All around him the silence was alive with sounds that didn’t quite make it into the vocal range but he still heard them, felt them against his skin like the barest brush of silk; they reverberated off his bones and strummed along his muscles. His bare feet shuffled down the well worn dirt path that weaved between the hundreds of feet high trees whose black bark creaked and chirruped, whose dark green foliage that thickened the canopy far above his head shush-shhed in counterpoint to the trees’ bark and the silence that pressed against his eardrums until they hummed and whined under the strain of it. Part of him knew he should feel uncomfortable here because he didn’t know where here was. But the majority of him felt safe, felt at home, here among the black-barked trees and the shifting shadows and the twilight that muted the sunlight he caught glimpses of peaking through the spaces left by the twitching leaves that were set to dancing in the wind that blew around him, singing half-caught stories of battles, and wars, and hopes, and dreams, and love, and heartache.
He kept walking, unperturbed by the sense of creepy that seemed to trail behind him. As though if he were to look over his shoulder he might see hundreds of wicked looking creatures birthed from the nightmares of children too young to know the significance of what they were seeing and adults too jaded by the horrors they’d witnessed and participated in the creation of to not know exactly what it was they were seeing. He knew he wasn’t alone; he may not have been able to see details of those shifting shadows but he knew they were alive, knew that they were curious and followed him both on the path and off but he didn’t look too closely and he didn’t look behind him. Just slipped his hands into the pockets of the loose fitting cotton pants slung low on his hips, rolled his shoulders as his wings folded over and under each other against his back and kept walking.
It felt… peaceful. Like nothing could hurt him here unless he allowed it to. And that should probably be concerning, but he chose not to focus too hard on it. There didn’t seem to be a point to doing so. After all, why would he look too closely at something that made his instincts purr happily because for once in his life he was able to truly relax? So he didn’t. He kept walking, kept listening to the odd music made by the trees around him and the shadows of creatures just far enough into the darkness that thickened off the path that he couldn’t make out what they were. He listened and he walked and he wondered where he was and what this strange forest was and why it felt like it was happy to have him back under its canopy again.
An indeterminable amount of time later, he came to the end of the dirt path and a clearing with the largest tree he had ever heard of existing, let alone ever seen, sat right in the center, the roots twisted into the shape of what was unmistakably two thrones. The trunk itself was easily wide enough for ten warriors to walk abreast and still have half a foot of clearance to either side of each other. Then there were the thrones themselves. For all that they were made only out of the bark and roots of the tree itself, they had an elegance that was breathtaking. Where one would expect them to be rough looking they weren’t. If he couldn’t clearly see where the bark of that tree trunk gave way to the slopes and corners and rises of those thrones he would have thought they were carved from smooth black marble.
Mesmerized, he stepped into the clearing with the intention of getting a closer look at and laying hands on those thrones and froze as the silence that had been swirling around him became total and absolute, changing from the singing subvocal silence it had been to Silence. The hair on his body stood on end, his wings fluffed, and his muscles tensed as every single bit of awareness and instinct in him came alive and screaming with it. He’d awoken something and the sudden feeling of millions of unseen eyes on him made him all-too-aware of the silence in his own head meaning wherever he was his Others were not accessible to him. He was absolutely alone here, in this strange, chittering, shadowed place and the first trickle of fear crept up his spine.
Between one eye-blink and the next, the throne on the left became occupied by a figure clothed in loose grey cotton pants and matching tunic that fell to its knees with a braided black cord tied around its waist, bare feet buried in the thick grass at the base of the throne upon which it sat, the hood attached to its tunic pulled up to hide its features. With its appearance on the throne, leaning back, body utterly relaxed, as though it belonged there, the Silence intensified for a few heartbeats before settling and he unconsciously reached over his shoulders for his blades only to find that no matter how much he Willed for them, they remained conspicuously absent. The trick of fear gradually strengthened to a stream, and as he continued to remain weaponless his fear began to bleed into panic.
“Peace,” a voice he recognized implored, weaving in and around that Silence. “I mean you no harm, My Child.”
“Lu’kè-anh,” he whispered, sinking to his knees as the adrenaline drop stole his ability to remain standing, his fingers sinking into the thick, cool grass. It was softer than he thought it would be and upon closer inspection he realized that it was a green so dark it looked black. “What is this place?” He asked as he lifted his head to look back at her.
“The name of this place will become known to you in time, My Child. For now, however, it shall remain known only in the way it feels to you and how you describe it to yourself,” was the cryptic answer that only served to create more questions.
“Why am I here? What is going on?” He sat slowly back onto the grass so he was sitting cross-legged, hands resting on his knees. “I thought our visit in Shiran City was the last I would see of You for some time.”
The Soullessly Heartfelt nodded once. “It was meant to be but there has been a disruption in the Way of Things; something has altered the plan set in motion by Fate. And My presence was needed upon you ahead of schedule.”
He choked on the air around him, eyes wide as his earlier fear rekindled and rocketed through him, turning his blood to ice in his veins even as it flushed his skin with heat. It took a Major Working to disrupt the Way of Things. He would know, after all, since he’d been planning to perform one before An…before his brother had…before that happened.
“How is that possible?” He spluttered. “I didn’t feel a Major Working performed.”
