Little was known by the Dhaoinic races about Others.
Some thought they were spirits, left overs of a Self that wasn’t able to pass on entirely. Some thought they were those who had achieved a form of enlightenment and thus were granted a final ‘easy’ lifetime to live before they were allowed to rest eternally in the After. Some thought they were cursed, that they were Selves too dark for the Cliffs of Oblivion to serve as decent torture for eternity and so were doomed to be caged and controlled by another. Some thought they were granted a gift by the gods, that it was an honor beyond description to be one. Some thought they were a race just like their flesh and blood counterparts.
But no one knew what Others really were except Others themselves and it was something they didn’t disclose to anyone, not even their kè. And those that were Others wanted to keep it that way.
Though as he watched Bayls throw him a shaky smile, hands fisted at her sides in a way that told him she still wanted to cup his face before one lifted in a wave before she turned and ran to catch up to Rhyshladlyn and Adïmshyl, he wondered why Others had to keep the truth of themselves from the rest of the Worlds. Especially those who played host to them. But there wasn’t anyone besides Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú for him to ask. And while Shadiranamen was as old as the Nameless’ balls, even she didn’t know the why only that they were supposed to and that just wasn’t a good enough answer. But it was the only one any of them had. It wasn’t like Others had a council or a library of their history and their language and shit for the entirety of their kind to seek advice, let alone gain knowledge, from.
And if that wasn’t just the second greatest heap of bullshit related to being an Other then Anislanzir wasn’t a raping child-lover.
He jumped, turning on his heel to see Thae’a waving at him, one eyebrow raised, those rich brown eyes full of a knowing gleam that made him want to shake her but he wouldn’t. He wasn’t suicidal. She could kill him easily and his heart wouldn’t once stop beating and that was a scary fucking thought all on its own.
He nodded and broke into a jog to close the distance, stopping as he drew alongside her. While she wasn’t as tall as the Sinner Demon females he was used to seeing, with Bayls being one of only a few exceptions in his ninety plus years walking the Worlds with Rhyshladlyn, Thae’a was still tall enough that he didn’t have to look down as far to meet her eyes. And even if she had been? Her presence, while throwing around an air of grace and harmlessness, was all encompassing, thick and cloying like humidity but yet at the same time only if one knew what they were sensing. Even if his twin hadn’t told him what she was, he would have known that she was dangerous. Those eyes were too keen, too sharp, and it wasn’t because of the age of the Self that gazed through them. There was an oldness to them, much like his own, that gave a hint to the true face that lived behind them.
For while most Dhaoine showed their true faces to the Worlds, wore them with a pride and a sense of belonging and acceptance, many didn’t. He knew his twin was one of those that hid their true face entirely behind a glamour, as was his overgrown feather duster of a Companion, and that uptight tea drinker of a Steward. Knew that Adïmshyl only wore a portion of his where everyone could see it. Thayne didn’t have one, though she often played as though she did. Bayls’ true face was the face everyone saw, with only a slight shifting occurring when she was alone — or accompanied by someone she felt truly comfortable with. Alaïs and Anis wore, had worn, theirs proudly and without fear of retaliation or mistreatment. Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú let pieces of theirs leak through but not the full thing, not unless it was a greater risk to hold the glamour than to release it.
But Thae’a? Thae’a’s true face was nearly as fearsome as Rhyshladlyn’s, as his own which was a mirror of the Qishir’s. But he only ever saw the Dreamweaver’s in the shadows, like an after image when one closed their eyes in the daytime after staring unblinking for several minutes. It wasn’t the stuff of nightmares like Azriel’s. It wasn’t like what he thought the faces of the Original Seven had looked like before only the Dhaoine remained like Rhyshladlyn’s. It wasn’t something that made one’s blood run hot with the kind of arousal that sparks off when seeing something truly frightening directed at anyone or anything other than oneself like Relyt’s was. It was more and yet not and try as he might he couldn’t put words to it to give it a description accurate enough. It was one of those things one had to see to understand its scope.
He blinked, shaking himself out of his thoughts as a soft hand landed on his bare forearm. He looked down at it, frowning, before looking back up at Thae’a who was looking at him with an expression that bordered on concern and he frowned harder. “Where did you go just now?”
He chuckled with a lightness that he didn’t feel, playing the part of the jokester, even though he knew as well as she did that it was false. At least in that exact moment it was.
“Just got lost thinkin’ ’bout how damned intimidatin’ y’are. Tha’s all,” he replied with a smile that made his teeth hurt and fought to make his right eye twitch with how forced it was.
