Shae, it is an honor, and I admit to also finding it astonishing â€“ your arrival, that is.”
She laughed. “Oh, we had rather hoped it would be. Especially Miri, she loves her surprises.” She reached down and took a crystal, this one a lovely shade of blue, from her own belt. At this range, Tobimar could see that the crystal came from a slanted cylinder with multiple slots in it, each slot just the right size to hold one of the crystals; Shae and Miri each had several of these devices. “The summoning crystals are somewhat complex to make â€“ alas, we cannot make them for ordinary travel, any more than we can use our singing arrays to allow everyone to speak with each other across the miles â€“ but they allow my Lights, myself, and a few select others to be able to travel where we are needed swiftly, to aid each other as we can.”
Since she held it out to him, Tobimar reached out and gingerly took the shining crystal in his hand. “This one is for Miri, I would guess.”
She raised an eyebrow. “A guess, or a deduction?”
“A bit of both, I suppose. I don’t know enough to be sure, but you have so much emphasis on lights and colors â€“ I saw that your armor is essentially clear crystal,” Âthough, Tobimar noted to himself with some relief, not clear beneath, or I might find it extremely distracting, “while hers is mostly pale blue; so I would guess that the other Lights have similar armor in shades of red, orange, yellow, green, and violet.”
“Well and correctly reasoned,” Lady Shae said with a nod. “And from her expression I think the Phoenix had made a similar deduction. But I suppose quick wits would be a requirement to survive the Pass of Night.”
“It certainly doesn’t hurt,” Kyri said wryly. “Though some might say it also takes a lack of wisdom and self-preservation.”
Tobimar was still studying the gem, trying to think of things Poplock would ask. “So, can just anyone use these, or only you and the Lights?”
“Oh, anyone can,” Miri answered. “If you threw that on the ground and said ‘To Me!’, I’d appear right there. Please don’t do that, it’d be such a waste.”
“Of course not,” Tobimar agreed. “I was just wondering. And you have to come? You can’t choose not to come?”
“Actually, you can choose not to accept the summons,” Lady Shae said. “In that case, the crystal will not break. However, I would be very loath to refuse such a summons; after all, I have to presume that these would never be used without either prior agreement, or a true emergency. However, if I was in the midst of something I could not leave, I could â€“ and at least once, I have â€“ refused a summons.”
“Amazing,” Tobimar said, handing the summoning crystal back to Shae. “Where we come from, such tricks of teleportation are severely constrained, and to do thisâ€¦ I think it would take crystals larger than your head.”
“Truly?” Shae looked astonished. “So even magic is not the same everywhere? There is so much we do not know, and so much we are just now starting to rediscover.” She glanced aside and smiled. “Hello, Reflect Halgen. My apologies, I was so interested in our new arrivals that I have neglected to greet you.”
“Quite understandable, my Lady. Will you be staying the night?”
“I wish I could. Unfortunately, there are so many things left to do, and in fact I’ll be working for some time tonight.”
Kyri raised her own eyebrow. “Ruling Kaizatenzei is that demanding?”
Both Miri and Shae burst out laughing. “Oh, now, I am terribly sorry for that impression! No, no, the Seven Lights demands far less of my time than you might think. I am also a researcher, somewhat along the lines of Hiriista there, and much of the research throughout our land comes in the end to me. So much to read, to test, to experiment on, to understand.”
So their leader is also a â€¦ magewright? Sage at least. Don’t want to pry too much, though; if they’re not what they seem, we want to also seem less than we are. “Tell me, if you would â€“ what are the Seven Lights? I mean, I have seen their names on the map, but I don’t know what they mean.”
“Ah, of course you would not. Just as light itself can be shattered by crystal into separate hues, which the sages number at seven, so there are seven great sources or types of light: sunlight, starlight, moonlight, stormlight, forestlight, firelight, and earthlight â€“ or, respectively, ruratenzei, kalatenzei, syratenzei, vomatenzei, murnitenzei, hishitenzei, and alatenzei.”
“I understand most of those, but what are stormlight, forestlight, and earthlight?”
She nodded. “Perhaps the less obvious, yes. Stormlight is lightning and other similar illumination seen during great storms; some have also said the rainbow is part of this, but others argue against it. Forestlight is the radiance of the firefly, the log-lantern, the glowing fire that is cold and eerie of hue that can be found in the depths of woods and sometimes the marshes. Earthlight,” she smiled, “well, that is the light of the interior, the fire that wells up from the Earth itself.”
