Phoenix Rising

Impossible Betrayal…

First it had been her parents, slain by unknown assassins in their own home; then Kyri Vantage’s brother, Rion, was murdered, body and soul rent asunder. And then her flight to supposed safety reveals that the killers are people she trusted implicitly – people who literally should not be able to do the deeds they have done.

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Impossible Betrayal…

First it had been her parents, slain by unknown assassins in their own home; then Kyri Vantage’s brother, Rion, was murdered, body and soul rent asunder. And then her flight to supposed safety reveals that the killers are people she trusted implicitly – people who literally should not be able to do the deeds they have done.

Even her god, Myrionar, cannot tell her exactly how and why these things have happened… but It can offer her the chance to be its one, true, and only representative on Zarathan, and give her the chance to become the living avatar of Justice and Vengeance.

Now Kyri must first find one capable of forging the weapons of a true Justiciar of Myrionar, and then discover which of her family friends is truly a monster.

At the same time, Tobimar Silverun, Prince of Skysand, is exiled from his home on the turn of a card, to search for his people’s lost homeland… and little Poplock Duckweed discovers a monstrous and demonic conspiracy beneath the earth. In the end, each of them holds a key to the riddle of what is happening to the world, and only when they join together will they begin to uncover the truth behind everything.

“A winner! Phoenix Rising gripped me and drew me in. Kyri, Tobimar, and Poplock became friends, people I care for and want to know more about and spend more time with. Great characters, and thrilling adventure. I want more!”—Ed Greenwood, best-selling author of the Forgotten Realms series

“Once again Ryk Spoor finds a way to make some old themes feel new. Phoenix Rising is solid.” —Terry Brooks

“I became very involved with Kyri’s quest for vengeance and justice.”—P.C. Hodgell, author of the best-selling Kencyrath Series.

Chapter 1. A Party Long Awaited

The huge double doors of Victoria Vantage’s ballroom thundered with the three ceremonial strikes: Strength, Faith, Wisdom, they seemed to say, and were flung open from outside. Kyri was already on her feet, along with Urelle, as six armored figures trooped in, three on each side and halted. “Assembled of Evanwyl!” Thornfalcon’s voice rang out. “Human and Artan, Children of Odin, T’Teranahm and all of the assembled races, the Justiciars of Myrionar greet you!”

Mist Owl’s precise Artan tones continued from the other side of the doorway. “In the name of Justice and Vengeance, in the name of Truth and Wisdom, in the name of the Creator of All and in the name of all spirits that live, we bring you greetings and glad news!”

Condor and Shrike stepped forward, one from each line, and turned, facing the open doorway. “The Sword is now balanced. On the one hand is Justice. On the other is Vengeance. But between them is Choice and Judgment. A choice and a judgment have been made this day, and where one has gone to the Sword, another as stepped forward to become the Sword of Judgment itself.” They extended their arms as one as a figure became visible, striding in from the darkness outside. “Evanwyl and all its people behold! This day we are whole once more, for we and Myrionar give to you–the Silver Eagle, reborn to us again as he has ever been!”

Into the light he came, the Eagle-helm shining like a beacon, the silver and black pattern like wings on the armor and cape that streamed behind, towering dramatically over all the others except Condor, longsword at his hip, walking with a measured solemn step; but she could see the mouth beneath unable to restrain a joyous grin. She led the cheer of “Silver Eagle!”, but then Urelle burst from her seat, tears streaming down her face, shouting “Rion!”, and the entire room dissolved in laughter and cheers. Rion pulled off the Eagle helm and swept his little sister up into his arms. “Now, now, I’m Silver Eagle now, Uri!”

“Lad, it might be too much t’ expect that your family will be forgettin’ your name soon,” Shrike said with a chuckle. “Most o’ us haven’t family, but we all had names, and still have them. Sometimes, we even use them.”

“Rion… let me have a look at you.” Victoria put her hands gently on the shoulderguards and just stood there silently for a moment, then embraced him hard. “Oh, dear, if only your parents could be here to see you, Rion. I know how proud they would be, as proud as I am this day.”

Rion–Silver Eagle, Justiciar of Myrionar!–blushed and looked over at Kyri. “What about you, Kyri?”

She tried to say something, but settled for just hugging him so hard the armor creaked, feeling something in her finally completely opening like spreading wings, and crying happily. “I knew you’d do it.”

“That’s more than I knew.” He hugged her back, then looked back at Aunt Victoria. “Two parties in a week? You’ll go broke, Auntie!”

“Nonsense. Your great-grandmother used to say that one should always have a party just before a great trial, because if things go wrong you at least had a party, and if things go right, you have two. And so now you have your second. And Kyri actually agreed to dance this time instead of stand around in the corners talking with former adventurers, warriors, and priests!”

Kyri tried not to look embarrassed. But Watchland Velion, the Arms, the other Eyes, and the Justiciars had so many fascinating stories to tell

“Now that we are in the home of a brother Justiciar,” Thornfalcon said with a smile, “we are allowed to be… more ourselves.” He swept off his own helmet, revealing a long poet’s face that seemed naturally mournful until he smiled, a face framed by long straight brown hair. And that smile … well, I guess I know why he has that reputation with the ladies!

“Indeed.” Mist Owl followed suit, showing the features of the Artan, that some called Elves, with surprising black-blue hair around a delicate heart-shaped face with eyes almost as large as his namesake’s. Kyri was startled by his beauty; Lythos, the Vantage household’s Sho-ka-taida or Master of Arms, had much of the delicacy of his people in his figure, but a hardness of feature that denied the possibility of beauty being a consideration.

“You won’t be dancing in your armor, I assure you,” Victoria said, interrupting. “Unless you intend to flatten your partners’ feet.” She pointed to the side, where one of her servants held a door open. “Change in there.”

