The training fields fell still as every single Dhaoine held their breath when an ominous wind blew across the camp. It held an ancient magick that made her very bones ache to feel it; as though she had stepped into a Temple and one of the gods’ effigies stepped down and spoke to her. It was a breath of divinity that made every single instinct in her wake up and take notice of the one Dhaoine on the field that seemed more shocked than confused.
She watched as the group that had been going ten on one against Rhyshladlyn took several steps back, their body language ranging from confused to afraid as the Qishir stiffened at the first brush of that wind. At the second brush, Rhyshladlyn’s head snapped up as he swiveled to look at Shiran City, horror making his features slack, they began to back away from him.
Thae’a chuffed softly beside her. “What’s going o–”
But she was cut off as a scream pierced the air, haunting and filled with an emotion Bayls had no name for, making all of them jump. Rhyshladlyn dropped his swords to the sand, hands coming up to cover his ears as he swayed where he stood. He shook his head as the sound just kept going; a repetitive, terrifying, gut-wrenching sound. It took her several moments to realize that the scream was coming from the Qishir himself. To realize that the sand around his feet had begun to shake as though some great beast lay beneath it purring.
She didn’t have to ask why Rhyshladlyn was acting the way he was. Only one Dhaoine in the Worlds could influence him to such a degree and given that it was exactly a day from when Lulphé’s Companion had arrived, it wasn’t that hard to figure out what was happening. Though the caress of divinity on the wind was unexpected and didn’t make any sense, not if Azriel was having his wings cut off. The Anglëtinean was touched by two High Ones, yes, but he wasn’t a blooded child of any of them.
The Qishir jerked as his name was thundered around them, shaking the air until the Currents screamed. He keened high and harsh, an ethereal sound of warning if she had ever heard one.
Guilt slammed into her then, stealing her breath and she felt tears prick the back of her eyes as her right hand tightened around the hilt of her sword until the leather squeaked loudly. She’d thought they’d had more time, thought that there was a chance that Azriel had found a way to escape, or that… gods, those are just excuses. I should have spoken up when Rhys said that we were going to resume our training. He knew what was going to happen… just like we all did. But none of us did shit. We’re responsible for this.
“Rhys!” Relyt hollered as he rounded a row of tents, grey eyes wild, face slack with an echo of Rhyshladlyn’s pain and horror that clearly showed what was effecting Qishir was also effecting him. And gods only knew that didn’t bode well because where everyone else had been reduced to immobility by whatever was going on, it seemed to spur the Soul Healer into action; lending a desperation to his movements that made her blood run cold.
Relyt crossed the line to the training fields and snarled, the sound guttural and low, but that was the only sound he made, the only indication besides the hint of desperation that followed him like a shadow that he was even aware of what was happening, that it even bothered him. Those Rhyshladlyn had been sparring with scattered out of his way, some barely avoiding being knocked over as he passed them. When he was just short of arm’s length away from Rhyshladlyn, his wings blew from his back, snapping out to their full span to bring him to a sudden halt just before he knocked the Qishir over, sand kicking up in a dust devil around them. Whoa… his wings are really beautiful. As it cleared, she watched as the Soul Healer reached out for Rhyshladlyn in a sort of slow motion and she held her breath, startling when Thae’a’s hand closed around her arm just above her elbow.
“I don’t recommend going near those two,” the Dreamweaver murmured and she raised an eyebrow in question. “You had started to go to them,” was the simple answer and she frowned but decided not to argue it as Thae’a let go of her arm.
The ground shook when Relyt’s hands touched the Qishir’s shoulders and cries of alarm rose up among the warriors and soldiers. But the Soul Healer didn’t take any notice of that. It would have been impressive if the situation deemed feel so dire.
“Rhys, breathe! Come on, your Majesty, breathe,” the worry in Relyt’s voice made her hackles rise. “Stay with me. I need you here! He needs you here!”
A howl rent the air, discordant with a resonance that was both ancient and different as it mimicked that howl and amplified it. Rhyshladlyn screamed again, voice nearly drowning out the sound as a single name sent the Currents to screaming all the louder.
“Holy shit…” Bayls whispered as she shared a look with Thae’a who stood with her staff aimed at the sands, free hand clapped to her throat just under the slope of her chin.
“Shiran City is screaming with him,” Nhulynolyn finished for her, suddenly at her side.
“What?” She spluttered but didn’t look at him. She couldn’t take her eyes off her Qishir as he began to shake visibly even from nearly fifty yards away, hands gripping Relyt’s arms hard enough for his nails to pierce the skin. “How can you be so sure?”
“Cuz I can feel it, Bay,” he answered, ice blue eyes nearly as dark as Shadiranamen’s when she glanced at him. “It’s reachin’ out to all’a us because it can’t reach my twin directly. But the restrictions placed on th’livin’ ain’t applicable to my kind so reachin’ us Others is easier.”
