He watched in horror as Rhyshladlyn lifted his hand and drew his nails across his throat, opening the big vein that thrummed there. As the arterial spray splattered against the Shield directly in front of his face he flinched. It took several moments for him to realize what had happened, that what he’d witnessed had actually occurred. But the second those words, spoken with a finality that he hadn’t heard since Rhyshladlyn had ended his mother’s life, rang out across the Desert, nay probably across the Worlds, his psyche could no longer protect him from what he was seeing. And when it clicked he wailed.
I Hear your Oath and in Answer I give my Life for yours.
He punched the Shield with all his might, over and over, as he watched Rhyshladlyn’s face contort with agony, watched his orange-amber eyes lose all color, going grey in the way a Dhaoine’s only did when their ability to do magick was ripped from them, watched as he slowly sank to his knees. He hollered in his native tongue, the act like spitting fire, as he continued to tear at the Shield in front of him, desperate to get through it, desperate beyond words to reach the Qishir who had clapped a hand to his throat as though that would stop the flow of blood. He felt their link start to shake violently, could feel the whispered echoes of the pain that was no doubt pulling at the Qishir, felt the moment that Azriel’s link to Rhyshladlyn became solid. And then silence, absolute and total, as Rhyshladlyn no doubt slammed a door on not just the link he shared with Azriel but the one Relyt shared with him.
Beside him Nhulynolyn, Shadiranamen, and Xheshmaryú were tearing at the Shield, too, Nhulynolyn’s terror fueling them all as it slammed outwards like a gust of wind; an act of magick that the Other used to try and dismantle the only thing keeping him from reaching his twin.
As they collectively attacked the Shield, Relyt watched as Rhyshladlyn’s eyes fell closed and his body went limp, wings drooping until they trailed in the sands that had stopped boiling but were still shifting like a hibernating g’Higdë lay beneath them. He drew back his right arm, called up the power that he would use for a G’luôs g’Av, waited until he felt it his gretluos come to life with it, and punched.
Hope bloomed in his chest when he heard the telltale sound of splintering ice. It wouldn’t be long now.
Hold on, Rhys! Just hold on!
It took only a few more blows before he and his Qishir’s Others were through the Shield, the sound of it breaking asunder echoing with a crack that reminded him of the great ice shelves colliding in the Northern Seas. He held out his right hand, nearly blinded by the glow of his gretluos and begged the Many to Hear him and grant him strength, pulling energy and power from the Shield as he ran.
Because Rhyshladlyn could not die.
He heard the crackle of lightning behind him and knew Nhulynolyn was on his heels. Knew the Other was pulling energy from the Shield, too, and sending it to his fellow Others.
Many Hear my call, if You still listen to the prayers of Your children, let us make it in ti–
He remembered feeling this kind of hopeless fear before when he was trapped within Rhyshladlyn’s mind, able to see and experience but unable to do anything to help his twin. And he had vowed the day that he had been released from the prison of their mother’s making that he would never feel that way again. Had vowed that no matter the cost, no matter the risk, he would ensure that Rhyshladlyn was never left alone like that again.
The one thing he hadn’t counted on was Rhyshladlyn putting himself in that situation. And really, with everything that had happened lately, he should have known better. He should have expected it. Should have remembered that the stubborn git was self-sacrificing and would give himself up in a heartbeat if it meant keeping those he loved and swore to protect safe. But he hadn’t and gods have mercy on them all.
So he howled his rage and his denial and he fear and his loss as his twin’s blood painted the Shield, as it slid down towards the sand. He slammed his fists against that solid force field. He took his anger, made it physical, gave it life, and struck the Shield over and over and over again. He threw it to Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú to power their own attacks.
*He cannot die!* Xheshmaryú sounded terrified, accent thicker than Nhulynolyn had ever heard it, violet eyes nearly lavender in shade as his fear wove around his power.
*He won’t, we have to have faith that he won’t die. If he was going to die, we wouldn’t be here still,* Shadiranamen’s voice, sibilant and off, replied, and he glanced at her to see that she didn’t seem nearly as sure of her words as she sounded.
But they didn’t acknowledge that even if Rhyshladlyn were to die that the only one of them that would not survive was him. Didn’t acknowledge that they could feel their connection breaking just as easily as they could feel and see the Shield giving way beneath their hands.
And they didn’t acknowledge that he swallowed the magick that had fed into the Shield, using it keep himself alive, using it to send pulses of lightning arcing from him to his fellows, using it to keep their links to each other and to their kè solid enough so that when the last breath left Rhyshladlyn, he wouldn’t be released to the After.
For so long as he lived, Rhyshladlyn couldn’t truly die because twins were two halves to the same Self and when one was an Other, it only further complicated things.
