Well, Phoenix had succeeded... but not everyone had survived...
"Good travels to you, ayr-kin," Tinna said quietly, as she lit the apex point of the Five-Fire under Kimsha's body, the point to the East and the rising sun. "May the One and the Four receive you well, and forgive you the missteps along the path and the misfortunes that led you to this end. Chromaias, receive Kimsha of Waycross in your House of the Five Ways; as he wished, so we have done."
Kimsha's body was arranged with his head to the point, the terrible wound left by the vrytrill hidden, covered by a thick ceremonial robe. Getting that robe on had been a nasty business, which Kyri had volunteered for; in a village this small, all of these people would have been his friends or close acquaintances. No reason to force any of them to do it when I'm here. She still kept her eyes mostly averted from that area, because she could still see the savaged, ripped flesh all too clearly in her mind's eye.
Varji came forward, placing Kimsha's sword at High North, to the right of the Sun. "Your weapon is returned to your hand, Kimsha. May your blade sunder all bonds in service of the Mistress of Music, in her name, Stymira Thanamion."
Quil was next, and on the upper left point he placed the broken fragments of the Rimchime, the vrytrill egg. "The cause of your death was tragedy and accident. Take both with you, and may the Queen of Power burn away all such dark comedies of the world, in her name, Kharianda."
Mangar, the local Watchland, was next, but Kyri missed the exact dedication and prayer to the Lady of Light, because she knew she was next, and was at a loss as to what she could say. She knew the structure of the Chromaian ritual, and she certainly paid her respects to the One and Four, but she'd never actually met Kimsha…
It was quiet, and she realized her time had come. She swallowed and stepped forward, reaching out and placing her hand on the final point of the Five-Fire, even as the flame reached her. The sharp, hot pain seemed to clear her mind, and Kyri understood what she could offer the dead. She endured the flame's touch for a moment and then lifted her hand enough to prevent the burn from becoming too great. "My thanks go with you, Kimsha, ayr-kin. Through you I was tested, and perhaps your spirit saw through me and guided me through the perils to Justice. Though we never met, you did me great service, and you will be remembered in my prayers as well. May peace come to you and may the Guardian of Command embrace your spirit, in her name, Amanora, and," she continued, "may you be welcome, too, in the House of the Balanced Sword, in Its name, Myrionar."
The fire leapt up, all five sides blazing a different color, the blue fire of Amanora enveloping Kyri before she could move. Then the Five-Fire was gone, and all that remained of Kimsha was a black outline that began to blow away on the winds. Kyri blinked, then looked down at her hand.
It was completely unmarked, even the redness and blisters of the earlier burn wiped away. Varji touched her shoulder and bowed when she looked down. "That was well done, Lady Vantage," he said with respect. "Especially for one who had never been a part of a Chromaian funeral before. Your heart's offering was well received."
"Thank you. I… I wasn't sure if I should add that last, but I felt I had to."
Mangar, a grizzled, middle-aged man with a bit of thickening about his middle and the look of someone used to quiet politics more than ritual, smiled. "Chromaias is not terribly jealous of other gods, as long as they respect him. You have told us you serve the Balance of Justice, and at such solemn ritual it is only to be expected you might call upon Her… er, I am sorry, It." He touched hands with the others in the five-fingered open manner of Chromaians. "Now that Kimsha is on his way, I have a small dinner of thanks prepared in your honor, milady, for your fortuitous arrival in our moment of need."
Kyri couldn't restrain the blush. I suppose I should get used to this sort of thing. It's one of the things a Justiciar would expect to encounter after a successful mission, and part of my point will be to be obvious about being a Justiciar. "I … only did as anyone would have."
"Perhaps almost anyone would have tried to help," Tinna conceded, "but how many would have realized the truth before more – either of us, or of the poor vrytrill – died? Not many, I would wager."
"I… well, perhaps not. But I am sure that was Myrionar's guidance, not my wisdom, of which I have little." If I was wise, I don't think I'd be here in the first place.
The "small dinner" was, perhaps, small by the standard of Aunt Victoria's parties, but from Kyri's point of view it was far too large for comfort, with almost 40 people present, most of them talking to her, looking at her, or talking about her. But she drew a deep breath, remembered her aunt's lessons, and tried to be as charming and bright in conversation as her nervousness would let her.
