“You cannot go to the City!” Nhulynolyn slammed his hands down on the counter with enough force for the cabinets built into it to rattle ominously.
She hadn’t seen him this vehement in centuries and it was weird to see it now, facing off against his identical twin, weirder still that it was happening in a place she’d heard so many stories about but hadn’t actually stepped foot in, not really. Because throughout the entire war, fought alongside Rhyshladlyn but without the Qishir it direct sight, Nhulynolyn had never once broken composure except when Bayls had sustained a rather horrific injury that she almost didn’t recover from. But squaring off against his twin and his legendary stubbornness, Nhulynolyn’s composure cracked around the edges and when pieces fell, he used them like throwing knives.
Not that she blamed him.
“And why the fuck not?” Rhyshladlyn shot back, voice low and dark with it, one hand gesturing up and down in a wave before he dropped it to the counter with a sound like ice breaking. For all that he looked unruffled, Thae’a could see the shadow that lurked beneath his nonchalance. “Out of all the Court, out of all of the fuckin’ army, tell me who is more capable of entering Ryphqi City and demolishing that scarred-face bitch‘s compound,” he crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at the Other. “Tell me who can do that and not get caught getting back out of the City. Go on, Nul, gimme a name and I’ll back down.”
Adïmshyl tucked his shoulder against her shoulder blade and she leaned back into the touch, taking comfort from his presence. She even took comfort from the fact that he had had to see that room with its horror, to know firsthand the memories she had of the last time such a thing had existed in the Worlds. For all that she hated that he now had his own version of her nightmares, she was glad to no longer be the only Dhaoine alive to have them. There was solace to be found in solidarity, in being one of many; even if it wasn’t something good that united one with others.
“I’m’not sayin’ y’aren’t able to do it,” the Other growled as he rubbed both hands over his face, “I’m sayin’ that you shouldn’t. Those are two ver’ diff’rent things. Gods, are you just incapable of not tryin’ to sacrifice yourself at least once an’ see reason?”
Rhyshladlyn’s lip curled off a canine. “I’m not sacrificing shit, Nully. I’m going in, destroying that compound, releasing those Selves, and getting out. It’s not a raid, I’m not taking over the City, I’m laying siege. I’m literally just restoring Balance. That’s it,” he rolled his eyes and jerked his hair out of his face. “What the fuck’s got your panties in a damned wad? Y’know I’ve been doin’ this shit the entire war, yeah? This isn’t a new thing.”
“You were doin’ it alone, like a fuckin’ idiot, because rather than face us all you ran,” Nhulynolyn’s voice was dangerous and his eyes glittered in a way that had nothing to do with his power hitting the surface and everything to do with his emotions getting the better of him. The Other took a deep breath, eyes falling closed as his hands gripped the edge of the island counter with enough force that the granite whined under the pressure. “Rhys, you’re not alone anymore an’ I dunno what I gotta say to get that through to you. Goin’ into Ryphqi is dang’rous not just because it’s you walkin’ into a City but cuz that is Xitlali’s stronghold, that is where Alaïs’ throne sits. You’d not be walking into just any random City, but the one you should avoid.”
Rhyshladlyn just stared at Nhulynolyn for long enough that Thae’a wondered if they were communicating via the link that all kè had with their Others. But she scrapped that thought when Nhulynolyn’s expression didn’t glaze over like it normally did when that was how he was talking to the Qishir.
“Nully,” Rhyshladlyn started but didn’t say anything else, just made an exasperated sound and shook his head.
“You’re not goin’,” Nhulynolyn’s voice was hard and that edge of danger was still there, just not as obvious as before. His expression was the one she’d seen on his face just before Rhyshladlyn had attempted an Oathing Sacrifice in a bid to save Azriel. And it made her heart rise into her throat.
This has gone on long enough. Adïmshyl chuffed in her ear, having caught the thought as it crossed her mind and she sighed with a roll of her eyes.
“Alright, boys, put your dicks away,” she interrupted before Rhyshladlyn could say anything else. “We all know they’re long and girthy and shit so there is absolutely no reason for you to thunk them on the table to prove it. So chill.”
As the Ka’ahne twins turned to look at her with identical expressions of did this bitch just? she snorted a laugh, unable to help it. That snort turned into giggles when she saw Relyt’s look of horrified surprise. But what did her in completely was Azriel’s barely restrained bark of laughter. Before the Anglëtinean had died, she had always broken whenever laughter would be startled out of him. It had made a lot of the more serious talks difficult, especially when Rhyshladlyn did something that shouldn’t have been funny but for some reason she found hilarious. Would seem things haven’t changed.
