Rhyshladlyn felt the City come alive around him the second his bare feet touched the cobblestones of the street and he closed his eyes tightly at the feeling as it skittered along his nerves. The City had always greeted him whenever he returned from an extended absence, but never so intensely.
Rising slowly from the crouch he’d landed in, he cast his gaze around at the place he’d been raised in, at the City that had been his home for nine decades, and found himself taken aback that while it looked familiar it didn’t feel that way. It felt foreign, like the small town a few miles trek from where their cabin used to be had felt at first. The streets were still made of multicolored cobblestones, pitted in places, raised in others, like the streets themselves were ocean waves trapped on land. The buildings were still of varying heights, some with thatched roofs, others made of stone or wood or metal sheeting. Everywhere was random splashes of color painted over the golden hue that the bricks of the older buildings, the outer City walls, the Great Temple, and the Palace far up on the distance hill held. The humming song of the power that protected the City thousands of years after the fall of the race that built it had passed on a constant backdrop to the normal, every-day and -night sounds found in any city, town, or village throughout the Worlds. Nothing was different from what it was when he still lived within the boundary walls but nothing was the same. It was disconcerting.
It had only taken six months for Shiran City to no longer be recognizable to him as home. What would it have looked like in a year? Two years? A decade? He wondered as his gaze came to rest on the Great Temple rising from the stones half a block before him, debris left in the wake of thousands of City-folk celebrating the coming of the Harvest the night before scattering in the wind caused by his wings manifesting with a snap behind him. It was still early enough that not a lot of Shiran’s residents were moving along the streets, but enough were making their daily pilgrimage to the Temple to make manners to their gods that his presence didn’t go unnoticed. And when it was noticed he felt a slow, sickly sweet smile twist his lips as those who spotted him stopped walking, eyes wide as they stared at him and the two sets of wings they knew he didn’t have when he left. Let them stare, let them be able to spread the news of his secondary wings’ regeneration and the way the City reacted to him. Let his father hear about it and realize why the Wards had allowed him inside, let the Lord King feel a sliver of the fear he had always made the Qishir feel.
He knew the Wards had been altered so he should not have been able to pass safely into the City without his magick signature being recognized and setting off a thousand and one alarms. He could feel the alterations, could pinpoint them easily, and had he wished to be petty he could easily alter them back. But that was an endeavor that would take hours and his time here was already bought and limited as a result. So he would leave the Wards as they were, at least for now.
Though he hadn’t expected the Lord King to go so far as to remove him from the Wards, Rhyshladlyn couldn’t very well say he was surprised either. Anislanzir had most likely assumed that his second born wouldn’t have returned short of leading an army to the gates, the Qishir and those behind him clamoring for the Lord King’s head on a platter. But what Anislanzir had never counted on was that once escaping the prison the City had been made into for him, that the Qishir would do everything he could to grow more powerful, to alter his magickal signature just enough that when he did return no changes to the Wards to keep him out would be successful.
Granted, he was back in the City far earlier than he had planned to be, the sting of being “home” along already frayed nerves was bittersweet, but he was here; may as well cause as much chaos as he could for the Lord King before he slipped out of the bastard’s grasp yet again. So he didn’t bother with a glamour on his appearance, his wings, or his scars. Let the people see him and spread word of his return and pilgrimage into the Great Temple; let them speak of how once entering the Temple he didn’t leave, simply vanished from within its golden, humming confines. Let them make a ghost story out of him, a myth that even those who had met him, spoken with him, laid physical touch upon him didn’t know whether there was truth in his existence or not. Let Father get his breeches in a bunch over how I got in and out without anyone stopping me, without any alarms going off. Hope the not knowing makes his teeth rot.
He sighed heavily before rolling his shoulders to settle his wings more comfortably against his back and took a slow, hesitant step forward. His Patrons may have seen him safely into the City but there was no telling how far Their reach extended and whether said reach would enable him to remain inside the City uncontested. There was nothing written or passed down about how the gods’ abilities worked within the confines of a City, the one place in all of Existence where Balance reigned supreme. So with each step he took without the Wards of the City ceasing its happy singing at his arrival, Rhyshladlyn’s smile grew until his fangs were on full display and he was fighting not to unleash the giggle that had begun to bubble in his chest. With each step he took, he felt the City’s power rise up from the cobblestones in increasing levels, wrapping gently around his calves, up over his thighs, across his buttocks, up past his waist, over his chest, wrap around his shoulders, caress down his back, and cover his arms. It was welcoming him, tasting his signature, learning him, and asking as it did so if it could give him a gift to show it meant him no harm.