And that was when the Soullessly Heartfelt lifted her hands to the hood covering her features and pushed it back. Where he had been expecting to see her with her blindfold in its usual place over her eyes he saw instead those eyes that had shown him galaxies being born and dying all at once staring back at him with her blindfold resting around her neck. For the second time in his life Justice sat before him and she wasn’t blind. It chilled him to the bone.
“Justice cannot be achieved without Death’s sacrifice,” she said, utterly apropos of nothing and he just blinked dazedly back at her. “Remember, My Child, that when Justice is no longer blind, Death must make a sacrifice to bring Balance back to the Way of Things.”
“Honored One, what is going on? I don’t understand why You’re coming to me like this, where I am, why You’re saying these things. Please, I beg of You, speak plainly and not in riddles,” he beseeched even though he knew it was pointless to do so. The gods never divulged more than They wished to or could, no matter how much one begged.
“Remember My words, Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn Ka’ahne, and Awaken.”
He flew awake, breath stuttering out of him as his lungs burned and his chest heaved, arms flailing around him until his hands grabbed up fistfuls of the covers that had pooled around his hips when he’d moved and he used that hold to anchor him into the reality that surrounded him. Beside him, face buried in his pillow and half-covered by the blankets his violent waking had stolen away, Azriel groaned groggily before one of his hands slipped from beneath his pillow to paw around until it landed on Rhyshladlyn’s bare hip.
“W’s g’in’ on?” the Anglëtinean mumbled, voice slurred with sleep, his accent thickening around the words he spoke to such a degree that for a moment the Qishir wasn’t sure if it had been Common or Anglë’lylel he’d heard, his silver and gold eye cracked open to stare at him.
What could he possibly say in answer to that? What was he allowed to say? How did he even know if it was a dream or a Dream? How did he know if it was the warning it had felt like it was or something else? He had too many questions and no answers and didn’t want to voice any of them if he couldn’t answer the questions his Companion would no doubt have in response.
So instead he said the one thing that seemed by far the safest to voice even if as he did so he felt like he had crossed another line from which there was no turning back.
“Justice is no longer blind.”
The Silence that spread in the wake of his statement was profound and was a hundred times more potent than it had been in that clearing.
Azriel rolled onto his side and sat up, eyes open and cleared of sleep as the hand on his hip shifted with his movements, landing on his thigh, fingers curled around the muscle there.
“Justice is no longer blind,” Rhyshladlyn repeated, flinching ever-so-slightly as that Silence intensified, his ears wailing under the pressure of it. How is Azriel not affected by it? Does he not hear it? “She came to me in a… Dream? I think it was a Dream? And told me that there has been a disruption to the W–”
“Rhyshladlyn! Azriel!” Relyt’s voice rang out, cutting the Qishir off mid-word. “Come quickly!”
He beat Azriel to the door, blinking the rest of the way to where the Soul Healer stood at the wall of windows that made up the front of the cabin. Shock emanated from his posture, his magick swirling around him as he stood stock still staring out the windows. Beside him Nhulynolyn, Shadiranamen, and Xheshmaryú stood with identical looks that were a mixture of surprise and horror. Joining them Rhyshladlyn looked out the windows and froze, feeling Azriel do the same to his left seconds before the Anglëtinean swayed closer and took his hand. Rhyshladlyn squeezed it, feeling like he couldn’t draw enough breath.
Because on the horizon just over the ride of the sand dunes thick plumes of pitch black smoke rose towards the skies, nearly blocking out the sun that had only just risen above the dunes.
“Shiran City burns,” Relyt murmured and that already cacophonous Silence thundered all the louder against Rhyshladlyn’s eardrums.
“No… not Shiran City,” he whispered in reply as his jaw began to ache from the pressure pushing against his eardrums. “Not yet.”
“What do you mean?” Azriel asked.
“That is the smoke from thousands of campfires,” now that he was looking for it, he could sense the gathered potential of thousands of warriors that lay spread between the valley where their cabin sat and Shiran City to the south. “It’s a camped army. And judging by the amount of smoke, there has to be hundreds of thousands of warriors.”
“The War has begun,” Xheshmaryú added and Rhyshladlyn hummed in affirmation.
Relyt turned to face him, grey eyes so dark they were nearly black. “I shall leave immediately, catch a Line, and travel to the City to join your sister’s side and warn of the army marching towards the City. If nothing else, I will do my best to ensure your sister makes it out of the City unscathed before it is besieged.”
All he could do in response was nod, unable to tear his eyes from the swirling smoke that had almost blocked out the horizon for longer than a second to glance at the Soul Healer.
As Relyt passed him, Rhyshladlyn’s hand shot out and caught him around the wrist.
“Tell my Father that my answer is over your dead body,” he paused before adding, “and come back to me.” Alive, Rel. Come back alive.
Even if he didn’t see it, Rhyshladlyn felt Relyt’s responding slow, dark smile curl around him like a warm blanket on a cool evening and his own lips twisted up in response as he released Relyt’s wrist.
“As you wish, your Majesty,” I will, I promise, and then he was gone to gather his things.
How, Lu’kè-anh? How am I supposed to handle this?
The only response he received as he closed his eyes to the sight before him, feeling like the ground was undulating under his feet as Relyt’s presence faded away as he caught a Line and traveled hard and fast for the City, was a single word spoken with the authority only a god could have:
Now all he had to figure out was how never mind how to do so without dying and taking out everyone around him in the process.