When some of the Justiciars blinked in surprise, she straightened, giving them the same glare she used to give Kyri and Urelle when they failed to wipe their feet properly. “And immediately, if you please!”

Mist Owl looked scandalized, but Thornfalcon backed up a pace. It was the short, squat Shrike who took action. “Come, lads!” he said with a chuckle, leading the way at a double-march pace. “Choose your battles wisely, or the battle may choose you.”

Rion stared at her as he was half-dragged away by his new comrades, and Kyri tried to repress a giggle–not altogether successfully.

The crowd did not repress giggles or outright laughter, and spontaneous claps rang out around the room. Kyri, looking around, realized there were even more people here than for Rion’s “Good Luck” banquet–the great hall of Vantage Fortress was crowded. There has to be at least one person from every family in Evanwyl for twenty miles! Maybe five hundred, six hundred, more? You will go broke if we do this again, Auntie!

But now the ruler of Evanwyl was addressing her aunt. “That… was quite impressive, Lady Victoria,”  said Jeridan Velion, the Watchland. His long, startling blond hair–almost unique in the land – was bound back in a careless-seeming tail; having fairly long hair herself, Kyri was aware of just how very much effort, and probably a little magic, went into making that simple style work without becoming a mass of tangles or an impediment.

“Not so much,” Victoria said, acknowledging the compliment. “They’re civilized, after all, and would be far too polite than to gainsay a woman in her own house. They just needed a bit of firmness to recognize that they were to be acting like guests rather than Myrionar’s moving statues this evening.”

“I am more impressed by the fact that you must have appropriate clothing waiting for them–as I am sure they did not come prepared.” The Watchland’s smile was warm this evening. It’s odd, Kyri thought to herself. Some days I’ve felt very comfortable around the Watchland, other days… he seems very cold. There wasn’t anything she could put a finger on, but he did seem to go through different phases; she reminded herself to ask Urelle if she’d ever noticed anything like that.

Victoria laughed softly. “I should have known you would be thinking a step farther ahead, Watchland. When you’ve been an Adventurer for, oh, thirty years before settling down, you learn to be very prepared indeed. I would expect you would be similarly ready, eh, Jeridan?”

An incline of the Watchland’s head acknowledged the compliment. “Perhaps, perhaps. But you have a far more… formidable reputation than I.”

Victoria looked pleased. “Thank you.”

“As would be expected,” Byll Kontrul said affectionately, then his tanned farmer’s face shifted to a mischievous grin, “from the Vantage V—”

Aunt Victoria’s narrowed gaze cut him off before he could quite complete the phrase–as she had managed to successfully avert it every other time someone had tried to say it in Kyri’s presence. She had guesses as to what the rest was, but no one would ever confirm or deny, and Aunt Victoria staunchly refused to elaborate. It had something to do with her Adventuring days, of course.

Politely ignoring the byplay, Watchland looked over at Kyrie. “And will you be following in your aunt’s–and your parents’–footsteps? Or will Arbiter Kelsley’s hopes be fulfilled?”

“The Arbiter?”

Her obviously confused question caused Jeridan to smile apologetically. “I seems Kelsley told me things more private than I had thought.” He glanced over, where the Arbiter–highest priest of Myrionar–was speaking to Melni Andris. Oh, Balance, they lost Elodi in one of the patrols. The memory hurt; she and Elodi were the same age, had played together a lot when they were young; her death was the one dark blot in this wonderful week. But Melni still came? I can’t imagine coming to someone’s party if my daughter was killed!

But the Watchland was continuing and she forced herself to listen. “He has been very pleased with your attentiveness in the Temple, with your memorization of the Way of Justice, and other work in Evanwyl, and it’s clear to me that he is hoping you will become a Seeker soon.”

He is? The thought made her feel warm inside, despite the lingering empathic ache for what poor Melni must be feeling. “I… I am honored that he would want me as a Seeker. But I haven’t decided my path yet.” I really need to speak to her. “Would you excuse me, Watchland?”

He followed her gaze, nodded emphatically. “Of course, Kyri. Please, go.”

She reached Melni and the Arbiter just as the holy man of Myrionar was bowing his farewell. “Melni–”

Melni’s tired, red-rimmed eyes met hers, and the sting of tears overwhelmed her. “Oh, Myrionar and Terian, I’m so sorry, Melni…”

The older woman embraced her, and Kyri heard a small sob before Melni caught herself and pulled gently away, brushing back her gray-streaked brown hair. “Thank you, Kyri. And don’t you tell me I shouldn’t have come,” she said, as Kyri was about to say exactly that. “El… El would have been furious if I didn’t come to Rion’s celebration. And Balance knows I need some light and cheer in my life now, really.”

Kyri smiled and blinked the tears away. “I… thank you. Melni.”

“Besides,” she continued, with a deliberately light tone, “I have so many customers showing off here. Business, you know.”

If she wants things to be normal, I certainly won’t stop her. I suppose she’s already done a lot of the crying. “Of course I do,” Kyri said, and gave a little showoff spin of the long-sleeved green and aqua dress. “Look, your dresses makes even a mountain like me look good.”

The laugh was weak, but it wasn’t forced. “Oh, fishing for compliments, are we? Balance, child, you’re impossible to make look bad. I could put you in a pile of leaves and you’d make most of the others look as though they were wearing sacks.”

Kyri felt her cheeks go warm. I’m not nearly that pretty, and the way I tower over everyone…  Fortunately, she saw movement at the far side of the room. “Oh! Here they come.”

The Justiciars emerged to renewed applause, which she joined enthusiastically. Thinking on it, she realized that she’d never seen any of the Justiciars without that mystical, ancient, ceremonial armor that was both their badge of office and, it was said, the source of much of their power and protection against many forms of harm. What was most surprising was Condor; he can’t be much older than Rion… well, four or five years older, I guess, she thought, which makes him no more than eight or ten years older than me. He and Rion were almost of identical height, six foot six inches, although Condor was considerably broader across the shoulders, past which fell brilliant red hair. Shrike, Condor’s constant companion, was a grizzled bear of a man, nearly a foot shorter than his friend but if anything slightly heavier, with none of it fat.

