He stood at the farthest edge of the camp, hands curled around the hilts of Mallacht in his left and Beannacht in his right and held down at his sides, the grey-dyed leather armor Shiran City had gifted him hugging his body like a second skin and watched as the Lord King’s army marched across the sands and Thayne’s gathered to meet them. He had seen this set up of opposing armies preparing to rush each other and cut down anyone who registered as an enemy before them many times before. But this time felt different. This wasn’t a regular skirmish between raiders and bandits or villages and cities. This was a war, one that began with the singing of one of the old War Songs. And so it felt fundamentally different to those who could sense it.
He wouldn’t tell any of the warriors and soldiers on either side that what they were starting here was only the beginning of a war that would spread across the Worlds, that would encompass not just the races of Ancients and Sinner Demons that were beginning it, but rather every last one of the twenty races. That it would destroy generations of Dhaoine in single battles, that it would level Provinces and and towns and cities and potentially whole Worlds. And all because he had murdered his birth giver, all because Anis had been murdered by an Ancient when he Rejected her without knowing that’s how it would come across. All because Anislanzir wanted an excuse to try and kill him legally since he couldn’t any other way.
He wouldn’t tell them that this was only the beginning not just of the war they knew was about to start, not just of a new era, but of a complete rewrite of how things were.
He wouldn’t tell them that the gods would be walking among them again soon, felling enemies and saving allies; that everything they knew was about to get thrown over the tallest of the Cliffs.
He wouldn’t tell them not because he didn’t know how to word it but because there was no point to telling them that this war was not going to be fought and won on this Field. It would do nothing more than to steal away what little hope they had of coming out of this alive. And what hope they did have they would need. Because his training over the last couple months had increased their chances of survival but it wasn’t a guarantee. And he wouldn’t be fighting with them like originally planned, not after the Dream Bayls had had. But he would be here for the start of it. He owed them that much at least.
Idly, he shifted his grip on his swords and closed his eyes. He could still hear the echoes of that War Song, could still hear a voice he had never heard sing but knew without a doubt who it belonged to wrapping around words that hadn’t been sung in more than ten millennia. No one had to tell him what the Story behind that song had been because he knew. It was one of his absolute favorites, after all. Since he first learned the old Songs, it had spoken to him on a deep, personal level. Spoken to him long before Azriel had ever strode onto the Palace training fields, long before he had even lost his wings, long before Relyt had found him in that alley dying and begging for help, long before he even knew he was capable of beginning and ending this war in one move if he wanted. Not that it would really work, and he knew that, but it was enough to keep him moving forward, to keep him going through the motions.
Whether he actually had any shred of hope that any of them would really make it out the other side of the war alive or not didn’t matter. So long as the warriors and soldiers he fought beside and against did, that was all that mattered.
Because he knew what was coming, had seen the patterns long before his Patrons had Called him to the City and spoken to him one last time face to face and confirmed his suspicions and worst fears in one conversation. And that knowledge was making it impossible for him to have any real hope.
“Don’t lose hope, Rhys. We will get through this. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, my Qishir, you just need to keep going. We’re almost there.”
He smiled, a bare quirking of one corner of his lips, at the memory of Azriel’s words after he’d received Relyt’s letter. How the Anglëtinean could be so optimistic, could have so much faith in him, in anything really, given all he had seen and done and heard of, was still a mystery to Rhyshladlyn. He just wished it was enough.
How does you try not to lose hope when you aren’t certain you ever even had it to begin with?
Adjusting his grip on his blades one last time, he began to walk towards the gathered armies before him just as he heard Adïmshyl say from behind him, “Faith isn’t just for the gods, Tee.”
Well isn’t that fitting as fuck?
And then he was blinking past Thayne’s army and into that open space before Anislanzir’s army and his lips were curving into a slow, viciously sweet smile that showed too much teeth and didn’t touch his eyes.
“Do you know who I am?” He pitched his voice so it reached every last warrior on that Field and his smile only grew when silence greeted him.
With a whoosh his wings thrust into the visible plane, scattering golden dust and blue-white sparks in their wake. The shadows lengthened and swirled around his legs like cats begging for attention.
