35

The last time he’d been this close to the Iryduu Mountains that separated the Cold North and the northern most reaches of Ikunae Province in Txiwteb World had been shortly after the start of the war. Back when he had been scrambling for a way to recover from its beginning, from the events that had ripped his family asunder and left him running for the home he hadn’t seen in ages, floundering for a safe haven that no longer existed. When he had been desperate to find something to save them, anything that would assure the end of the war if a mutual agreement between the armies couldn’t be reached. He had had hope back then, had believed that things could be solved without bloodshed, that peace wasn’t a story the Elders told when they were too deep in their cups.

It had taken him a century and a half to find this place, to confirm it was real, and then he had spent the intervening centuries learning the skills necessary to not only perform mind magick, true mind magick, but the Workings necessary to make sure this option didn’t fail.

Not that his primary plan wasn’t still viable, even with the jar they needed the most missing because Xitlali was an incompetent cunt who couldn’t be trusted to take a piss let alone do what she was told. But he liked to have options.

Without options, the risk of failure was too great to make the attempt even worth it.

It was cold after sundown so far north, not quite as frigid as the Cold North on the other side of the mountains, but close enough that he regretted not wearing something heavier. But he had been pressed for time, both to leave and get back before he was missed. So there he was in the mountains clad in nothing more than a thin pair of trousers and tunic with leather sandals. Moving as carefully as he could in the half dark, for it was never true night this high up in the mountains, he aimed for one of the lower peaks dotted with Temples dedicated to the dead. The Worlds didn’t know why the Iryduu Mountains were always bathed in light besides that it wasn’t solely because of the bonfires that were maintained to burn year round without end. Only knew that was how things were because those fires served only to act as beacons, not sources of light or even warmth.

But regardless of why he had enough light to make his journey less treacherous he wasn’t going to complain.

He hadn’t wanted to start this phase so early, had wanted to wait until closer to the end of the year when it would have a greater impact, but he didn’t have a choice. He was rapidly running out of time let alone options so this was his next best chance. Granted, it would take a long while to prep, after all, so that would give Xitlali and High General Hujiel one final chance to redeem themselves. Would give Iköl the chance to succeed where the Cymerian himself and his Oiki had failed. Though, to be fair… the Hounds had been a very nice touch. A bit much so soon after the Oiki but he would give credit where credit was due, even if it was done begrudgingly.

Because now the Grey Court was almost exactly where he wanted them, primed and at each other’s throats. Sleepless and terrified, ready to destroy the first of their number who had even a sliver of evidence pointing to them as the culprit for the crime of disclosing where their precious cabin was. It was almost too perfect. Enough that he wondered if he wasn’t being out maneuvered, if he hadn’t been caught out. And that worry would have consumed him if he didn’t know for a fact that there was no way anyone was on to him. He had been so careful after all and doubted that nearly three centuries of flying under everyone’s radar had changed virtually overnight because the Grey Qishir’s balls had dropped and he had stopped hiding.

And it was all the better because no one knew that what he planned was even possible, that what he had done, what he was doing, was possible.

No one knew that there was one piece on the game board that had sat quietly for years, waiting for the time it would be of greatest use. There were so many options to choose from that his head swam with the possibilities. But only one would do the greatest damage; it wouldn’t be the killing blow, but it would be very close. Which was why he was making the journey he was, traversing the dangerous slopes of the Iryduu Mountains in the dead of night without backup, without provisions, without anyone knowing where he was. He was here because all of his other attempts to weaken the Grey Qishir irreversibly had so far failed. But this one? Now, this one stood the greatest chance of success. So he wanted this to be kept secret for as long as possible. He didn’t want to risk that even his allies would know it existed, that it was something that could be done.

He chuckled, the sound dancing back at him among the shifting, howling winds, as it rebounded off the snow-capped mountains all around him. The thought of the look on the Qishir’s face when this plan enacted warmed him better than any spell, cloak, or fire ever could.

The snow at this elevation had begun to melt as the season shift finally reached the mountains’ peaks but it still crunched and shifted underfoot, as dangerous as the area it covered. But he was used to danger like this, knew it was worth the risk to his own safety and health, even if he could have done without snow getting between his feet and his sandals and painfully numbing his toes. It was beautiful here, so close to what his homeland had looked like, pristine and untouched by the war that was ripping the Worlds apart.

A war that Rhyshladlyn Ka’ahne should have stopped before it had even begun. But he hadn’t. Instead he’d sunk a City and run. But for all that the Grey Qishir had gone to great lengths to hide, he had found him. He had learned the true weaknesses that lay beneath thick layers of Shields and walls the Qishir was enshrouded in. And once he had? He’d devised the best way to use them against him.

Pushing thoughts of the home he’d never see again into the back of his mind, he took a turn off the main path and followed it to a small, ornate Temple built into the mountain side. Unlike the rest of its kind, this Temple was young, half a millennium old at most. Made of stone that mimicked the snow-capped mountain around it. Colored so it blended in from a distance, so that only those who knew exactly where to find it could find it. While the rest of its kind were sprawling, multi-storey expanses of multicolored stone or erected freestanding overlooking sheer drops, this one was hidden away, tucked close. Unmarked and unassuming.

And that was because, unlike its fellows, this Temple held the key to what he hoped would be the beginning of the Grey Qishir’s downfall. This Temple held something no one alive in the Worlds knew hadn’t been destroyed. No one but him.

Pushing the door open, he flicked his wrist and lit the lanterns that dotted the walls. As their soft glow filled the single room, illuminating a glass coffin in its center, he smiled triumphantly. The only other thing in the room was a small altar tucked into a corner just inside the door. Much as he would rather get right to it, he knew better than to not make manners to any god before essentially desecrating a tomb. As he knelt before the altar and spoke praises and begged for guidance and patience from the Great One, he shivered at the feeling that he was being watched. Which was absurd because the only other Dhaoine in the Temple with him was the one encased in magicked glass.

Shaking off the weird feeling, he stood up and turned to face that coffin, marveling at the beauty of its soft blue glass capped with silver filigree, the curved looping pieces spelling out the life story of the one who lay within its walls. He trailed his fingers across those looping Sinxhët letters, finding them just as beautiful as the spoken language they belonged to. He may not have been able to read all of what was written there, but he caught enough to know he’d found the right place. Knew enough to recognize the name emblazoned across the middle of the coffin’s lid.

With reverence he reached out and swiped away the snow-fog that covered the lid to reveal the Dhaoine housed within, looking just as he had centuries ago. He was remarkably well preserved. But then again, the Sinner Demons were known for their skills at preserving the bodies of their dead so that when they were reborn, they could retake their first bodies, the ones they knew the best.

And he thanked every god in existence for that because without it? His plan wouldn’t be possible.

He smiled, a secretive and dark thing, down at the Sinner tucked peacefully behind the glass of his tomb. When he spoke, his greeting carried a ring of Fate-born ominousness that made his skin prickle.

“Hello, Anis.”

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