“Many, such as my people, also consider the light of molten iron and other metals being worked to be part of the earthlight,” Hargen said.
Poplock had been right. Those names showed at least three separate language influences, none of them pure; the rhythm of most of the words and names reflected the classic Artan, which constructed almost all concepts into triads â€“ the most familiar being Nya-Sharee-Hilya, Surviving the Storm of Ages, or their homeland Ar-Tan-Nya, The People Who Survive, sometimes just translated as We Survive. He could easily hear the other words dividing that way â€“ Kaiza-Ten-Zei, Voma-Ten-Zei, for instance.
Then there were language roots, like the ancient Sauran for thunder and lightning, vomat, found in vomatenzei or stormlight, and the Odinsyrnen word ruri meaning sun and echoed strongly in ruratenzei.
There had been a unique language spoken here, and somehow â€“ he’d bet in the last thousand years or so â€“ it had been slowly replaced with the language that most of Zarathan spoke. And as they’d already discussed, that couldn’t happen by accident. Someone â€“ or something â€“ had quite deliberately guided the language to dovetail with something that the other inhabitants didn’t even know existed.
He realized he’d missed something in his reverie, snapped back to the present. “Pardon me, Lady Shae; I was thinking about your concept of lights, as light is also terribly important to my people, and became distracted.”
She smiled. “Forgiven. I understand you believe that here, in this very valley, may be your own people’s ancient homeland?”
“Yes, Lady Shae. I hope to be able to verify that.”
“If it can be verified, that will be at Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar, and now that I have seen and sensed the two of you myself â€“”
The big woman laughed again, the sound echoing through the hall, and suddenly stopped, her eyes twinkling yet dangerously sharp and narrow. “Oh, yes, my friend. Do you think I would bid my Miri to use a crystal simply to satisfy my curiosity and greet a few travelers? No, no; it was far more than that. I have the safety of my people foremost in my mind. I knew that Miri is excellent in judging these things, but the idea of someone reaching us through the Pass of Night? That was utterly unprecedented, Tobimar of Zarathanton. I could take no chances; I had to see you, bend all my senses upon you and see if you were, indeed, what you appeared, or something foul with a fair seeming atop, if you catch my meaning.”
Dangerous indeed. And is she what she appears to be, or not? “And?”
“And as I was saying, now that I have sensed you, I know you for who you claim to be; adventurers with hearts of light, not of darkness. You, in particular, are surrounded by an aura of light, Tobimar, but your companion as well; even your little pet shines strongly, and by this I know your mission is not one of ill. So I say to you come â€“ come to Sha Kaizatenzei Valatar, and I will welcome you there, and I shall command the vaults of the past be opened to you to search.”
Kyri bowed to Lady Shae, Tobimar mirroring her. “We thank you for this generous invitation. I don’t suppose we could use those crystals to get there, though.”
“Oh, that would be convenient, yes. But no, I am afraid not. Master Wieran would have to calculate your matrix, manufacture the crystals. Perhaps when you arrive, you can ask him, if he has the time.”
“We have heard his name several times; it sounds like he can work miracles.”
Miri nodded, the bow in her hair bobbing. “Miracles is close enough! Though he’s a bitâ€¦ difficult.”
“But men of genius â€“as he is often wont to remind us â€“ are often a bit difficult,” Lady Shae said. There was a note of â€¦ exasperated affection in her voice. “Still, without him we would not have accomplished a tenth of what we have.” She glanced at a shimmering sphere across the room, which Tobimar realized must be a clock of some sort. “I must bid you farewell. It will be some time before we meet again â€“ for the journey will not be a short one, no matter the route you take.”
Lady Shae hesitated, then made a decision. From another of the cylinders she produced two perfectly clear crystals. “Miri, here â€“ to replace that which you used,” she said, giving one to the blue-crystal armored Light.
Then she turned to Tobimar and, to his astonishment, placed the other in his hand. “For you, Tobimar, and your companions. You are unique, and the light in your spirits has brought hope and joy at the knowledge that the world beyond the mountains is not all as that forest which surrounds us. I give this to you as a symbol and shield â€“ a symbol of trust, and a shield to protect you in case anything dark pursues you even here.”
“Iâ€¦ Lady of Lights, I don’t know what to say.”
She smiled. “Your reaction confirms my impulse. Keep it well. I can see you will not use it frivolously.”
He bowed again and placed the precious crystal immediately into a small pouch at his side. “I do have to wonder what would happen if you were summoned at a moreâ€¦ delicate moment.”