“Oh, is that so?” She snorted. “I’m about as intimidating as a dead cactus, Nully.”
“Now see, that’s just an oxymoron, darlin’. Jus’ cuz the cactus ain’t alive an’ able to throw its spiky bits everywhere to defend itself ain’t mean it still isn’t intimidatin’,” he retorted and she laughed for real, head tossed back as the sound rumbled out past her lips and he graced her with a genuine smile that actually touched his eyes.
One of the reasons he was always playing and joking was because he loved making other people smile and laugh. Loved the way their faces would go slack seconds before the mirth came bubbling out, lowering the voices of males and raising the voices of females. Loved the way neodrachs’ eyes would light up and get wide, as though the ability to laugh and be amused was a surprise to em. And even now, with the war broken out around them, even with knowing his twin still wasn’t ready for what lay ahead for him, for them, even knowing that this war would reshape the Worlds, he was able to draw strength from knowing he could make someone else laugh. That even with the Worlds breaking down around them all, happiness born of amusement still existed and he was able to give it strength.
“Fair enough,” Thae’a laughed, shaking her head before clapping his shoulder. “Come on, before Azriel gets his pants in a twist.”
As they started walking after Thyl and Azriel — who honestly weren’t that far ahead of them — he looked over his shoulder at the end of the street where Bayls, Rhyshladlyn, and Adïmshyl had turned to head towards the Great Temple and sighed.
I wasn’t lyin’ t’you, Bayls. I like you, but… there’s so much y’don’t know ’bout me. I’m not like you, I’m not a livin’ Dhaoine. An’ that is just the tippa the iceberg.
With a sigh he looked forward ahead and sent a call out to his fellows.
*Shadi? Xhesh? We’re in the City. Rhys has gone to the Temple t’Ward the City against further attacks. I’m headed to the Palace with Az, Thae’a, an’ Thyl. Where should we meet y’both?*
For long moments there was no response and he frowned. Usually, regardless of the distance, they were able to communicate effortlessly and always responded immediately. It was one of the reasons why after Xheshmaryú had revealed himself that they had made certain to leave one of them with Rhyshladlyn at all times, so communication remained open. Because there was a distance limit on speaking through their connection between kè and Other but not Other to Other.
*Xhesh? Shadi? You there?*
When he still didn’t get an answer, a knot of worry settled hard and fast in his stomach and he felt dread make his limbs feel like they weighed three times what they did.
“Hey, Ol’ Red Eye!” He called up to Azriel who stiffened at the nickname before the Anglëtinean slowed and turned to face him. “We migh’ve a problem.”
Those mismatched eyes narrowed at him.
“Shadi and Xhesh ain’t respondin’ to me at all.”
And what little bit of control Azriel had regained over the glamour that hid his true face from the Worlds slipped and spluttered, light leaking out from his eyes, face shifting ever so slightly, moving as though he had muscles that he shouldn’t in a face that still looked rather humanoid. But despite the slip, he didn’t lose full hold of his glamour.
“You can’t reach them at all? What about Rhys?” The Anglëtinean’s voice had dropped into a rumbling baritone that thundered along his bones and he fought to keep his face neutral, fought to keep the panic that was clawing its way up his esophagus from his stomach from reaching his chest and squeezing.
“Yeah, my twin is still reachable,” he didn’t have to try in order to feel that connection; by virtue of him still being corporeal, still being alive, so was Rhyshladlyn. A thought and half a breath was all it took in order to hear Rhyshladlyn speaking to Shiran softly as he entered the Great Temple. Wow, they made good time, shit. “It’s just them I ain’t able to reach.”
“Try sensing them,” Azriel said as he and Thyl started walking back towards them.
“Aye, aye, Captain Feather Duster.” He tried not to see the way Azriel didn’t even flinch or frown at the nickname, meaning the Anglëtinean recognized that it was his way of trying to stave off the panic that had nearly reached his throat.
Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and stepped out of his room and into the hallway that he always saw when trying to sense or see his fellows and his kè when they were separated. Hundreds of doors lined that hallway, the carpet thick and lush, softer than silk, and a green so dark it was nearly black. He strode down it, fingers trailing over the shadowed walls absently, feeling the uneven texture like he was petting tree bark, searching for a particular set of doorways, the ones that led to Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú’s “rooms” within Rhyshladlyn.
