This chapter introduced some of the concepts that pervade the story -- procedures of investigation that are similar to those seen today -- and also showed us the Justiciars as Kyri knew them. In terms of plot, this was some of the hardest material to lose (and the following chapter) because it established who the Justiciars were to Kyri and how they were seen prior to things going south.
"No, Milady." Thornfalcon's face seemed even longer and sadder than usual beneath the silver-beaked helm. The poet and would-be swashbuckler of the Justiciars of Myrionar, Thornfalcon's lugubrious exterior usually masked a playful romantic, ready with a compliment for a lady or a quip to set a room laughing.
But there was no laughter there now. He looked defeated, mirroring the slumped shoulders of the other Justiciars present. "We have prayed, we have called upon the vision of Justice. Nothing."
Kyri looked from one to the other, the shining heroic figures of her childhood – of almost every child in Evanwyl – fighting the crushing disappointment in her heart. "Nothing?"
Silver Eagle shook his head, throwing the blue and silver cape back as the light wind made it wrap around him, and looked up at the ruins of the mansion. There was no more smoke now, more than a week after the fire, but everything still smelled of burning and death. She saw Eagle's beard quiver as he clenched his teeth before answering. "Not a trace. The wards were removed, that much is clear, by some force before the assault began. But that force left no trace, and the fire destroyed any chance of determining exactly who and what did the killing."
"And Myrionar is silent?"
"The Balanced Sword does not speak." The pearlescent armor of Mist Owl, the only Artan (or,as some called them, Elven) Justiciar, reflected the gray of the sky in sad, muted rainbow hues. "This tells us that whatever force acted here has powerful support, for in the name of Justice and Vengeance It will always speak and guide us upon the proper course… unless Myrionar Itself cannot see."
Shrike and Condor came down from the wreckage, the short, rock-solid older man seeming even shorter and even the tall, long-limbed form of Condor shrunken in defeat. "As we thought. Swords, axes… no weapons of unusual signature. The fire was alchemically started – no ordinary material could have caused such a swift and complete blaze. But that tells us little; anyone could have purchased infused oil or even pure fire essence."
"But they would have needed a considerable amount to do this." Victoria Vantage pointed out.
"Agreed," Thornfalcon said, "And do not think that we are giving up. We shall search for any large purchases. We will question any and all who may have seen anything. We will trace every connection, all those who may have held a grudge against the Vantage family, who might have feared they knew something or would act in some way against them…" His long fingered hand clenched tightly on the hilt of his ornate rapier, and Kyri felt a pang of sympathy; the Justiciars were the protectors of Evanwyl, their heroes for generations, each who was fortunate enough to take up one of the seven sacred armors given blessings of strength, senses, protection, and healing to seek out and right injustices. To fail here, with such an outrage perpetrated on one of the oldest and most loved families… "… we will never rest until we find them, Kyri. We, the Justiciars, promise you that."
"Aye." Shrike's usually gruff voice was soft. "That we do, lass." He glanced over at Rion, who had said nothing.
She'd thought her brother too lost in thought to notice, but he looked up. "I will find them myself, if you do not." She was relieved; he was clearly as disappointed as she was, but kept himself from letting any accusation of failure reach his voice.
"I have no doubt you will. But seek them not alone; whoever or whatever they were, mazakh or old enemies returned or even some devilment from Moonshade Hollow beyond Rivendream Pass, they were clever, careful, wise in their evil and very prepared indeed. Your father and mother may have been softer than in their youth, but no ordinary creatures could have caught them so off guard." Silver Eagle laid his gauntleted hand firmly on Rion's shoulder. "Make sure you have strong and worthy companions on that quest, Rion Vantage." He gestured to the others. "We have done what little we could here. We must confer and meditate, and then act. As Thornfalcon has said, there is much to do, but we must do it wisely and well, not hastily for the sake of our anger. Both justice and vengeance come in time."
The Justiciars bowed to the family with the sign of the Balanced Sword and left, the heaviness of their tread showing how deeply their failure affected them.
Aunt Victoria watched them go and did not speak until they had vanished down the road. "I wish I had not expected that."
"Is Myrionar so weak a god?" Rion's voice was bitter. "Have we followed something so impotent that it cannot even protect us in the name of justice and vengeance?"
