Continuing this glimpse into what was removed from the early drafts. As I mentioned, the main content of these is background and character information on Kyri and her life before the main action begins.
Kyri stared numbly down at the remains of the front door; with cruel irony, the fire-charm on the door had remained intact, so the huge portals were unscorched, smeared only with water and soot from the rest of the mansion but otherwise marred only by the deep crescent-shaped gouges where they had, impossibly, been broken open. The deep scars in the wood showed a faint silvery sheen in the rays of the lowering sun.
The angle of the sun struck a faint chord in the back of her mind, and she realized with a sort of apathetic surprise that she hadn't ever slept; despite everyone urging her to move away, to rest, she'd refused to move as the fire raged and the others fought with water and spells and prayer to stop it, force it back, prevent it from spreading. And when the flames had given up the battle and retreated to sullen smoke, she'd refused again, wandering around the grounds, seeing the rear areas where something might have been saved (but not her parents, not the guards like Garrick, Vistle, Camberi, Simmini, or Toll, the Master of House, or Tish, no…), shrugging off the well-meaning comfort of the neighbors, the offer of shelter from Arbiter Kelsley of the Temple, even the gentle words of sympathy from the Watchland, Jeridan Relion himself, to come back always to these familiar, forlorn panels lying flat amidst the ruins.
Urelle had been taken off by Kelsley, who'd used a simple blessing to calm her; Kyri hoped her little sister had managed to get some sleep. She knew Rion hadn't; he wouldn't let her help (and had made it clear that if she tried to bull her way in, he'd have the other men drag her off by main force), but he was trying desperately to clear the debris from where they thought their parents' chambers had been.
A hand touched her shoulder from behind and she pulled away. "Go away."
"Kyri Victoria Vantage, you will need to have far more years and vastly more authority before you can ever tell me to just 'go away'," a strong contralto voice replied tartly.
Kyri spun around, staring at the very tall, elegant, perfectly-attired woman whose severe, regular features she knew were somewhat mirrored in her own. "Aunt… Auntie Victoria?"
The deep blue eyes met hers and suddenly she flung herself into her great-aunt's enfolding embrace, crying, trying to talk but finding herself unable to do anything but sob.
"Oh, child… What a terrible thing," Victoria Vantage murmured. Her mother's oldest living relative had always been their favorite, her stern and forbidding exterior hiding a woman who had followed the adventurer's path and later that of society and politics, and who had endless stories to tell (as well as a willingness to spoil the children she thought of as her own grandchildren, as she had never had any children of her own). Her own gaze fell upon the doors. "Ah. So it is true then. No accident at all."
Kyri wanted to answer properly, sounding grown up, but when she opened her mouth she couldn't say anything coherent. She settled for nodding her head emphatically.
"Broke in the door… no sign of magical destruction. Something undid the security seals, and without raising any alarms. That's… very interesting." The contralto voice was grim now.
With a great effort Kyri got herself under control and pulled away. "That's… hard to do, isn't it?"
The older woman shrugged slightly and gestured, muttering a few indistinguishable words; pearl-white light radiated from her fingers, and she bent down, traced the outline of the doors with the light. "Depends on the seals, of course. For these, yes, I would say very hard, Kyri. Your father and mother were no fools; they paid well to secure their home as well as could be managed here. I know I would not care to have tried it even when I was a much younger woman; one mistake and those seals would disable or even kill, and certainly alert everyone in the household and the nearest Patrol."
"But there was no alert at all!" she protested, almost beginning to cry again. "We didn't hear anything, and –"
"I know, Kyri. And that's most disturbing." Aunt Victoria moved forward, surveying the wreckage narrowly, eyes picking up on details; light flickered around her a few more times, perhaps showing her things invisible to Kyri. "Yes… The wards were completely removed. I find not a trace of them, even though there should be something."
A deep-throated cry yanked them both around, a shout of fury and loss from someone too young to accept the second and far too young to restrain the first. "Monsters! Cowardly, Balance-damned treacherous…" Rion was half-running, half-falling through the still-smoking ruins, whatever fireshielding he'd had for the excavation clearly now running out, but paying no attention to the heat, his sword already drawn. "I'll kill them all!"
Aunt Victoria looked for a moment as though her heart was going to break, but took a deep breath and suddenly looked as sarcastically forbidding as she had that time one of the Watchland's Eyes had suggested she cut down on the time she spent training. "An admirable plan, Rion Kervan Vantage. Such detail and attention to execution. 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?"
Rion rounded on her furiously, sword out, but just stood there wordlessly staring for several moments. Finally he let the sword drop. "I… But I can't do nothing!"
"And no one expects you to. But there is nothing that you can do right now, Rion. Your father was always a level-headed man and I would hope you inherited some of that, it was always your mother who would swing first and ask later."