She saw Condor glance at her and mutter something to Shrike, who grinned and said something back; she thought she caught the ancient word sirza.

Skyharrier was also startling; he was one of the Saelar, the Winged Folk, but the armor usually restrained the great white, bronze, and gold wings that now stretched wide as he bowed to the applause, hair of the same bronze-white-gold shades tumbling around his face as he did. Bolthawk, as compact and strong as his namesake, was one of the Odinsyrnen, Children of Odin, the shortest of the Justiciars by far but no less formidable, with a sharp, pointed little black beard, short-cut dark hair, and twinkling black eyes like polished onyx.

They were seated mostly according to plan (there were always a few people who decided to switch seats), the huge ballroom filled with multiple tables to hold all the guests. The largest table, of course, was reserved for the Justiciars, the Watchland, and a few others, including of course the family of the newly-chosen Silver Eagle. Kyri also kept an eye on the two large tables on either side; those were the traditional Server’s Tables–set aside for those who spent time serving the other people attending. Serving was hard work, but those doing the work were supposed to take shifts and had some of the best food set aside for them. Vanstell, the Master of House, saw her looking and gestured for her to pay attention to her own table. She smiled and nodded at the small, perfectly dressed pale-skinned man. Van will make sure everyone gets their share.

Rion was at the head of the table, of course, with the Watchland to one side and Aunt Victoria on the other. This put her next to the Watchland and across from Urelle, who sat beside their aunt, bracketed by Thornfalcon on the other side. Sasha Rithair, one of the Watchland’s Arms and also Evanwyl’s only summoner and trained mage, sat on Kyri’s left. The others ranged down the table, ending with Skyharrier at the foot of the table so that his wings would not crowd anyone else.

Thornfalcon smiled at her with green-brown twinkling eyes. “I am indeed blessed,” he said, with a comical exaggeration that made her laugh. “Here I am with a lady on one hand and two across from me; what other man at this table is so fortunate? Save, of course, you, my lord,” he added to the Watchland, “as is only proper.”

“Hmph,” Victoria sniffed, but she, too, had a spark of amusement in her eye. “Compliments are always welcome, but you’ll keep your wandering gaze from my younger niece, Thornfalcon. Your reputation precedes you.”

“Alas,” he replied, even as more chuckles rippled around the table and the first course–shaved raw pricklepine fish with mixed fruit jelly dip–was laid down, “my reputation also exceeds me, I am afraid; as with so many heroes, the deeds attributed to me overshadow the reality. But then I take your statement to mean I can extend my wandering gaze to your elder niece.” He leaned on his elbows and let his eyes go misty and worshipful, such a caricature of a lovestruck youth–even though he had to be at least thirty-five–that she almost choked with laughter.

“Oh, go ahead,” Rion said. “If she doesn’t like it, she can always break you in half.”

“With the legendary Vantage strength, yes, I suppose she could break a man.” A pause. “If he was lucky.”

Her brother was the one coughing out his last mouthful after that, accompanied as it had been with a leer so extremely exaggerated that she was at once blushing and giggling. And if he wasn’t so old, I might wonder if he’s serious.

The dinner continued, and she began to get a sense for the Justiciars as people; Shrike and Condor were, of course, like father and son. Oddly, Bolthawk–the squat, blunt-talking Child of Odin–and the quiet, almost ethereal Skyharrier seemed close. Thornfalcon sometimes fell quiet, and his serious gaze at those times made her suspect that the gangly-looking Justiciar played the clown and troubador because otherwise he would be too shy to speak.

Mist Owl was the oldest, and as an Artan he spoke most with Lythos, the Vantage Sho-ka-taida or Master-of-Arms and the only other Artan she knew of in Evanwyl. Mist Owl was… not cold, exactly, but his eyes took in everything and his expression gave back nothing. She had the feeling that he could see through everyone and everything. Come to think of it, that may just be normal for Artan; Lythos always seems to see everything and he almost never smiles.

As though he was reading her mind, the Sho-ka-taida looked up and directly at her… and then, with no one else to see, gave her a tiny smile and the quick hands-grasping gesture that said together it is accomplished. Her own smile was not small, for what the taciturn and perfectionist Artan teacher had just told her was that he believed her assistance–being one of Rion’s main sparring partners–had helped Rion to this wonderful achievement.

Thornfalcon did show his more serious side as he discussed the dinner. “That first-taste was truly exquisite, Lady Victoria. I think I have only tasted such fine An-su-ni in Nya-Sharee-Hilya itself. And this with freshwater fish?”

“Why, thank you, Thornfalcon,” Victoria said. “But the compliments should go to Feszinal, our head chef. He devised this entire feast and that dish, in particular, I know he prepared himself.”

“I will certainly remember to convey my appreciation. I am also impressed with the roundcut of hill quillstrike–not the least because they’re not the easiest thing to catch!”

She listened as the discussions flowed around her like the food. Privately, Kyri preferred what Victoria called “Southland” cooking–complex delicate flavors that were supposedly popular in Zarathanton and other parts far south–but she knew that Aunt Vicky’s “stone and sea” approach was better received here, and she had a top-flight set of chefs. And I can’t complain unless I’m going to learn to do the cooking in between my religious disciplines and combat work, not to mention a little magical study, history…

She realized she’d drifted when the chiming bell-notes of a Winged Harp sounded. Oh no, the dances already? But who–

As Rion took her hand and led her out, she realized that question had already been answered. “All right, brother, I’ll dance with you. But no side balcony walks for you.”

He grinned, leading her in a leafwhirl dance appropriate for the music. “What, I’m not pretty enough for you?”

