He could hear them yelling behind him, begging him to slow down but he ignored them. If anything their shouts only spurred him to run all the faster, especially as Shiran thrashed against his awareness, the thrumming of its sentience like a second heartbeat that thundered alongside his own.
The pulse-pulse of its connection to him, a result of him tapping into its Heart, had faded slightly but he swore he could still feel it pressed against his skin like the armor that shifted effortlessly with each stride of his legs, with each swinging motion of his arms. It pumped urgency and swift running on a loop to him and he found himself unwilling to argue or question why. Because he could feel the same thing Shiran could: a fundamental wrongness had pervaded the very air and left a bitter taste on the back of his tongue. And after what happened in the Temple? He shook his head and put on more speed, pulling energy up through his feet via his connection to Shiran, tapping into the nearly unlimited power source the City provided.
And he refused to acknowledge the feeling that he would never make it in time, no matter how fast he ran. Though it was anyone’s guess what that was exactly. So he tossed it in a box and kicked that box wrapped in chains to the back of his mind and focused solely on getting to the Palace. And prayed that what he found when he got there wasn’t what he was afraid he would.
Because all he could hear on repeat in his head was a voice he’d know anywhere wrapping around a Silence that rattled his very bones saying, “Justice cannot be achieved without Death’s sacrifice. Remember, My Child, that when Justice is no longer blind, Death must make a sacrifice to bring Balance back to the Way of Things.”
“Ka’ahne! Slow down! Some of us ain’t got long as fuck legs like you!” Adïmshyl hollered again, voice booming around him despite the distance, but he ignored him.
“Where are you going? What is going on? Talk to us, Rhys!” Bayls begged, but he ignored her just as he had the Lupherinre.
He didn’t have time to slow down, to tell them why. And even if he did? He still wouldn’t stop and tell them. He wouldn’t risk it.
He knew it was unfair to think that, to leave them in the dark, but they hadn’t been in the Temple. They didn’t know and it would have taken way too much time to try and explain it all to them, to try and express accurately why what had happened terrified him.
They hadn’t been in the center of the Great Temple, surrounded by the trees that made up the Gardens, where the grass grew the thickest, as Shiran welcomed him like a long lost lover. Hadn’t been there when that familiarity washed over him like cold water after hours out in the heat when his hands touched the obelisk just before he pressed his forehead to it. Hadn’t been there when he let out a deep breath, feeling like a piece he hadn’t known was missing had finally slid into place. Hadn’t been there when one of the stone statues of the countless gods worshiped by those within Shiran City shifted, dropped off its pedestal, and approached him, shaking off the stone until flesh and blood and bone was all that was left. Hadn’t been there when Shiran had gone silent in his head for the first time since it helped get them through its walls, apprehension and awe thickening their connection to the point that he struggled to breathe under its onslaught as it saw which god had approached him.
They hadn’t been there when the Many, the ten-headed god worshiped by the Grey Soul Healers, had stopped only a handful of feet away. Hadn’t been there when the god reached into the folds of its robes as those ten heads bowed in tandem. Hadn’t been there when the head for Sadness had lifted and stared at him as one of those bone-thin hands extended out from the folds of that robe, fingers uncurling to show a single silver coin that rested on its palm. Hadn’t been there when it hadn’t said a word, just flicked its hand and tossed that coin to him. Hadn’t been there when the second he’d caught it, the Many was gone, right back where its statue had been, nothing on its Altar disturbed, as though it had never moved in the first place.
They hadn’t been there when Shiran had wailed around him seconds later just as Nhulynolyn’s own wail sounded in his head for the second time in less than two hours. Hadn’t been there when fear engulfed his chest when he pressed at their link and none of his Others respond. Hadn’t been there when his hands had curled into fists and that coin bit into his palm. Hadn’t been there when recognition flashed hard across his mind and he opened his hand to stare at it. Hadn’t been there when he realized it was the one Relyt always had, since the day he’d first met him. Hadn’t been there when that fear had doubled in strength because he had never seen Relyt without that coin, it was the only piece of his mother he had left to him.
“Why do you always have that coin?” he asked, dropping onto one of the boulders beside the lake, head tilted to the side as he watched Relyt play the silver coin across the backs of his fingers.
The Soul Healer smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes and was full of grief.
“This was the last thing my g’möhyt gave me before she died,” he replied after a moment. “She told me it was for good luck,” he continued, thumb tracing over the words engraved on one side. “I told her a coin couldn’t bring luck.” Relyt chuckled softly, shaking his head before he slipped the coin back into his pocket and turned that grief-shadowed face with its false-smile to him. “She told me I had so much left to learn. That was the last thing she ever said to me.”