What could it hurt? After all, he wasn’t about to upset the one thing in the entire area that was, evidently, on his side.
Sure, Shiran, he answered as though speaking to a sentient being, which if one went by the beliefs of the Greywalkers who built the City, Shiran City was as sentient as any Dhaoine alive. I would be honored to receive a gift from you. He didn’t look too closely at the fact that he was speaking to the City. Sure it had always greeted him with brushes of power, had hummed louder at times, sang long notes of worry and jubilation and fear at key times in his life, but this was the first time it had ever spoken to him and he replied. Though, he supposed, until I spoke that Deathbed Prophesy and triggered the events that followed, it didn’t recognize me as a descendant of the Greywalkers that built it.
The answer came in clips of emotion, disjointed but no less understandable for the lack of proper sentence structure. Joy. Gratitude. Protection given. Gift good. Much happiness. Safety. Always proud.
And then he felt like a weight had settled on his body and he came to an abrupt stop, looking down at himself to find that where the City’s power had been slipping along his skin moments before armor now lay. It wasn’t plated or made of any metal but it shimmered in the early morning sun’s rays as though it were; the grey-dyed leather woven from magicks far older than anything Rhyshladlyn had felt outside of the older parts of the Palace and the Great Temple. The protections inherent in that magick thrummed like a plucked fiddle-string, long and resonant, altering with each breath he took until it matched the melody his own magick gave off. He knew instinctively that the armor would change its density and resiliency in response to him a split second after the thought had formed. It would anticipate what he needed and shift to reflect that. It would become normal clothing when he wasn’t engaged in battle and shift immediately to armor when he was. It was extremely power magick, old magick at that, and it floored him that Shiran City had simply given it to him.
Shiran, he whispered to the City, touching the tunic that covered his torso with shaking hands, his awe palpable. I… this gift is too great. I cannot accept it from you.
Insistent. Gift good. Much happiness. Freely given. Always proud. Safety. Keep. Insistent.
Insistent. The ground below his feet trembled and he held his hands palms to the cobblestones with an indulgent smile.
Aye, as you wish. He chuckled, shaking his head in abject awe. My indescribable thanks.
With a deep breath to steady himself, Rhyshladlyn waved his left hand and called in Mallacht and Beannacht to strap them both to his back. This was the first time he would wear his blades into the Great Temple, even if he was no doubt now under the same rules as the rest of Shiran’s denizens, disowned as he no doubt had become with his act of matricide and fleeing of the City half a year prior. As he approached the entrance and the guard stationed outside it he saw the young neodrach’s eyes were already wide, as ey recognized him on sight–never mind had likely witnessed the City giving him the tunic, breeches, boots, and vambraces he now wore–and the fear that thickened the air made bile rise swift and hot up his throat.
He would never be like his father, unwarranted fear did not excite him: it made him sick.
“Peace,” he raised his hands up, palms facing the guard that had scrambled to wrap a trembling hand around eir sword. “I mean no harm. I was Called here by my Patrons,” he gestured with one hand towards the Temple, “I shall speak with Them and then leave, peacefully, without incident so long as I am allowed to pass unhindered.”
“You cannot…cannot be here, your Majest–sir,” the guard stuttered, eir hazel grey eyes large and round in a face that was pale even for a Sinner Demon. Rhyshladlyn raised an eyebrow, eyes roving over the form that was no doubt neodrach-born but leaned more towards the feminine side, hair cropped to just above eir shoulders a rich brown in the spots where the shade created by the Temple still hid it from the sun and a brilliant auburn where the sun touched it. How this Dhaoine became a guard for the City was beyond him; ey was pigeon-toed which naturally threw off eir balance and made the likelihood of em surviving a fight minimal at best, not possible at worst. Ey was also barely above five feet tall which made eir reach in both arm and leg well shorter of any opponent ey was likely to face, both at home and on the battlefield as nearly every Sinner Demon was taller than six feet in height, and no Dhaoinic race was known for it’s short stature.
“Who’s brilliant idea was it to make you a guard?” Rhyshladlyn barked as he dropped his hands to his sides, his ire not directed at the guard but at whoever had decided to make em fodder to throw forward, a pawn to die first in a game of chess in which there were no do-overs.
Hazel grey eyes blinked owlishly at him as ey leaned unconsciously back against the wall behind em, that shaking hand finally having found eir sword hilt but not drawing it. So at least ey knew that drawing that blade would ensure that Rhyshladlyn was unable to pass em by peacefully. At least whoever gave em eir sword was kind enough to make sure that knowledge was passed along.