She laughed. “I don’t want the other girls getting jealous. We’ve had you to ourselves up until now, right?” It was pretty much true; Rion hadn’t spent any time dancing, flirting, walking, or really even talking much with anyone outside of his training.

“Well, true, but now I’m a Justiciar. Have to be serious and devote myself to Justice and Vengeance.”

The words were not nearly as serious as they sounded, and she couldn’t keep an almost teary-eyed smile off her face. “Oh, Rion… you don’t know how good it is to see you like this.”

He didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “Yeah. I … wasn’t very easy to get along with after Mother and Father…”

She still couldn’t quite keep the wince from her face. “I wasn’t, either.”

He snorted wryly. “You weren’t the one that was about to go charging out into the forest, waving a sword around without knowing your target.”

Kyri remembered that. She also remembered how Aunt Victoria had responded to his determination to kill the people who had slain their parents and left their home a burning ruin: “An admirable plan, Rion Kervan Vantage. Such detail and attention to execution: ‘Bastards! I’ll kill them all!’, indeed. I trust you have some idea as to who ‘they’ are and, by the way you are running with such decision, knowledge of where ‘they’ may be found?”

Apparently the same memory had just replayed in his memory, because their eyes met and they both burst into laughter, even while shifting to the one-two-three of a Railwind Cross dance. “I was really stupid then, wasn’t I, Kyri?”

“No,” she said. “We all felt the same. Urelle too,” she saw her little sister, now twelve, dancing and laughing, and remembered the eight-year-old Urelle staring, fury and emptiness and shock mingled in such a venomous brew that sometimes she wouldn’t speak to anyone for days at a time, wouldn’t eat… or would cry and cling to you in the middle of the night, not letting you go. “Why do you think we’ve all been training every day with you, with Lythos?”

“I know.” He smiled at her, and gave her a quick hug in the middle of a spin. “But we’re better, now, I think. A lot better.”

“Risen from the ashes,” she agreed.

“Just like your favorite bird.” He looked around. “Justice’s Name, I think Victoria’s actually starting to line them up for me.”

She giggled–a sound she tried not to allow to escape in public, but Rion could almost always get her to do it. “You know, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself at your own party.”

He blushed. “Er… well, no, but it’s a party about becoming a Justiciar, the living weapons of Myrionar, embodiments of Justice and Vengeance–a high and noble calling and all that, you know.”

The two of them nearly stumbled–the fact that neither danced much was, unfortunately, too obvious–but she still managed a snort of laughter. “I hear that this doesn’t stop Thornfalcon.”

“True. I think he should’ve been a wandering entertainer if he wasn’t such a monster with that rapier of his.”

She glanced at the tall, melancholy-faced Justiciar with his slender wading-bird build. “He’s that good?”

Hellish. I think he could manage a cut or three on Lythos with that speed. Oh, Lythos would then carve him into a wall ornament, but he’d have been touched. Shrike, he’s an Elemental. Not literally, but like living rock. You get a good swing at him and it just bounces off–Bolthawk’s like that too,” he performed a clumsy hand-around spin that almost tripped them both, then continued, “except that since he’s purely a hand-to-hand man he tries to get up and pound the justice right out of you. Condor–”

“Condor is asking for the privilege of your sister’s company to dance away the next song,” Condor said over her shoulder. “If you’d be interested, Kyri?”

She smiled, a little awkwardly. “Well… ”

Rion grinned mischeviously at her and glanced around. “I’ll notice no one had to work at lining them up for you.” He bowed out and let Condor take over, even as she was staring at what did appear to be a … rather large group of young men that kept looking in her direction. That… many? She recognized Zant from Myss Timbers, and three sons of the various Arms–including Torokar Heimdalyn? Balance! We’d both look ridiculous, me over six feet and a Child of Odin barely over four!–and that was Rairlsey Yindar, from all the way over in Gharis… I think I’ll just concentrate on the Justiciar in front of me.

For a few moments she just tried to follow; the next song’s rhythm was different, and Condor was clearly not much more experienced than her, but trying hard. They settled on a dance her Aunt would have called a jink, but she preferred to call a quad-step. “Um… Condor…”

“Aran,” he said quickly. “That’s my name. Aran.”

A nice name. “Aran. I like it. I wasn’t sure the Justiciars kept their names.”

“Well… yes and no. We’re our Justiciar names most of the time. You understand the idea; by keeping the same names and the armor we imply the immortality of our justice.”

“Well, yes, of course.” It was actually more fun dancing with Condor than most boys she’d had to dance with. For one thing, he was actually taller than her by three inches, which was something that almost no one except her brother matched. And Watchland Velion, of course, but he’d never ask her to dance.

“But when we do get the chance to be out of armor–as we do at our own Temple, and at the houses of our own people–we have names like everyone else. We just don’t say them much.” A four step turn, a sidestep, another. “Would you mind if I asked you something?”

“You just did ask me something.” She grinned. “But no, go ahead.”

“I see I had best watch my words around you just like your terrifying aunt. I was wondering… well, actually, all of us were wondering why in the name of the Dragons themselves you chose to use a greatsword.”

She laughed, slightly embarrassed but pleased that the conversation wasn’t going in directions she didn’t have experience with. “I’m … not completely sure myself, I suppose. I mean,” the song ended, another began, but they continued without interruption, “… well… hmm… My brother went for the shorter blade because he felt the bigger blades would slow him up too much. I’ve always been a little faster than him, and I thought… well, I guess I wanted to prove I could handle a weapon that was too much for him.”

“Ha! That was what I thought.” He grinned to take the potential sting out of the words. “You aren’t letting him be first if he won’t fight for it. Ever.”

She felt her answering smile which felt more relaxed somehow. “That’s it. That’s exactly it, Co… Aran.”