Hargen coughed, Miri looked shocked, and a gasp ran about the room. For a moment, Lady Shae just stared, but then she threw that magnificent head of red hair back and roared with laughter. “Oh! Oh, Tobimar, if all Adventurers are like you, we have been sorely deprived!” She went into another fit of chuckles, and Tobimar could see everyone else relaxing slowly. “You mean, perhaps, if I were in my bath? Then I must regret to inform you that the summoning includes the clothing and equipment of your matrix, with only certain variations, so even were I to begin clad in nothing but mist, I would arrive full-clothed as you see me here.”
Tobimar felt his face red-hot, but he had asked the question quite deliberately; not only had he gained some knowledge of how the devices worked, he’d also gained insight into the Lady’s character, and that of those around her. They weren’t afraid of her, they were afraid for me, by their expressions, which means that she has some reputation for temper but none for cruelty.
Still not a sign of the rot that must be somewhere at the center of this place.
Lady Shae stepped back, and a space cleared about her. “Miri, I know you will have other errands to attend to, but I make them your responsibility; make sure they arrive safely at Valatar.”
Miri bowed low. “It shall be done, Lady of the Lights.”
Shae returned the bow, then raised another crystalline device, something like a small net of colored diamond, to her lips. “Pertrelli, now,” she said; a moment later, she vanished in a fountain of light.
Everyone was left staring for a few moments; Tobimar felt a small weight slide down and off him, and knew that Poplock had taken advantage of the distraction to move off. I somehow doubt he’ll find much here, but it’s worth at least looking around.
Miri turned to them and nodded. “You heard Lady Shae â€“ I’m responsible for your safety all the way to Valatar now!”
“Does that mean you’ll be traveling with us all the way?”
She sighed and shook her head. “No, there will be other things I have to do at times. But I’ll make sure I know where you plan on going and that you at least have a good idea of what to expect.” She smiled. “It’s not like I have to worry about whether you’ll be in danger in the wilder lands between; I’ve seen you in action, after all.”
Tobimar grinned back. “True enough.”
“Would it be an imposition if I were to accompany you?” Hiriista asked.
Kyri glanced at him, and he shrugged. “I see no problem, Hiriista,” she said. “You know the way?”
“There is a road that follows the grand circuit, yes, and I can tell when you are reaching branches or following the true course.”
“As long as you’re not needed â€“”
“I am,” Hiriista admitted, “but I also require some resupply of various materials which are nearly impossible to get except at Valatar; without them my usefulness here will be significantly reduced.” He looked over at Hargen.
The Child of Odin frowned, but then sighed. “If you feel you must, then you must.”
“Well, I must eventually, and I cannot argue that such unique arrivals provide an impetus to make the matter more urgent than otherwise.”
“It’s settled, then. But that’s a matter for the morrow, and for this evening, I insist we talk more about your homes, Phoenix, Tobimar.” Hargen gestured them towards a large table. “Eat, drink â€“ and talk â€“ are very strongly indicated. As you can see,” he gestured, and Tobimar could see that most of the crowd were following along, “you will have a most attentive audience!”
Ambush on the road, perhaps?
Jeez, you people with your suspicious natures.
Either Miri is in on it, in which case if they want Our Heroes dead they’ve already missed a good chance to do so (thus there is good reason to suppose that hypothetical villain Miri wants them alive). Or Miri isn’t in on it and is more or less what she seems (i.e. hypothetical good Miri also wants them alive).
Ergo, Miri as their guide means Our Heroes are probably safe on the road. But I would not sell any life insurance to Hiriista. I’m assuming the Lady of the Seven Lights showed up when she did because someone badly wanted a distraction from immediate discussion between Our Heroes and Hiriista; whoever that was will not want them travelling together for any length of time. (I suppose “whoever” might have been Ryk short-circuiting a currently irrelevant or premature magic theory discussion, but where’s the fun in assuming that the author made up a coincidence for his own benefit rather than as a story element?)
OTOH Everyone admitting that Master Wieran is “difficult” gives me slightly increased hope that most of them are innocent. Based on the annotated Evil Overlord List Wieran doesn’t seem the sort to appreciate his subordinates talking about him that way, and if he’s an Overlord then he’s in charge of the evil types.
Actually, Miri mentioned in earlier discussion that the Lady might be dropping by, and that she was certainly discussing the situation with her, so her arrival isn’t really out of the blue.
And the theoretical magic discussion needs to take place with Poplock not having to be muzzled, because — honestly — neither Kyri nor Tobimar understand enough about magic to comprehend anything Hiriista would say.