I’m comin’, twin’a mine. Just hold o–
“Do you trust me?” the Qishir asked with a smile that hardly even moved his lips, face still that serene mask of acceptance that made her skin crawl and her instincts scream danger.
Relyt frowned harder. “You know I do.”
The other male nodded and pushed away from the Shield, taking several steps back until he was nearly back where he had been when Relyt had shot him.
“At least one of us does.”
She knew the second that Rhyshladlyn had spoken those words what he planned and began to pull her power back from the Shield, absorbing it as quickly as she could, hoping to weaken the section in front of her in time to get inside and stop him. But she was too late. She hadn’t even made a dent when Rhyshladlyn’s hand came up and his blood flew out in an arch that smacked against the Shield, painting over Relyt’s face.
The cry of alarm and denial that escaped her at the sight was drowned out by Relyt’s wail and Nhulynolyn’s howl. The sight of Rhyshladlyn swaying where he stood, of his face losing its serenity, of every ounce of his body language giving voice to the pain that slammed into him, pain that was strong enough she could taste it on the air as it battered the Shield, brought on a sense of déjà vu so strong it clouded her senses enough that she couldn’t see properly. But as quickly as it came, it was gone and she growled low and harsh around a Sinxhët curse before backing up several feet and running at the Shield. A foot away she jumped and kicked with both feet, wings flaring to keep her from hitting the sands as the sound of splintering ice filled the air.
Close. So close. Using the power she was eating back from the Shield, she punched at the heart of the spider-web of cracks that had formed from the epicenter of her kick. She didn’t even notice the pain when her fist went through the Shield and the jagged edges sliced long gashes into her hand and up her forearm.
It didn’t matter. What mattered now was making the hole big enough to get through.
Hold on, Rhys!
She kept punching until the hole was big enough to slip both hands through and when it was she gripped the edges and pulled. She pulled until a thunderous crack sounded and huge chunks gave way, nearly making her fall to her ass in the sands.
“Fuck yeah, that’s it!” She whooped with triumph and kept pulling chunks out until the hole was wide enough for her to dive through. “Alright, Bayls. It’s like when Da was a dick and you had to get out through a window. You can do this.”
She jogged ten yards away, stowed her wings, pivoted and sprinted at the hole. When she was close enough she jumped and dove at it, arms crossed in front of her face to protect it from the razor sharp edges. She landed and rolled to her feet but she didn’t stop moving. Soon as she was on her feet she ran, aiming straight for the kneeling Qishir, her fear fueling the adrenaline that made her heart beat loudly in her ears.
“Rhys!” she yelled when she was five feet away, so close, uncaring of the tears that were falling as she ran.
Almost there. Just a little farth–
Thayne didn’t know what sound she made when Rhyshladlyn’s blood arced through the air and painted the Shield. She didn’t know if she was still on the call with Lulphé when she dropped the mirror to the sands at her feet and began to do what everyone else in the First Circle was and try to rip the Shield apart so she could get in. All she knew was that her only goal at that moment was to get inside, to get to Rhyshladlyn, to do what she could to save him.
Even if realistically she knew by the arterial spray that she had seen one too many times in her life that there was no chance of saving him.
Even if she knew by the way his face and body twisted and tensed with clear agony that the magick called into being by the sacrifice he’d spoken was already tearing him apart.
Even if she knew that by the time any of them made it to him that if the blood loss hadn’t killed him, the sacrifice would have.
Never mind that even if they managed to keep him alive, the repercussions were dire:
The Oath would backfire and take Uncle out. The sacrifice, if thwarted, would blow outward and kill everyone in the area. Rhyshladlyn’s mind would be shattered and his Ancient side would be bereft of anything keeping it in check and so it would go nova. The Oath would finalize but be one sided and Rhyshladlyn would complete the Working he’d started on instinct alone, and probably without an intact mind which would cause the Working to blanket the entirety of Fènwa World versus just the Shiraniqi Desert.
But that didn’t stop her from trying to get through the Shield. Didn’t stop her from snarling an attend at the male to don’t die, godsdamn you, you better not die, even if she knew it was just as pointless of an endeavor as trying to save him was because he was capable of Refusing an attend by the Eighth Qishir so hers meant shit.
But she still had to try. She owed Rhyshladlyn that much at the least.
The seed of hope bloomed when the Shield gave way beneath her hands and she stepped through and took off at a run, praying the entire way that she was wrong, that they’d make it in time.
