“What do you mean there’s nothing for me?” Relyt asked trying to keep the disappointment out of his tone but judging by the way the Druid frowned at him, the look not one of reproach but rather one of sympathy, he must have been unsuccessful.
“The Key didn’t send anything back with us, my apologies are many,” Eithyl said, reaching out a hand to slap it against Relyt’s arm, barely tall enough to hit his bicep. “Though I was there when he got what you sent with us. He was distraught aplenty and avowed that we would move on the Festival night, if not sooner hence.” The Druid smiled then and Relyt wondered if it was just his increased cynicism that made the action look forced or if the Druid was trying to appease him and failing miserably in the process. “Lose not faith, Soul Healer. By Fire and Stone, things shall get better.”
Would that that placated me as much as you intended it to do, friend, Relyt thought as he watched Eithyl and the rest walk off in different directions so as not to be picked up as a group as they left the area of the Great Temple where they always met up upon the unit’s return to the City.
Relyt sighed softly, turning his back on the departing group of warriors and trudging further into the Temple, past the Gardens that sat in the very heart of the enormous structure, back to where grass still grew and trees still towered and swayed, but it wasn’t as brightly lit in that section, not as open aired. It was here, halfway between the hallways that housed the Shadow Chambers of the Old Ones and the main areas that housed the newer gods, that the worshipers of the Many, the multi-faced god of the Soul Healers, came. It was here, in the thickly grown and carefully maintained grove of black-barked oak trees, that his fellow Soul Healers bent knee in supplication to a god that had left them in silence for generations.
It was a silence that the Ildir had told Relyt would be broken when a Gret’yinl stood as the leader of not just the Grey Soul Healers, but of all the Soul Healers. That him being Thrice Touched was a gift from the Many, a long awaited sign. He hadn’t believed them back then, thinking they were more than a little power hungry, wanting to control their cousins as a way of getting revenge for being forced into icy seclusion for thousands of years more than they wanted to reunite the sub-races of Soul Healers. And the day he had said he refused to be the Gret’yinl that did as they bid and stepped up to rule all Soul Healers? The Ildir had threatened to disown him entirely, to ban him from ever returning home, from laying claim to the race he hailed from. With his parents dead, no partner or children to his name, with no ties to the communities that spread across the frozen tundra of Ikunae Province in Txiwteb World, Relyt had had no one to fight for him. Neither did he have any real reason to stay.
So he had packed his bags and left, claiming that he felt the call of his Key elsewhere in the Worlds, that he would find them, unlock his full powers, refusing to return until then. He had called the Ildir‘s bluff and given that his gretluos and gretkewq still existed, still functioned, still fed him magick and strength as he needed it, he hadn’t been cut entirely from the Grey Soul Healer race and for that he was eternally grateful.
For he doubted highly that were he bereft of a race to lay claim to, if he lost the tie to his homeland that allowed him to access his magick, that he would be of no use to Rhyshladlyn and the Qishir desperately needed as many Dhaoine on his side as possible.
As many functioning Dhaoine as possible, rather.
He closed his eyes tightly against tears that rose unbidden to his eyes, fighting hard to keep his carefully crafted stoic mask in place. Even though he knew he was failing as he sank to his knees and bowed in the traditional pose of supplication to the Altar of the Many. But after over three months of lack of proper sleep, of being unable to keep down any food, of over a month of knowing of Alaïs’… ailment… and being unable to ease any of her suffering save to remind her daily that he would not be leaving her side, of being away from his Key and Qishir, of being the sole reason their one hope to take the City as swiftly as possible with as minimal bloodshed was even still alive and knowing that that wouldn’t be the case much longer no matter how hard he worked, he figured he could be forgiven for showing emotion. He figured the Many would understand that one could only handle so much before one broke apart, shaking and sobbing, before picking up the pieces, fitting them back together as best as possible, and continuing onward. But part of him wondered if he had been abandoned not just by the god he had worshiped his entire life but by the Qishir he had gained Acceptance from, by the ones he had come to call family.
