It shouldn’t have known that language. How did it know that language?

He paced the room from wall to wall as his mind reeled. He knew he was likely wearing a hole into the thick rug that had been spread over the stones but he didn’t care. Didn’t care that he had left scratches on the stone walls, that he had smashed a glass from the tea set against the mantle of the hearth. Didn’t care that he’d done everything he could to break the windows only to fail. Didn’t care that he could hear the harshness of his own breathing like the tides crashing against a shore. Didn’t care that he was losing the fight to keep his tears at bay. Didn’t care that all he could hear in his head besides the questions of how that Oiki had known that language was the voice of his slavers.

“Look at the little shit. Crying over a stubbed toe,” Slaver Tahneel sneered as ey pulled more of his toenail off.

Slaver Ejid laughed. “You’re going to learn to suppress that urge when someone brings torture to you, mixed breed. Otherwise you’re not going to survive long.”

All he cared about was that he was back in confinement with no idea how he was going to talk himself out of this one. Because he no longer had the weight of Lulphé’s seal to get him out if his own methods failed to net him success.

All he cared about was that he was to be questioned just like that Cymerian bastard for the attempted attack on Alaïs as though he’d been working with that many-faced coward. Questioned on how he had moved quicker than any of them to intercept the beast before it had made it to her.

“It’s almost like you knew it was gonna happen before Iköl did.”

“But I didn’t! Upon my honor I swear it!”

But no one had believed him when he’d tried telling them that he had seen Iköl’s lips move, had watched the Oiki’s eyes go from glazed to clear and assumed the worst and moved to protect the Lord Queen on instinct born of constant training and trauma and the need for self preservation. He had been trained to notice the little things, the ones that most Dhaoine missed, to react accordingly and as swiftly as possible. He was trained to protect above anything else, even if it meant his life was forfeit in the process. It was what he had done for Lulphé, even if he had ultimately failed.

That had been his sole purpose as a slave: to protect and react and miss nothing. To see what many missed and to react before anyone else caught on. It was not something he could shut off or ignore, even if he wanted to, even when he knew he should in order to keep up appearances. And he hadn’t even meant to react in the meeting hall, hadn’t even made the conscious decision to do so. He simply had. And if he said he regretted doing so, he’d be lying. Because if he hadn’t, the Lord Queen would have died. He shuddered at the mere hypothetical thought of that. Because if Alaïs had died?

The Worlds thought this four hundred and fifty year long war they were embroiled in was bad? They thought what had happened to Shiran City and its inhabitants was catastrophic? That what Rhyshladlyn had done to Lulphé was horrific? It would pale in comparison to what the Qishir would do if his sister was killed.

Eiod wasn’t fooled by their enemy status; family meant everything to Rhyshladlyn. And he had heard the stories of the Ka’ahne siblings’ childhoods, he knew what Rhyshladlyn had done to protect his sister, he knew the Truth that was woven around the words that Bayls Qaeniri had spoken across the Worlds before the first raids on Shiran. And no amount of fighting on opposing sides, no “betrayal” could eradicate a bond forged in that kind of environment. At least not on the side of the one who played the protector.

But no one had cared to listen to his assertions that he’d had nothing to do with the attack and Xitlali hadn’t risked defending him, not with this. And sure, he understood why she hadn’t. She had been worried that her position among Alaïs’ trusted inner circle would be jeopardized if she defended her personal guard and it turned out he had been part of the plot the entire time. But it still rubbed him raw that she had abandoned him in that way after the four centuries he had dedicated to her service. For a Qishir, however weak of one she was, it was disgustingly weak-spined, even for her.

It had been hours since the thwarted attack, since the Oiki spoke to him with its dying breath. Hours since he’d been shackled and tossed in this opulent room that made his teeth hurt and was lined with magick dampening spells that were woven into the very stones. It was a prison cell, one that reminded him too much of the one he’d lived in when the slavers still held the leash on his life. The magick the slavers’ cells had been made with was the same as this, just those weren’t nearly as accommodating as far as comfort went.

But a prison was a prison, regardless of how well dressed it was. And he would forever recognize one when he was in it.

He tilted his head back as he paused in his pacing, hands covering his face as he fought back the urge to scream and launch himself at the door to beat his way out, to try and do more damage than he already had to the room over all. He knew it wouldn’t work and it sure as fuck wouldn’t prove his innocence in Iköl’s supposed plot. But he hated being confined, it made his skin itch and his instincts scream. The longer he went forcibly held in one place the harsher his breathing would get, his vision would cloud around the edges, and every tiny sound would become so loud it felt like it would burst his eardrums. He wanted — he needed — to be out of this room. For even though he was no longer shackled, courtesy of his ability to pick such an easy lock, it wasn’t good enough. He was still confined, just in a different manner.

“I didn’t have any part of this!” he yelled as the Royal Guard knocked his sword from his hand and slapped spelled shackles around his wrists, pulling his arms behind his back as they did so. “My Lady! You must tell them!” he begged of Xitlali, fear of being imprisoned again too strong for him to remember his masks, to remember the role he had fashioned for himself.