She was left doubled over while she laughed uncontrollably, hands gripping her thighs as she fought to remain upright. As her laughter broke out, she heard Azriel snickering while Relyt muttered a soft, “What is going on?” and Bayls just giggled.
“You’re guesses are as good as ours,” Xheshmaryú replied and she didn’t have to look at him to see him shrug his shoulders, she could hear it in his words.
“Babe?” Adïmshyl asked as he rubbed her back soothingly, clearly confused as to why she had gone from scolding to laughing until she was crying and barely able to stand upright. But she could hear the laughter in his voice, laughter that was there if for no other reason then he had always found her laughter infectious.
“I’m fine,” she replied after a few more seconds of giggling, the laughter still in her voice as she stood up and wiped at her face. “Phew, okay, sorry, but when you both turned and looked at me with the same expression, it was too much.”
She bit her tongue to keep from breaking out in another fit of giggles when Nhulynolyn and Rhyshladlyn looked at each other with a raised eyebrow. But she sobered when they looked back at her with that what the fuck are you even talking about look that on one of them was intense and nerve-wracking but on both at the same time was far worse. As the levity in the air died completely she pushed a few strands of hair from her face and leaned more heavily back against Adïmshyl who rumbled a gentle purr at her.
“Look, we can argue the semantics of why Rhys can’t go into Ryphqi City all we want but that isn’t what matters,” Thae’a flapped her hand and sighed. “The point is that Xitlali has Selves in jars, enough that if she used just what she has she’d summon one of the Lessers to the Worlds and while Rhys may be able to defeat it? It would be too close of a call to risk.”
“Wait. What the fuck is a Lesser?” Thayne asked, leaning forward to look around Relyt where they sat side by side on the long couch, crimson eyes so dark they looked black. “I know that something was Summoned that wiped your people out but I thought that was like a wrathful god or something of the like.”
She rubbed a hand across her lips and tried to think of how to answer that. This was delving into territory that only Dreamweavers knew; things that were pulled from a dimension created to contain them, to make sure that they would never walk the Worlds again save by some act of great atrocity committed by a single Dhaoine. But she was the last of her kind unless she and Adïmshyl produced offspring by some miracle so keeping her kind’s secrets wasn’t really necessary. Not anymore. Because if she were to die before anyone knew what was happening, knew how her race had truly been killed off? There was no one else that could possibly give the warning of what they may be facing.
“Tee…” Adïmshyl’s voice was imploring, gentle, in a way it hadn’t been in a very long time. She turned and looked at him, into eyes that were far greener than they had been in months, shot through with a blue that was like a summer sky at midday. She swallowed hard and nodded, the decision made just from that look alone. As he took her hand and squeezed, she faced Thayne again and answered.
“The Old Stories of monsters that wore Dhaoinic faces and ate the strong and the weak in equal measure are based on actual beings. Things that used to roam the Worlds back when the Original Seven Races were still alive and thriving,” she paused and took a deep breath, feeling the magick surrounding the Oath of Silent Knowing she had taken when she came of age rising up to prickle a warning along her spine. It was light, a simple alert to tell her she was rapidly approaching the line of no return. But surely it wouldn’t attack her given that she was the only Dreamweaver left alive?
“Is there anything else?” Thayne pressed.
“Yes, they were separated into three categories–” Thae’a hissed out a breath as the Oath’s magick pinged along her nerves, cutting her off mid-sentence. With a grunt, her knees gave out and she had the sensation of falling but never felt her body hit the floor.
The room fell silent as she walked through the doors. All the Families in the western Worlds were gathered for this. Perhaps it was because she was an Heir, perhaps it was just that she was one of the first to survive the coming of age trials in several centuries, but the crowd drawn for her Oathing was far larger than any she had witnessed.
Mother smiled encouragingly at her when she came to take the cloak from her shoulders to reveal the nakedness beneath. Father gave her his signature crooked smile and a stealthy thumbs up when she glanced at him before looking finally at the Oathing Pool. Nervousness threatened to immobilize her but she didn’t let it. She had worked so hard to make it this far, she’d be damned if she failed now.
