“This is such bullshit,” she muttered testily to herself as she pushed through the thick grasses of the farmland she had recently landed in. “I should have just let the damn Lord King murder me along with my brother, then I wouldn’t be in this damn mess. Traipsing round the Worlds telling stories for the Great Mother’s sake,” with a rumbling groan she stopped, hands on her thighs as she bent forward, heaving in deep breaths. Despite having grown up in Shiraniqi Desert and the heat that filled every single inch of that nightmarish landscape of sand and nothingness, she had never acclimated to heat of any kind. It made her sweaty, icky, and swollen in places one’s body had no right being swollen. And by the Great Mother’s beautiful milk-laden tits, she hated it.
“He better fuckin’ win because if he doesn’t I’m going to make sure all of his socks are always soaking wet for making me walk around in this damn heat,” she continued as she kept walking again, wondering why in the innumerable landscapes of the After she had agreed to do this nonsense, the obvious reasons of to stay alive and fuck the Lord King with a cactus being blatantly ignored in favor of complaining.
Sure Rhyshladlyn was powerful as fuck all, sure he was destined to restore Balance to the Worlds, but godsdamn it, did he have to choose her to spread his story? Especially given that over half the Worlds already knew it, just not the finer details, nor that the majority of the “rumors” they heard were actual facts? There had to have been better choices for this mission than her.
“Why are over half the Worlds hotter than a newly ordained priest’s robes anyway? Ugh.”
“You sure complain a lot for one so small,” a chiming voice called out and she jumped, whirling around with her hands raised, magick swirling swiftly to the surface of her skin only for it to fizzle away the second she laid eyes on the older female standing not ten feet away.
“Who are you?” she barked, regretting how harsh it sounded immediately after but unwilling to take it back. One thing she had learned in the last few months was that the more imposing and bitchy she sounded the less people would try to test if she was as strong as she sounded. Perception was everything.
The female raised an eyebrow, eyes so dark they looked black appraising her slowly from head to foot and back again.
“I am Thae’a Xh’taphïrd, little one,” she replied after a few more moments spent staring her down. “Though perhaps I should not have given you that as you are a trespasser on my land and one of those Sinner Demons, to boot.”
She bristled. “Just because I’m of that race does not mean I’m in league with that bitch of a “Lord King” and his insane quest to annihilate anything that reminds him of his weaknesses,” she bit back, unable to stay her tongue.
I am going to be killed one day because I can’t keep my mouth shut.
Thae’a threw back her head and laughed hard in response so she supposed she didn’t fuck up too badly. Bully for me.
“Oh, child, thank you. I needed that laugh. It’s refreshing to see someone like you around here,” those dark eyes narrowed as they glanced around them as though looking for eavesdropping townsfolk despite them being at least two leagues from the nearest village. It was mostly farmland in this part of Txiwteb World. Hot, dry, shitty farmland. Seriously how does anything even grow in this heat? “Speaking of, what brings a Sinner Demon all the way to the northeastern side of Txiwteb? I thought your kind rarely left Fènwa.”
She frowned at the question. “We Sinner Demons travel a lot more than anyone in the Worlds seem to realize,” she retorted before adding, “I’m on a mission for my Qishir, actually.”
Thae’a raised her other eyebrow to join the first, flicking the long braid of her thick, curling brown hair over her shoulder. “Well that certainly sounds interesting. Come, follow me, child. Let us get to my home and have some tea and coffee and get you out of this heat. You look ready to drop where you stand.”
She smiled in gratitude. Even though she probably shouldn’t trust older females who looked harmless, she didn’t get the sense that she should mistrust this one. Just something about her said she could trust her even if the chance of her being villainous was just as high as it was for everyone else she had encountered in her travels so far. Never mind that after years under her father’s scrutiny and her mother’s barely restrained violence, she had learned to hone her instincts until she could trust them beyond reproach. And right now, those instincts were telling her that Thae’a wasn’t a threat to her.
“I’m Bayls Qaeniri, by the way,” she introduced herself as she fell into step beside Thae’a.