He didn’t make it a handful of steps before terror and urgency slammed against his awareness and he jerked out of the hallway and back into his corporeal form, eyes blinking open just as screaming rattled his ears. Crying out, his hands flew up to press against them in an effort to stave off the pain dealt by the sound to his eardrums. As though his hands would be enough to block out a sound that seemed to be coming from inside his head, not outside of it. He felt his corporeal form flicker as he redirected his focus towards keeping that screaming from shattering his eardrums.
He could only just barely make out the sounds of Azriel’s concerned voice calling his name, of Thae’a’s hands on his shoulders forcing him to remain corporeal lest she fall and hurt herself, of Thyl circling them, knives at the ready as the Druid searched out the threat that was attacking an Other. But he couldn’t answer Azriel, couldn’t acknowledge Thae’a, couldn’t tell Thyl that the threat wasn’t physical in the way the Druid had assumed. His throat felt raw and he realized he was screaming right along with those voices breaking apart against his ears like glass against stone.
The screaming intensified and he screamed louder, falling heavily to his knees. The bite of the cobblestone digging through the leather of his breeches hardly noticeable. But it, coupled with Thae’a’s weight making him hit harder than he should have as she kept her hands on his shoulders, did ground him enough that he could feel the rage that mixed with the urgency and terror that still battered against his senses, mingling with those screams. That and a single sentence repeated over and over again.
“Alaïs, don’t you fucking die on me, don’t you dare!”
He stared into the middle distance, half in that hallway, half in the physical World and hollered:
*Shadi! Xhesh! Answer me damn you!*
There was a heartbeat of silence before static thrummed across their connection interspersed with words.
*Nul’ — get to — att — acks dro — building collapsed — she’s not breath — hurry!* came the choppy response, mangled by those ten words continuing on an endless loop, but it was enough for him to recognize Shadiranamen’s sibilant voice.
*Where.* He demanded.
He closed his eyes tightly as a rush of images cascaded down their link, showing him where to go in the Palace, showing him a pile of stone and bodies, showing him a trembling Relyt, hands glowing and pulsing with his power, wings flared wide, grey eyes wild, the tattoos on his arm blinding in their brilliance. Beneath Relyt’s hands was a body that was lumpy in places it shouldn’t be. For a long moment his mind wouldn’t allow him to actually see what he was looking at but when it did he let out a wail that shook the ground and buildings around him and across the City he felt Rhyshladlyn’s attention snap up and lock on him but he shut the door in his twin’s face with a clipped finish your job, Rhys. I got this.
Because Alaïs’ face was a wash of blood, the bone of her right cheek peaking through the tear in the skin, her teeth and gums clearly visible, right eye dangling free of its socket, tethered only by the ocular nerve that connected it to her brain. Her right arm was hidden beneath a giant slab of stone but what he could see of it it had been flattened, the blood and skin and bone seen that wasn’t under that stone’s massive weight almost liquid-like. Her right leg was twisted in on itself, knee bent backwards unnaturally, several compound fractures having pushed the bones out through the skin. The skin was missing from just below her left ribcage down to mid-thigh, the muscle twitching and clenching as he watched, bones looking far too white where they showed through the patchy tears in the muscle. Her swollen belly was writhing, shaking, as though the child within it was still alive and desperately trying to escape the dying body that housed it. Her jaw was slack, mouth hanging open on an unheard scream that had twisted the unmarred half of her face. Her undamaged eye was glassy, the blue strikingly bright in the blood and gore that covered her face but it wasn’t moving, the pupil unresponsive to light or other stimulus.
She had been caught in the collapse triggered by one of the attacks. And from the looks of it, if she wasn’t already, she would be dead before much longer.
Rage burned through him then, rage at his sire, rage at the gods. And he pulled it close, wrapped it around his shoulders like one would do with a blanket on a cold night.
*We’ll be there in less than a minute. Get that boulder off her arm, clear away debris. We’ve gotta knit her back together all at once.*
No spoken answer came but he got an acknowledgment nonetheless and it was enough. He broke the connection, sent another pulse of reassurance to Rhyshladlyn who was battering against the door between them and dropped back into the physical World.
Eyes flying open he twitched his hand, magick dragging Thyl to within arms’ reach. Grabbing the Druid’s hand as he tried to flail back, other hand reaching out to take hold of one of Azriel’s forearms, Thae’a already touching his shoulders, he bit out, “We’re needed at the Palace like twenty minutes ago.” It was the only warning he gave them before he blinked them to the location that Shadiranamen had shown him.
