Now we jump far, far ahead to near the end of the book. This chapter was deleted because the book ended very, very differently. Not only did Xavier only show up for a couple of chapters (being sent off to Idinus of Scimitar rather than the Wanderer, and thus not traveling with Tobimar and not showing up for the final battle), but also there was no "screw you" trap following Thornfalcon's death, and after their meet-and-greet, the three companions did, in fact, burn Thornfalcon's mansion to the ground and didn't confront the remaining Justiciars at the Temple. Instead...
"I'm sorry, Arbiter, but… I have to withdraw." Tobimar looked devastated. He's doing a good acting job, have to give him that, Poplock thought from his seat on the exiled Prince's shoulder.
Kelsley closed his eyes and sighed. "It is of course entirely your business – and I thank you for the return of this package, they do cost some coin to have made. Yet if I might ask, what brought you to this conclusion?"
"It's in there." Tobimar pointed to the envelope on top of the returned information packet. His lips tightened. "I suppose the honest truth is I'm afraid… afraid I'm just completely outclassed. It's not easy to say."
"Such admissions are always hard for a true Adventurer," Kelsley said after a moment, and managed a sympathetic smile. "But Myrionar counsels that we use Wisdom, always, and knowing one's limitations is wise. Did you… learn anything?"
"What I learned I've written down. In summary… this Phoenix is just terribly powerful. I was there in time to see the ending of her battle with Thornfalcon, and I know from what I saw that I wouldn't have stood a chance against her. Not now. In five years, maybe, but that won't do you any good now."
"Her?" Kelsley repeated, eyebrow raised. "You are sure?"
Poplock, now sure that the Arbiter's attention was fully riveted on Tobimar, eased his way back and began to slip to the floor. I've got work to do.
Meanwhile, Tobimar continued the conversation. "Well, not absolutely. But the voice sounded feminine to me, and at the least the Phoenix had managed to trick Thornfalcon into thinking he was going home with a lady – and, if you'll excuse me for saying so, from what I've heard Thornfalcon would be very, very hard to fool in that category, given his… experience."
That drew a sad laugh from the Arbiter, smoothing out worry lines for a moment. "I cannot argue there, Tobimar. Still, it is a terrible shame. We've had only three take the contract so far and I had the highest hopes for you, given your being Zarathanton Guilded and having made your way here on your own."
Poplock slipped into the back temple area behind one of the… Seekers, that was it. The door closed, cutting off his ability to listen to the conversation. He knew Tobimar could keep things going a while, but he had to try to make things quick. If he had to, of course, Tobimar would leave him behind and trust Poplock to get out and rejoin them once he was done, but by preference they should do this all together.
She said what we're looking for will be in the Arbiter's records.
"But it's going to be sealed and warded, Poplock. Those are Temple secrets. How –"
"We're doing this for the real Myrionar, Kyri," he'd pointed out. "If – and I mean if – your Arbiter Kelsley's actually with the good guys, just tricked by the baddies, then his wards will be Myrionar's, not this faker's. Which means that the god won't get much in my way."
"And if we're wrong about Kelsley – or if someone else put extra protections on it?" Tobimar had asked.
He'd winked. "I've gotten pretty good at getting past stuff."
That much was of course true – studying magic, alchemy, and all-around sneakiness had been a major focus of his life the past few years. Still, don't start swimming without at least looking into the water first. He knew they were playing on a level that – honestly speaking – was way above them, even little miss Phoenix, and getting past holy wards (or, more likely, unholy wards) wasn't something to laugh about.
So let's hope that Kyri's right about Kelsley, and that the baddies want to keep him in the dark so they won't risk using any of their, well, not-so-pure powers inside his temple.
Of course, the Sword Sanctum – the Arbiter's private offices and quarters – was locked. But since it was a central room, in the heart of the Temple of Myrionar, he knew it would have to have air passages. A few minutes of careful scuttling and he found one in one of the outer offices. Exterior grates always have tougher shielding and sometimes stuff stronger than verminseal. Inner ones, usually not, unless they're big enough for most people to go down.
He gave a wide-mouthed grin as he inched behind a records cabinet and began squeezing up towards the top so that he could reach the grate. I used to really hate being this small. Not quite the smallest of our people ever, but when the average is forty times your size…
But he happened to be roughly the same size as a large, normal – non-Intelligent – toad, smaller than even the smallest of the common – or not so common – intelligent species. And for his chosen approach to Adventuring, he'd come to accept, this was an asset that was simply invaluable. Sure, mages and such could shapeshift sometimes to really small forms, but they would show up as transformed, and there were some pretty simple and strong wards that prevented anyone under that kind of enchantment from just crawling into most places. In a world filled with magic you couldn't bar all magic, but changing a shape was pretty powerful and specific magic. And if you weren't used to living at that size, in that specific shape, you'd be pretty clumsy, and getting past the other dangers would be a real challenge.
So actually, I'm just about perfect for these kind of jobs. And with Tobimar and others around to confuse the issue, most people won't even know I'm here.
He reached the top of the cabinet, looked around to make sure no one was looking, and stretched up. Yep, standard verminseal… key locks on the grille with convenient hinges, even! Guess they clean 'em out regularly. Thoughtful of them.
The air was being pulled by a minor elemental charm… he squinted. Hmm. The viewing lens showed a bit more complexity than he expected. Check again… no one here yet. He sketched another rune with a thin temporary stylus onto the lens, looked again. Oh, nice design. But a pain.
The air current had a simple contingency alert on it which would alert cleaners if anything was obstructing the flow. Unfortunately, small though Poplock was, he'd be more than large enough to significantly slow airflow through the vents while he was worming his way through them. And I don't need the cleaners coming through!
