She couldn’t hear anything but the sound of her breathing, harsh and heavy as it whistled past her vocal chords. Even though she knew there was a cacophony of sound that echoed all around her, she heard none of it. Not the clink and shink of steel on steel and metal on armor, not the shuh shuh of defensive magick, not the hiss-crackle of offensive magick, not the swsh swsh of magick colliding against magick, not the screams of the wounded, not the war cries of the still able-bodied, not the rumbling of nearly a million feet hitting the earth, not the hwah-twang of arrows being loosed, not the thud of bodies being hit over and over. All she heard was her own breathing and the pounding blood in her ears. Even as she twirled to and fro, swinging her blade just as Rhyshladlyn had taught her to, even as her Shields engaged, even as she ducked and dodged and howled and snarled her own war cries, wings flaring wide to keep her balance one second and smack enemies away the next… she heard nothing else. Nothing but her straggled breathing, nothing but her pounding blood.
The constant training had taught her how to wield a sword and knock an arrow to a bow and let it fly with deadly accuracy. But constant training hadn’t taught her to dissociate correctly, to make a compartment in her mind that held the frenzy of battle and all the emotions it created separate from the rest of her. Try as she might, it was too late to learn it now in the heat of things, when bodies were dropping like flies around her, when she was cutting a path to the center of the battle on instinct alone, following the siren call of the Qishir she had pledged loyalty to, had bent knee to. Instead all she had was a sword-point sharp focus on what was immediately in front of her, relying on luck for everything else, luck and that her Shields would keep her from a death blow aimed from behind.
And that was dangerous, she knew. But for the life of her, she couldn’t stop herself from tunnel visioning. Couldn’t widen her focus even as Rhyshladlyn’s voice yelled at her from memory.
“Open your eyes!” he snarled, his own wide and filled with an angry passion that simply terrified her.
“They are open, the fuck,” she muttered testily, rubbing her neck where he had landed an open-handed smack to it while she had been focused on parrying his blade.
Rhyshladlyn huffed. “No, they are not. You have your lids raised but your eyes are not open. You do not See, you are Blind, and so long as you do not See everything on the battlefield, you will die and take down several others with you that aren’t your enemies.”
Blinking the memory away, she hissed as she parried another blow from a female Sinner, baring her teeth in a snarl as her opponent’s blade swung back around and down. But she dodged the steel and swung her own in a circle, switching from her right hand to her left behind her legs before bring it up again and forward with the intent to split the Sinner wide from groin to chin. Her sword point was halfway to its target when she felt fear slip cold and shocking down her spin. For she realized far too late that she’d assumed this warrior was a single-wielder just as a second blade came swinging up and over the female’s shoulder.
“Always assume your opponent is capable of incredible feats, even if they really aren’t.”
Her jaw dropped open in a scream that she didn’t hear as she watched the blade approach, aiming right for her throat, knowing she couldn’t move fast enough to stop it. Closing her eyes, sending one last prayer up to the gods that her death wouldn’t be in vain, she waited for the blow to land, waited for the pain, flinched when she felt the air shift as it drew closer.
Only what landed on her was wet feeling and thick and the splatter sound it made was clearly heard over her breathing and thunderous blood, breaking her tunnel focus like a fist through glass. And the rush of sound returning to her threatened to knock her out with the force if its assault on her eardrums and she swayed where she stood, blinking her eyes open in stunned shock as the vertigo made her stomach protest its very existence.
As her vision focused back and the vertigo receded, she saw Azriel standing in front of her, his wings flared wide in the most aggressive stance she’d ever seen in her life, face something out of a horror story told around campfires to frighten one’s friends, not something that was real. Streaks of red and gold slipped down his cheekbones from his eyes, mouth twisted into a mimicry of a smile that showed far more teeth than what she was sure he normally had, than he was supposed to have. What in the Great Father’s saggy man bag is he? His hands held two bloody husks of twisted meat and she frowned, confused as to why he was holding meat on a battlefield and where the female she had been fighting w–oh my blessed gods… Her stomach revolted again, more forcefully this time and it took everything she had to keep her last meal where it belonged. Don’t vomit in battle. Don’t vomit in battle. Even if that’s nasty as hell, don’t vomit. Holy shit how did he do that? What is going on anymore?
“Next time,” he began once he saw he had her full attention, dropping the two halves of the Sinner Demon he’d just ripped clear in half down the middle as though she were nothing more than a piece of a paper and shaking his hands out as though to get rid of something nasty, “keep your eyes properly open, Bayls Qaeniri.” His voice was low enough that it hurt her ears to hear him speak and she shuddered, nodding her head to show she understood, throat closing up and refusing to work for her to form proper words. “Good. Next time you may not be so lucky.”
