Back to our heroine...
Kyrie stood, indecisive, at the front door. I really should be at the Temple. Still she stood there, unmoving. Something was wrong, and she didn't know what it was.
Michael knew, of course, but he simply wouldn't tell her. He had been strangely… erratic of late. One day he had come home in a grim mood, silent, almost brusque even with Urelle, and retired to his room without a word after dinner. He'd disappeared for three days after that – and she'd heard rumors of the Saints' deeds in that time, including a last-second rescue of a family from Doomlocks – and come home seeming ready to burst with happiness and pride, saying only that now he knew he was truly a Saint. Then again he came home quiet, contemplative, and over the next few weeks his mood seemed to become darkly resolute.
Then today… with Aunt Victoria and Urelle off visiting around the country… he had come home, walked quietly through the entire estate for hours. Every time she saw him, he would glance up, seem about to speak, then turn away. Finally, she'd cornered him. "Michael… what is wrong?"
The blue eyes, so like Aunt Victoria's, met hers, then looked away.
"Don't try to tell me nothing's wrong! You know you can't lie to me."
"I wasn't going to say that." His voice was pained, both by the accusation and whatever he was hiding. "But I can't tell you… I don't dare tell you… not right now. I have to be sure. I'm very, very close now, Kyrie. I…" He stopped with what appeared to be a physical effort.
He's been investigating… something. Maybe even to do with our parents? "You can trust me, Michael! Maybe I can help –"
"Absolutely not!" The vehemence was so extreme that she stepped back. Michael hadn't used a tone of voice like that since… since their parents died. He shook his head, then continued in a slightly more controlled tone, "Kyrie… I trust you. I trust my family, believe me. But this is dangerous, and it's my job… as a Saint… to take care of this kind of thing. I…" he seemed reluctant, but forced himself to continue, "… I will tell you everything once I've checked out a few more things. But not quite yet. It's…" He shook his head again, then straightened. "Look, I have to go, Kyrie. I'll be back tonight, and then…"
"Then you will tell me, Michael. Or I'll start following you, and you know I can do it."
"You wouldn't." He drew a breath, then sighed. "You would. Of course you would. All right. I'd argue, but … All right. I'll tell you. But … you won't want to hear everything I have to say."
Without another word he'd left, and she'd been wandering around indecisively ever since. The Balance was that evening, and she had been chosen as the Sword. Kyrie glanced at the elaborate clock which was one of Victoria's favorite treasures and shook off the mood. I'm not going to let Myrionar down; that's not a good way to convince your god to bless your family.
Decision made, she hurried out, taking one of Victoria's riding horses, Talad, to make up the time she'd lost in dithering around the house. I'll owe Talad a rubdown when we get back, too, making him stand around waiting for the whole ceremony.
Myrionar's Temple was bright with light as she entered, just a little more hurriedly than she'd wanted, but she saw with relief that they were just finishing the assembly. The stage was empty, and that gave her enough time to make her way around the back.
"I was getting worried, Kyrie," Arbiter Kelsley said, his concerned eyes belying the severe precision of his gray-sprinkled brown hair and square-chiseled features. "You've always been so reliable."
"I'm sorry, Arbiter. Got a little distracted." She took the ceremonial robes, deep blue to either side with pure silver in the center, the gauntlets – also blue on the back, silver on the forearms – and struggled into them as she made her way behind the holy stage.
Just in time. Kyrie carefully moved onto the stage, the deep blue of the backdrop identical to the robes; with the side-folds pulled inward and the cowl dropped over her face, she would be effectively invisible to anyone in the congregation – necessary for the Service of the Balance. The effects could, of course, be managed far more easily by magic, or by the power of Myrionar Itself, but the effort and discipline to carry out the ritual without such aids was much more in favor.
She became aware, however, that something still seemed … off. The sense of something larger, of something omnipresent and vigilant, that she associated with Myrionar in these rituals, was… well, not gone, but fainter, weaker, muted, and that worried her terribly. Was it her lateness, her hurried entry?
Kelsley was now giving the service, and she straightened, listening for both the meaning and her cues. The exact words were not important now; the key was to understand the priest's point. This was one of the traditional services, so the basic point would be one of – or, more likely, all three – of the Foundations, but the exact way in which it was expressed might be of importance.