He gestured to the other room. “And you remember my sword, so it’s not like I don’t have the same issue. Shrike uses that night-damned axe that looks big enough to cut down trees with a stroke, so I had to go get a weapon that looked even bigger.”

She laughed. “So we’re both competing with our older brothers?”

“Seems like.” Up close, his eyes were a startling green, contrasting with red hair that he kept trimmed to an almost reasonable length in front; his skin was also lighter than most–much darker than the Watchland’s, of course, but three or four shades lighter than Kyri’s. He’s… really handsome, actually, and was startled to recognize that thought. It wasn’t that she hadn’t noticed anyone before, but the Justiciars were symbols, not people most of the time.

And at that moment, another voice spoke. “Condor, you cannot monopolize the time of the loveliest lady in the room.”

To her utter astonishment, it was the Watchland. Even more to her surprise, Condor seemed almost afraid as he yielded his place. “Certainly, sir. My apologies.”

From the Watchland’s expression, he wasn’t quite sure why Condor was so apologetic either. But he turned to her with measured grace and bowed. “I hope you do not object. If you do, of course, I will be off.”

“Object? Um, sir, oh, no, not at all…” This is why I hate these kind of things! I’m sounding like a stuttering ninny and I’m going to end up stepping on his feet. Unlike her prior partners, the Watchland was a master of the dance floor. Which, she realized as he led her gently in a round-round, meant that he was going to make her look as though she knew what she was doing.

“I have to say I am terribly pleased to see your brother–and you–recovered as you are,” Velion said quietly.

She blinked. “Recovered?” Then she remembered her prior conversation with Rion. “Oh. Thank you, sir.”

“Perhaps it was not evident to you; indeed, it surely was not. Yet the Vantage family are Eyes of the Watch, second only to the Watchland, and harm to them is harm to our country; but more, your mother and your father were much beloved and your family is–has always been–one of the hearts of Evanwyl. The grievous blow you suffered seemed, for a time, to have taken your own hearts away and left only grief and anger. Becoming a Justiciar is not Rion’s true achievement.”

I had no idea the Watchland … well, watched us so closely. “You’re right, sir.”

He laughed softly. “Sir? Dear me, I suppose I must be that old to you.”

“Old? I…” She didn’t want to say anything insulting, and really, he didn’t look old at all. “You… well, you’ve been around since I was a little girl.”

“Yes. Yes, I have. That must make me a bit old in your eyes, I cannot deny it. Still, could you call me Jeridan?”

It finally dawned on her that this was not simply a social dance. The Watchland did not dance casually, although he danced often. Me?

It had never occurred to her that she would even be noticed by the Watchland. Now that it seemed to have happened, she wasn’t sure what to think.

But he was waiting for a reply, so she pushed the considerations of future issues aside. “Of course, um, Jeridan.”

“Thank you.” He seemed aware of her discomfiture. “Is this too embarrassing for you?”

“That… would not be the right word. Confusing in a way.”

Another gentle laugh. “As straightforward as your father and mother. Good. I understand the confusion. You are not quite seventeen, and I barely on your side of thirty. In many ways it would seem we have little in common. Yet appearances may be deceiving.”

“Meaning no offense, sir, but you don’t know much about me, or I you.”

His smile had a slightly sharper edge. “The latter may well be true, but the former may not.” He guided her in an in-and-out twirl, which she only managed by remembering her training with Lythos. Martial skills can be applied to the ballroom. I have to remember that. Coordination and focus.

But the Watchland was continuing. “I observe everyone in the realm that I can; those on whom I rely–and who rely upon me most directly–I try to learn a great deal about.” He saw her nod, and continued. “And when such a tragedy befell one of my own Arms? I have made sure to watch your family–and watch over them–as much as I could. So I am afraid that I do, in fact, know much about you–how you pushed aside your own grief to help your sister and support your brother, how you tried to take up your father’s patrols when you were barely thirteen, your training alongside your brother with your Master of Weapons to the point that you became one of his best sparring partners–and he now  Justiciar! —and your…” he saw her staring and almost stumbling, smiled again. “As I say, I know far more than you thought, obviously. Enough,” he said, looking more serious, “to make it, perhaps, very wise that I give you the opportunity to learn more about me. I have mentioned this to your Aunt and while she has some doubts, I am sure, she only said that any further interaction would be entirely up to you.”

There it was, a sledgehammer blow delivered with the delicacy of a butterfly landing. Before she could form a reasonable reply, Thornfalcon begged the privilege of a dance in so comical a fashion she could hardly refuse.

And at the end of the night, she was bewildered to find that the sight that stayed most in her mind was not her triumphant brother holding aloft the Eagle helm, or the Seven Justiciars all arrayed before them, but instead two pairs of eyes; green eyes behind a helm, smiling into hers… and the blue eyes of the Watchland, intense and somehow lonely against the darkness of the night, looking back at her as the door closed.

Chapter 2. Exile of Necessity

“The least of her sons presents his compliments to the ageless and wise Lord of Waters, and asks if she would hear him at this time.” The black-haired youth knelt before the woman whose white hair had a very few strands of similar midnight still visible.

There was a gentle laugh. “May the Spring of the Court flow ever for you, my son. The Lord of Waters is pleased that her son would seek out such an aged and infirm woman whose final years are doubtless close upon her, and would hear what wisdom of youth he may have to bring before her.” Another laugh. “Close that door and have done with that prattle of tradition, Tobimar. By the Water and the Sand, what brings on such formality?”

Tobimar swallowed but managed a smile as he closed the door. This would be difficult, but his mother seemed in a good humor. “It’s … something I need to talk about, Mother.”

Talima Silverun had not been the ruler of all Skysand for forty years without being able to hear what was unsaid. “And this something is not merely of mother and son, but of Lord and one of her heirs.” She shook her head, an uncertain but affectionate smile playing about the corners of her mouth. “You are scarce fifteen, Tobimar. What is there of such grave import that you could have involved yourself in? Have you thrown salt into the Court Fountain?”

