“I am Listening.”
His lungs seized, desperate for him to breathe but he struggled to remember how as the sense that he wasn’t supposed to be witness to what was happening danced up his spine and sank claws into the base of his skull. Why do I feel like I should anywhere but here?
The Worlds let out the breath they’d taken, the floor beneath him trembled, and something felt off, felt wrong. Which only served to worsen the feeling that what he was witnessing shouldn’t be happening, like he shouldn’t be privy to it. But he was and unless he left right that second, things would go incredibly wrong. Suddenly he wasn’t so sure that Nhulynolyn was merely Healing Alaïs’ Self, but was rather doing something so much more than that.
“Nully, what are you do–”
He cut off mid-word as an unnatural pulse slammed against him. Relyt pulled his hands back from Alaïs’ body as it shook, as the wounds began to close faster than before and the blood flow slowed to a trickle then stopped entirely.
Frowning, knowing something was wrong but unable to figure out what, he looked at Azriel who was slowly, carefully, leaning back and rising to his feet, eyes wide as the Anglëtinean stared down at the female before them. Before his expression shut down, Relyt thought he saw true fear slip across his fellow qahllynshæ‘s face. And if Azriel was afraid? The danger, whatever it was, was dreadfully real.
Is it because Nhulynolyn isn’t a Healer and yet is doing a quicker job of this than we did in the nearly an hour before they arrived? He wondered as he looked away from Azriel and back to the motionless body of his charge.
Pulse…. pulse-pulse…. pulse.
Foreboding rose up with more force than it ever had before, the intensity of it jarring as it smacked against him like a tidal wave against an unsuspecting ship at sea. He wondered if anyone else felt it, too. Given the way they scrambled back from Alaïs’ rapidly Healing body, away from Nhulynolyn’s glowing eyes and the thrumming beat of his power as it fed into the body of his flesh-and-blood sister, he didn’t they felt something. But Relyt remained where he was. Even when Shadiranamen called out to him, even when Thyl was grabbing at his shoulders urging him to move, even when he heard Jaro and Azriel speak in tandem voices full of urgency, even when it physically hurt to remain where he was, he couldn’t bring himself to move.
Because he had promised.
“Just don’t leave me.”
“Relyt! We need to move!” Xheshmaryú was hollering at him. Why was he yelling?
That was when he realized that Alaïs was convulsing before him, that from her slack jawed-mouth issued screams that sounded akin to Rhyshladlyn’s when he was crying out for help, for anyone, anything, to save him a year ago in that alley and he shuddered violently enough at the memories that sound awoke that he shook off Thyl’s hands. He fought to keep his connection to her solid enough to feed his power into her, trying simultaneously to soothe her while also working to Heal what little he could as Nhulynolyn’s power slammed through her and into him, eating away at the dead pieces, giving a boost to the living ones, and filling the void left behind. All while he watched as her dangling eye was sucked back into its socket with a wet plop, watched as the tears in her skin and muscles reknitted, watched and listened as her broken bones snapped as they set properly and snicked as the dislocated joints were aligned properly again.
“My Lord, we need to move!” Jaro’s voice sliced through the cacophony of screaming and yelling, suddenly at Relyt’s left side, eyes the color of the sky just as true night was falling, a blue so dark they were nearly black. He just stared at the Soulless for a breath, confused by the honorific title.
“No, I will not leave her,” he denied, looking away from Jaro and back at Nhulynolyn whose skin was glowing now too, his head thrown back, that drumbeat of his power buffeting against Relyt more strongly as the minutes dragged on. Every instinct screamed for him to run but he didn’t dare leave. He had sworn an Oath, not just by way of the Healer’s Contract, not even by way of his word given to Rhyshladlyn, but to Alaïs herself.
So he wouldn’t leave her. By the gods of all, he had dismissed his god for her, had brought war to the City knowing the cost of its early arrival would be incredible solely to see that she was safe from Anislanzir. And he would not forsake his word because the danger inherent in keeping it could be deadly in its potency.