Even though he knew that last part was grossly unfair of him to think. Just because he didn’t write back doesn’t mean he’s abandoned you. Neither does the equal lack of communication from Azriel and the rest mean the same. Get yourself together, Relyt!
But what else was he to think with everything else that had happened? He had never felt nor literally been so alone. Not even when he was travelling the Worlds to follow the call of his Key, not even when it was just him camping on the road or sleeping in a cold bed in inns and taverns whose owners saw his gretkewq and immediately scorned him. But there was a distinct difference between being alone and loneliness. And loneliness did horrible, horrible things to one’s psyche.
And given how long he had been subjected to feeling powerless and lonely in this losing bid to fight the Lord King back, to keep him off Alaïs, to keep them both alive long enough for Rhyshladlyn to tear open the front gates and raze the City to the ground? It was no wonder he was coming apart.
He felt like he was slowly losing his sanity with the only reason he had even the minuscule grasp on it that he did being the trips he made to the Temple to pray to the Many, to have clandestine meetings with Thayne’s unit. But Anislanzir only allowed him to go, not Alaïs. And Relyt was only granted permission because the Lord King couldn’t afford for Relyt to call him out on the harm he had been enacting against the Soul Healer mentally. For to do so would forfeit the Healer’s Contract and not even the Lord King was impudent enough to risk incurring the wrath of the gods Themselves. Yet his daily escapes to the Great Temple could only last so long because he could not risk leaving Alaïs alone for overlong lest the Lord King seek to “check her condition myself” and do something about it which would only worsen the situation entirely.
So he was caught in a constant cycle of damned if he did, damned if he didn’t, praying all the while with what little hope he had left, with a rapidly dwindling strength, that it would continue to be just enough to see him through to the next dawn all while fearing, knowing, that one day it wouldn’t be.
“Many, hear the Call of Your Child,” he intoned, leaning back so his buttocks rested on his heels with his legs bent beneath him, grey eyes looking up at the stone statue depicting the ten-headed figure of the Many draped in flowing robes that showed neither feminine or masculine features, each face having a different expression, each one a representation of the ten main emotions that he had been taught to have absolute control over while growing up.
“Emotion is weakness, Rel,” the deep voice of Zelít rumbled around him while they stood side-by-side staring into the long ceremonial mirror in the Altar room of their home.
“But, Father, how is it weakness?” he argued, still young enough that questioning his father’s word did not warrant punishment. “You always seem so much stronger when you show Mother your love for her.”
“That is different, Rel,” Zelít replied.
“You will understand when you are older, son. Emotion is weakness, Rel, this is an absolute, unchanging Truth. Now concentrate. This is very important. You cannot get your gretluos without mastering your emotions. And without your gretluos, you will not get your gretkewq and you will disgrace your mother and I.”
“You cannot have abandoned us, o’ Great One,” he pressed, knowing what he was about to say amounted to blasphemy, knowing that allowing his anger and his resentment and his fear and his love and his sadness to show here, in this most holy of places, was an act of blasphemy in and of itself but he was far too tired to care anymore. Hope had abandoned him as surely as his god had abandoned his people. “Not when we need You the most. You swore upon our creation that You would always guide us. Said that our gretluosi and gretkewqi would be the way You touched us always, but yet… we call upon You, beg for You to hear us, to show us the way, and You give us only silence in return. Have You lost all love of us? Have we done wrong by You somehow?”
He shook his head, reaching up to push the fringe dislodged from the ponytail he had pulled his hair into from his face and let out a deep breath, head tilting back to look up at the forest canopy far above him. His heart clenched at the sight, reminded far too keenly of the one that had stretched for leagues around the cabin he had shared with Azriel and Rhyshladlyn; reminded of the only place that had ever truly felt like home to him, of the place he had willingly walked away from.