Tobimar winced; as well ask if he’d dropped his pants and relieved himself on Terian’s altar. “Of course not, mother!”

“Then have you killed one of the Warders in practice? No? Sold the Seven Sacred Scrolls? No? Well, now, we’re swiftly running out of possibilities, my son. What could–”

She broke off, staring, as he held up the card that had been hidden within the long sleeves of the silver-trimmed black robe. Slowly, unwillingly, she reached out and took the thick, ancient plaque, unable to take her gaze from the image. Then she closed her eyes and bowed her head.

Tobimar knew what she saw: Terian, the Mortal God, Lord of Stars as the Dragons called him, Infinity as some of his followers preferred; a human figure with a face shadowed in glory, in black with a flowing cape clasped with a golden sidewise-eight shaped sigil. The deity their family had followed since before Skysand had existed, and–some claimed–whose power ran within their veins, Terian was said to be one of the greatest of all the gods, and according to legend was a man who had discovered the very key to the power of Creation itself.

But in the reading of the Mirror, Terian’s card did not mean a blessing. Not for those of the Silverun family.

“There is no mistake?” she said finally. It was the voice, not of the lord of Skysand, but of his mother, whose other six children were grown, all now helping to keep Skysand a place of safety and beauty amid the all-encompassing sand.

Nomdas Ferril did the reading himself.” There could be no mistake when the Nomdas of Terian performed the reading.

His mother closed her eyes again. When she opened them again, they were hard and clear, a deep blue that mirrored his own and that only they shared, of all their family. “The Lord of Waters then must speak plainly to her youngest son.”

It’s as bad as I feared. Yet… I feel so much more alive. Will mother understand?

“The least of sons awaits the words of his most honored and wise parent, the Lord of Waters, as he would a drink in the very heart of the desert.”

A tiny flicker of humor answered his extravagance, and then the Lord of Waters spoke. “The Lord of Waters earnestly inquires of her youngest and most beloved child as to whether he understands in fullness the meaning and import of this seemingly unimportant card, plucked from a deck at seeming random by the fingers of a priest?”

“Oh, Lord of Waters, your youngest son believes that he does, as much as any child can understand such things, for is it not written in our legends that when the face of Glory is revealed to one who stands between the innocence of childhood and the duties of a Lord, then the command of Terian is laid upon that one that he seek for that which was lost until it is found? And,” he continued before his mother could begin the next question, for he didn’t think he could bear to keep drawing this out, “is it not also written that ever since we fled from the Darkness that pursued us in the years of betrayal and loss, none of the Silverun may seek that which was lost except that they must leave Skysand and not return until their seeking is over, for in the act of seeking shall they draw the eye and will of the Darkness upon them, and upon all Skysand if they remain?”

“The Lord of Waters hears her youngest child and … and sees…” she broke off, took a breath, and composed herself. “And sees that he does well understand that the command of Terian lies upon him, and that he must leave his home, his city, and his people, not to return until twenty-four years have passed, or until–beyond all hope–that which was lost lies within his grasp and the Darkness is confronted by the Light.

“By our ancient laws, our child must know he has but a single day from the moment the card was drawn. More, he must know that he may taken nothing but what he may carry upon him, and that without the aid of any magics or powers not his own.”

He nodded. I know.

It was a truth drilled into the Silverun from the time they could walk, the truth that lay beyond, beneath, behind the existence of Skysand itself. Once they had been a great people, a proud people with a land that was truly their own; but in the last Chaoswar something had happened–enemies monstrous and fell, demonic or worse, had fallen upon them, driven them from their lands.

And because of the effect of the Chaoswars themselves, the details of their heritage were forgotten. The clear records only spoke of the early years here, in the great and burning desert on the northwest of the huge continent, and the struggle to survive. None could say where the true homeland was, or even the true nature of the enemy.

But they still wait, and when we begin seeking…

Thousands of years ago, the first of the Mirror readings on the Skysand had chosen Vancilar Silverun, and it had been a moment of joy; for Terian was their patron god, their protector, and for any other family the face of the Mortal God meant good fortune, victory, protection. The Nomdas had told Vancilar he must begin the search for that which was lost, and–as he was the Lord of Waters, ruler of all Skysand–he bent to that task with a will, preparing the entire country for the search.

Catastrophe struck the very day he was preparing to launch the first ship; an earthquake sudden and violent, followed by a wave that the wizards and priests could only blunt, not stop. Vancilar paused in his quest to repair his country, but did not forget his holy mission; a year later he stepped foot on his flagship, and in that instant the dormant volcano at the head of the bay exploded into violent eruption.

Concerned but still aware of his holy mission, Vancilar stayed to deal with this new emergency, and at the same time prepared to send out other agents to begin the quest. The moment the first group passed from the gates, a cloud appeared on the horizon, grew, and enveloped the city in raging dust filled with howling, water-stealing demons.

Battered by repeated perils, Vancilar could see the pattern; he demanded answers from the priests who had told him of this mission, set his wizards–those who had survived–to tell him why he seemed unable to so much as begin the work that, he was told, was the command of the gods. He got his answer… and knew his fate.

“I know, Mother,” he said aloud. “Our enemies laid upon us a curse, one that used the very power of the Chaoswar to drive us from our old lands. It is a curse upon our people that they can never know their past, and a command and destiny laid upon some small number of our family to seek that past. If we ask our people to assist, the curse will punish them–punish Skysand. Any who are truly part of Skysand will share in their anger and the danger. Only by leaving our people behind, by leaving our family behind, only by that can we escape the curse and yet fulfill the command of the Lord Terian.”