But Arbiter Kelsley seemed to feel it was best to stick to the traditions closely. Justice with Wisdom, Vengeance with Truth, Mercy through Strength, all three of the Foundations and straightforward. Justice and Wisdom unveiled first – the Fandre brothers, two years younger than she was, trying not to giggle as they kept their arms curved to present the appearance of one of the scales; Vengeance and Truth – Gallire and Lehi Monn, girls of the same age, and then it was her turn, Strength of the Sword, lifting up, spreading the robes to let the silver blaze out, using her hands to raise the bar overhead that revealed the silver backing to join the two sides of the Balance to the upraised Sword.
She took a breath, steadying herself. This was one of the more demanding parts of the ritual, since you were supposed to stay still throughout the remaining several minutes – sometimes up to a quarter hour – of the service.
But now there was a commotion, shouting outside, running feet, and Kyrie felt a terrible foreboding, even as the doors burst open. "Arbiter! Arbiter Kelsley, come quickly!"
She recognized with a shock that the voice was that of the Watchland. Even as she did so, she saw the blue gaze of his eyes across the room, somehow recognizing her, and something in that gaze sent a chill through her. She dropped her hands and started across the stage, all sense of a watching presence gone and all feeling of comfort vanishing. Watchland Relion was gone with the Arbiter, but they were not hard to follow, not with others streaming after them to see what could be so urgent as to interrupt the Balance.
At the edge of the town a ring of figures was gathered around something, something silver and bright red, and she struggled to get past the massing crowd to get a better look. No. No, please, no, no, not again…
But again her prayers were in vain, for her brother lay there, the Armor of Eagle rent asunder, blood pooled about him, and the last traces of life were fleeing, even as the Arbiter lay his hands upon Michael. She dropped to her knees, taking his hand, saw his eyes flicker open for a moment to catch her gaze with wide-eyed horror, then roll and fall shut, the hand spasming and then going limp.
"He's fading!" the Arbiter snapped. He gripped the symbol of the Balance tighter and she felt, suddenly, that presence, strong and certain, and blue light radiated from the priest's other hand, forcing wounds to close, knitting them with power channeled from a god directly into the mortal body of Michael Vantage.
But Kelsley's face was pale, and vaguely, at the edge of her shock and denial she realized there were other shouts of consternation now… other victims… She should rise, she should go to them.
Michael's hand twitched, and for a moment she felt a spark of hope. But that was dashed as she heard Kelsley gasp. "I… I cannot hold him." Seeker Reed – one of the students of the Temple – caught his shoulder. "I will help you, Arbiter… By the Balance, what is this?"
They were gazing at things Kyrie could not see, and their faces showed utter horror. "Arbiter, what can we do?" Reed gasped.
"I… I do not know. I have never…" Kelsley swallowed, then leaned forward. "Soul injury. It is spoken of in the texts, but so rare…"
"What is wrong?" Kyrie demanded.
Even as Kelsley answered, he was busy, focusing more power, pale agony clear now on his face. "His soul itself is injured, cuts across his very essence in parallel with his bodily injuries. Those injuries… were mortal. If I cannot bind… his soul back together… it does not matter if his body is completely whole."
Sweat trickled down his cheeks and Kyrie was suddenly aware that the pain he showed was much more real and immediate than the pain of failure. "What are you…"
"Arbiter! Stop!" Reed shouted.
"Reed… I cannot let him…" The Arbiter's voice was weak, but iron-hard in determination, and suddenly Kyrie understood. Only pieces of another soul… could bind together a soul so injured. Kelsley is ripping his own spirit into pieces, into bandages of his own essence… to save my brother?
"Arbiter… others are injured. And he…"
Kyrie looked up at Reed, wanting to rage at him, but seeing only tormented sympathy that struck her silent.
Kelsley's hand dropped to his side and he crumpled – almost, Kyrie realized with another dull shock, dead himself.
And in that moment she knew.
Michael… Silver Eagle… Her brother… was gone.
Watchland Relion was down off his horse almost before it stopped. "You are still here. Thank the Balance. I was afraid… I had missed you."
Kyrie took a breath and turned to face him. Another farewell. This is harder than I thought it would be. But staying … staying would be even harder.
She looked up into the Watchland's eyes, lighter, more piercing blue than Michael's, but at this range filled with the same concern. He was so… remote, seemed so cold right afterwards. So hard to see as he rode from one side of the country to the other on the hunt. Some say he rode into Rivendream Pass itself, seeking whatever it was that killed Michael.
"I wasn't sure it would matter," she heard herself say before she could catch herself. What in the name of the Black City is wrong with me? I know courtesy!