“As you will, my Lady, as you will.”
“Relyt Greymend, if you remain this close to her you will die!” Shadiranamen hissed, those dangerously sharp teeth bared, words a sibilant jumble. He stared at the look of terror that was displayed there as the female Other leaned into his field of vision and effectively blocked Nhulynolyn from view. He couldn’t recall a time when he had ever seen her truly afraid. “Now move, you insufferable bastard,” she added, hand shooting out to grab him around his upper arm, fingers closing over his gretluos which flared blindingly white in response. Shadiranamen growled, the sound rattling his bones as she jerked her hand back as though she had been burned.
But he didn’t hear what she said after that, didn’t register anything else as the World around him fell away and was replaced with a forested path that ended only a handful of feet away at a clearing. Frowning, he took a step forward and was in the clearing, shaking his head as disorientation made his head swim. Rubbing at his tired eyes, he found himself standing at the base of the largest tree he had ever seen in his life — easily 12 feet across at its widest point — with the roots at its base woven into a set of thrones, not caring that his mouth was open in shock. Sat in one was a figure draped in dark grey, gossamer cloth, at once both male and female in body type, the hood that hid its face too wide for the head it covered to be humanoid.
“Who are you?” he asked, his voice sounding weird to his ears but he couldn’t place how or why. “Where am I?”
The figure smiled and even though he couldn’t see it do so, he sensed it in the way one senses when they are being watched. Then it stood, hands that were far too thin to be healthy raising up to grasp the edges of its hood before tossing it back and Relyt cried out, stumbling back and away.
“You are in the Forest, Relyt Greymend,” it spoke, voice what he imagined the wind would sound like if it had one; a discordant yet melodious symphony of many voices rather than one. “And you know exactly who I am.”
He nodded numbly, sinking to his knees in grass that was thick and soft, colored a green so dark it looked black at first glance. As the shock wore off, he shook himself and bent forward in supplication, forehead touching the grass, hands pressed into it on either side of his head. Because here was his god, showing itself to him after he had so clearly denounced it. Anything short of begging forgiveness was unacceptable.
“Rise, Relyt Greymend, you needn’t bow in such a manner to Me,” it said and he sat up immediately.
“Of course I do, o’ Great One! You are my god come to me after I dealt such an insult to You in a Temple afore Your shrine!” he argued. “No apology is good enough from such a disgrace as I.”
“You are not a disgrace, Child of All,” the Many spoke with a finality that he didn’t dare question. If he was forgiven? Then so be it. One less thing for him to worry on or fear the consequences of. So he questioned something else instead.
“Why am I here?” He probably shouldn’t demand answers of a god but given that his Lady was liking dying, given that he was likely only a few steps behind her if Shadiranamen could be believed, he figured he was allowed just this once. Especially given that it was a god that had abandoned its followers so completely that he questioned.
“I brought you here to give you a warning.”
“A warning…” he repeated softly, dubiously, then shook his head and spoke again, louder. “Why You? I thought You had abandoned us…why do You care what happens to us now?”
All of its heads save the one for Sadness bowed, eyes closed in deference, before Sadness spoke. “I had… but I am also the only god you would recognize, Relyt Greymend, the only one you would listen to, despite My abandonment.”
He didn’t know what to say in response to that. It wasn’t wrong, there was nothing he could say to gainsay it, didn’t have any proof to back it up if he did. So he merely inclined his head in acknowledgement and sat back on his haunches, watching that head bow with the others.
“What is this warning You have for me?”
The head that was Balance, the primary head, lifted and stared at him. “When it happens, you must not do anything to stop it.”
“Stop what?” He bit out, unable to calm himself in time as he waved his hand sharply through the air in front of him. He was sick to death of the riddles the gods spoke. Why They couldn’t just speak plainly was beyond him. “Please, O Great One, speak naught in riddles for I am so very tired of the gods speaking in such.”
“You will know what I mean when it happens, Relyt Greymend. Just remember: you must not do anything to stop it when it happens. All is as it should be, all will be right. Just do not interfere.”