He nodded, understanding all too well about keepsakes that link one to precious parts of their past; like a tether point to when things weren’t as bad as the rest of it.
“So you kept it.”
“Aye,” Relyt’s voice was soft as he turned those grey eyes back out towards the lake. “And it’s never left me since that day.”
And so without a word to Bayls or Adïmshyl he had taken off out of the Temple and made for the Palace as every instinct in him practically howled that he never should have left their sides. That when Nhulynolyn had loosed that first wail he should have abandoned the Temple and ran straight to the Palace. But he had trusted his twin when he’d said everything was handled. But none of them were answering, he couldn’t feel Azriel or Relyt and terror ran hot and fast, kicking his heartbeat up even faster and he sank deeper into the connection between him and Shiran and ran, wings tucked in and throwing his magick into each stride. Though flying would no doubt be faster, as would blinking, but he didn’t want to leave Adïmshyl and Bayls behind like that. They were already targets simply being by his side. But if they were caught alone in the streets with the lingering scent of him all over them, with the flickers of his magick dancing along their auras? They’d be in far greater danger without him than they were with him.
Because something was very, very wrong, and he couldn’t even begin to fathom what it was, didn’t want to chance doing so and end up giving ideas to the gods or to Fate.
Shiran, are they alive? Please… tell me they are alive.
“Rhyshladlyn!” Bayls’ voice was closer than it had been but not quite on him. Still he ignored her.
“What’s got your pants in a twist?” Adïmshyl called up to him. Just like with Bayls, just like before, he saved his breath for running.
He ignored everything but the answer Shiran provided. Ignored all but the thread of life he could sense through Shiran that denoted his males, his sister, and his Others were still alive. Without that? He didn’t doubt panic would have set in and he would have torn the City apart to find them. He couldn’t lose them.
Rounding the last turn that opened up into the large main square that sat at the base of the road that led up to the Palace, the golden, humming walls of the structure rising high above his head, towering over the City walls that stood sentry behind it, Rhyshladlyn slowed his pace. Frowning, he took better stock of his surroundings, pulling his senses back from the tunnel focus on that thread of life and instead he turned it on the square around him. His eyes widened and he abruptly stopped running just as Shiran rumbled a warning, already turning to face the way he had come. Because he could smell the trap he had triggered when he’d run into the square, could smell the fuel that he had run through without realizing it. He had to warn Bayls and Adïmshyl because he recognized that trap, could still remember the feeling of the flames licking up his legs as he screamed.
“Would you make up your mind wheth–” Bayls was saying as he rounded on both of them, right hand outstretched in a gesture to signal them to stop moving.
“Don’t come an–” he began but didn’t get to finish just as the World around him erupted into chaos and screaming and the burning rush of flames.
He watched helplessly as the buildings on either side of the roadway where Adïmshyl and Bayls were still running blew out, raining debris and fire down upon them. He screamed, throwing his magick out to try and cushion the blow, to try and yank them out of harm’s way, but it was too late. He screamed again, begging Shiran to shift the buildings, to move them, to save his friends, but the City wasn’t answering. All that came down the connection was pain and fear and anger as all around the square, buildings blew apart, blocking the roadways that led out and into the square until all that was left was the path that led up to the Palace itself. He couldn’t risk running forward to pull at the debris himself because he could feel the heat from the flames several yards away and it wouldn’t do for him to burn to death trying to save them if they were already go–
“Hello, Lynny,” a nasally voice greeted and he only barely suppressed the shudder that voice elicited, “been awhile. I was wondering if I would ever get to see you again.”
Turning slowly, both sets of his wings snapping out to their full span in aggressive warning, teeth baring as his lips curled back off them, a growl rolling low and harsh up his throat from deep in his chest.
A low whistle sounded, “Now how did you manage to get your secondary set back?”
He ignored the question.
“Mykshäl,” he spat the name like it was a curse. “I thought Anislanzir killed you decades ago?”