"But if there's nothing we can do –"
"I," Victoria said severely,"said absolutely nothing about we." Her silvery hair with the blue scarves reminded Kyri forcibly of the blue-and-silver Balance that was the symbol of Myrionar. "I can do something, and I have already done so; what I have seen here has confirmed that I have taken the correct action."
With relief, Kyri saw the last of the unreasoning fury fade from Rion's face. He slowly sheathed his sword, then wiped his face with his sleeve; the effect was not perhaps what he would have wanted, because tears mixed with soot smeared blackly over much of his face. "So what…"
"… have I done? As soon as I heard, I went to Sasha Rithair."
"The Summoner?" Kyri was puzzled.
"Do you know another Rithair in this land? Of course the Summoner. Charming girl, if a bit young for the profession. Still, she's quite good with spirits of air, lightning, that sort of thing, and that was exactly what we needed. She was quite happy to accept some coin and a particularly flawless piece of crystal I've had lying about in exchange for calling up an aerial spirit with the power and strength to make a fast journey to Zarathanton with a letter." Aunt Victoria sighed and shook her head. "They say calling pools and crystals were reliable ways, but that's no option now."
"Not since Dalthunia was taken," Rion agreed absently. Dalthunia had been their buffer and ally to the south, a fairly large country carved out of the hinterlands of the Empire of the Mountain by heroics and political maneuverings over three thousand years ago, but a couple of centuries before Kyri had been born some mysterious force had invaded in a lightning-fast attack that broke Dalthunia's defenses, scattered her armies and nobility, and turned Dalthunia into a country that permitted few if any visitors, restricted travel, and about which no one really knew much of anything. Even communications across their territories were severely restricted. Some rumors said that it was simply the Archmage taking back what had been his, but that seemed unlikely as – apparently – the forces of the Empire were no more welcome to travel there than those of the State of Elbon or Evanwyl itself. "So what was your message?"
"Your father and mother were good followers of Myrionar and famous adventurers. The second means that they made as many enemies as they made friends, though a lot of those enemies have made their final journey," Victoria said, clearly intending to answer in her own way. Despite her resolve to stay, Kyri found that both she and Rion were now walking with their aunt towards her waiting carriage. "The first means that anyone who tried an attack like this must have taken steps to hide themselves from the direct investigation of the Arbiters, perhaps even from the Justiciars themselves. Not an easy task."
No, Kyri thought. Not when Myrionar, as a God of Justice and Vengeance, grants many powers to see through lies to the Truth. Hiding from that is very difficult. "But if they have…"
"… then still they may not have done enough." Aunt Victoria opened the door of the carriage and gestured them inside. Rion cast one more pained look backwards; his shoulders suddenly slumped, and he climbed in slowly. Kyri followed, the realization of her own exhaustion starting to come to her.
"It so happens," Victoria continued as she seated herself and the carriage began to move, "that some years ago when I was not all that much older than you, I was… well, time for that story later. Let's just say that the King owes me a little favor and –"
"The King? You mean the Sauran King?"
"Will you do me the courtesy of not interrupting all the time, child? And what other King would I be referring to? The old lizard has an excellent memory and I'm sure he'll be willing to do me a service or two. In this case," and now a genuine, but very cold smile – the smile of an Adventurer who was readying a trap for an adversary – grew on Victoria's face, "I've asked him to send one of the Lords Adjudicator. Not that I doubt our people here, but I know …" her voice seemed to stumble, "…knew your parents very well indeed, and someone who would do this so quickly and thoroughly had to have thought all aspects of the attack through."
Rion looked impressed despite his exhaustion. "But not this, eh?"
Victoria bit her lip, looking dour for a moment. "I would hope not. The power and skill to mislead Myrionar is not inconsiderable, but to hide it from one of those blessed by the Dragon God and the Sixteen, or – as is the case with some of the Adjudicators – Terian Nomicon, or Chromaias and the Four? Perhaps not impossible… but I have heard of nothing that I would believe could do it, save of course for another god willing to take the risk."
Kyri nodded, her eyelids heavy. "So we'll know soon…"
"I would hope so. But even an aerial spirit will take a few days to travel two thousand miles, and then the Adjudicator must find its way here, so be not overly impatient."
With a jolt, Kyri realized that if there had been further conversation she had missed it; the carriage had jolted to a halt in front of Victoria Vantage's fortress, the second-most formidable construction (aside from the guardwall across Rivendream Pass) in all of Evanwyl. Only the Watchland's castle surpassed Vantage Fortress, and according to family legend the foundations of the five-sided fortress were laid by five great wizards using all five Great Elements – which if true might make it even harder to destroy than the Watchland's own.
Rion looked barely awake too as he climbed heavily out of the carriage and followed their aunt inside. "So… all we can do is wait?"
"For now, you – and your sister – need to get something to eat and then rest." Victoria put an arm around each of them and hugged. "What we can do… we will do later.
"The dead do not need our haste, remember that, child. They need our justice."