She wanted to ask what he meant by that but didn’t get the chance when another wind blew across the camp, stronger than before and Bayls watched with wide eyes as Rhyshladlyn went statue-still as silence fell over the camp again. That was when she noticed the markings in the sand at Rhyshladlyn’s feet, recognizing them from the drawings she’d seen in the Qishir’s journal back at the cabin. Great Father and Mother See us all, he actually drew them. Fuck. Instinctively she started backing away, everything in her screaming that she needed to be anywhere but on the training fields. Nhulynolyn looked back at her, frowning in an unspoken question, Thae’a doing the same. She just shook her head at them and took another step back, struggling to find her voice.
“As soon as the Oathing Ceremony starts, I planned to gather magick and life energy from any nearby sources to perform the Working,” he absently drew patterns on the countertop and shrugged. “I’d make sure to have the lines I’d need drawn well in advance, though, so that I could get started immediately.”
She just blinked at him wondering if it would ever stop being a shock to hear him talk about something like that as if it were as simple as breathing.
“How can you do both the Working to blight the Earth and the Oathing?” she asked, flipping through his journaled notes. “Wouldn’t one cancel the other out?”
“They would normally, yes, but only if I’m returning the Oath with my own blood. If it’s one sided? I can do both at the same time.”
She might not have been close enough to feel the full brunt of Rhyshladlyn’s death attend yesterday but she had still felt it. Had felt the warning it held, the promise of a time in the After that wasn’t the recuperation and paradise the clergy would have the Worlds believe. And while she’d ignored her instincts then when they’d told her to run, they hadn’t been nearly as insistent as they were now. Plus she knew the exact plans that Rhyshladlyn had for this Working, had seen his notes, studied them extensively, given him advice on how to make certain aspects function better, for fuck’s sake. So this time? This time she wouldn’t ignore her instincts.
They don’t know he still plans to do the Working. That if Azriel dies, he’s wiping the Shiraniqi Desert off the map. Fuck.
“Rel! You need to run!” she hollered, her voice far too loud in the silence. Slate grey eyes the color of the northern seas turned to her just as a pulse flew across the sands, making the Soul Healer stumble away from their Qishir as the sands began to undulate around him. “He’s prepping for that Working, you have to run!”
“What?” Relyt asked even though she couldn’t hear his voice over the roaring of the blood in her ears and the howling that still thickened the air but she read his lips. It also helped that Thae’a and Nhulynolyn had snapped the same question far closer to her than Relyt was.
“The sand! Look at the sand!” She waved expressively at her own feet then pointed at Relyt.
The Soul Healer frowned and look down, face going white when he saw the knotwork and lines drawn around him, beginning to glow with aid from a power that they would recognize anywhere. It was all the convincing he needed for him to turn and take off towards her.
“Azriel’s tryin’ to–” Nhulynolyn tried to say but cut off with a choked cry and disappeared with an audible pop.
But she didn’t have the chance to call out for him as the lines Rhyshladlyn had drawn across the camp the begin to engage with a menacing hum. Was too focused on watching as Rhyshladlyn bowed his head, all four of his wings exploding from his back with the force of a hurricane, the wind from their appearance knocking several Dhaoine off their feet as they began to flee the training fields en masse. She hadn’t told anyone about Rhyshladlyn’s plan to draw the Working lines, how he had kept his notes hidden in the cabin, hadn’t thought it necessary because Rhyshladlyn had told her that he’d only do it when Azriel was safely out of the City, confirmed dead, or he performed the Oathing Ceremony on either his Steward or his Companion.
But clearly one of those things was happening. Azriel was alive, she could feel his agony and his desperation as it smothered the camp. He was still in the City under Anislanzir’s tools and hands. So that left only one option.
But that’s not possible…
But Nhulynolyn’s aborted words made a bit more sense, a light bulb going off in her head. She opened her mouth to tell someone, anyone nearby, what was happening but was derailed when she realized Relyt was tugging on her hand and she looked at him utterly confused as to when he had gotten to her. She was losing chunks of time, her awareness jumping from one subject to another in no sensible linear fashion. And it scared her.
“We need get off the training fields. I can Shield whatever he’s about to do from wiping out the camp but only if we move right now.”
“How though? He’s performing a Major Working. He’s going to blight the entire Desert. Last time I checked, we are still in the Desert,” she argued.
“Once I Shield the camp, I’ll take care of it, trust me. Now move.”