Gods surrounding, I’m gone for six fucking months and training has absolutely gone to shit. Anislanzir, what in the Cliffs of Oblivion are you even thinking?
“I-I-I was…was plucked from my home, your Maj…s-sir. I was given a sword, a uniform, and told to stand guard h-h-here at the Temple,” ey replied, the fear from before taking a new taste but thankfully it didn’t increase in potency.
“Wait,” he held up a hand, waved it, dropped it to his side, lifted it to cover his forehead, then dropped it again, “someone just pulled you from your home, gave you armor and a blade and was like, do this thing? You received no training as a guard? You didn’t train on the fields? Where in the Great Mother’s swinging, milk-laden tits is Qityor?”
The guard just shook eir head, eyes widening to almost comical levels and Rhyshladlyn tilted his head back, eyes rolling skyward before he closed them tightly, sent out a prayer for strength and looked back at the guard, waving his hand to dismiss his previous rapid fire questions.
“Never mind any of that. What is your name?”
“Bayls, your Majes…s-sir,” ey replied. “Bayls Qaeniri.”
“Do you bend knee to the Lord King, Bayls Qaeniri?” He asked and smiled when the guard straightened, fear falling away to be replaced by indignation that was the beginning stages of hatred.
“No, I fucking don’t, your Majesty,” Bayls answered, eir shaking and stutter gone, having finally decided to use the Qishir’s rightful honorific title.
Rhyshladlyn’s smile turned sharp at the edges. “Good, I am pleased to hear as much. Lay down that sword, Bayls Qaeniri, you needn’t concern yourself with it.”
“But what about my post?” ey queried with a frown and a wave at the Temple behind em, head tilted to the side.
“Do you have family to be concerned about?” Rhyshladlyn countered, deciding to change tactics. He would not pass that guard if ey still held onto that sword. Plus he had a mind to put em to better use, he just didn’t know what that would be yet.
Bayls shook eir head. “No, the Lord King had my mother taken for his own pleasure some months past and my brother was cut down for trying to save her. I am not pleasing to the Lord King’s eye, so they made me a guard of the Temple, told me to watch for you and cut you down when you came.”
“Even though everyone knew you would not survive the encounter,” Rhyshladlyn’s voice was flat, anger thick around each syllable.
All Bayls supplied by way of response was a nod and Rhyshladlyn felt his blood boil but he didn’t let it consume him. What Anislanzir had done to the neodrach was shameful, but what Rhyshladlyn was about to offer was nearly on par. The only difference being that he, unlike his father, would offer it as a choice.
“Lay down your sword, Bayls Qaeniri, I have a proposition for you,” Rhyshladlyn said after a moment spent to control his building fury.
There wasn’t a moment of hesitation before the neodrach did as bid.
“What would you have of me, your Majesty?” It was then that he noticed eir voice was high and sweet, almost singsong, the slight hint of a stutter clouding eir words but not as prevalent as it was when Rhyshladlyn had first come upon em. Ey would make a great storyteller, ey has the voice for it. It was that thought that solidified his half formed idea.
“I would have you tell the Truth to any who will listen,” Rhyshladlyn closed the distance between them, lifting his left hand until his fingers touched along Bayls’ jaw, dancing soft and kind along the bone before the Qishir dropped his hand to press it flat against the neodrach’s chest in the valley of eir breasts. “A war is coming, one that will see millions dead and will last for decades and I would have the Truth spread as far and as fast as possible before it hits. Would you being willing to do that for me?”
Bayls nodded, hazel grey eyes clear. “Aye, your Majesty.”
“Good,” Rhyshladlyn smiled. “Go in safety and with the knowledge that what you do will please the Old Ones,” and with that he gently brushed against the outer walls of the neodrach’s mind before giving em the full, unadulterated version of events from his childhood until he left Shiran City. When he was finished, he easily caught Bayls as eir knees buckled. “My thanks for this, Bayls Qaeniri. When you have touched as many as will listen in all the Worlds, speak my name and I will find you.”
As he stepped back and made for the Great Temple’s door, Bayls called out to him one final time, tears staining eir cheeks. “Why did you choose me for this, your Majesty? I’m no one special.”
Rhyshladlyn wished he had a profound answer, wished he could say something that wouldn’t sound like the neodrach was expendable, like he wasn’t using em as Anislanzir had, only he had given the Dhaoine the choice to be used. But he didn’t, and even if he did, he wouldn’t have said it were it not the truth.
“You were there, Bayls Qaeniri, and I needed someone to do this task and had no one else I could spare for it,” he turned and stepped through the doors before he could see the look of disappointment and shocked anger that he could all but smell twist across the sweet, pale features of eir face.