And then he was gone, darting away as the battle resumed as though someone had unfrozen it around them, when had it even paused to begin with?, and she was once again faced with opponent after opponent. Sinners and Ancients and Shiftkin and Nochresi and Anglëtineans, neodrachs, females, males, it didn’t matter, she fought them all. Because after what she had just witnessed Azriel do with his bare hands, something she hadn’t even considered something any Dhaoine — save perhaps one of the Lupherinre Demon race in a berserk rage could do — she was even more determined to stay alive.
Everything became a blur of gore and destruction. An arm severed at the elbow dropped with a wet plop like heavy raindrops on a puddle, the owner’s shrill cry making her head pound. A throat sliced clean through, the head rolling off into the fray of writhing bodies, mouth opened in a death gurgle that was lost to the din around her. A chest blown apart right down the sternum by a curse thrown wide, the receiver’s eyes wide and filled with betrayal and agony as eir ribs showed white and wet in the middle of eir torn flesh and armor. The curse’s caster bellowing something in a language she didn’t catch as he ran at her, intent to kill her with his bare hands as the curse he’d thrown only hit his ally because she’d countered it; she cut him down with a single swipe to the throat, spraying blood in a wide arc as he fell to his knees. A female cut across the middle, intestines spilling onto the ground, her hands scrambling to push them back in as she babbled senselessly before Bayls thrust her sword through the warrior’s chest and heart before kicking the body away and off her sword with her boot, ducking another curse, throwing up a shimmering pink Ward behind her to stave off any others as she sliced her sword diagonally through the skull of Nochresi with brilliant blue eyes that reminded her of Nhulynolyn’s and for a moment her steps faltered and she lost her footing but caught it just in time to throw out a curse of her own to take down two Druids and a Magae, twirling with the continued momentum caused by the swing that took out the Nochresi to take off the hands of yet another warrior.
When will they stop coming? Gods, this has to end. Please… why are we even fighting right now?
In the distance she heard a shrill, bloodcurdling scream and the Worlds seemed to suck in a breath, hold it, and everything froze where it stood. A strong sense of foreboding hit just before an incredible sense of loss buffeted against her mind’s defenses and she whined. Needing to see over the crowd, she beat her wings once and took to the air to see over the sea of bodies and nearly dropped back out of the sky. For standing at the battle’s center was Rhyshladlyn drenched head to foot in blood and gore, one cheek split open from nose to ear deep enough to show his cheekbone, gums, and the top row of his teeth. The Qishir’s left hand was twisted in Azriel’s hair, forearm muscles straining at the confines of his vambrace as he held the Anglëtinean’s head back, exposing his throat and chest that were now nothing more than a bloody mess of bone and muscle and cloth. Rhyshladlyn’s right hand held his Companion’s still faintly beating heart clenched in his fingers, the unruined side of his mouth lifted in a maniacal smile.
She must have made a noise of some sort because those battle-bright eyes jerked to her, a swirling kaleidoscope of colors that moved too fast for her to comprehend them all instead of the orange-amber she was expecting.
“What have you done?” she whispered, voice as loud as a shout, her disbelief coloring every syllable.
This cannot be real. How could he do this?
As she watched Rhyshladlyn morphed into a tall female form, face beautiful and ethereal, body draped in a tunic and loose pants that were every color imaginable and some that weren’t all at once, with a single strip of grey cloth that matched the belt tied around her waist covering those kaleidoscope eyes. With the change the wounds that she had seen were gone, leaving only smooth skin, dainty nose, and thick, kissable lips behind as a power unlike any she had felt so far in the battle trickled out and made the small hairs on her body rise and Bayls knew then that she was no longer looking at the Qishir but rather a god. A god who lifted that heart to its mouth and took a bite before smiling as though the taste was exquisite.
It took everything in Bayls to keep from loosing the shriek of grief that was clogging her throat as she flew at that being, reminding herself that that was a god and no matter how much the fucker deserved it, she could not try to harm it. Not if she wished to live.
“Who are you?” she demanded instead, flying closer. “Why would you do this?” she added before landing at the edge of the circle made by the warriors around them, leaving that god and Azriel in an open area bereft of anyone else.
The only answer she received was that god laughing as it continued to eat Azriel’s heart, as it released its hold on his hair and let his limp, lifeless body drop to the ground. Bayls caught a glimpse of the mismatched eyes that had frightened her when she’d first seen them until she had seen the compassion and the wisdom they held and to see them lifeless now broke her heart in ways she didn’t know were possible. While she didn’t make any noise to accompany the action, tears fell down her cheeks, scorching her skin. You just saved my life and now you’re gone… I can’t…. fuck. This wasn’t supposed to happen!