As he landed in the destroyed hallway, his breath sputtered as he fought to regain his balance as those he had pulled along with him stumbled away from him. Azriel hissed a shuddering breath through his teeth, Thae’a moaned weakly her hands curled into claws against the stone wall to his left, and Thyl sank to his knees, dry heaving. But he ignored them.
Ignored the sounds of shocked distress that erupted around him as those in the hallway caught sight of the four of them. Ignored everything but Relyt on his knees exactly as he had seen him through Shadiranamen’s eyes. Jylen and Chebnir and Yrei flanked Alaïs’ destroyed, prone body while Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú worked together to lift that piece of stone off her arm and clear away the rest of the debris that surrounded the four Healers as they worked frantically to save the only heir to the Sinner Demon throne. He took a deep breath before he allowed himself to finally look at Alaïs, willing his psyche to let him register what he was seeing, the true scope of the damage. And when he did… he let out another wail, not as loud as the first time, but loud enough.
His feet were moving before he was even consciously aware of it, lending his own power towards Healing her before he had even fully reached the gathered group, hands outstretched as he sank to his knees at her head. Paying no mind to the look of shock Relyt threw his way, he channeled his rage into his power and thrust it into the mangled body of his sister as his hands gently came down to cup either side of her head. Azriel dropped down on Relyt’s left side, the only empty space left, his own hands glowing as he offered what meager Healing abilities he had. And while he watched the other five, he wondered if the scene he was seeing was what Relyt, Jylen, and Chebnir had looked like bowed over Rhyshladlyn when he lay broken and dying — dead; we actually died that day, remember? — in that alley with Anis and Ero looking on. Wondered if they had felt this sense of anxious urgency, of hopelessness slowly stealing what little air they had to spare for their lungs as they poured every ounce of power and Healing knowledge they had into keeping Rhyshladlyn alive. Wondered if this was what fear felt like.
And if it was, he had a whole new respect for his twin.
“Listen here, little sister,” he whisper-hissed at the body beneath his hands, distantly heard Relyt and Azriel arguing with the other three about what to do to save her. But he didn’t respond to any of it. Just sank down beneath the surface of things, down to where his Self pulsed and twisted and hummed, colored like the shadowfire he controlled: rich dark violet bursts and cerulean swirls and black swatches with strings of white. “Little sister,” he whispered again, using the term he’d taken on for her after she commented once that he always seemed far older than he was, “you promised to teach me, remember?” He brushed his power against her Self where it was flailing and begging much like Rhyshladlyn’s had a year ago to be saved, for someone, anyone, to save her. “You haven’t held up your end’a the bargain, so y’don’t get to die yet.”
Do you hear me? You don’t get to die yet.
A moment of silence flooded the hallway and in it a single heartbeat thudded once, twice, and a third time, pittered out then started again.
That’s it. Come on, Al! Don’t you wanna see your bastard father die? Can’t do that if you’re not alive. Come on!
“We need something stronger than the magick here,” a voice he didn’t recognize was saying.
“And where do you propose we find that exactly?” Azriel’s voice was sharper than steel.
“She’s with child yes?”
“What are you getting at, Jaro?” Relyt asked, sounding exasperated, eyes exhausted and shadowed, face gaunt — he looks a wreck — as he addressed the Soulless standing behind Jylen and Chebnir and putting a name to the face and voice.
There was a thick silence, the heartbeat he could hear stuttering into nonexistence for longer each time it failed.
“Just speak plainly,” he snapped. “We’re runnin’ outta time and I frankly don’t feel like explainin’ to my twin that his sister died because the lotta you floundered on ’bout nonsense instead’a savin’ her.”
“We sacrifice the young and use it to fuel the magick used to save her,” Thae’a murmured, voice soft, eyes haunted. “Since it is a part of her, that part will return to her. The part that is of its father will be the sacrifice.”
“I thought child sacrificial death like you’re referencing was taboo for a curse attached to the one who performed it,” Relyt commented.
“There is but no one knows what that curse is exactly,” the Soulless named Jaro confirmed and he raised an eyebrow at him. Why fuckin’ suggest something that could backfire atrociously as a solution to this? Gods surrounding. Fucking idiots, idiots everywhere.
“I’ll do it.” Azriel shrugged when the lot of them stared at him. “I’m the strongest one here. That and my connection to Rhyshladlyn determines that any backlash will likely be mitigated. I’m the safest opti–”
“–no you’re not,” he interrupted, looking back down at Alaïs. “I am.”
“What?” Several people said at once. But he didn’t look up at them.