“I know, child. I’ve heard of you from the few villagers that stop round my place as they travel across the farmlands towards Qiqirik City.”
“Ah, so that explains why you didn’t ask my name,” Bayls observed. “Though, if you’ve heard of me surely you already knew why I’m here?”
“Not so much the true why, just that you’re telling the Grey Qishir’s story, the real one, not that drivel that Anislanzir has been trying to spread. Anyone with half a brain cell in them knows that version is nonsense,” Thae’a replied and Bayls laughed.
“Fair enough. And yeah, that’s why I’m here,” she said after her laughter had subsided. “His Majesty showed up at the Great Temple in Shiran City just minutes after Anis was killed, just dropped clear out of thin air, naked as the day he was born before suddenly being covered in this leather-like armor and approached the main doors where I was ordered to wait for him,” Bayls shot Thae’a a bemused smile. “Y’know, it was so odd because I was told he would immediately try and kill me, get me out of his way if he ever did show up? And yet when he actually arrived, he was more concerned with me not drawing my sword, with me being placed as a guard of anything without any training than he was with trying to cut me down. He could have easily gotten rid of me but instead he just… talked to me. Asked me questions. Then offered me a way out. Asked me to tell the Truth of his story, the full thing, spread it like wildfire through the Worlds and speak his name when I’d told everyone who would listen and he would come to me.”
Thae’a nodded. “I have not personally met his Majesty yet, but from all that I have heard of him and his deeds, I am not surprised to hear that that is how he reacted to you.”
“It was almost bizarre. I could tell how powerful he was before he even touched me, but he was so careful, so controlled. It’s only been three months since that day, but it feels like I just saw him. The feeling of his presence in my mind is still so strong, so vibrant. It’s kind of frightening,” Bayls admitted, giving a smile of thanks as Thae’a waved her through the front door of a quaint two story house with a large wrap-around porch that was sat right in the middle of a grove of oak trees. She followed the older female through the foyer, down a long entrance hallway, and into a spacious kitchen that had an attached dining room. “Wow…” she breathed. “This is beautiful.”
“Thank you, it’s a nightmare to keep clean but I don’t do too badly,” Thae’a replied with a conspiratorial wink as she got the kettle set to boiling and gathered the ingredients for coffee and tea, setting them on the counter next to the stove top. Once done she gathered up a plate of fruit and biscuits and sat at the table, gesturing for Bayls to do the same. “Come, child, sit and tell me this story. I know some of the details but not all and I would like to hear them.”
Bayls sat and plucked a piece of sliced apple off the plate while gathering herself to begin speaking. For while she complained righteously and in copious amounts about the travel and the heat and the cold and, well, nearly everything, she wasn’t too upset about her mission. The complaining she did was just something to keep her mind off the enormity of the task, of the importance of it. She knew she was basically walking propaganda to pull as many in the Worlds to the Grey Qishir’s side, to have as many people as possible backing literally anyone but the Lord King in the coming war. It was an enormous job she had been saddled with, albeit one she chose to do, but that didn’t change the fact that if she failed, even a tiny bit, that millions could — would — die that could have otherwise been saved.
It took her fives hours to get through the entire thing from start to finish without pausing save to take sips of her tea and bites of the food Thae’a provided. And through it all, her host didn’t interrupt, didn’t ask any questions, just listened attentively, feline shaped eyes intense, their rich chestnut brown that had flecks of gold in them hue only noticeable now that Bayls was closer to her. She couldn’t tell what race Thae’a hailed from but she assumed it was one that had a great issue with the Sinner Demons given the way her expression darkened the longer she spoke of Anislanzir and the cruelties he had visited upon his youngest child.