Part of him wished more than anything he could go back, that he could say no, but he knew that he wouldn’t change his answer even if he knew what he would be facing when he said yes. The knowledge of what would come from his choice would not make him change it. If anything, it would cause him to want to make that decision sooner.
“I want to resent him for this, o’ Great One,” he whispered, closing his eyes to the sight that reminded him too much of a home that didn’t exist anymore. “I want to blame him for the pain I’m feeling, for the loss of my precious control, but I can’t. It isn’t his fault. I chose this. And now that it is proving difficult on a level I had not entirely prepared myself for, I wish to rebel against it, to blame anyone but myself. It’s a very childish thing to do. But I cannot stop myself.”
He laughed, the sound short, harsh, and full of derision. “I want to resent You, for ignoring not just me but all those in this City who have been crying out to You, who have needed You…. but what’s the point? You would not care about my resentment of You anymore than You care about our suffering.”
Rubbing at his face with hands that had begun to shake, he lowered his head and looked back at the statue and the Altar that encircled it, taking in the offerings that spilled across its surface and trying not to sneer. What was the point of giving offerings to a god that had abandoned its followers?
“I don’t know which of Your Aspects to pray to, I don’t know if there is even a point because I don’t think You even hear us anymore. And more than the knowledge that war is coming to this City soon, more than the knowledge that my charge is dying and that there is nothing I can do about it, more than the knowledge that while my Qishir has not abandoned me part of me truly believes he has? Believing even a tiny bit that You have stopped listening to us, that no matter how many offerings we give You, no matter how loud we scream, no matter how much we beg and plead, no matter how many sacrifices we lay at the feet of Your effigies, the idea You have truly left us sickens me. Because I used to think You would save us all, that we only had to be good enough for You to see us again.”
With a choked sob that he wasn’t able to swallow down before it escaped, Relyt rose to his feet, wobbling where he stood briefly as the exhaustion he was barely keeping at bay rose up in a tidal wave that nearly swallowed him back down to the grass beneath his feet. He swallowed hard, eyes closing tightly against the severe vertigo that washed over him as he fought to stay on his feet. Once the nausea and feeling that the Worlds were swaying violently underfoot had passed, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a single silver coin that was roughly two inches across. It was the last piece of his mother he had left to him, given to him before she left for work one day and came home on a funeral pyre.
Not a day had gone by since she had given it to him that he didn’t have it on him, able to reach out and touch it, to connect with the woman who had been the only one to see him not as a way to gain her status among their race, but simply as Relyt.
“Keep this for good luck, little ‘Lyt,” she said with a smile.
“Mother, a coin cannot bring luck,” he muttered, staring at the five pointed star that was embossed on one side, the words ‘to yield is to show strength’ engraved onto the other.
“Oh, my little ‘Lyt,” Ishè chuckled as she ruffled his hair affectionately. “You have so much to learn.”
Taking in a deep breath, he let it out slowly and lifted the coin to his lips to press a kiss to it.
“Who knew even gods could be cowards,” he bit out, flicking the coin towards the Altar table before turning on his heel and striding towards the entrance of the Temple, scarcely hearing the coin tink against the stone table behind him.
It wasn’t even an offering, more a dismissal. It was more him shedding the last of the chains that connected him to his past than anything else. Because it didn’t matter anymore whether his god had abandoned him and his people or not, it didn’t matter whether Rhyshladlyn was still coming to save him and Alaïs. All that mattered was that he finally understood what his parents had been trying to teach him:
Love was not weakness for it was not an emotion but rather a state of being. And objects did not bring one luck, merely convinced one to make one’s own.
So that was just what he was going to do. Accept that his love of Rhyshladlyn and the ragtag family he was a part of would help him to find the strength to make his own damn luck. And then he would use it to get both him and his charge the fuck out of Shiran City.
Even if it meant that every living soul besides them died in the process.