Xitlali just shook her head and looked away. He screamed wordlessly as the Royal Guard began to drag him away with Iköl. He kicked and screamed and flailed, magick trying to snap out in his defense but was stopped by the shackles.

“Please! Someone listen to me! I had no idea the Cymerian was going to do that! I only reacted based on what I saw, based on my training! Please! I am innocent!” No one moved to protect him.

Grunting he resumed his pacing, eyes taking in the thick rug he was pacing over, the sitting table adorned with a tea set and a plate of sandwiches he hadn’t trusted enough to touch, the lush couches and chairs that flanked the table where it sat before the large hearth. Took in the four poster bed that was large enough to fit at least twelve Dhaoine with ease on the wall opposite the hearth. Took in the five floor to ceiling windows that looked out over the gardens and showed the lights and rooftops of the City beyond the Palace’s retaining wall. For a holding cell, it was one of the nicer ones he’d ever been in, but that was only on the surface. If one looked beneath, it was easy to see that the luxuries spread around the large room were merely to distract from what made it a prison.

The threads of spell work that dampened magickal abilities and kept the prisoner from escaping easily were powerful. Eiod figured they were made by an Emosyon master Bender given that some of the script was Demonic in nature and leaned heavily towards messing with the emotions of whoever tried to break the spell work. That race of Demon loved messing with the emotions and psyches of others, it was what made them so sought after when it came to making prisons to hold Dhaoine. And this work was particularly well crafted, not that he was all that surprised given whose Palace he was in. But regardless of its craftsmanship and the inherent skill of it, Eiod cataloged each swirl and string and script, hunting for weak spots. He wouldn’t exploit them unless he felt that he wasn’t getting out of this room unless it was to go to his grave, but it helped calm him to find them.

No prison spell work was fool proof, not even that from a master Bender, one just had to have the patience and time to find them. And sure enough he found them where the spell work crossed over the hearth and the windows which was stupid. Though, perhaps not. That’s at least a seven storey drop. Unless they’ve got wings, there’s no guarantee anyone would survive that fall. And there’s no telling what’s on the other side of the hearth wall.

Just as he was about to poke at those weak spots for no other reason than to see if it would get someone to come investigate so he could grill them for information, the spell work shivered, rippling towards the entrance. He whirled to face the door as it swung open to show the stony faces of two Royal Guards.

“Eiod nóh Akkensahn, you are to come with us. The Lord Queen is ready for you,” the female instructed.

Finally. But he didn’t say anything out loud, merely held his hands out for the shackles, swallowing back his grin when the Guards noticed that he was no longer wearing the pair that they had dropped him off in. The taller of the two, a Black Soul Healer with eyes so light a black they were nearly grey, stepped into the room and waved his hand. The shackles flew from where Eiod had discarded them near the couches and wrapped back around his wrists and ankles with loud snick of the locks, pulling his arms behind his back again as he did so. This time he didn’t fight it.

“Follow Sheneith,” the Soul Healer instructed, gesturing at the female Guard. “She shall escort you to the Lord Queen.”

“What, I’m not considered dangerous enough to need two Guards escorting me?” he snarked, unable to help it. It was rude to have kept him in this holding cell for so long when his position dictated better treatment. Especially given that night had long since fallen and if he weren’t mistaken, dinner had come and gone.

The Soul Healer bared his teeth at him, the skin of his forehead rippling in an odd way just above his eyebrows as he did so.

“It is not that, I assure you,” the Guard replied as he smoothed out his expression with obvious effort. “Merely that you are not the only one who needs to be prepped for seeing the Lord Queen.”

Before Eiod could question him any further, the Guard pushed him towards Sheneith who pulled him out in the hallway. As the female gripped his arm above his elbow and all but dragged him away from the room, he heard the Soul Healer knock on and then open a door a few feet down from the room he’d occupied.

“Greetings, Anointed One. How did I do?” That’s Iköl’s voice. “Did he run off again?”

“You did well and not quite, but close enough. He is nearly ready for you,” the Soul Healer answered and Eiod frowned.

“I cannot wait.”

That was all he caught before the door closed. Who was that Soul Healer and what was he doing talking to the Cymerian like they knew each other?

“Hey,” he looked at Sheneith who raised an eyebrow at him, the Sinner female’s eyes a rose gold that seemed to glow in her tanned face. “What’s the name of the other Guard that came with you?”

She frowned at him in a clear look of the fuck are you talking about and he felt the first trickles of worry brush along his spine as his stomach wiggled like it wanted to dive down to play with his knees.

“I am the only Guard who came to fetch you, Eiod nóh Akkensahn,” she answered after a moment spent just staring at him.

“No… you weren’t,” he argued but she just shook her head and looked away.

“Clearly being left alone in a magick dampening room has left you mind-addled. I’ll let her Excellency know that you may need to see a Healer,” Sheneith said dismissively.

He didn’t press her, guessing that if he did then whatever magick had altered her memory, or his own, would react badly and attack either one of them. But if that hadn’t been a Royal Guard that had shackled him, then what was he and why was he here speaking to a Cymerian that got too big for his breeches and decided to attack the monarch of the Sinner Demons?

It wasn’t until they were nearly to the meeting hall that Eiod realized that Iköl had called the Soul Healer Anointed One.


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