Victoria, barely in earshot, stiffened, and she heard Condor give a grunt of consternation.
To her surprise, the Watchland smiled sadly. "Yes… I am unsurprised. Such terrible events… for many of the last few days I have felt almost outside myself, watching what I have been doing, seeking to make it all right, yet… not able to let myself … truly reach those who needed me most." He took her hand and pressed it between both of his. "We had all too few chances to speak in the last two years, Kyrie. So many things to do, for us both. I regret that."
She saw, from the corner of her eye, Condor looking narrowly at the Watchland. It might almost be funny, if things were different. "Watchland… Jeridan –"
He laughed. "I am not about to become terribly melodramatic with you, Kyrie Vantage, for I have not quite so abysmal a sense of timing nor an over-inflated belief in my personal influence. Still I would ask if there is no way we could convince you to stay? Evanwyl will be much lessened without your family."
Kyrie looked over at the longcoach; inside, the faint dark shadow of Urelle was visible, unmoving, sitting still and quiet. "There are too many painful memories here right now, Jeridan. For myself… for myself it might be I could remain, overcome them, but I have to think of Urelle." She looked back at him more directly. "And in all honesty, I have to be worried that Michael did not die because he was a Saint, but because he was a Vantage."
The handsome face hardened. "Yes. Yes, I suppose you must. It would be unwise to not suspect that as a possibility."
"But," Thornfalcon put in, carrying a long crate of what was probably fishing gear, "does that mean you will return, Lady Kyrie?"
She saw Condor glance up again as he headed back into the Vantage mansion for another box, "Possibly." She managed a painful smile. "Even, I suppose, probably. I won't want to give it all up forever. But I have to get Urelle somewhere far away…"
"…Somewhere safer than here," Victoria said, joining them. "Somewhere the poor girl can recover. Kyrie's holding up remarkably well, I think you'll agree, but Urelle's devastated."
"You will return, of course, Lady Victoria." It was a statement more than a question.
"Sooner rather than later, but the journey to Zarathanton is not a short one, and not entirely safe even along the Great Road."
"Will you require an escort?"
"I've hired a pair of Guild Adventurers to guard us," Victoria answered. "Over there." She indicated the front of the horse team hitched to the longcoach. "And neither I nor Kyrie are entirely unable to defend ourselves, as you know."
Shrike glanced in that direction. "The Iriistik – Gray Warrior, even! Not a bad choice, but that lavender-haired little boy? Looks t' be not old enough t' leave his mommy!"
Victoria smiled thinly. "That, Shrike, is Ingram Camp-Bel. Of Aegeia."
Shrike's eyebrows rose up so high they disappeared beneath the beak of his helm; the Watchland's rose as well. "Dedicated to the task of bodyguarding nobility, from the Incarnate Goddess on down," Watchland Relion murmured. "And trained in the arts of war from the time they can walk."
"Savagely enough that many of their own children die in the process," Mist Owl put in, looking at the slender boy, who in truth did look as though he should just be starting an apprenticeship, with a strange long bladed staff slung across one shoulder and armor of peculiar squarish blocks covered with green fabric. "Then you are fortunate in his presence."
"Yes. He was quite insistent on taking the job once I began the queries, insistent enough that I considered him seriously… and he passed my tests extremely well." Victoria nodded in a satisfied manner.
"What… in the name of Myrionar… is in this thing?" Condor's voice was strained. "Sirza, give me a hand here before I rupture myself!"
Shrike, seeing the younger Saint wrestling with a squarish crate, sighed and walked over. "Young'uns like you always lookin' fer an excuse. Now, let a man take over –" he reached down, grasped the case, and gave a heave – nearly tipping himself onto his face. "Demons an' dragons, girl, are you tryin' t' kill us?"
Kyrie felt her first real laugh since that terrible day two weeks ago come rippling up. "Those are mother's stonesculpt hangings."
Watchland Relion smiled. "Ah, yes, she was famous for her hobby. I have one of her pieces – the radiant sun relief in my dining hall, in fact."
Between them, Shrike and Condor managed to lift the crate and stagger with it to the rear of the longcoach. "Doesn't want to go in…" grunted Condor.
"Put yer shoulder into it, lad," Shrike said; the two Saints pushed the crate into place with two ramming blows. "There. Now I hope there be just some drapes or something light."
