It had taken weeks of study in the Palace library, looking over what remained after Rhyshladlyn spoke that Deathbed Prophesy and brought the City out of its slumber to find the records he needed. It had taken long, grueling hours to convince Alaïs to translate the twisting characters of the Sinner Demon language to him. It had taken him days more before he found the Song he wanted, the one that struck the most true across his heart, for him to learn in what order each bell had to be rung, what each different one meant and why the ring order changed the Song. And once he had found it, learned it, was confident that he wouldn’t mess up the order? He had made plans to go to the tallest tower of the Great Temple just as dawn was breaking send it out to the entire of Shiran City and the surrounding desert.
Because if the war would not happen on its on in a timely enough manner to save him and Alaïs? He would make it happen, the consequences be damned.
So when his instincts had begun to hum that the time was right, he went to the top of the Great Temple’s highest tower and waited. And as the clocks ticked an hour after the sun had crested the sand dunes, he reached for the largest bell’s rope — so thick around both of his hands didn’t fully encompass it — wrapped it around his forearm, gripped as best he could with both hands, and pulled.
As that first low, resonant, thunderous clang hit the Currents, sending them into a fit of sighs and chitters, he closed his eyes and let out a shuddering breath. With each balung-lung, with each cluh-clang, with each sighing thung thung, he felt more like himself, felt more like how he had before he’d strode through those damned gates straight into a nightmare. He felt as though he was doing something he should have done months ago.
With each new bell sent to ringing, with each new rope tugged on, with each new note added to the Song, he wondered if Rhyshladlyn could hear the bells. Wondered if he would recognize the Song he had chosen, if he would realize that this was Relyt’s last attempt to reach the Qishir who hadn’t sent a response to his letter, who had yet to move against the Lord King or Shiran City. And further, he wondered if the Qishir even cared, despite the fact that he knew in his bones just how unfounded that was. Never mind how unfair to Rhyshladlyn it was. He knew he hadn’t been forgotten, knew he hadn’t been thrown away or forsaken. But after months spent under the sharp eyes of Anislanzir, after months of psychological torture and lack of sleep and lack of a properly held down meal? Relyt was breaking apart and was not above taking everything down with him when — if — he fell, so he didn’t think he could really be blamed for losing some faith not just in his god but also in his Qishir.
So he threw all of his focus, all of what felt like his dwindling strength, into ringing the bells. He had sworn to make his own luck, to be his and Alaïs’ savior, and this was the beginning of how he would do just that.
According to the text he had found and Alaïs had translated, he needed to keep the City’s bells moving for no less than an hour and by his estimate he had only been going for perhaps a quarter of that. So he began to hum the vocal piece to the Song to make sure he hadn’t forgotten it, to make sure he had the pitch right. For once he was finished with the bells, he would step out onto the balcony that extended off the tower and sing it for the entire City with the bells’ reverberations as the background melody to his words. It was, after all, why he had chosen the bells in the Great Temple to use: it was at the City’s heart, its bells the loudest and oldest, its bell tower containing the most magickal residue left over from when the Greywalkers had built it. So from that balcony he could blanket his voice across the City.
Even if this doesn’t actually make it to Rhyshladlyn, maybe I’ll manage to wake every god that ever walked this Temple’s halls and once They see the conditions Their devotees have been living in for millennia, They will step in and fill in the gaps where Rhyshladlyn cannot be.
With a hiss of pain, his hands slid off the rope he’d been holding and he growled, flailing to catch it and keep the bell it was attached to ringing before moving on. He wouldn’t Heal the rawness of his palms, his forearms, or the undersides of his fingers. He wouldn’t even use his magick to do this work. If he scarred, then he would scar; if his muscles snapped and tore from the strain, then they would snap and tear. It would be a reminder of the depths he went to for his family, for the good of the people of Shiran City let alone the entirety of the Sinner Demon race.
For the unborn child growing in Alaïs’ womb.
For the Prince and his personal guard who was murdered trying to find his brother.
For the fledgling that had had three wing sets violently removed from his back.
For the Princess who had been raped by her sire to beget an heir.
For the Lady Queen who had just been trying to survive as best she could.
For the man that doubted every move he made and had the weight of the entire Worlds on his shoulders.
In the distance, in between the pealing of the bells all around him, he could just make out the sounds of the garrison being mounted up, guards from all over the City running full tilt towards their assigned places either along the wall, in front of the Palace, or on the training fields just outside the barracks to prepare to march. And mixed among them were the regular citizens scrambling to lock everything down and prepare for war. A war they had no doubt had either believed wasn’t actually going to happen or did believe it and just weren’t prepared for it to happen so soon. Part of him felt bad for not getting any real warning out to the general population, but he hadn’t had the time.
Anislanzir would know that Relyt had done this, had called the City and its inhabitants to war before the Lord King himself had given the order to do so, but the Lord King couldn’t touch him or Alaïs. Never mind that Anislanzir couldn’t go after anyone else within the City walls unless he wanted to look like he hadn’t been privy to Relyt’s plan. It was the one thing Relyt could do to out maneuver the un-male and make certain no one would be harmed in his stead. So, he and everyone else were safe. It was the one move Anislanzir probably hadn’t seen coming and he only regretted that he hadn’t been there in person to see the bastard’s face when the first sound of the bells shattered early morning air.
