Rage burned hot and swift, making his blood feel like it was boiling, and a distant, weak part of him knew as he rode the Lines, jumping from one to the other, catapulting over other travelers as he gained speed, mind focused on a singular destination and keenly aware of the time limit he had set for himself, that he should calm himself before he landed but the rage was too great.
Because all that ran through his head on a loop was that this could have all been prevented. Had Qishir Xhala Qinshi not ordered the systematic genocide of the Greywalker race, had ey not sought to wipe out a race that did no harm to anyone lest it be in their own defense and even then they often stayed their hand, then none of this would have happened. He would still have his wings, he would not need to use a constant glamour to hide the scarring that marred nearly every visible inch of his body, he would not need to hide the god-Marks that glowed hot and vivid on both wrists and below his collarbones. Azriel would not be living in forced solitude, bereft of the right to take flight in the skies, locked in isolation without sunlight, without contact with anyone, thinking that Rhyshladlyn had forsworn himself. His sister and brother would not live in constant fear, thankful and sick with that thanks that Anislanzir preferred to take out his perversions on his second son, his back up should his first heir perish. His mother would not have had to face the fear of not surviving the birth of her second set of twins, twins she never should have gotten pregnant with had Anislanzir never been Lord King and had been afforded the opportunity to take over Shiran City in the wake of the Greywalker genocide.
All this useless suffering that could have been prevented had that bitch who ruled the Seven Worlds before Lulphé Akkensahn not sought to overstep eir bounds as a Qishir, to break the Laws carefully written down eons ago when the Seven Great Races still walked the Worlds, when the gods Themselves still moved among Their children, to take the matters of Fate and Life and Death into eir own hands and see fit to play as though ey were a god emself.
And there was no way whatsoever that Lulphé didn’t know what had happened and may whatever gods the Eighth Qishir prayed to give her mercy because if Rhyshladlyn ever got his hands on proof that she knew, that she allowed Anislanzir to take control of a Sanctuary City, to taint it as he had, to break so many more Laws than Xhala Qinshi had, Rhyshladlyn would see that she was pulled apart at the most base magickal level; he would make certain that by the time he was done turning her own magick against her, manipulating it so that it tore her apart at the seams, that even the gods would fear him.
*Rhys, you must calm yourself. You are still part Ancient, if your power gets too out of control you could go nova,* Shadiranamen pleaded but Rhyshladlyn outright ignored her. He had enough control to keep from taking out an entire World though at this point he doubted anyone who knew even a sliver of his story would fault him for doing so, especially if the Eighth Qishir and his accursed sire were present in whatever World he tore apart and sent to the After en masse.
*What do you plan to do, Rhys? Drop down, kick in the doors, and punch Lulphé in the face?* Nhulynolyn asked. *Cuz, I won’t lie, brother, I would pay to see that, however, right now that is not going to help you.*
As he neared the Eighth Palace in the Bondye World, two over from the Fènwa World where Shiran City sat within the heart of the Shiraniqi Desert, Rhyshladlyn hardened his anger into steel colder than the Sülknír blade he had had split to make his Mallacht and Beannacht blades. He had a singular purpose: he had to get to the Records Hall, find the particular scroll he remembered seeing on his last trek there when searching for record of his wings being removed by his father, and if he was proven right by what was inked upon that rolled parchment piece, he would confront the Eighth Qishir if he had the time to spare. If not, it would be done another day.
He dropped down from the Line right into the front courtyard of the Eighth Palace, wings snapping out to help keep his balance, sending golden dust cascading in all directions with the movement; rich red-black, steel grey-tipped feathers fluffed with the anger he was barely restraining, skin and feathers and eyes alike glowing with the power that paced and snarled just below the surface of his hard-won control. Ignoring the startled cries and the frightened looks of the other Dhaoine that populated the courtyard upon his arrival, he straightened his slightly rumpled shirt with a sharp jerk and strode purposefully towards the doors to the Palace as it loomed ahead of him. Rhyshladlyn mourned briefly that he was not able to take the time to admire its imposing black-stoned façade that shimmered like heat rising off stone in the summer, giving the entire sprawling expanse of it the look of a several-storied building being viewed at a great distance through thick fog. Perhaps that was why it was affectionately called the Obsidian Twilight Palace?
