Shock didn’t quite cover what he felt just then, sitting at that table in a Shadow Chamber he had spent what felt like years in since the Nameless’ Mark had first showed up on his chest, burned in deep beneath his skin. Disbelief was closer, but it wasn’t quite right either.
His Patrons sat unmoved by his shock and the pain that Their revelation had sent searing along his nerves. Though the Nameless looked slightly ashamed, if it were possible for a god to feel that emotion; the Faceless seemed deeply disturbed but given that he had no discernible facial features knowing for certain was rather impossible; and the Soullessly Heartfelt had removed her blindfold, opened her eyes, and Rhyshladlyn saw galaxies come alive and die in them.
“What did You just say?” Rhyshladlyn finally stuttered out after long moments spent just staring at the three gods that had Marked him as Theirs. He had to have misheard. “Because you surely did not just tell me that… that…” he trailed off, shaking his head as he lifted his hands to cover his face. He couldn’t speak the words, couldn’t give them any more clout than what they may have otherwise for being spoken by gods.
“Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn Ka’ahne,” the Nameless began, voice filled with regret, “for whatever it is worth I am sorry.”
“Sorry isn’t good enough!” Rhyshladlyn screamed back, too heartbroken to care that he was screaming at the one being in Existence capable of snuffing his life out without any effort, hands slapping against the tabletop as he spoke, eyes wide, tears shimmering across them. “Sorry will never be good enough!”
He stood with his back pressed against the stone, eyes staring unseeing at the opposite wall. He’d left the Nameless’ Shadow Chamber what had to have been hours ago and wandered the halls of the older part of the Temple and it still wasn’t enough time to wrap his head around what had happened. His hands still shook, tears still pricked at his eyes but he refused to let them fall. What They had told him, what they had said was going to come to pass, he wasn’t supposed to know but They took a calculated risk that him knowing would result in less damage than him not knowing would have. And had he not been told? He shuddered violently and sank slowly down the wall to the floor, legs bent against his chest so he could drop his forehead against his knees, arms wrapped around his legs.
If he hadn’t been given the heads up he just had, the Worlds War that was brewing would be begged for in the face of what would be brought to bear had the events his Patrons detailed to him happened without his prior knowledge. At least this way he would know it was happening when it began and be able to mentally prepare for it up until that moment versus being completely blindsided.
“I am not strong enough for this,” he whispered breathlessly, voice shaking around the edges, the words he spoke shattering across the floor like icicles. “You cannot ask this of me. This is… this is too much.“
“We are not asking, lil’it uhn,” the Faceless responded and Rhyshladlyn wondered for a brief moment how he spoke without a mouth but didn’t voice the question aloud, “we are telling you you must. There is no choice here.”
Rhyshladlyn looked at each Patron in turn before looking down at where his hands were still pressed against the top of the table to keep them from shaking like the rest of his body had started to do. “Why me?” he asked, not like a petulant child but truly asking because he didn’t know and he thought, after everything that had happened and would happen, he had the right to know the answer to that question.
“Because, My Child,” this time it was the Soullessly Heartfelt who spoke, her voice ringing out for the first time since she greeted him when he sat down hours ago and he looked up to meet her eyes and fought not to get lost in the endless galaxies that stared back at him when he did so, “the Worlds have a better chance at survival with you at their head than with you mixed in among the endless ranks.”
He cursed long and loud, mixing the curses he’d caught on to from Relyt speaking Gretlök and a few from Azriel speaking Anglë’lylel in among the Tengú. A pang of homesickness struck him at the sound of his males’ native languages echoing around him and made his chest ache with the lack of them nearby, with the inability to simply call out and have them come sauntering from somewhere else in the cabin or in front outside on the property. He ached for the lack of the constant awareness of their nearness, of their power brushing against his, of their magickal signatures entwining until they made a harmonious symphony of sound.
Gods prevail him, but he wanted to go home. He wanted to snap his fingers and have things as they were when the cabin was still in Shaozae Province, when he would wake up with the dawn with Azriel and spar with his Others while the Anglëtinean did his dances and Relyt drank his black tea on the porch and watched them. He wanted sit around the low table in the sitting room and play cards and hear his males argue good-naturedly over who actually won that hand even when they both knew it was him that did. He wanted the nights spent around a fire outside where Azriel would play the te’p mur’t while Relyt played the his people’s version of the fiddle while he sang and danced around the flames.
He wanted to snap his fingers and have his brother back, to no longer have to wonder if his brother had died as his ally or his enemy. He wanted to believe that his only true enemy in life was his father. He wanted his only goal to still be that Anislanzir had to die. He wanted the only war he had to worry about be the one that was fought silently between him and the male that called himself his father as he raped, tortured, and did everything possible to break his mind and body. He wanted to not have the memory of his birth giver’s life burning out of her eyes as he killed her. He wanted to not have to wonder if his only surviving flesh-and-blood sibling was ever on his side and if she had been, was she still now that he’d killed her mother and was the reason, even if indirectly, her twin was killed.
He didn’t deserve to have the fate of the Worlds upon his shoulders, to be the only Greywalker apparently capable of restoring Worlds-wide Balance, of righting wrongs done thousands of years ago. It wasn’t just unfair, it was outright bullshit. He wasn’t ready, he couldn’t possibly be ready even if he had trained his entire fuckin’ life for this. It was an impossible task and to say he had no choice, especially with this new shit added to the pile that had rotted and turned parasitic as it tried its damnedest to swallow him whole? A pile that he was so damned terrified was beginning to take over, was beginning to win the mini-battle over whether he would be able to breathe without constantly fighting for air or suffocate beneath the endless stacks of horrors, chipped memories, nightmares, scars, phantom pains, and emotions almost too intense to handle? There were no words to describe just how wrong taking his choice away from this was. No one should be forced to do this.