She didn’t have to be told twice and allowed him to pull her along behind him as Thae’a kept pace with them both. Once they’d crossed the unofficial line that separated the training field from the rest of the camp Relyt dropped her hand, turned to face Rhyshladlyn and clapped his hands once before his fingers drew intricate knot patterns in the air too quickly for her to follow. She jogged twenty yards away from him, reaching out to take hold of his magick and stretch it towards her, weaving her own around his. His Shield would be powerful, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own.
“Containment Shield!” she called out, pitching her voice with magick so it carried across the camp. “All available to the training fields! Containment Shield needed!”
Across the way she could see Thayne, Adïmshyl, Jaro, the Healers from the City whose names she couldn’t remember right then, and several warriors and soldiers stood side by side lending their own magick and strength. And then more were running in from deeper in the camp in pairs and groups until there wasn’t a single open space left around the training fields that wasn’t filled with a Dhaoine weaving a Shield that was made of their combined magick. Hundreds to thousands of eyes aglow with power, muscles bunched and corded, teeth bared in strained concentration.
The amount of people helping the official Court was surprising but she knew it shouldn’t be. Two thirds of the army had stayed after Thayne told them what Lulphé had said, after she had announced she was swearing service and fealty to Rhyshladlyn as her rightful Qishir. And those two thirds had sworn fealty right along with the General. But knowing it and seeing it were always two different things. Despite that, it warmed her heart to see the support Rhyshladlyn had, finally, that wasn’t just his Court. She just hoped it would be enough.
The Shield snapped into place with an audible snick and she shivered. It was just in time, too.
Another howl rent the air and she flinched, pressing her hands to her chest as her heart gave a painful throb. Looking around she saw she wasn’t the only one though Relyt looked the worse off among them, his hands pressed against the Shield, forehead resting against it between his hands, back heaving with his shaky breathing. She could only imagine how he felt right then and wished she could do something to help him.
Whatever gods are listening anymore, please, help us.
But none were listening. And that became obvious when a cacophonous boom shook the Shield with enough force that the magick whined and threatened to give way under it. But it held, if only barely. And those who were still standing scrambled to reinforce it.
She whimpered and sagged to her knees, unable to remain standing as the emotion that saturated those words assaulted her. Inside the Shield Rhyshladlyn let out an anguished scream that made a sense of foreboding rocket through her but she ignored it.
Smoke circled Rhyshladlyn as grey flames licked up his arms and legs and circled his torso, burning delicate swirls into his skin as they went. Coldfire sparked to life at his feet as it began to swirl like a whirlpool of flame around his ankles as the sands between him and the Shield began to boil. His wings flared to their full span, every single feather fluffed and rustling. She couldn’t see his eyes or his face until he threw his head back and even though it was only in profile, she recognized that expression and fear rocketed through her.
It was the expression of a Qishir finalizing a Blood Oath. In another moment the first of the Triad would be Blood Oathed to the Grey Qishir and the rest of them would die where they stood. Because all around Rhyshladlyn’s feet the sand had gone grey as he sucked the life out of every living thing within the containment Shield. And when the last bit of sand became grey she felt that awareness touch the Shield, pause for a moment, and then it began eating the magick that made up the Shield. She cried out in alarm, pressing her hands against it to throw more power into it as cracks began to spiderweb across its gossamer surface. Similar cries rang out around her as her fellows did the same. Panic bubbled in her stomach when that awareness touched her and she felt it began to eat away at the magick she was feeding in the Shield. Trying to remember everything the Qishir had told her about keeping her head clear in a crisis situation, she jerked her hands away to cut the connection, sighing when that awareness was gone. But the relief was short lived as the cracks she had been holding off began to spread again with greater speed than before.
Whatever Relyt planned to do won’t matter now. It’s too la–
Suddenly the cracks stopped. Frowning she shifted her attention from the Shield to Rhyshladlyn as he dropped to one knee with a snarl, whipping around to show a face right out of the Old Stories of monsters that wore Dhaoinic faces and preyed on the strong and the weak. She screamed at the sight of it, shuffling back from the Shield as that panic from before returned with a vengeance. But those glowing orange-amber eyes bracketed by sclera that had gone as grey as Relyt’s wings didn’t blink nor look at her and she stopped moving, her panic ebbing away as confusion replaced it.
It was then she noticed the grey feather-tipped arrow sticking out of the Qishir’s shoulder and the blood that dripped from the wound.
“What the fuck…?” She whispered and she followed Rhyshladlyn’s line of sight, feeling her heart skip a beat as she did so.
Relyt still stood in his firing position, right hand white knuckled around a long bow nearly as tall as he was, left arm still cocked back, face set in hard lines of pained determination, mouth twisted into an apologetic grimace. But otherwise he stood fast, unwavering, despite having just committed one of the few crimes that carried a death sentence for its punishment.
Great Mother’s quivering lady bits. He fucking shot Rhys. Gods have mercy on us all.