“I am Qishir Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn GreySong Ka’ahne, third born of Azhuri Rinnae GreySong nóh Ka’ahne, former Lady Queen of the Sinner Demons and Queen-Heir to the Ancients, blooded second son of Anislanzir Faolan Ka’ahne, Lord King of the Sinner Demons, sired by Ajisfalir the Fourteenth, blooded brother of Anisfajir Faolan Ka’ahne and Alaïs Rin’zhur Ka’ahne, Heart of the Grey Court, Qishir of the Companion Azriel Kasuske of the House of Veratone and the Steward Relyt Greymend of the Twilight Walkers Clan, wielder of Mallacht and Beannacht,” his voice rang with a finality that sent a chill wind dancing across the sands. “And on this day I give you a choice: lay down your weapons and live or die. This is not your battle, this is not your war, it is mine and Anislanzir’s. So what say you?”
He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly as the insults continued to ring out from the line of warriors and soldiers in front of him, tuning out the shifting and angry mutters from those behind him. Their insults didn’t matter. Though the insult against him as a Qishir was unexpected and he was almost impressed by it. Almost.
“As you wish,” he whispered but his voice rang like a shout, bringing silence to the Field once again.
Like a monster from the ocean’s depths, the memory of seeing the Soullessly Heartfelt with her galaxy eyes raising the Scales that were tipped in favor of the Feather across from him at that table in the Nameless’ Shadow Chamber all those months ago rose up and he rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck, echoing the words she had taught him and felt a shudder roll across the earth as he did so:
“You have been found Wanting as the Scales have tipped to favor the Feather. May the Faceless grant you the mercy the Nameless shall not.”
And with a roar that shook the earth, he flew forward, blades brandished and collided with the line of now shouting warriors in front of him.
I’ll see you soon, Relyt. I Heard your Song, I Heard your Call, and I’m coming.
They were due to be taken to the City to try and work around the Dream that Bayls had had, to try and meet Anislanzir head on because Rhyshladlyn was more than certain the Lord King wouldn’t step foot on the Fields like a proper ruler would, but the Qishir refused to let the warriors and soldiers he had helped train begin the first battle alone. But as of yet, all he had done was stand and watch as the two opposing armies formed up and faced off across a tradition-dictated empty patch of desert sand. And for the life of her, Thae’a couldn’t understand why he refused to get ahead of the clash that was about to happen, to just get into the City and cut down Anislanzir before anyone fighting for that goat fucker had to die, but it wasn’t entirely her place to question it. Never mind that Azriel had questioned it plenty for all of them and Rhyshladlyn’s answer had always been the same:
“I will kill him when it is time, but right now is not that time. I trained these people, on both sides of this battle, and I will show them the respect owed them by being the one to start it as they are all here because of me. Now will all of you shut up? We have shit to finish preparing.”
The tension that had gathered in her shoulders eased a fraction as she felt Adïmshyl approaching; the adrenaline that was swirling in the air made it more and more difficult for her to keep her glamour from dropping and showing the marking that denoted her as a Dreamweaver and it was making her nervous. But as he slipped his hand into hers, calm threaded down their bond and she let out a breath as the tension bled away almost completely. Pulling her attention from the Qishir standing a few yards away to look up at the green eyes of her mate she frowned. His expression was neutral, devoid of any outward display of emotion, but she could read his worry not just for her but for Rhyshladlyn in the way his hand tensed in random bursts around hers, the way his pupils had contracted into slits like hers, the way the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes stood out despite his face not holding any expressive movement. They hadn’t expected the war to start before the plans had been set in stone but when the first notes of that War Song had pierced the thick, humid air of Shiraniqi Desert from behind Shiran City’s golden walls, they had to scramble to get everything set up.
And in that commotion Thae’a had pulled Adïmshyl aside and asked if he knew what that Song was, mentioned she was concerned with the way Rhyshladlyn had paled when he heard the first lyrics slip across the Currents before he’d closed those jewel-like eyes and his lips had mouthed around the words showing the Qishir clearly knew the Song. Her mate had said he wasn’t sure but he’d ask a few of the contacts he’d made within the camp and find her when he had the answer. He hadn’t responded to the worry she expressed about Rhyshladlyn’s reaction and that had bothered her at first but as time had gone on, as minutes stretched to hours and Thae’a watched the Qishir don his armor and call in his blades and unsheathe them, watched as he stood facing the armies gathering on the desert sands, she realized it didn’t entirely matter. Her mate had confidence in her abilities and by extension in the abilities of the Qishir that would see them if not the victors in this war than at least they would be alive at the end of it.