Just hold on, you stubborn fuck! Hold o–
Thae’a broke through the Shield first, Adïmshyl abandoning his attempts to cross through right behind her, his berserker riding so close to the surface that her touch alone wouldn’t calm it back down and even if it would have, she didn’t plan to try it. Because if somehow Lulphé appeared at some point after this? She wanted Adïmshyl to introduce her to the very thing that made his race so terrifying to the rest of the Worlds. Wanted him to show why his Demon type made even the Sinners that ruled them nervous. Because they both knew that Rhyshladlyn wouldn’t have resorted to this if Lulphé hadn’t painted him into the perfect corner. Knew that there was no other option but to give his own life and pray that it was accepted, pray that the gods smiled upon him for once, and made Azriel untouchable.
But she refused to accept that the first person besides her mate to ever know she was a Dreamweaver and not try to kill her was going to die here, this day, because of such a bullshit reason. So she dropped her glamour and drifted, went down to the very core of her Self where her ‘Weaver side had been buried so long ago and tugged, coaxing it to wake up, enticing it with promises to let it play. She wouldn’t let Rhyshladlyn die today.
“He’s going to bleed out before we can get there, Tee!” Adïmshyl snarled beside her, the words he spoke barely understandable, but he didn’t stop running and neither did she.
They knew it was pointless, they knew they wouldn’t be able to save him. But they had to try. He saved me when I didn’t even know I needed it, I won’t let him die, not without at least trying to return the favor. She glanced at her mate as he came up alongside her. Never mind that he made sure ‘Dïm made it back to me. For that I owe him a life debt I can never repay.
“It doesn’t matter, ‘Dïm, we have to try!” she retorted, pitching her voice over the cacophony that had taken over the training fields as she continued to run.
Her mate didn’t reply, but he didn’t have to. She knew that he agreed with her. They both owed the Qishir far too much to give up and accept that he would die without getting to see his Companion ever again.
So as her ‘Weaver side hit the surface and filled her, she sank into the feeling of being whole again for the first time in centuries as she lifted her hands and began to weave.
She didn’t care who saw or who knew she was a Dreamweaver because no matter what it took, she wouldn’t let Rhyshladlyn d–
Jaro watched Rhyshladlyn take a step back from the Shield, and then another and another, until he was several yards away. He didn’t know the Qishir that well but the look on his face wasn’t normal. And the second that blood went flying, the second those words hit the Currents, he snarled and slammed his fists against the Shield. Because he knew what the Qishir was doing, knew the sacrifice he was attempting to enact. He knew what it meant and what it would do.
After all, his kind were known for it. They had invented it. And while he was too young to have known anyone that was personally present when the Giving Qishir had done the first Oathing Sacrifice, his family were the direct descents of the members of the Giving Court. He had grown up with the story, he had been told countless times what to look for, what to warn, what to do and what no to do, if it were ever to happen in his presence. But he had never thought that he would actually bear witness to it. Until today.
Father, did you know? Did you Foresee this?
By the time Rhyshladlyn had gone to his knees and his wings trailed in the sands, hand pressed tightly to his throat as though to stop the flow of blood, Jaro was halfway through the Shield, having ripped a hole about half a foot wide and as tall as him in it with his blade before shoving himself through it. He felt the sting of the wounds caused by the jagged edges of the Shield as they cut into his arms and hands and along his back but he paid them no mind and pushed at the edges in an attempt to widen the hole so he could get all the way through it.
Father had made him swear he would protect Rhyshladlyn and he would be damned if he failed his father twice in one lifetime. And if that meant getting cut to the Cliffs and back by a Shield? Then so be it. Anything was worth suffering if it meant he had a chance to get to the Qishir and save him.
You better not die, godsdam–
Yrei’s stomach dropped the second she heard Rhyshladlyn’s voice lose that bone-shaking power and discordant echo. When she’d seen the look on the Qishir’s face? She knew he was going to do something insane. Because she’d seen that same look on his face when she had been helping Relyt Heal his wings and the Lord King had paid Rhyshladlyn a visit in the Healing pools. It was a look of one utterly bereft of hope, of one whose desperation had reached a height so profound they were left calm and collected.
It was the look of someone who had lost all will and want to live.
It was the look of someone who decided that despite them not wanting to live they would at least make their death mean something.
So she knew, instinctively, what Rhyshladlyn had planned even before he’d torn open his own vein, even before he’d Spoken, even before she felt the whoosh of sacrificial power slip through the Shield as it rushed straight for the Qishir. But despite knowing what was coming her blood still ran cold at the sight, her heart skipped several beats, and it became so incredibly hard to breathe. But that didn’t last for long.
It didn’t last because indignant anger rose hot and fast through her, burning away the shock and horror. She had seen the extent of the scarring Rhyshladlyn carried from his father’s abuses. Had seen firsthand the end result of what he had survived even when the odds had been, and still were, stacked against him. He wouldn’t, couldn’t, die here. Not yet.