The numbers dwindled as the night drew on, fortunately, and by the time the second dessert, a surprising frozen confection of fruit ices surrounding a flavored cream ice, was served, there were only a few people at the table with her – Tinna, Quil, Varji, and Varji's one-eyed lieutenant Menka; Mangar himself had excused himself to go to bed shortly before. Tinna turned to Kyri and leaned forward. "So, Kyri, you've done very well diverting certain questions, but you didn't just happen to wander by Waycross. What brings you here?"
She realized this was actually the ideal time to ask. "Well… I'm looking for something – someone, actually. I know he's around here somewhere, but that 'somewhere' could be anyplace along a hundred miles or more of Hell's Rim."
Quil nodded, leaning forward himself with a professional air of interest. "So it's information you're after! My speciality! So who is this person you seek? And details, mind you; any details you know may help us remember him, or connect him to someone we do know."
"Don't laugh," she said, realizing what her request might end up sounding like.
"Lady Vantage –" Menka began.
"Kyri, please. 'Lady Vantage' is my aunt."
"Kyri, then. Kyri, no one's going to laugh at you no matter what you're questin' for. Believe us."
"Thank you, Menka." She nodded. "All right, then. I'm looking for the Spiritsmith."
The table went silent for a moment, all the others looking at her with almost unreadable expressions. This was not the laughter she'd feared, nor the incomprehension she'd rather expected; this was something else, and much more unsettling.
Quil was the first to break the silence, with a snort of self-deprecating laughter. "Well, now. I suppose that little dead moment rather limits our ability to claim we know nothing."
"Only now that you've drawn attention to it, Quil! What in the name of –"
"Never mind, love, never mind. Likely neither of us would be here to argue, if she hadn't been on quest. We owe her, and it's according to the Law, I think."
Varji rubbed his chin. "Yes… Yes, I guess so. It's just been so long."
Kyri looked from one to the other. "So I just happen to find the right place the very first time I ask?"
"Not quite that great a coincidence, girl," said Quil with a sharp smile drawing lines on his face into clear relief. "You wouldn't have been in this area if someone hadn't already given you some good hints, and we're not the only village that knows; far from it! No, the Spiritsmith's got his arrangements with every village along that little arc you mentioned. All of us know about him, and every so often we have to do something for him – clean up some monsters, bring him supplies, whatever. In return, we occasionally get little gifts. Little for him, of course."
"You've seen the Spiritsmith?"
"What?" Quil looked shocked, then laughed again. "Oh, no, no, not me, nor any I've ever spoken with. But when we bring our supplies to certain points, they disappear shortly afterwards. And every once in a while, something else is left; a weapon, a piece of armor, a set of tools, a plowshare or a digging tool, all mystical and of incredible quality and performance, and almost always something we really have need of."
"So … will you tell me…"
"Exactly where to go? With pleasure." He gestured to the now-black windows." Go to the place where the road exits our village to the West, where the Rim lies. Look to the West and North, and see the Sundered Peak. There, between the two fangs of heaven, the Spiritsmith has his forge."
Wonderful! I'm almost there!
"But be warned," Tinna said, "it will not be easy."
"Yeah," Varji continued, "there's rules he set up ages back, and he means them. Means them a lot, if you know what I mean. In any case, here they are.
"First, if you are planning to see him, you need to set out tomorrow morning; within one day of learning his location.
"Second, you must go alone. No one can guide you, no one can accompany you.
"And finally, you can buy no more equipment than you already carry. You may leave material behind, but you can neither make nor buy anything new before departing on your journey. You will climb the Sundered Peak on your own… or you will never reach the summit."
Kyri remembered the incredibly steep, forbidding slopes that seemed the entirety of Hell's Rim, and swallowed. I have to climb that with nothing more than I have on me?
She shook her head. "I suppose I should have expected another test."
"That," corrected Tinna, "is not the test."
"That is just the method he uses to prevent people from bothering him too often. The real test will begin if and when you reach his forge; and if you fail that," Tinna's face was grave, "yours will be the next Farewell that we must give."