He thought a moment, then looked around. Oh, that's good. A manual cleaning indicator. He edged over, pulled the crystal sideways, and the airflow slowed, stopped. I'll just have to remember to turn it back on when I'm done.
The Temple of Myrionar wasn't a very complicated building, so finding his way back to the Sword Sanctum was easy, and reaching through to unkey the grille worked fine.
Now… inside that big case or cabinet behind his desk.
The massive cabinet – really more of a miniature vault – loomed up a full five feet tall and seven wide, emblazoned with the symbol of the Balanced Sword. Poplock didn't need to use the inspection lens to sense the wards on this one; his training in the different magics was enough to give him that at this range.
He closed his eyes and rested one paw lightly on the door. Myrionar, I'm here in the name of your final and first Justiciar, Phoenix. And maybe in the name of Blackwart himself, too. If this is a true seal of your name, open this door, for you know that we seek what lies within for your sake. He paused, then added, And really, I won't take anything else. Even if it's really shiny.
The door clicked and opened, and Poplock felt a flash of elation and relief. He had not wanted to go back to tell Kyri that Arbiter Kelsley wasn't what he seemed. Now we've learned one of the most important things already.
He bounced inside and looked around. Oo. Good thing I made that promise. There's a lot of shiny in here. This vault contained what were probably not just treasures, but special holy tools and relics of the church, to be used only for specific occasions.
But it also held a bunch of files and papers, and that was what he was looking for. A very specific set… too bad it's not going to be clearly labeled.
The door to the Sword Sanctum rattled.
Even as Poplock turned, trying to figure out what to do, the doors of the Arbiter's Vault swung shut on their own; he sat, frozen, as total blackness sealed him in. This could be very not-good!
He pressed his head up against the crack in the doors. Faintly, he heard the Sanctum doors open and a set – no, two sets – of footsteps entered.
"Nothing here, Bolthawk."
"I swear I sensed something… something holy."
The first voice chuckled cynically. "You're in a still-hallowed Temple. What do you expect?"
"Do not laugh, Skyharrier. I meant something active, as though a prayer was answered, and how could that be when the Arbiter's out front talking to that gutless excuse for an adventurer?"
Ooo, good thing Tobimar isn't here for that one.
"What about the Vault?" Poplock heard footsteps approaching; he reached back and drew out Steelthorn, though after watching the battle with Thornfalcon he didn't have any illusions about what his chances would be. Might do one some real damage if I hit fast before they see what's coming. Maybe.
Smack! The sound of a slap of a gauntlet on armor. "Don't touch it, you idiot. Kelsley's bound to have it warded and right now we still need him. You ruin the masquerade with him by a move like that, and you'll be gone like Silver Eagle."
"Sorry. I'm still sure I sensed something."
"There's too much activity in this Temple, that's the problem. The Seekers set off my nerves all the time. I've tried my Eyes, there's nothing else in here, the Vault's closed." A few scuffling sounds, a door opening. "And nothing under the desks, in the closets, or… in Kelsley's apartments, either."
"Surprised those aren't warded."
"Wards go active when he's in there; on the Vault, they'll be active all the time. The doors are the main security, and if you've got the key you can get in." Sound of doors closing. "Let's get back to work. I want to get back to Justiciar's Retreat before Condor does."
A grunt from Bolthawk. "Too right there. Funeral for Shrike is going to leave him in a royal temper." The voices faded as the two left, closing the Sword Sanctum doors behind them.
The Vault doors swung back open a crack. Thank you, Myrionar. Thank you very much.
But that had wasted a lot of valuable time. He scrabbled around, looking for what he needed. Mud and dust, I need to keep it neat but I still need to hurry!
He dug down towards the bottom of the stack, looking at cryptic labels on files. Most of them were clearly not what he was looking for…
Justiciar's Retreat! The words flickered by and he had to stop and back up. He pulled out the small set of papers and shuffled them. Last one… that's what I need. A quick check showed a minor anti-copying curse was in effect, but there were simple ways around that. A blank sheet from his pack, laid down over the original, then traced with light and shadow. Good enough.
He pushed the papers back into the file, stowed away the copy he'd made, then carefully tried to restore the files to the same order and positions they'd had when he came in. Have to be good enough; I can't be absolutely sure, but hopefully he doesn't memorize every detail.
Out of the little Vault, swing the doors shut, back up to the vent… Key them back shut… don't forget to turn the air back on when I get out, that'd be a stupid thing to do. Or not do.
Getting out of the back temple turned out to be the hardest part. He had to hide in the shadow of a coat-rack for five minutes before one of the Seekers came along to exit.
A few more minutes and he was climbing up Tobimar's back. The Prince rose. "I wish I could tell you more, Arbiter, but really, that's all I could do."
"Don't apologize, young man. You accomplished a great deal in so short a time, even if the news you had to bring was … not the news we wished. And I will not criticize you for deciding that wisdom decrees that you find other challenges of adventure than this one. In some ways, I suspect the Justiciars will prefer this. They wish to solve it on their own." Kelsley rose as well and showed them to the door. "May the Balanced Sword guide and protect you, Tobimar Silverun."
"May there be ever Light in Darkness for you, Arbiter."
Tobimar bowed, still looking grim and slightly shame-faced, and strode off, clearly heading to the south. Once well out of sight of Evanwyl, he turned his head. "Well?"
"Got it. Now let's go meet up with her and find out what she has in mind."
Tobimar nodded, then slowed, and looked back. He stood there for a long moment, and Poplock understood, looked back himself. The exiled Prince reached up, and the Toad put his front paws on the dark-skinned hand. "We're still on the mission, Arbiter," Tobimar said quietly. "And when we come back… we'll finish it."