Kyri was speechless for a moment; she'd never heard such words, even thought to hear such words, from her brother.
"Perhaps when you can answer the questions the Justiciars cannot, you will be in a position to make that judgement, Rion Kyril Vantage, but I'll thank you not to insult the gods in my presence until you reach that point!"
Rion winced, but stood, glaring down at his aunt. "I'm sorry it bothers you, Aunt Victoria, but what is the point of following one of the gods if they cannot even act in their own aspect?"
"Sometimes," a massively deep, resonant voice said from behind them, "sometimes, young Vantage, they wait for those through whom they will act."
Not forty feet from them stood an immense figure, eight feet high, scaled with green-black armor, massive shoulders supporting a crested head with deep-set black eyes. A pattern of multicolored gems was inlaid into the scales on each shoulder; a warstaff was slung over the creature's back, held by a leather harness from which multiple small pouches and containers also hung, with a split pack on either side of the back. Plates of silvery protective armor covered a long tail, ending in edged flanges which turned the tail into a deadly weapon indeed.
"What –" Rion stepped back, hand going to his sword.
Victoria laughed. "Do not even think of drawing that sword, Rion." She ran forward, looking almost young for a moment. "I can't believe it! Old Bridgebreaker!"
The reptilian face was more expressive than Kyri would have expected, and it showed an odd mix of fondness and wincing embarrassment at Victoria's familiar address. "Not that old nickname, unless you want me to call you the V—"
"Oh, I think not!" Victoria hastily cut him off. "Children, this is … let me get the pronunciation correct if I can… T'Oroning'Oltharamnon hGHEK," the last sound sort of an inhaled choke or cough, "R'arshe Ness, first brother to the Sauran King of Zarathanton and the State."
Kyri stared open-mouthed, then tried frantically to remember the proper courtesy; true nobility was almost never seen in Evanwyl, the Watchland notwithstanding, and the Ancient Saurans, children of the Great Dragons, were unique even among nobility. That's right, the armed bow… She made sure her own sword was visible, then did a deep bow, extending one leg behind her for balance and to imitate the presence of a tail, then pivoted slowly around so that she faced away from him, bowed slowly to the air, and finally turned to face the huge creature again. She could see Rion had also performed the same gesture.
As they halted, the Sauran gave a chuckle like a kettle filled with rolling stones. "Drilled some courtesies into them, have you, Victoria?" He bowed deeply, keeping his eyes fixed on them, and then spun about to repeat the bow, the bladed tail indicating that even from behind he was not helpless.
"I do what I can, Toron."
"And still using that abominably, not to mention insultingly, shortened version of my name." The Sauran's voice, fortunately, held amusement rather than annoyance.
"It did us well enough back then. I'll admit I didn't expect him to send you."
"It was not just for your sake – though my kingly brother has not at all forgotten your services. He wished me to look into some other disquieting events in the outer regions. From here I may return via Hell's Edge, and on the way here I was able to gain some personal sight of what Dalthunia has become."
"So… sir…" Rion said, "You are a Adjudicator?"
"Adjudicator, Master of the Marshaled Hosts when the time calls for it, Warrior of the Sixteen and the Dragon God. That I am."
Master of the… that makes him not just the King's brother, but the warmaster and head of security for the greatest country in the world. How in the world does Aunt Victoria know him?
"Well, then, we'd best not waste your time. You know why I've called for a Adjudicator."
Toron bowed solemnly. "My sympathies and those of the King to you all." He looked around. "And here is the scene of the assault. I shall begin immediately."
"Can I watch?" The words were out of Kyri's mouth before she realized how inane they must sound.
Apparently they didn't sound quite that bad to the Ancient Sauran Adjudicator, because he chuckled again. "There may be little to see, despite the reputations of Adjudicators. And for me to commune with the Powers fully, I need as much quiet as possible."
"Come then, children." Rion looked reluctant, but followed.
Kyri glanced back before they entered the carriage; the huge draconic figure stood, staff out and planted in the ground before it. Somehow, though he did not move, he looked like a creature preparing for a mighty battle.
Then may you defeat lies and win the truth, Adjudicator. Because we need to know.