Before he could even open his mouth or take half a breath to question further, he was suddenly faced with Shadiranamen’s furious face, that fear still clearly written in her eyes, just as her hand shot back out and gripped his forearm, careful to avoid his tattoos, and yanked him to his feet.
“I do not care that you refuse to leave her side, I do not care if it is because of the Contract or a personal vow you made,” she was hissing at him as he fought against her stone-strong hold as she dragged him literally kicking and screaming away from Nhulynolyn and Alaïs, “but I will not let you get yourself killed and risk my kè.”
“No! Shadi, let me go I cannot leave her! Please!”
But try as he might, he couldn’t break the Other’s hold, couldn’t do much more than kick and yell and struggle all while Alaïs laid under Nhulynolyn’s hands, back arched as she screamed, the sound so reminiscent of when Rhyshladlyn had done the same back in that dirty alley. And just as those eyes turned to him, fever bright in a face still only half-way back to normal, just as that pulse-pulse cascaded out across the hallway, he swallowed convulsively around the lump in his throat.
Because in that moment as Nhulynolyn’s own wail shattered across the Currents, Relyt could have sworn that instead of Alaïs laying on the ground amid the dirt and debris and her own blood staring at him, her half Healed arm outstretched towards him?
He saw Rhyshladlyn instead.
And he fought all the harder to get Shadiranamen to let him go, to get back there, to soothe his Lady as he had soothed her younger brother. To do anything he could to help because it was his fault this had happened.
Because if he had waited for Rhyshladlyn to act on his own time? The Palace wouldn’t have been attacked so directly and he wouldn’t be watching his charge die in front of him, wouldn’t be watching his Qishir’s Other fight to save her with an arcane Working that could see him dead in the process. Because if he had been stronger? He would be able to reach out and soothe not just his charge but his Qishir’s Other as well even from a distance, but he was too tired, too overwhelmed, too afraid. And so all he could do was kick and yell and snarl and curse.
It was so unfair and he yelled all the louder, breaking out of Common and into Gretlök, the harsh, growling sound of it soothing to him even if he was the only one speaking it. Even though there were no others of his kind in Shiran that could understand, let alone speak it back to, him.
When Alaïs’ arm dropped to the floor and she went limp, eyes falling closed, and going silent, Relyt struggled all the harder. But short of performing a G’luôs g’Av and annihilating everything around him, he had no offensive magick. So unless Shadiranamen released him? He was going nowhere.
“Relyt, breathe! You cannot get to her! If you get any closer the Working will kill you!” Shadiranamen snarled in his ear.
He just hissed back at her, calling her a few choice words that gave him pause the second he finished pronouncing them and he went still. He had never spoken words so harsh before despite having known them since he was very young, despite having heard his father speak them of the Ildir, despite having heard many of his kind speak them of his g’möhyt. But the Other didn’t even seem phased, though probably only because she didn’t understand enough of what he said. But the emotion behind it, the intention, was clear enough for anyone listening to know that he had insulted her. And harshly.
“What is he doing to Alaïs?” Azriel demanded.
“I cannot tell you,” Shadiranamen replied.
“That’s bullshit!” A tall female spoke up, brown eyes swirling with hints of amber and black, looking as formidable as any of the rest of them despite being plump and appearing to be better suited standing in a large, beautiful kitchen feeding a horde of kids than in the middle of a battle with death and destruction swirling around them. “You pulled Relyt back from the blast zone saying if he stayed too close to her he would die. And I demand to know why. And don’t give me this shit that you can’t tell me. I’m a big girl, I can handle it.”
I don’t know who you are, fearsome female, or where Rhyshladlyn found you, but I must remember to brew a damned strong cup of tea for you. Not many can stand up to Rhyshladlyn’s Others like that.
“Easy, Thae’a,” Azriel said, holding out a placating hand towards her and she turned a snarl that was nearly as impressive as Rhyshladlyn’s on the Anglëtinean who just blinked at her, nodded, and dropped his hand. Which was even more impressive. Only person Azriel ever backed down from was their Qishir.