The Lord of Waters nodded slowly, seeing that he understood both with head and heart the reason and necessity for his quest. She glanced to the door, assuring herself it was still closed, and then came as close as he had ever seen to crying; she buried her face in her hands and sat still for long moments before she dropped her hands and looked up. “Where will you go, Tobimar? My son, what will you do?”

Suddenly he laughed and grabbed her hands, knelt in front of her. “Mother, mother, please don’t cry. Don’t worry. I know you’re afraid–I’m afraid, some–but … I never wanted to be a Lesser Lord of a city, or even the Lord of Waters myself.”

The eyes looking back at him were suspiciously bright, as though tears hovered there waiting to be shed. But her lips slowly turned upward. “The youngest son becoming his grandfather’s image… not to be, then?”

“More of my father and–perhaps–my mother in me.”

She laughed, still with a hint of tears. “Perhaps indeed. Was it so obvious that this robe chafes at times?”

“To your children, I think so, Mother.”

“Then what will you do, Tobimar?” She studied him. “You are a marvelous quick study with a sword.”

“And I’ve learned from Master Khoros.”

She looked … grim for a moment. “Yes. He said you had much power of the spirit, to use the spirit to see that which might be invisible, to touch that which lay beyond your hands. And he gave me something when he left…”

“What? What is it, Mother?” The question was not just for what the mage might have left behind, but what bothered her so much.

“… I wonder now… if he knew, somehow, even though not all the priests could have seen what was to come. For he said that it was for you ‘when the time came.’ And what other time could he have meant…?” She rose and crossed to the miniature vault set in her chambers, touched the door, which opened. Inside were many things that he strained to see, but when she turned back all she held was a sealed piece of parchment… no, it was a leaf, as Master Khoros had often written upon, a leaf from the Mynoli plants that grew near oases, tough, flexible even when dry.

“Take it… but do not open it until you have left. He said also that ‘wisdom comes only to those who seek it, never to those who demand it. Listen to what is said by your heart.’.”

That was Khoros, all right. He took the leaf-parchment and tucked it away inside his own robes. “So… I’ll do what I can, Mother. I’m a swordsman and a Skysand; I’ll help people as I can. And I’ll find what was lost. One day I will be able to tell you who we were, and show us where to go.”

She suddenly embraced him. “I will pray to Terian that you do, Tobimar. I will pray every day, so that my son will one day stand before me… as my sister never did again.”

Chapter 3. Message of Warning

Tobimar stood at the rail of the Lucramalalla and stared at Skysand, the great capital city sharing the name of the entirety of the gem-scattered mountains and golden sands of the country itself. The rising sun struck the seven Lesser Towers and made them seem forged of gold, while the central Great Tower, which was in fact gilded, blazed as though poured from a furnace of auric fire. Sparks of other color shimmered in that light, the light of his departure, glittering hints of ruby, argent, sapphire, emerald, other colors more exotic and rare from the mystical gems that were set as both decoration and defense in the towers and walls of Skysand.

Wind whipped strands of long black hair that had somehow escaped the band he’d used to tie it back with, and the combination gave him an excuse for the tears that trickled from his eyes. It wasn’t that he needed an excuse, exactly; it was just that a part of him was glad he was leaving, as he’d said to his mother, and crying didn’t quite make sense to that part of him.

But the other part was afraid he would never see his mother Talima, his brothers… Vanilar, Terimur, Donalan… his sisters Karili, Mindala, Sundrilin… or Skysand itself ever again. He had never imagined that he’d miss the endless gray-gold sands, broken by outcrops of black stone, occasional oases… but he would. Skysand was his home.

And yet… it isn’t.

That internal voice had spoken to him before. It wasn’t so much a different voice as a different part of himself, something deeper, something that had no clear reason or history behind its existence. Or a history that led me to this.

Now the sun had risen higher, and the black polished obsidian of the Seven Lesser drank in the light and returned only small, brilliant highlights around the Lord of Waters’ Great Tower. He looked at the highest point of the Tower, pretending for a moment that his eyes were sharp as a Dragon’s and he could see his mother standing there, watching from the Spire of Legacy, the solemn, empty room at the very top of the Great Tower.

Finally he sighed and turned away, wiping away the traces of the tears. He made his way towards the cabins across the wide silver-gold zhenwood decks; above, the Captain’s deep voice sent T’oltha’s commands echoing to Lucramallala’s crew. I think T’oltha probably means “Captain” in Ancient Sauran, because I think that was the name of the other Sauran Captain I met when I was a kid, and it can’t have been the same one. The huge draconic creatures’ names tended to be long and descriptive, difficult to remember and sometimes even harder to pronounce. Or… maybe it is the same one.

The wide stairway down to the cabin level was darker than outside, but still lit by lightstones; Tobimar shook his head in bemusement. Skysand made good use of many forms of magic, but this vessel–five hundred feet long, two hundred or more wide, and with only enough mast and sail for emergencies–was a wonder in itself. “Built only two centuries after the last Chaoswar,” T’oltha had claimed. Tobimar wasn’t sure he believed that–it would make the Lucramalla something like twelve thousand years old–but then again, it was known that the Saurans themselves lived for thousands of years. It was possible that T’oltha was simply speaking of something she’d witnessed.

He reached his cabin and entered. It was reasonably large, but spare in its furnishings; a bunk, a writing desk made fast to the floor, a simple locker which–despite being not overly large–still had ample room for the few possessions he carried.

Tobimar sat down and took a deep breath. Now.

From the inside pocket of his robe he took the Mynoli leaf, inscribed with the peculiar rune-like symbol that Khoros used as a signature, and unfolded it.

Clear white light poured from the leaf, dazzling Tobimar and causing him to nearly upset his chair. He blinked as a figure rose out of the light. “M… Master Khoros?”

“Tobimar.” The immensely tall form of the wandering enchanter nearly touched the seven-foot ceiling of the cabin; the strange wide, five-sided, peaked hat that Khoros wore obscured, as always, the details of his face; and his staff with the complex gold-crystalline head chimed softly. “Do not make the mistake of believing I am here. As with many things, what you see is less important than what you believe.