Or at least that’s what she tried telling herself to make the anxiety forming weights in her stomach go away. Not that it worked. Fuckin’ anxiety. Why is it even a thing? Sadistic gods are sadistic.
“Did you figure out what Song it was that Anislanzir used?” Thae’a asked, head tilting to the side, not verbally acknowledging the worry that he was feeling for her and for the Qishir he had come to respect so highly in such a short period of time but he knew she knew it was there. What her mate needed was something to focus his restless energy on before the fighting began, not for her to try and placate him with statements that may prove to be false.
In a rare show of public affection, Adïmshyl leaned down and pressed a chaste, quick kiss to her lips before resting his forehead against hers.
“It was the Song of War and Love,” he answered after a few heartbeats. “I do not think that Anislanzir is the one that sang it.”
She frowned in confusion, lifting her free hand up to cup it along his jaw and press his head back so she could meet his eyes again. In the seven centuries they had been together she had only ever seen him like this when they learned she could not carry a child. And by the Webs, that only added fuel to the anxiety weighing heavy and thick like spoiled food in her stomach.
“What do you mean?”
“That Song…” He jerked his head towards the City just barely seen over the sand dunes in the distance as he trailed off, his green eyes slipping away from her to look at Rhyshladlyn, beard twitching as his lips curled down in a frown. “It is a song from a male that was turned into a warrior when his very nature screamed against it; he was a diplomat turned fighter because he had no other option left to him to try and save himself and those he loved. It is sung to the one that fought for him at all costs and promised to protect him but ultimately failed.” It was clear by his tone that the story behind the Song bothered him but he left it unmentioned which told her he didn’t know why it bothered him only that it did.
“Failed?” she narrowed her eyes in confusion. “Failed how?”
He snorted, the sound inelegant and looked back at her, one eyebrow raised. “While it isn’t clear what exactly happened, someone died. Though none of my contacts or the information I could dig up on my own said whether it was the Singer or the one being sung to that died.”
“Or someone else entirely that was still connected to them both,” Thae’a added and her mate nodded.
She turned to look at the Qishir, taking in his relaxed battle stance, the way he held his swords with the ease of years of practice, the way the sunlight glinted and gleamed on his leather armor that registered as an extension of the magick that made his eyes and skin glow, the way the wind played at the auburn strands of his hair that he kept long enough to pull into tail if he wished on top and cropped close on the sides. His wings weren’t visible but Thae’a knew they were in the physical plane solely by the way the sand that was sent dancing around him by the wind halted and dropped mid-air in certain places. After a moment she looked past him to the gathering armies, feeling a sense of incredible foreboding settle deep and hard in her stomach adding to the anxiety already making its home there, tendrils of accompanying fear slipping up along her spine to wrap around her ribs like the gentle fingers of a cautious lover.
“So it makes no sense for the Lord King to chose it,” she commented at length.
“Exactly,” Adïmshyl agreed.
“Which means it wasn’t that bastard flesh-eater that chose it,” she looked back at her mate in time to see him nod once, slowly, his own eyes widening a fraction.
And as she spoke those words it suddenly dawned who probably had chosen it and those tendrils of fear squeezed hard at her ribs and stole her breath. Because that meant that Relyt had chosen it, he was the only other person who fit the description of the Song’s history. But the question then became whether he had sung it as a warning, as a plea, or as an act of showing his understanding for his all but abandonment and his resulting forgiveness. Because if he had chosen that Song? It made the Dream they had been going off of when making their plans for the opening of the war sketchy at best. And if it nulled the Dream…
That meant they either read the Dream wrong or it was a distraction. Though a distraction for what, she hadn’t the faintest idea.
“Was that just a story made up by the writer of the Song or those of the time?” She had a sneaking suspicion it wasn’t but she needed to make sure. Had to know if the fear that was making speaking and breathing difficult was founded.
If the story behind the Song’s origin was true? She didn’t want to think about the implications. There were just too many.
Her mate didn’t answer, not verbally. He just looked at her and she knew. Knew by the way his features twisted and his beard twitched and his eyes darkened that it wasn’t made up. That it was real, that it was an actual event that had occurred and she blew out a breath that sounded more like a swallowed scream than anything resembling a sigh. The smile her mate gave her then was equal parts terrified and wrathful and she didn’t know how to handle it. It was a look she’d never seen on him before.
“What are we going to do?” It wasn’t directed at anyone really, just a vocalization of a question she had asked herself several times over the last twenty-four hours.
But that didn’t stop him from answering.