I hope you’re pulling your pubes out you miserable g’zkeqicqualre. Just wait until you realize that your entire force has been against you for months.
And what a brilliant machination that had been: to plant a seed of doubt and hatred of the Lord King amongst those in his army. To mingle Thayne’s handful of warriors into the City and Palace and garrison and with each day that passed begin to unravel Anislanzir’s power base out from under him.
The door to the tower on the other side of the tower from him flew open, knocking against the wall, and he flinched.
“Sorry I’m late! I got caught in the pandemonium in the streets. Play one little War Song and people lose their minds,” Jaro’s voice pierced the din and Relyt relaxed.
“I am glad you made it safely,” Relyt called back, not breaking stride. He couldn’t afford to so much as pause for breath. Not even to wipe his sweat-soaked fringe from his face, not even to take a sip of the water he’d brought up with him. Keeping those bells going was more important because once started, a War Song could not be stopped until the last lyric was sung, the last note played.
The irony that a Grey Soul Healer was playing a War Song, let alone was about to sing it as well, was not lost on him.
“You’re halfway through the third verse, yeah?” the Soulless asked, moving to stand beside him, eyes a light blue that reminded Relyt of the ice shelves of his home World and he fought off the wave of longing for a home that had never really been that to begin with at the thought.
“Just finished it with that last ring,” Relyt replied, shifting around to the next bell, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
“Man, you need to Heal those up,” Jaro commented, waving his fingers at Relyt’s hands but the Soul Healer shook his head.
“It’s fine. I want my blood to spill here,” if for no other reason than perhaps the other gods will Hear us since the Many has abandoned us.
Jaro narrowed his eyes, the movement seeming to shift his entire face in a way that Relyt couldn’t describe even if he tried, making his beard twitch as his lips worked soundlessly around the words Relyt had just spoken, eyes shifting to a darker shade of blue before resettling. The Soulless removed his black, wide-brim hat to run a hand over his hair which he kept in twin braids that began at his hairline and fell down to nearly his elbows, the sides and back of his head shaved down in a nod to his mother’s Lupherinre heritage. With a shake of his head, he replaced his hat and moved around Relyt to take up the rope of the next bell in the line.
“Ready to make it more interesting?” Jaro asked with a wink, his expression smoothed out, and Relyt laughed despite himself.
And together they pulled their ropes, mixing the sounds as the fourth verse of the Song began, and Relyt mentally patted himself on the back for thinking of letting Thayne’s infiltration unit know of his plan. For if he hadn’t Jaro would not be here and he wouldn’t have been able to use this particular Song because it required two people, at the very least, working in tandem to ring the bells at just the right moment.
Glancing over at the Soulless working beside him, Relyt thought back to the Soulless that was always with Anis, that was never too far behind and felt a pang of loss despite not having known Ero for all that long. Though, I suppose it is more a pang of loss for what I had with Rhyshladlyn and Azriel just after I met Ero. His death, Anis’ death, marked a turning point none of us were ready for.
But, as he was beginning to discover, it didn’t matter the length of time one knew anyone; what mattered was the strength of the connection made with them. Gods only knew he hadn’t known Rhyshladlyn or Azriel for overlong, not in light of how long their respective races were known to live, but their connection was deep enough that Relyt wondered often of it was Anislanzir’s mistreatment or the loss of Rhyshladlyn within easy reach that was breaking him down.
“One last set!” Relyt called out three versus later and saw Jaro nod before they shifted positions one last time.
Do you hear me, Rhyshladlyn? Do you hear this Song, do you know it? I pray that you do and that you come swiftly… before it’s too late to save us.
As the last note was rung, Jaro turned to Relyt and grinned, face flushed, sweat making his thin tunic cling to his chest.
“So, what Song was this exactly? You never did tell us which one you picked,” Jaro asked, walking beside him past the still thrumming bells towards the balcony.
He hesitated on the threshold, holding the door open. Part of him didn’t know if he should tell the Soulless, not that it would matter if he did. Jaro could easily ask anyone what the Song was. Half the City was old enough to remember the old teachings of the War Songs. Not to mention the Soulless worked in the Palace as one of the servants, he could easily get to and ask Alaïs and she had no reason not to tell him. But another part of him wanted it to be something only he and Rhyshladlyn knew, at least in the sense as to what the message really was. Yet he didn’t have a reason to hold it to himself, not a good one at least. Never mind that no one besides he and Rhyshladlyn would likely grasp the meaning. And perhaps speaking it out loud would make it less painful for him to sing it.
“The Song of War and Love,” he said, voice sounding hushed, nearly drowned out by the tolling bells but judging by the way Jaro gasped he had still heard him. “I chose the Song of War and Love.”
And with that he stepped out onto the balcony, the door clicking shut behind him, and he sang.