Interesting. I need to learn more about you, fearsome female.
Then that glare turned right back to Shadiranamen who was still holding onto him and he tested her hold because Thae’a looked ready to launch at the Other and he wanted even less to be in the crossfire of that than he wanted to be in Rhyshladlyn’s way when he finally came face to face with Anislanzir.
“So what in the Webs is he fucking doing?” Thae’a pressed.
Xheshmaryú and Shadiranamen exchanged a look and the Nochresi shrugged once and Shadiranamen sighed heavily.
“He is making her into one of us,” they said together and Relyt stopped trying to pull away from Shadiranamen’s hold as shock rippled through him.
“What?” several of those gathered around him barked but Relyt couldn’t make his voice work.
He had heard that the creators of Self Healing came long before the Greywalkers that his own people hailed from. The Ildir had told stories that Soul Healers worked a magick that was as old as the gods, one that was passed down from a select few who taught their gift to a race that was strong enough to carry it on. But what the Ildir hadn’t known was that the ones who had taught the Greywalkers’ Healers and then the Soul Healers that were born of them were the Others that walked the Worlds.
“Wait… how is he making her one of you? Doesn’t she need a kè?” Jaro asked, eyes a swirling maelstrom of blue and silver, not settling on one combination or color for long.
“It was the only way he could save her,” Shadiranamen responded, not really giving any more information than she had already.
But Relyt didn’t blame her. Because he had read the texts the Ildir held about how Others were made, what they were. He just hadn’t realized that those texts were actually accurate, at least to a small degree, until that moment. Until he looked below the surface of things again to see Nhulynolyn’s Self had nearly encompassed Alaïs’ entirely but it wasn’t swallowing it like one would think at first glance. No, it was encasing it, strengthening it, helping it heal. Even as he watched, Nhulynolyn’s Self began to retreat and with it, Alaïs calmed in increments. Her body was whole again, looking as though she had merely decided to take a nap on the floor in the middle of the rubble and destruction rather than the truth of it. Relyt pulled against Shadiranamen’s hold but she didn’t let go.
“Hold, Relyt,” the Other murmured. “Wait until she awakens.”
“Why?” he whined back at her. He was probably being childish but he didn’t care anymore.
“Because until she does, we don’t know what the gods took from Nhulynolyn in exchange for this,” Xheshmaryú answered, violet eyes locked on his fellow and the heir to the Sinner Demon throne.
“And if she doesn’t wake up?” Thyl questioned.
“Then They didn’t accept whatever he offered,” the Nochresi answered.
There was a thick silence that followed but Jaro broke it, voice hushed and filled with a terror Relyt couldn’t blame him for.
“I thought it was just rumor that Others could perform Major Arcane Workings for a price.”
“No, it is very real,” Shadiranamen said, voice soft, her grip on his arm loosening from the painful hold it had been but not releasing him entirely. “It is why we do not do Workings unless absolutely necessary or unless it is unavoidable.”
“And it was unavoidable this time?” Azriel questioned, arms crossed over his chest, face fully shut down but Relyt could feel his fear and worry through their link.
“Yes,” Xheshmaryú began.
“Unfortunately,” Shadiranamen finished.
“‘Unfortunately’?” Chebnir quoted, an eyebrow raised.
“What would the gods take in exchange?” Jylen spoke up just after his partner and Relyt jumped having forgotten the rest of them had been there.
His Qishir’s Others turned to look at the Healer and Relyt didn’t blame him for flinching under those blank, hard stares.
“Something of equal or lesser value,” they answered and Relyt shivered.
No one said anything else, just watched as Nhulynolyn loosed another wail, eyes springing open, the blue of them having broken the halo of his iris to bleed into the white sclera beyond, the drum-beat of his power easier to bear as it slowly began to retreat back into him. But the silence still spoke volumes because Relyt knew by the looks on the faces of those around him that they were all thinking the same thing he was:
A life for a life. But whose will They take.