As she stepped into the eerily still waters, walking until she reached the middle of the pool and the water was gently lapping at her waist, disturbed by her movements within it, she closed her eyes. Calling her power to the surface, allowing the Truth of her, her Self, to stretch and light her skin with its strength, she took a deep breath and let it out slow before speaking:
“For with my blood and my life, I Oath that I shall speak nothing of the Truth that exists within the Old Stories. I will only ever speak of Those Who Live Beyond to another Dreamweaver giving their Oath. For I am the Watcher, I am the Guardian, and so long as I breathe, so long as our kind still lives, Those Who Live Beyond will never cross into the Worlds again. So this is my Vow, bound here before my Family, before my Kind. Should ever I betray it, I shall perish.”
When the last word’s echoes began to fade, when the Oath began to take form around her, she felt the uneasy sense of something incredibly important was going to happen that was tied to her surviving this last Trial. But she wasn’t sure what it was and any thought of it was wiped away as the first searing mark carved itself into her Self and she opened her mouth to scream the pain of it to the Currents.
“Be at ease.”
The second that sibilant voice spoke the Oath calmed and she looked up at Shadiranamen who held a hand out to her. Frowning, she took it and allowed the Other and Adïmshyl to help her stand and get her to one of the large chairs that had been moved closer to her. Sitting down she leaned back until her head was against the top of the chair back, eyes closed as she tried to breathe past the residual pain, humming contentedly when Adïmshyl’s hands cupped her cheeks from where he stood behind the chair.
“I’ll take it from here, Thae’a,” Shadiranamen assured and she looked at her with a start. The Other wasn’t a Dreamweaver, she’d have known, she had been tasked with memorizing the names of every Dreamweaver that had survived the genocide. But even if she was, Shadiranamen would have been bound by the same Oath she was. “Do not look so troubled, I am not one of your kind nor am I bound by the same Oath as you. So my ability to speak freely of the Old Stories is not hindered.”
“Are you alright, Thae’a?” Rhyshladlyn’s voice was calm in a way that made her teeth itch. She looked to where he was standing beside the coldbox just at the edge of the kitchen, orange-amber eyes as calm as his expression and his tone.
She had always wondered what Azriel and Relyt had meant when they’d said the Qishir could say one thing and they’d hear another. That was until that moment when she heard what he spoke but knew that he had really asked something entirely different. She didn’t hear it in the traditional sense but rather heard it in the way he was statue-still, eyes focused on her and her alone while his awareness winged out around them all. She heard it in the way his magick gently brushed against her, letting her know he was there if she needed him.
“Yes, I am fine. And you needn’t prepare to seek retribution from anyone, Rhys,” she replied, answering his unspoken question aloud. She watched his expression clear, that calmness evaporating quicker than she could blink and she stared at the engaged, mercurial Qishir she knew once again staring out at her. If she wasn’t so used to it, being reminded of how quickly he could go from hyper-focused Greywalker Qishir to her friend would have been exceptionally unnerving. “I had thought it wouldn’t activate given that I am the last of my kind. I miscalculated. The fault is wholly mine.”
“Down, brother,” Nhulynolyn added with a smirk and a fond roll of his eyes before turning to his fellow Otherborn. “Shad’, you mentioned an Oath?”
“Dreamweavers are made to take an Oath of Silent Knowing when they reach the age of majority,” Shadiranamen explained as she moved back to the kitchen and pulled down ingredients to make tea. Thae’a licked her lips in anticipation because Shadiranamen had always made the best tea. “From birth they are reared to protect a very specific set of secrets, one that requires an Oath to be taken so that if they should ever try and divulge those secrets to anyone not part of the Oath, the magick of it will rip them apart.”
Curses and sharp breaths echoed around her but she didn’t look at anyone else, merely stared at Shadiranamen, wondering not for the first time not just who but what she was. Sure, they knew that Xheshmaryú was a Nochresi before he’d become an Other and everyone knew what Nhulynolyn was — or had an educated guess — given that he was Rhyshladlyn’s twin as well as his Other. But Shadiranamen was a mystery, one that had caught Thae’a’s attention and held it from the very first time she’d ever met the female Other.
“How do you know all this?” Relyt asked, grey eyes narrowed, clearly suspicious but in a way that seemed out of context to the situation, especially given who it was the Soul Healer was directing that suspicion to.
If anything it should be you that receives that level of suspicion given how your rude ass grabbed at Rhys back at the camp.
“Because I was there when the first of the Dreamweavers created the dimension those beings are locked in, Relyt Greymend,” Shadiranamen met the Soul Healer’s suspicious gaze with a single raised eyebrow, clearly having none of his shit.