*You mean to take a gamble that you cannot die unless Rhyshladlyn does,* Xheshmaryú didn’t sound upset, if anything he sounded impressed.
*What if the curse circumvents the protections woven into our very existence?* Shadiranamen asked.
*It’s worth it. Whatever the potential risk, it’s worth it. I served my purpose. I prepared Rhys as much as I could. If I fall now? It will have been worth it if Alaïs survives.*
“I’m an Other,” he spoke aloud, glancing around. “What effects the living doesn’t have the same effect on my kind,” he elaborated and paused as another thought occurred to him. “Relyt, aren’t you a Gret’yinl? Shouldn’t you be able to snap your fingers an’ Heal all this?” He nodded at the broken and torn body in front of him.
Relyt narrowed grey eyes at him but nodded. “I am and I should be. But… I have missed several of my needing times, as well as the chance to make proper manners at all of the new moons in the last few months, so I am not at full capacity. And with the Key still having not Unlocked me? I am as helpless in aiding my Lady as the rest of you.”
He and Azriel cursed in unison and he raised his hands to cover his face, head tipping back. There had to be something they could do. He could feel Alaïs’ life draining the longer it took him to figure it out. They couldn’t use the young growing inside her. It was to be sacrificed at the Festival of the Flesh to the Old Ones, a gift offered so that a boon could be begged. He wouldn’t use that ill-begotten child unless he exhausted all other possibilities.
Wait… his hands fell from his face and he looked back down at Alaïs, looking beneath, looking for any sign that his latest idea would work even a little bit.
Xheshmaryú made a whining keen behind him, his discomfort evident in the sound even if the emotion didn’t thrum across their link. Shadiranamen made a sound that was more of a snarled hiss than anything else, her disapproval clear.
“Nully, why are Shadi and Xhesh making those sounds and glaring at you?” Azriel queried, eyes wide as he frowned, eyes wide in a look of fearful confusion as the Anglëtinean stared over his shoulder at them.
“Cuz I’ma ’bout to do somethin’ really fuckin’ risky an’ prob’ly hella stupid,” he answered with a shrug, aiming for nonchalance and knowing he failed when Azriel, Relyt, and Thae’a, let alone the three Healers and Thyl all turned disbelieving stares at him. “Could you lot quit? It’s creepy that y’each have the same expression right now. Shit.”
“What are you going to do?” Relyt sounded apprehensive but not afraid. It had taken a bit for him to warm up to the Soul Healer, even longer for him to trust the uptight fucker, but he knew that of all of them, the only one Relyt Greymend trusted more than him was his kè. So his lack of fear wasn’t surprising.
He smiled but it didn’t touch even his cheekbones and he didn’t try to make it. There were taboos for Dhaoine, some that had consequences that went beyond the Laws and Etiquette. And just like for the Dhaoine, Others also had taboos. Only there were no Laws and Etiquette that meted out punishments and consequences accordingly. No, for each taboo done, an Other lost something of equal or lesser value. And what he was about to do?
It was likely to backfire in a way he couldn’t predict but hoped his Intent would see that he and he alone was the only one to suffer for it.
“I can’t tell ya that, Rel,” he replied, hands slowly and with something akin to reverence pressed against Alaïs’ temples and he closed his eyes, sinking down to where her Self was barely holding on, that heartbeat fading faster, sounding far weaker than it had.
“What the fuck are a you about to do, Nully?” Azriel demanded but he ignored him.
*Are you certain this is the only way, my brother?* Shadiranamen asked, sounding afraid for the first time he could ever remember. Not that he remotely blamed her.
*Yes, I’m sure. She cannot die, Shadi.*
*Then we shall aid where we can,* Xheshmaryú avowed.
“Nully, talk to us!” Thae’a was saying, voice closer than it had been but he ignored her.
Instead he took a deep breath, pulling on the knowledge that Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú shared with him, accepting their lent strength with a gratitude he would never be able to properly express and intoned: “Hear me.”
That heartbeat stuttered, beat once, twice, and a third time, gaining strength with each new one. He spoke again, voice ricocheting off the destroyed walls, shattering the silence that had fallen as he reached down and carefully brushed Alaïs’ Self with his own, “Hear me.”
Please, whatever gods hear the prayers of Others, let this work. My twin has lost enough.
For a long moment there was only silence and that heartbeat as the Worlds seemed to hold their collective breaths before that crystal blue and white-flecked Self pulsed and a single, high, clear voice spoke in answer.
“I am Listening.“