Movement on the other side of the circle caught her attention and she looked up to see Rhyshladlyn, the real one, come breaking through the crowd line and run over to Azriel. He fell to his knees, mouth open as sounds that didn’t register in the vocal range echoed out. Sounds that boiled the desert sands and the broken and dying warriors that littered the ground around them in that circle, that made the air crackle with electricity, that made thunder boom overhead in a cloudless sky, and made one’s blood turn to ice. It was a cry that one felt versus heard.
And may whatever god isn’t that one See us all. Bayls felt her heart seize at the abject grief that contorted the Qishir’s features, that slammed out with all the force of a punch to the face, making the Currents shriek and writhe, that made more than one warrior that stood around and next to her drop to their knees.
But she remained standing if for no other reason than to bear witness. Forced herself to watch as Rhyshladlyn touched every inch of his Companion’s face, to watch as he pressed his shaking, already blood-covered hands to the wound that gaped wide as a canyon from the Anglëtinean’s throat just under his chin down to his abdomen, to watch as Rhyshladlyn’s hand glowed and his lips moved and tears streamed down his face as he tried to heal the damage, chest heaving fast and faster as he failed. She forced herself to watch as Rhyshladlyn gathered Azriel to his own chest, arms locked tight around the limp body of his beloved, rocking back and forth. And even as her own tears increased, even as she pressed her hands to her chest as though that would ease the ache that had formed there at the sight before her, she watched as Rhyshladlyn slowly went still before gently setting Azriel back down on the ground, one hand slowly, reverently closing his eyes. Watched as Rhyshladlyn’s own face shifted before all of his focus and attention moved and zeroed in on the one responsible for his latest loss.
Rhyshladlyn jerked his head around to face that laughing god, orange-amber eyes trailing fire sparks as he moved, coldfire flickering into existence at his feet and slithering up his legs, the shadows on the field around them lengthening and reaching up towards his hands like cats cooing for attention. He rose slow and steady, each movement measured and concise just as they were when he was engaged in battle, jaw still slack around those sounds, hands clenching slowly into fists, the cracking of the shifting bones loud in the silence that pervaded the motionless battlefield. The god stopped laughing as Rhyshladlyn’s full attention landed on it, dropping the half eaten heart onto a set of Scales that appeared in its left hand between one eye-blink and the next. As they all watched, the god placed a Feather on the other Scale, that face changing into one that had slate grey eyes that were haunted and kind yet filled with anger and tears, a pair of slate grey wings flaring out behind it before they drooped towards the ground, the vulnerable undersides visible just enough for it to be a sign of reluctant submission.
“Death’s sacrifice is found Wanting,” there existed no words for her to describe the voice that spoke as the Scales tipped in favor of the Feather.
Rhyshladlyn’s responding cry made reality whine around them as Silence fell hard and fast. With a flourish that was all grace and beauty born of constant practice, the Qishir called in Mallacht and Beannacht and unsheathed them in the same move before he lunged for the god wearing a face Bayls had never seen before. The god grinned wide at him, lifting that feather off the Scale, flicking it down and turning it into a long sword, other hand wrapping around the hilt, swinging it up to catch Rhyshladlyn’s crossed blades mere centimeters before they struck true.
“Oathbreaker!” Rhyshladlyn roared. “You swore he woul–”
Bayls flew awake, drenched in sweat, her blankets twisted around her legs, breathing labored, tears having streaked down her cheeks to soak her hair and pool in her ears. She gulped in air, lungs feeling as though she had breathed in water instead and she bent forward over her legs, hands gripping the sheets in fists tight enough to turn her knuckles white. What the hell was that? A nightmare… or a Dream?
By the time she managed to get her breathing somewhat under control, the blankets and pillows beside her stirred before electric blue eyes peaked out from beneath them, one hand pushing a pillow off the owner’s head.
“Bay? Wa’s gon’ on’eh?” that low, thick voice questioned in the semi-darkness of her tent, his face only partially illuminated by the half-shuttered lantern she had sitting on the table beside her bed. In the shifting shadows and flickering light he looked far too much like the grief-stricken Qishir in her nightmare-Dream and she swallowed hard, throat protesting the motion as though she had actually been screaming and snarling outside of that dreamscape.
“I need to talk to Rhyshladlyn immediately,” she replied once she trusted she wouldn’t vomit, her voice sounding foreign to her ears.
That got his attention and he sat up, pushing the blankets and pillows away as he did so, eyes intense as they focused in on her. “Why? What’s going on?” he repeated, sounding far more awake and coherent than he had less than thirty seconds ago. But then again, he was the Other to a Qishir that had spent his entire life fighting one battle after another. Waking up and going fully alert seconds later probably wasn’t new to him.
Gods, but that is a depressing thought.
“I think a god of Justice is going to kill Azriel while wearing Rhyshladlyn’s likeness.”