For long minutes after she stopped speaking, the other female didn’t say anything. Just cleaned the dishes from their shared midday meal, the muscles in her back tense under the emerald green dress she wore. When she finally placed the last dish on the drying rack beside the sink and turned, Bayls realized that while Thae’a didn’t pose a threat to her that she was a formidable possible opponent. She knew just by the way those brown eyes stared her down with an intelligence and sharpness that was far older than the body that housed them appeared to be, her pupils thin as the midday light streamed through the wall of windows that faced the backyard and the acres of farmland that surrounded them, that if anyone save Rhyshladlyn and his Court ever faced off against Thae’a Xh’taphïrd that they would be cut down nearly instantly.
I really need to get better at recognizing people’s races before I just accept invites into their damn homes.
“Am I the last person you will be speaking the Grey Qishir’s story to?” Thae’a asked just as Bayls was beginning to get more than a little unsettled by the silent staring.
“Y-yeah, basically,” she stuttered and mentally kicked herself in the shin for it. She’d gotten through the entire story and the brief conversation before that without once stuttering or having a single related issue. Only for it to show up now? When am I going to win with this shit? Honestly. I think I’m due.
“Good. Call the Grey Qishir. I would pledge my aid to him directly.”
“I… what? Seriously?”
Thae’a gave her an eloquent look.
“It’s just… you’re the first person to want to do that, is-is all. I’m just k-kinda shocked,” she hurried to say. Fuck, will you stop stuttering? Gods what is your damn problem?
The female shrugged one shoulder, her look shifting into one of gentle amusement, not all of it at Bayls’ expense.
“Just give the Qishir a ring in, would you? I’m sure the sooner he knows who and what you just brought to his side of things, the better.”
Bayls frowned. “What do you mean?”
Thae’a’s smile was sharp and filled with teeth that were more fangs than the usual flat-tipped teeth the majority of the Dhaoinic races sported. “Just call him, little one.”
Trying to ignore the way her stomach flipped at that smile and the words that accompanied them, Bayls closed her eyes and let out a deep breath and intoned, “Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn Ka’ahne, it is done.”
The air thickened with tension, building and building until her ears rang with it before there was an audible snap and Rhyshladlyn was standing between the windows and the table, orange-gold eyes glowing in the shadows that covered his face from the sunlight that backlit him. He looked more haggard and centuries older than he had three months ago when she’d last laid eyes on him. At first she thought the darkness under his eyes was from the shadows cast by where he was standing but when he stepped forward, shifting to face Thae’a once he registered where he was, Bayls swallowed the gasp that choked her throat up when she realized it was in fact deep bruising caused by a severe lack of sleep. His face looked sunken, gaunt enough that his cheekbones shadowed his prominent, strong jaw, as though he hadn’t eaten in the months since she’d left him on her assignment. But for all that he looked weakened physically it was still evident that his strength was there just in the way he held himself, in the way his eyes took in everything even though they never strayed from Thae’a. He was still powerful enough to level whole Worlds even if he looked like he needed to sleep for thirty years first.
What in the Great Mother’s quivering lady bits happened to you?
“Well this is certainly a surprise. I thought Lulphé’s predecessor had seen to the successful annihilation of your kind, or at least made the valid attempt,” Rhyshladlyn remarked, voice peculiarly distorted around the edges.
“What?” Bayls asked, confused.
Thae’a chuckled, the sound low and full of danger but it wasn’t immediately threatening, more like a promise of it. “Just as that bitch and her horde of liars and thieves wiped out your kind, your Majesty?” she countered and Rhyshladlyn responded with a laugh that echoed out deep and sweet from his chest.
“Fair enough,” he responded before executing a curt bow. “I am Rhyshladlyn Ka’ahne, though I’ve no doubt you knew that.”
“Thae’a Xh’taphïrd,” the older female said as she curtsied in response. “It is a pleasure to finally meet the legend in person,” Thae’a added with a wink as she rose from her curtsy.
“I am no legend, Thae’a,” Rhyshladlyn chuckled.
“So… mind filling in the confused chick here who doesn’t know what’s going on with this genocide talk and shit?” Bayls quipped from her chair and flinched when they both turned at looked at her, not realizing just how intense Thae’a’s stare actually was until she had it next to Rhyshladlyn’s for comparison.