“And because this way you may survive whereas had I left you where you were you wouldn’t make it through the night,” he added in a whisper as the Temple doors shut behind him before turning and taking the hallway that would lead him to the Shadow Chambers of the Old Ones, following the Call of his Patrons, whispered along the walls that slowly dimmed from the brilliant, pulsing gold to the muted golden grey of the older parts of the Temple.
Fate, why did You choose me of all the Dhaoine in the Worlds, to do this? Did You truly think I was capable of handling this? After everything else You put me through, You had to add this to the list? He accused, knowing he wouldn’t get an answer and not caring either way.
Because it fucking hurt being home again, feeling the City around him, its unfamiliar-familiarity almost suffocating, the memories it held were ghosts that threatened to tear him apart at the seams. Being here, even behind the reinforced walls of the Great Temple, exposed him to a past he was desperately trying to heal from but wouldn’t leave him alone long enough to let him. He didn’t want to be here but he wasn’t given a choice. The Nameless had Called him here and he wasn’t consulted beforehand. And even if he had been, he wouldn’t have ignored the Call.
Because he had felt his brother die. Had felt the loss hit him as strongly as if it had been he who had died under the nova that that Ancient had become. He knew what she had looked like, knew her name, the family she hailed from, knew that she was powerful, one of the potential candidates to replace the female who had birthed him as heir to the throne of the Ancients. He knew it all because in the final moments before Anis had been murdered, Rhyshladlyn had lived it right alongside his brother. He had been his brother, had felt every single emotion, had known every thought up until he was thrust from the dream-Vision-reality back into his body just moments before the first wave of life-stealing power had exploded outward and was forced to make a split-second decision: save his brother or his males. He hadn’t even thought about it. The second Relyt and Azriel were inside the cabin, he pulled his Others inside, and threw it two Worlds over, back into Fènwa. He threw it back near where his life had begun but not close enough for the Lord King to stumble upon them, and was almost immediately Called to Shiran City by the Nameless after speaking of the impending war. And guilt stronger than any he’d felt before had threatened to swallow him whole in the eye blink’s time between getting his males and Others to safety and being pulled back to Shiran City. Because he could have saved Anis, easily, and he didn’t. He let his brother die, which was icing on the already rotted cake.
Coming to a stop before the doors to the Nameless’ Shadow Chamber, Rhyshladlyn swallowed thickly around the tears he hadn’t realized had escaped past his lids and trickled down his cheeks. Lifting his hands he wiped them away, hating that he was even crying in the first place. Because this wasn’t supposed to happen. He had no idea if his brother had known what she had done, he had no idea if Anis had forgiven him for his act of matricide or if the Sinner Demon had even known why Rhyshladlyn had done it. There were so many questions the Qishir would never have answered, even though Alaïs still lived, even though if her twin had done anything or known anything she had firsthand and immediate knowledge of it. He doubted she would answer him if he sought her out for answers now, and if she denounced him, he wouldn’t blame her. He deserved any ire she held for him.
Because if Rhyshladlyn hadn’t committed matricide, if he hadn’t fled the City, if he had been stronger, thought through his actions before he’d done them, Anis wouldn’t have been in that town. He wouldn’t have encountered Amèl ShadowSong who spoke the Chosen’s Blessing that Anis had answered with a Rejection he didn’t realize he was giving until it was too late. His brother was dead because of him and of all the deaths that could be laid at Rhyshladlyn’s feet, that one hurt the worst.
With a heavy sigh, he swallowed the rest of his tears, shoved the guilt into a box, kicked it into a dark corner of his mind, and pushed open the doors in front of him just as Anislanzir’s message came across the Currents. Shaking his head he crossed over the threshold into the Nameless’ Shadow Chamber, taking in the table where four chairs rested, three occupied by the visages of his Patrons, the fourth chair left empty for him to fill.
He wouldn’t answer his father’s message until the last second, mainly to be petty but also because he had more pressing matters to deal with before he handled his father, but answer it he would. It just wouldn’t be one the Lord King wanted to hear.
As the doors thudded closed behind him, Rhyshladlyn bowed low at the waist to the Nameless, the Faceless, and the Soullessly Heartfelt before he walked to the fourth chair, pulled it out and dropped rather gracelessly into it.
Lips quirking at one corner in a smirk that was mirthless and didn’t even make it to his cheekbones he broke the silence of the Chamber, “I have Answered, as I always shall, with ‘yes’.”
Even if I’m also asking why me every single time.