“Faith isn’t just for the gods, Tee.”
And with that they both looked back at Rhyshladlyn as the Qishir blinked to the open space between the armies, the fear that had slipped around Thae’a’s ribs and squeezed lessening slightly as the Qishir did so.
“Do you know who I am?” his voice rang out, clear and crisp as though he was standing right in front of them and she shivered.
“This is honestly my favorite part of watching him start a battle,” a low, rich tenor voice spoke to her right and both she and Adïmshyl jumped and flinched respectively before looking at the Anglëtinean that had somehow snuck up on them both. But he had eyes only for the Qishir barely seen on the other side of Thayne’s army.
“How do you mean?” Adïmshyl asked.
Azriel held a finger to his lips before he gestured with it at where Rhyshladlyn stood but didn’t look at them. “Just watch.”
With a whoosh Rhyshladlyn’s wings thrust into visibility, extending to their full span, the red-black tipped in grey feathered primary set scattering golden dust as the shifting shadows of twilight feathered secondary set sent blue-white sparks swirling out around him. He was beautiful in the violence he embodied, a warrior unmatched by any save perhaps his Companion who stood to her right dressed in white linen pants and nothing else, bare toes curling in the sand, hands curling into fists and relaxing over and over again, the muscles in his back rippling where his wing joints pressed out at either side of his spine next to his shoulder blades.
Beside her, Adïmshyl hissed in Pherinet, the first time he’d spoken his native tongue in decades, his hand clenching tight enough around hers that she nearly cried out from the pain of it. Before she could open her mouth to try and make sure her mate was okay, Rhyshladlyn was speaking again.
“I am Qishir Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn GreySong Ka’ahne, third born of Azhuri Rinnae GreySong nóh Ka’ahne, former Lady Queen of the Sinner Demons and Queen-Heir to the Ancients, blooded second son of Anislanzir Faolan Ka’ahne, Lord King of the Sinner Demons, sired by Ajisfalir the Fourteenth, blooded brother of Anisfajir Faolan Ka’ahne and Alaïs Rin’zhur Ka’ahne, Heart of the Grey Court, Qishir of the Companion Azriel Kasuske of the House of Veratone and the Steward Relyt Greymend of the Twilight Walkers Clan, wielder of Mallacht and Beannacht,” his voice rang with a finality that sent a chill wind dancing across the sands and Thae’a found herself shivering violently enough that Adïmshyl pulled her against his side, hand leaving hers so he could wrap his arm around her shoulders, sharing his body heat. “And on this day I give you a choice: lay down your weapons and live or die. This is not your battle, this is not your war, it is mine and Anislanzir’s. So what say you?”
There was a beat of silence following his words before insults shattered the air and while she couldn’t catch the majority of them she caught the one that was designed specifically as an insult against all Qishir, and judging by the way Adïmshyl and Azriel growled low and viciously in unison on either side of her, they had caught it to.
But Rhyshladlyn didn’t seem perturbed. No, he merely spoke up again and brought silence to the Field as he did.
“As you wish,” his voice had the hushed quality of a whisper but it covered the distance as clearly as if he had shouted and as he finished speaking the World around them seemed to hold its breath, as though it knew the danger that stood within it. “You have been found Wanting as the Scales have tipped to favor the Feather. May the Faceless grant you the mercy the Nameless shall not.”
And with a roar that shook the earth, Rhyshladlyn flew forward, blades brandished and collided with the line of shouting warriors and Thae’a felt the air shift and reality stretch around her and she closed her eyes, letting the first screams of the dying and wounded slip along her senses. Stepping away from Adïmshyl, she rolled her shoulders as she called in her bow and quiver, slinging them across her chest before calling in her tridents. Opening her eyes to grin first at her mate and then at Azriel who had raised an eyebrow at her, she jerked her head towards the battle as a war cry went up among Thayne’s army.
“Shall we, boys?” At their nods she took off for the battlefield, vaulting over Thayne’s army into the clearing where Rhyshladlyn had once stood, hearing Adïmshyl let out a whoop whoop call behind her as the swoosh of Azriel’s wingbeats sounded from above her as she quickly covered the distance that remained between her and where she could just see Rhyshladlyn scattering bodies as he cut a path through Anislanzir’s army.
Just as she raised her tridents to meet the downswing of an enemy sword, she sent one last desperate prayer up:
Whatever gods are still listening, please let us all see the other side of this alive.