It was then that he realized the silence of the hallway was gone, replaced by thick, heart-wrenching sobs. It took him longer than he cared to admit to to realize that it was him who was sobbing. He had been so deep in his thoughts that he hadn’t registered that his lungs burned, his breeches were wet where his tears had soaked into the leather, and his mouth was opened around sounds that he knew had to be sobs but sounded more like an animal that was dying.
Given everything he had just been told, he felt like part of him was dying. It felt like another piece of himself was breaking off to be forever lost to him, stolen by the trauma that tainted his life like a sickness he just couldn’t shake.
They never did give him an answer, not one that was satisfactory, not one that made up for his scars and his nightmares and his fears. He shouldn’t have been chosen for this task because he was there, because there was no one else. And fuck if that wasn’t hypocritical of him given that just before coming into the damn Temple he had done just that to Bayls Qaeniri. Ey had been an obstacle he needed to get rid of but he hadn’t wanted to kill em, ey hadn’t done anything to warrant it. But it wouldn’t have taken much to convince you ey did, a traitorous part of his mind quipped at him sounding suspiciously like Anis’ voice but he brutally beat it into a dark corner and slammed a door in its face. So he had done what he thought was best, that would allow em to live and to get safely out of the City before all hell broke loose even if the task assigned posed as much risk to eir life as remaining in the City did with the only difference being that it just it wasn’t immediate.
“Gods surrounding, I am a mess,” he croaked around a bubbling sob, head falling back to thunk against the wall. “I condemn my Patrons for the very thing I myself have done.”
With still shaking hands he rubbed the tears off his face and closed his eyes tightly, wondering for the briefest of moments what his life would have been like had Nhulynolyn been born as his living twin and not an Other, if Fate hadn’t crafted a mantle for his shoulders and his alone, if he hadn’t been the first Greywalker born in millennia.
The mental image called up by that train of thought was disturbing for no other reason than it was impossible. He wouldn’t be himself, his twin wouldn’t be Nhulynolyn. Never mind that he wouldn’t have Azriel and Relyt. He’d likely not have been as close to Anis and Alaïs had his twin been born alive and not as an Other. He wouldn’t have been able to keep Anislanzir off Alaïs, he wouldn’t have been able to realize that their father needed a punching bag and that Anis couldn’t be it because he was the only option they had to take over the throne when Anislanzir died, so Rhyshladlyn would take his brother’s place. He wouldn’t have trained thousands to millions of guards for the City’s garrison, wouldn’t have been the reason several of them made it home from skirmishes and battles alive and in one piece.
“Fuck,” he muttered with a bitter laugh, eyes opening to stare up at the faintly glowing ceiling. “They were right…They were so right, damn Them.”
Because someone who wasn’t strong enough, who couldn’t lead, wouldn’t have been able to do everything he had in his life. Even as young as he had been when everything started happening, he had recognized when sacrificing himself was the better option because he would survive where the one he was replacing wouldn’t. It was never about choices. How could it have been? He was strong enough to push through, he saw the patterns and potentials that others missed, and because of that he was able to do what many could not. It was simply who he was. It didn’t stop it from hurting and it sure as fuck didn’t stop him from wishing he could simply spend the rest of his days with his males in their cabin in Shaozae Province in Majik World, plotting the death of the Lord King of the Sinner Demons and praying that whatever reparations the Ancients sought for the death of their Queen-Heir wouldn’t be more than he could pay. But this was who he was, this was his life, and as much as it hurt, as much as he wished sometimes that he could change it, he wouldn’t.
“When…” he swallowed hard around the lump in his throat, eyes falling closed as his tears escaped down his cheeks, unable to look at Their faces when he asked his next question. “When will… will… will it…” His voice trailed off, stuttering to a halt. He couldn’t bring himself to voice it out loud because doing so would make it too real. If They were the only ones to speak of it, there was still a chance it wouldn’t happen. Slim and unlikely, but he could still hope.
“We do not know,” that was the old and wise yet youthful voice of the Faceless that spoke.
“But even if we did,” the Nameless continued for its sibling.
“We could not, would not, tell you,” the Soullessly Heartfelt finished for her beloved.
With a long sigh, he pushed up off the floor and rose a bit unsteadily to his feet. He had to get home because no doubt Azriel and Relyt were losing their minds with suddenly being displaced from Majik and finding themselves back in the Shiraniqi Desert even if they were on the farthest outskirts of it. That and he was simply tired of being in a place that did nothing but remind him of the childhood he never got to have, of the horrors visited upon him. Wiping at the remaining tears on his face, he closed his eyes with a deep steadying breath, and turned to head towards the entrance to the Temple. Once outside, he would catch one of the Lines out of the City, drop into the Desert once clear, and blink the rest of the way home to his males and his Others.
As he walked, he carefully locked up the memory of his talk with his Patrons. He was under strict instructions not to speak of it to anyone, even his Others. It was the only condition set for Them telling him anything. It felt like he was lying by doing so even though it honestly wasn’t really, but he didn’t have any other choice. Not with this, not when he hadn’t known what he was agreeing to withhold from his family until it was too late to rescind his word.
And even if he had, he probably would have agreed anyway. Because while he didn’t know the when he knew the what, and that was better than not knowing at all. Because the one thing the events of the last year had taught him was that ignorance wasn’t bliss.
No, ignorance is what got innocent people killed.