“As you are receiving this message, there are two possibilities. The first, and least likely, is that you have ascended to the Lordship of Skysand; you are, then, the Lord of Waters. If that is the case, I shall be before you soon, as you shall be in grave need of my advice.

“Far more probable, however, is that you have now left Skysand on the quest that only a Silverun may complete, at the sight of the card of your patron.” The half-hidden mouth gave a smile that Tobimar found extremely disquieting. “It was evident to me that if any in your generation was to be chosen, it would be you.” As always, Khoros offered no explanation; he spoke in pronouncements, riddles, and questions. “You have the best chance of any of your people to succeed where all the others have failed, Tobimar Silverun. And it is terribly important that you do, not merely for the sake of your exiled and lost people, but for the entirety of the world.” Tobimar felt a slow, creeping dread as the white-haired mage paused and pointed the chiming staff at him. “Remember my lessons of history, Tobimar.”

What the… he’s not even here and he’s expecting me to answer him? Tobimar searched desperately through the hundreds of hours of instruction Konstantin Khoros had given him, in history, meditation, the power of the mind, the theory of magic, the interaction of the powers… “You taught a lot of lessons, Master Khoros.”

For a moment he was convinced that–despite the earlier warning–Khoros was, indeed, present, because at his response the old wizard shook his head as dolefully as ever he had in life. “You need to be quicker, Tobimar. A lesson does no good if it is filed away somewhere in your head only to be drawn out by being told to you again.” He sighed. “Never mind. I am as much at fault; I tell only that which I dare, and it is never enough.

“I mentioned that over the past several centuries, the number of gods seen intervening in direct and spectacular fashion had decreased. I have spent many of those years trying to determine if this was a pattern that indicated a change in need–if, in fact, the gods simply were not being called upon to act as much as in years past–or a change in behavior, or merely what might be termed an artifact of chance.” Despite himself, Tobimar nodded. He remembered this very clearly, now that Khoros had reminded him of it. Which just echoes what he just said; it does no good if I have to wait for someone else to remind me.

“It has however become clear to me that this was in fact no coincidence, nor was it a matter of decreased need,” Khoros contined. “Indeed, in some cases the lack of intervention where it would have before been expected has led to terrible disasters.” Khoros’ deep, sonorous voice was grim. “And now I understand why.

“Twelve thousand years ago, the last of the Chaoswars was fought–a world-enveloping series of conflicts which seemed to erupt almost at once, triggering mystical cataclysms of tremendous force and lingering effect. It is of course known that there have been many such wars in the history of Zarathan; what is not known, however, is how they come to happen, and how often.” The sorcerer’s image leaned closer. “But I know. Every twelve thousand years, more or less.”

“Terian’s Light… but that means…”

“Exactly so. The next Chaoswar is nearly upon us, and I believe it is much, much closer than merely sometime in the next few centuries. I believe it is within the next few years.”

“But what have the–”

“And now you ask what the gods’ behavior has to do with this.”

If this is truly a message recorded months ago, his ability to be annoyingly correct is even more impressive than I thought.

“I have… sources close to the gods, when I dare use them, and in this case I felt it necessary. They confirmed what I feared. There is … a pact, now, between virtually all of the gods, an agreement that they shall not intervene directly in events on Zarathan, save only for those who have an undeniable and inescapable physical presence on this world. How exactly this pact was arranged… I have yet to determine, for even I dare not tread too far into their realm unless I am willing to confront them. Something which,” he smiled wryly, “I would prefer not to do at this time. But its existence convinces me that I am right about my timing. Even though the power unleashed in a Chaoswar can, and does, affect even the gods, without them to assist the results could be even worse. Even the gods of evil, in general, are not in favor of the complete and total disruption of a Chaoswar, and the few that are… would normally be kept under control by the others.”

Khoros rotated his hat absently in the ritual manner Tobimar had seen so many times, with the five points of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit following in turn. “You must find that which was lost, Tobimar. It is not that it is your destiny–although you may choose to make it so, for destiny is choice, not choicelessness. It is that the powers of destruction gain strength in such times, and those things which failed to utterly destroy your people in their flight will once more walk the world. Your people have kept traditions, yet forgotten the truths. You were deprived of your homes, your power, your freedom, and your allies–and they, of you, so that all are now but feeble shadows of what they once were, and where you once ruled is now darkness. That must not be allowed to happen again–for it shall.”

“You know where–”

“You must find these things on your own.” Once more it seemed as though Khoros knew already what would be said, long months after he had left. “I can only tell you this: that you must learn what you once were before you can decide what you will become; that you must pursue lies to discover truth; and that the only route to your triumph is to serve both justice and vengeance, for both are your people’s due. All else is but your choice–to trust or not, to lead or follow, to have faith or lose all. But when all else fails, you may find strength in childhood prayer, for there were, indeed, the true words of Terian himself, as given to your forefathers in the first days of their strength.”

That old prayer? Tobimar felt vaguely embarrassed… and yet he remembered the words as though he had never stopped saying them, and they still carried the echoes of his childhood faith as he found himself repeating them with Khoros:

“Seven Stars and a Single Sun
Hold the Starlight that I do Own;
These Eight combine and form the One
Form the Sign by which I’m known.
The Good in heart can Light wield;
The Length of Space shall be thy shield.

“Two Chaoswars past, your people rose to the heights. In the last, they were felled; in this, Tobimar, they shall either reattain all that was lost and more… or they shall cease to be.” The ancient mage bowed deeply. “My hopes and blessings go with you. May the Five and the Seven and the One be ever with you.”

And he was gone, the leaf dispersing like the last of the crystalline light that had surrounded him, the echoing chime of his staff fading into the sounds of the surrounding ocean.

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