"Here, I'll help." Kyrie followed them, leaving the Watchland, Victoria, and Mist Owl discussing the journey to the south. She pointed to another crate. "That's the other stonesculpt crate. I'll get that."
She reached down, squatting just as she'd always been taught, and with a smooth motion hefted the crate. Gods, it's heavy! It occurred to her now that the two crates were probably about the same weight… and together the hangings had been about eight to nine hundred pounds.
Condor and Shrike stared at her momentarily. "Lass, Balance an' Swords, take care! Let us –"
"I've… got it." She gritted her teeth and moved down the path. Not… going to let them… think I can't handle this.
Probably should have asked for help. She felt the ground sink under the combined weight, but held grimly on. Rear of the longcoach. Just have to… lift it… a little more…
With a supreme effort, she pulled the crate up and practically threw it into place next to the first. "Whooo… That'll teach me to try to show off."
"Doubtful. That has always been your problem since you were much younger, Kyrie."
She turned quickly. "Arbiter?"
Kelsley sat in a wheeled chair, pushed by one of the other Seekers… Yana, that was her name. "I know you have been terribly busy, Kyrie… but we have missed you at the Temple."
I knew it. But how can I say it? "Arbiter… I … I am not sure…"
"I know. Twice now you have lost family, twice to cruelty and evil, and no vengeance yet have you seen. I know."
Kyrie was suddenly silent, tears threatening to overwhelm her again, and she realized she was nowhere near as strong as she had thought.
"Kyrie… I know the pain is great. And it seems there is no reason or justice in the world now. But I beg you, do not abandon your – our – god for appearances. There are many vile powers in the world, and one of their greatest goals is to break our faith, take us away from the gods, and the gods away from us. I know of the power of Myrionar, I have felt Its power, and I know Its sorrow, too."
For a moment, she felt that same presence, the one that was sometimes with her in the Temple, and she sensed the sorrow Kelsley spoke of.
"Do not let evil triumph. We need the gods. And they need us. Our faith in times of injustice … brings them strength too, leads them through that which seeks to oppose them, that they can in the end lend us the power to return the world to its right and proper course."
I've lost my mother, and my father, and now my brother! And what has Myrionar given me?
But before she could say it, she looked down at Arbiter Kelsley, still unable to rise for more than a few moments, and – she had heard – likely to need a year or more to recover, and no magic known would avail him. He held Michael in his arms, and tore his own soul apart to try and save my brother, all in the name of the Lord of Justice.
That kind of faith, that personal seeking of justice for her and her family – something that could have cost Kelsley his life – could she ignore it? Dismiss it? When the power to even attempt it had come from Myrionar Itself?
No. It's hard… but no one said justice was easy. Toron himself said how powerful and hidden our enemies were, even to powers of the greatest of the gods. If I am grateful to Father Kelsley for what he has done and tried to do, some of that has to go to Myrionar for giving him, not just the power, but the courage and convictions to risk all for my brother's sake, even when there was no true hope to save him.
She knelt down and took Kelsley's pale hand. "I'm sorry, Arbiter. It is… very hard to keep my faith. But I know what you've done for us, and I won't abandon Myrionar. I will just hope that this time… this time we will find the monsters responsible."
"I assure you," he said, and now his voice was cold iron, "I assure you, Kyrie Vantage, there is no prayer more fervently made at our temple, and no prayer more fully at the fore of my mind every day." He gestured outward, and smiled again. "And I doubt not that it is in the minds of all of these present, especially his former brothers; they help you in this movement because they know they have no other help to offer now, and at least with this they accomplish something. See this, and know neither I, nor they, shall give up… and Myrionar shall not forget."
"Indeed. Nor shall the Watchland of Evanwyl." Relion was beside her again. "One attack, however terrible, could have been just some single, senseless tragedy. This is far more sinister. A small country we may be, but all the resources I may command will be bent towards finding the truth and delivering that truth to you."
She rose and bowed. "I thank you, Watchland."
"It is the least I can do… and far too little, even if I succeed. But you are welcome." He pressed her hand once more, bowed, and returned to his horse. "I have new guardsmen in training, and I must see how they fare. Fare you all well, and take care on the long road."
She waved, then turned towards the Vantage mansion. The sun was setting, and the mansion's front darkened, looking already sad and forlorn.
She went to stand by the door, looking in at the still-silent Urelle, and then looked back at the mansion.
I will be back. Mother, Father, Michael… and Myrionar… I swear that. I will be back.
And a sad farewell...