The silence that followed that statement breathed with each of them. She shifted and shared a pointed look with Adïmshyl who barely nodded his head, eyes more of a greyish green than the pure green shot through with blue that they had been and she sent up a prayer for strength. Because given the way her stomach swooped down to play between her ankles as a strong sense of foreboding slowly climbed its way up her spine, she was going to need that strength.
For long minutes no one said anything. They just watched as Shadiranamen kept making tea, as the kettle began to shriek, as the Other poured it into nine mugs. Watched as she altered each mug with sugar or milk or alcohol and then floated them with a flick of her wrist towards their respective drinkers. She gingerly took her own mug when it came to hover in front of her, blowing the steam away from the top before inhaling the rich smoky citrus and herbal scents as they mixed with the lemon she always took in it. Taking a long sip she hummed happily when it slipped warmth down her throat and settled in her stomach. She hadn’t realized she was cold until that moment.
Rhyshladlyn wrinkled his nose at his mug and gave Shadiranamen a look that required no words. The Other rolled her eyes and flicked the Qishir’s shoulder. “Drink it, it’s healthy for you.”
“I don’t like tea though,” he grumbled.
“It’s more Ysborogh than it is tea, Rhys, stop being a baby,” Shadiranamen admonished.
Nhulynolyn snorted hard and yelped when hot tea spilled over his hands when he jerked. Bayls’ laughter was bright.
“That’s what you get,” the Sinner female chuckled and stuck her tongue out when Nhulynolyn leveled a flat look at her.
“That would make you one of the Original Races,” Relyt said after taking a sip of his own tea, pulling their attention back to the original topic.
Azriel snorted. “Astute observation there, Rel.”
Thae’a watched as the Soul Healer shot a dark look at the Anglëtinean but kept his mouth shut. Well that’s interesting.
“Yes, it does,” Shadiranamen nodded, a crooked smile pulling at one corner of her mouth. “I’m one of the last races to survive before the Dhaoine and its subraces the only ones left.”
Rhyshladlyn stiffened and whirled to face his Other with a look that was a mixture of shock and the type of disappointment one feels when learning that someone one trusted kept something major to themselves.
“You’re a Phuri?” the Qishir spluttered and Thae’a sucked in a breath and held it. Praying that the answer would be a no but knowing even before Shadiranamen nodded that it wasn’t.
Of all the Original Races, the Phuri had been the most dangerous. It was theorized that they were the race that birthed the Greywalkers, that it was they who had created the first Hounds and Oiki that now terrorized the Worlds millions of years later. So to have one standing a few feet away from her, who held within her mind knowledge long lost to the Worlds historians, to the Record Keepers and the Storytellers, was as terrifying as it was amazing.
“Yes,” Shadiranamen confirmed with an almost sheepish smile that showed all of her too many, too sharp teeth, sapphire eyes flashing with a mischief that made Thae’a’s skin prickle. “I am a Phuri.”
“Well shit,” Bayls barked and the tension snapped with a smattering of giggles. “Didn’t see that one coming. Piss,” and she tossed two golds to Adïmshyl who caught them easily with a triumphant grin. No one said anything as more bets were paid off, the majority of which went to her mate whose grin only grew.
Rhyshladlyn took a deep breath as money finished exchanging hands but said nothing about it, despite having tossed a few silvers to Adïmshyl himself. He took a long pull from his own drink before he set the mug down on the island counter. The expression he wore when he looked back at Shadiranamen, who met his stare with a nonchalance Thae’a found impressive, was the same one he’d had when he’d asked Thae’a if she could put a Weave over Shiran City. And seeing it now, so many centuries later, made her heart skip a few beats.
“Give me everything you know on what is needed for a Summoning,” he said after several beats of silence.
“Why is that even necessary?” Relyt asked and Thae’a clenched her jaw to keep from snapping at the insolent fuck.
Rhyshladlyn barely spared him a glance as he answered, “Because if I’m not going into Ryphqi City then I’m going to do my damnedest to make it so that bitch can’t perform a Summoning.”
While Rhyshladlyn didn’t say it, the obviously was heavily implied and Thae’a watched as Relyt’s face shut down, becoming a smooth mask of stoicism that she had never seen on it before.
“Aye, your Majesty,” Relyt said with a bow of his head.
By the Webs, I do not like the smell of this. She thought but didn’t say anything. Instead she filed away the wrongness that made her stomach roil and her chest ache, vowing that she would speak to Rhyshladlyn about it later.
Because the last time she’d felt like this?
Shiran City had sunk beneath the sands of Shiraniqi Desert.