For compared side-by-side like that their looks were almost identical. And man if that isn’t unnerving…
“Who should do the honors?” Rhyshladlyn glanced at Thae’a who snorted.
“Probably me as it was my rude self that didn’t warn her before she walked into my home,” Thae’a replied before she let out a deep breath and closed her eyes.
While Bayls watched a white symbol appeared on the female’s forehead, standing out starkly against her nearly black skin: a waning crescent moon with three dots above it, the first larger than the rest and each one following smaller in size, and a four pointed star and a fourth much smaller dot below it. It ran down between her eyebrows with the crescent moon directly between them.
It didn’t take Bayls long to recognize the symbol, despite it having not been seen for literally thousands of years except in paintings and books because every Dhaoine in the Worlds was taught to recognize that symbol from practically birth on into adulthood.
“Holy fuckin’ shit,” she exclaimed, jumping up from her chair and shuffling back a few steps in her shock. “Y-y-you’re a Dreamweaver?!”
If Rhyshladlyn wasn’t practically on the floor doubled over as he was with laughter at her reaction, let alone had he not actually been there in the house with them, Bayls would be far more afraid than she was.
She knew the stories, everyone did. The Dreamweavers were nearly wiped out, or were supposed to have been, because they had the ability to warp reality, to create reality as they saw fit and lock anyone in it. And once locked in the reality of a Dreamweaver’s creation? There was no getting out unless the creator themselves dispersed it. Not even the death of the Dreamweaver would disperse their created reality. They were used to break the minds of the worst criminals in the Worlds but the fear of what they could do was so great that a system to control their numbers had been implemented. It was thought that the majority had been wiped out of existence, with those that still lived being forced into seclusion in order to survive. For while they weren’t actively hunted as the Greywalkers had been, the Worlds still operated under a “kill on sight upon confirmation” order for Dreamweavers. And the confirmation using used was seeing if they had that very symbol on their foreheads.
“Peace, child,” Thae’a implored, hands held up to show her palms. “I mean neither you nor his Majesty here any harm. I give you my solemn Oath that I shall not trap either of you, that I shall not use my powers against you save in defense of myself if my life is in immediate peril and the chance of my death far greater than I can fend off without a use of my full powers. Should I lie or go back on this Oath, may my bloodline be cursed to lose all their magick and connections with their gods and my own life be forfeit.”
“That’s great and all,” Bayls responded and rubbed a shaky hand over her face, “b-but like…” she trailed off and dropped her face into her hands, “shit, what have I gotten myself into?” she muttered more to herself than the other two.
But Rhyshladlyn answered anyway.
“One fuck of an adventure.”
Oh well when you put it like that, it doesn’t sound so damn bad.
“Gods have mercy,” she whispered before dropping her hands from her face. “Okay, so she’s a Dreamweaver,” Bayls shuddered hard saying the word but pressed on. “And you’re a Greywalker?”
Thae’a and Rhyshladlyn nodded in unison. That’s creepy. Please don’t do ever do that again.
“Awesome. Now what?”
Rhyshladlyn looked at Thae’a and the smile he shot the Dreamweaver was filled with promises of brutality and danger and horrors but Thae’a didn’t seem fazed. If anything she seemed excited. And Bayls didn’t know which frightened her more.
“Care to come back with me to the war camp of General Thayne Firesbane and join us in our preparations to storm Shiran City in a month’s time?” Rhyshladlyn queried. “Though you’re gonna want to hide that mark of yours.”
Thae’a smiled then, all teeth and darkness as her glamour returned to hide the mark of her race, and Bayls fought to keep her stomach from revolting at the sight.
“I would be honored.”
Rhyshladlyn clapped his hands together delightedly. “Fantastic!”
The Worlds tilted and when they righted themselves again Bayls opened her eyes to find herself standing at the outer edge of what she could only assume was the camp’s training fields. And as Rhyshladlyn waved over two tall, beautiful Anglëtineans, she couldn’t help but ask once more even though Rhyshladlyn had technically answered it before they’d left:
What in the many names of the gods have I gotten myself into?