So with a roar, she gathered her own power fueled by that anger, funneled it into her left arm, cocked back her fist and swun–
Jylen didn’t think it was possible to feel this way. To feel hopeless and hopeful at the same time. To feel terrified but acting in the opposite way than what that terror wanted him to do.
He didn’t even think about the action before he was striking the Shield with all his might. Didn’t think before he looked beneath the surface of things to see where the threads of power were interwoven, find the weakest point, and strike it. He just did it; the action was purely instinct driven. And sure, it was using his Healer abilities to destroy something instead of better it but he figured it was forgivable seeing as the reasoning behind him doing so was to get through the Shield to save Rhyshladlyn. Never mind that a Shield wasn’t technically a living thing so that had to pardon his actions, as well.
He didn’t question why he worked to get inside the Shield, why he cared. The why didn’t matter not really. He’d only encountered the Qishir a handful of times since that day in the alley, but somehow he’d gotten under his skin. Somehow Rhyshladlyn had given him hope that his kind and the Qishir’s had a chance at salvation, a chance at freedom.
And if that meant following Rhyshladlyn in order to see Anislanzir fall once and for all? If that meant he had to follow one Sinner Demon to see the destruction and inevitable end of another? Then so be it.
He’d follow Rhyshladlyn to the end of time and back. He’d do whatever was necessary to keep him alive until the moment when Anislanzir was finally brought to bea–
Horror made a home in eir chest cavity and ey wondered how this, seeing Rhyshladlyn willingly sacrifice himself, was worse to bear witness to than watching him die while they tried desperately to Heal him in some dirty back alley of Shiran City. Obviously the latter was more disturbing given the extent of his injuries at the time, but yet… it wasn’t.
Not now, not in the face of watching a Qishir do something so drastic. Not in the face of seeing someone give their life for another as the only means they had left to save the one for whom they sacrificed.
Ey’d thought that such a thing was just a story that eir people told to romanticize sacrifice and the willingness of Qishir to help those they held in their charge and hearts. But ey no longer thought it was just a story as ey worked with Jylen to try and make a hole in the Shield to get to Rhyshladlyn. Ey knew now that it was a reality, one ey had hoped that ey would never have to witness and prayed ey would never see again. But despite that ey pounded against the Shield, called back all the power ey had sunk into it, hoping against hope that ey succeeded.
Ey and Jylen had saved him once, after all, there was still some hope they could do it again.
And if ey ignored the voice that told em that the arterial spray and the amount of blood coating the front of the Qishir said otherwise, well no one would know.
And if they did, ey doubted they’d bla–
“It is time for you to wake, little one,” a thunderous, yet kind, voice said and shattered the softness of her dream.
“But I already am?” she asked, frowning as she looked around, wondering why everything was suddenly pitch black and felt so empty. She could have sworn she was just in her rooms at the Palace having a midday meal with Rhyshladlyn and Anis.
“No, you have been in a deep sleep state while We determined whether to Accept Nhulynolyn Otherborn’s offering or not,” that disembodied voice replied. “As it is, We Accept but not in the way that he was fearful of.”
“I do not understand,” she whispered, pain blooming in her lower abdomen as she spoke.
She pressed her hands to the area and her eyes went wide with shock as she looked down. Where once the bulge created by the growing child inside her had been was now flat and muscled like it was before Father had taken her.
“What’s… what’s happening?” The faintest hint of hysteria and fear marked the edges of her voice.
“We have taken your ill-gotten child as payment for Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn’s sacrifice to save Azriel Kasuske as well as considered it payment for Nhulynolyn Otherborn’s offering to save your life. Now you must wake up, little one. You are needed.”
Confusion and fear and gratitude fought for dominance inside her but all she could focus on was that her child was gone. The spawn she had meant to sacrifice to the Old Ones at the Festival of the Flesh was gone. She had a thousand and one questions to ask–
“Alaïs Rin’zhur,” that thunderously kind voice was edged with worry-born impatience interrupted her train of thought, putting a pause on her growing hysteria and she looked up at the empty, pitch black nothingness that surrounded her. “You must wake up now.”
With a shout that echoed back at her, she flew awake in a what looked like a tent before looking down to find that a thick pool of blood made the sheet laid over her lower half stick to her legs. To find that everything was too loud and not loud enough. To find that her lungs burned with each breath she struggled to take. To find that something felt incredibly wrong.
That was when reality rushed back in and with it came pain unlike anything she had ever experienced.
The shrillness of her screaming only ended when the power of the second strongest attend she had felt in her life whispered against her mind and with it came a single name, uttered like a prayer.