Go to the Records Hall ahead of me as you both will travel faster. I need any scrolls I can get my hands on that detail the orders Xhala Qinshi gave eir Court regarding the genocide of the Greywalker race. Any recordings on how their Cities were handed off to other races to take over will also be an aid to me. He told his Others who promptly dropped into solid form beside him, gave a nod each, and were off, blinking in and out of solidity every tens of feet until they were well out of sight.
He knew several guards recognized him, having probably heard rumor of the male Qishir awakened in Shiran City mere weeks before Azriel Kasuske of the House of Veratone had been accused of rape of that self-same Qishir who made demands of the Eighth Qishir only to be ignored, but none of them made move to halt his progress through the Palace halls. Though Rhyshladlyn doubted highly they knew the real reason behind Lulphé’s refusal to allow Rhyshladlyn to speak at Azriel’s tribunal, even knowing that doing so would have exonerated him entirely without a single question asked past, ‘Did this Dhaoine touch you against your will?’ But it didn’t matter whether they all knew the truth of it all or not.
No, what mattered was that he was past his limit, that he had to gather as much proof as he possibly could to back his case before he accused the current sitting Qishir of the Seven Worlds and her predecessor of Fate-working, of ignoring the mistreatment of one of their ilk, and allowing atrocities to be committed within their purview and at their behest.
And Rhyshladlyn figured that ten thousand years was long enough for this shit to have gone uncontested.
“Are we safe to walk these halls, my Lady?” Ero asked, eyeing the way the shadows shifted upon the walls ahead of them and as they passed with a degree of mistrust and suspicion. Azhuri glanced back at her first son’s personal guard before looking forward as she answered.
“Yes, Ero, we are safe to walk these halls. While none save myself and Rhyshladlyn are Marked or Touched by the Old Ones whose altars resided in this part of the Temple, all who come in Truth and Fairness may pass safely.”
“These are known as the Shadow Chambers, are they not?” Alaïs asked, clear blue eyes widening as they followed the movement of a particularly active shadow as it stops mid-hallway ahead of them, what looks like a head tilted to the side, before it darts at the left side bank of bricks, disappearing from sight all together.
“Yes, Al, they are and aptly at that,” Anis replied, only half a step behind his twin, hand wrapped around his sword hilt for the sheer comfort the action brought him. While he held considerable power like all in his family line, he was more likely to use steel and fists in a battle than he was to use his magick. He knew that should any of these shadows, whatever they were exactly, elected to attack that steel would likely do nothing against them but having his sword on him was enough to dull the sharper edges of anxiety that tried to choke him slowly with ‘what if’s, ‘maybe’s, ‘how can you be sure’s. Though, glancing back at Ero who took up the rear position of their party, he was certain his personal guard was wishing desperately for his own steel but he wasn’t part of the royal family and was thus required to hand it over at the entrance to the Temple. Anis felt a stab of sympathy. He’d be a ball of snarling nerves if he’d been required to leave his steel behind before traversing into this maze.
For several minutes the group walked in silence as Azhuri lead them through the maze of hallways, further and further from the main hub of the Temple. The further away they got, the quieter the already faint hum of the bricks became until that hum was barely above a whisper.
“Mother,” Alaïs called making Anis and Ero jump slightly at the suddenness of her voice in the thick silence that had surrounded them in the absence of the bricks’ hum, “are we going to a specific Chamber or is there an open sitting room like in the main part of the Temple?”
Azhuri didn’t jump like the males did, merely kept up that sure, unfazed stride, skirts swishing across the stone floor, kicking up dust that hung like low lying fog around her ankles, remaining suspended until long after they had all passed through it.
“We seek one Chamber, my daughter,” Azhuri replied.
Anis shared a glance with Alaïs who gave him squinted eyes and Ero who raised an eyebrow and shrugged.