The Sinner Demon shrugged, lifting a thin hand to inspect the black-as-night nails that were sharpened into points. He idly wondered if the bastard still mixed poison into the lacquer. “That was what he told everyone he did, but obviously he didn’t follow through on it. Sentimental old fuck, as you know. Plus, who could resist this delicious body of mine, eh?” The male wiggled his eyebrows up and down at him and he mimed dry heaving back at him, getting a perverse pleasure out of Myshäl’s eyes narrowing. “Threw me in the dungeons to rot instead. But! Thanks to this nifty war between you both and the attacks on the Palace? I managed to get out. Figured when I heard that you weren’t with your dearies that you’d be coming round through here. So…. I set traps. Wanted you all to myself. I’ve missed–”
“–you, Lynny,” he purred, voice like rotten syrup, breath smelling like the corpses he was rumored to enjoy the company of. Bile rose thick and cloying in his throat. He swallowed it back down convulsively. He wouldn’t show this fucker weakness.
“What’s this? Gonna act tough for me, huh? Oooh. I likey,” Mykshäl cooed, circling until he was behind him and Rhyshladlyn tensed when that corpse-breath ghosted over his back where his wings were hidden beneath his skin. “The ones who act tough always break in the most exciting ways. Let’s see how long you last, hmm?”
He tasted blood as he bit through his tongue in the effort it took not to scream as agony lanced down his spine.
That growl trickled out, loud enough that Mykshäl raised both eyebrows towards his hair line, the wispy curls of his black hair falling into his sharp face and shadowing eyes that were the muted yellow of urine. By all accounts, Mykshäl wasn’t even remotely attractive, not by Sinner Demon standards. But he was definitely terrifying, teeth filed until each one was a sharp point just like Shadiranamen’s were. Jaw a sharp edge, cheekbones high and cheeks gaunt. When he younger, the Sinner had been the boogeyman Anislanzir would threaten him with if he didn’t comply immediately. Back before the fight had gone out of him. Back before Azriel had come into his life. Back before he had learned that he was a Multitude, that he was a Qishir, that he was stronger than his father would ever be.
But he wasn’t a fledgling anymore, wasn’t too scared or weak to defend himself anymore. And he’d be damned if the un-male before him kept him from his family, from his friends.
“What did you do to the buildings?” he demanded, voice harsh, and didn’t doubt that his “death face” as Azriel had dubbed it, was showing clearly; a sweet promise that he fully intended to keep.
“Don’t worry, your friends are alive. I made sure to set the charges off when they were still out of the blast radius. Or…that’s what I intended. But I’m not sure if I did the calculations right or messed up the charges and added too much so the blast was larger than I meant for it to be…” The male trailed off as he looked away and up towards the sky, frowning like he was genuinely trying to remember if he had or not. “Oh well,” he flapped a hand dismissively after a minute or two and shrugged nonchalantly, like it didn’t matter either way. “I was never really good at numbers and such, so they might be dead? If so, oops. I just get so excited when I get to make things burn. You remember that, don’t you, Lynny? We had so much fun together when I got to make things burn.”
He snarled, the sound ricocheting off the destroyed buildings around him, mingling with the droning sounds of moans and groans, the soft echoes of screams of agony and cries for help, mingled in with the rushing crackle of flames.
A sort of detached horror slithered up his spine as he watched the flames lick across the floor following the fuel that Mykshäl had laid down, moving closer and closer to his legs.
“Your going to scream for me, Lynny, I know you are.”
He lazily turned his gaze to the taller male and raised an eyebrow. “I control coldfire, you ignorant twat,” he retorted with a roll of his eyes before looking back at the red and orange and yellow flames getting steadily closer. “What makes you think any other type will effect me?”
He couldn’t see the malevolent grin that curled the other’s lips but he could hear it in his tone when he replied, “Because I made this fire special just for you, Lynny. It ain’t normal fire or any magick kind. This is Imènian fire, and it will make you scream for me.”
“I am going to kill you properly, Mykshäl,” he vowed.
The Sinner merely grinned at him, his chipped, yellow teeth just as disgusting as they had been all those decades ago when he’d last seen him.
“Bring it on, Lynny. Maybe this time I’ll actually get a proper piece of those pretty wings of yours, huh?” He goaded, leaning forward, hands tucked into the pockets of his loose black pants. “Seeing as how your dear old papa ain’t around to save you from me this time. How’s about I see if they smell just as pretty as your skin does when they burn?”
His roar shook the ground as he flew forward.
There was nothing for it. He had to take Mykshäl out before he had any hope of checking on Adïmshyl or Bayls, let alone continue on to find Relyt and the rest within the Palace. He just prayed that he wouldn’t be too late to save them by the time he was done scattering the pieces of his father’s former executioner and torturer across the square.
Nameless, hear me. Keep them safe.