“Which one, Mother?” Anis asked for the three of them.
“The Nameless’,” was the response and Anis could have sworn on his life that the shadows that surrounded them stilled suddenly before seeming to almost run from them at the mention of the Patron’s name.
“Is that the god you and Rhyshladlyn-prec’cin share, my Lady?” Ero asked and Anis had to give him credit for being so damned perceptive and remembering that Azhuri had said that she and Rhyshladlyn were Marked and Touched by one of the Old Ones. Given that the three of them knew of Rhyshladlyn’s Markings, it stood to reason that Azhuri was the one god-Touched. But the Lady Queen didn’t have the same Marking, or anything resembling it, that Rhyshladlyn did, and even if she did it would be noticeable given that Azhuri always wore dresses that revealed the tattoos that denoted her rank and her bloodline among the Ancients and those covered every available inch of skin where the Nameless’ Marking would show up.
“Aye, Ero, it is,” Azhuri replied and Anis looked more closely at the leafy vines that marked his mother’s skin and noticed that the stalks of the vines were actually tightly packed runes, runes he recognized as being similar to the ones that graced the skin below Rhyshladlyn’s collarbones. Gods surrounding, how did I not make that connection before now?
It wasn’t much longer before they came to a set of blood-red doors three times the size of a man in height and width, easily large enough that Rhyshladlyn would have been able to walk through the doors with his wings fully extended and still have room between the tips of his longest primary feathers and the door frames. Embossed on those doors was a long handled Scythe with a wickedly curved blade curling down with the tip aiming back towards the handle but stopping just shy of actually reaching it.
Azhuri held up a hand to indicate they should halt before she continued forward, hands held up so that the palms faced the doors, stopping about five feet away, head bowing as her tattoos began to glow the orange-amber of her eyes, power singing softly as it rose to the surface. For long minutes, there was nothing but the sound of her singing power then she spoke and her voice was like a lullaby, one that neither Anis nor Alaïs had ever heard before.
“Nameless, He who is benevolent yet merciless, She who is the Ferryman and the Gate Guardian in equal measure, Ey who is Death and Destruction itself — an end and a beginning existing in tandem, ’tis I, Your chosen Child, Touched by You, come to make manners at Your shrine and ask a question of You if it be allowed.” As the last word faded off into silence, mingling with the singing twang of her power, she stepped forward and pressed one palm to each door, head still bowed.
There was a beat of silence before a thunderous, subvocal boom echoed around them and the doors slowly slid open to reveal a brightly lit chamber and a tall figure clad in a cloak with the hood pulled up to hide its face, long handled Scythe slung over one shoulder, body language giving off an air of calm detachment but with an undercurrent of finely spun anger.
“It has been far too long since you last graced My Chamber, Azhuri Rinnae GreySong,” the figure said and Azhuri dropped to her knees and bowed forward until her forehead touched the floor, hands pressed flat to the floor on either side of her head.
“Is that the–” Ero started to say but Anis cut him off.
“I believe so.” And with that the three of them also fell to their knees and mimicked Azhuri’s pose.
“Rise, young ones,” that figure said, voice as deafening as monstrous ocean waves crashing against a rocky shore, filling the entirety of the hallway until it was as though the air itself was now its voice. “You need not bow to Me so formally. You have already made manners to Me in your own ways and that was enough. Now come inside and speak to Me of My Scion whilst We await his arrival.”
As they rose to their feet and made to follow Azhuri as she crossed the threshold into the Chamber of the Nameless, Anis did something he hadn’t done since they were very little: he reached out and took hold of Alaïs’ hand, twining their fingers together. Judging by the look she gave him at the action, she needed it just as much as he did. With a glance at Ero who looked at dumbstruck as he felt, Anis gently pulled his sister along after him as he went to follow his mother into the Chamber.
I’m about to have a talk face to face with a god and an Old One at that. As they crossed the threshold and the doors closed behind them, Anis had the sudden uncomfortable thought of, who do you pray to for strength when speaking to a god?