Her hands were shaking. Hadn’t stopped since Xheshmaryú had gotten them back to the cabin. She was certain they shook even when she slept, body too full of adrenaline, too overcome with guilt and horror and worry to sit still even in slumber.
“Shadi!” his voice was like thunder, deep and powerful, rumbling low in her chest and making her bones hum. “Shadiranamen!”
She grunted when the Nochresi took off at a sprint the second his feet touched the sand, carrying her in his arms like one would a sleeping child. The front door banged open to show Bayls leaning heavily on her cane, hazel eyes wild, hair even worse. Between one eye blink and the next Shadiranamen was running towards them across the sands, eyes filled with a darkness that Thayne would have worried about if she wasn’t numb.
“Shadi,” Xheshmaryú panted. “Zhalharaq was attacked.”
“Show me,” the female Other demanded and Thayne felt the whisper of their connect from where her arms were wrapped around Xheshmaryú’s neck. Knew that Xheshmaryú was showing Shadiranamen his memory of the attack.
“Get to Ryphqi, Shadi, warn Nully and Rhys,” Xheshmaryú sounded breathless in a way that she knew she should be worried about but in that moment she couldn’t bring herself to care. “I’ll take care of Thayne and Bayls.”
The Phuri gave them both a long look before nodding and then she was gone.
She knew now that what had destroyed her home had been an Oathing Sacrifice. Knew that that shouldn’t have been possible. So far the only Cities that had been attacked were Ryphqi and Zhalharaq with an attempt being made on the site where Shiran had been. The working theory she had was that whoever was doing this was likely trying to weaken the Grey Army by taking away Rhyshladlyn’s avenues for strengthening himself via the connection that all Greywalkers had with the Sanctuary Cities. But that only made sense if the Cities attacked had all had their Watchtowers standing and of the three attacked, only Shiran and Zhalharaq did. Though technically only Zhalharaq counted in that because while Shiran’s Watchtowers stood, they weren’t within the City itself as that still lay beneath the sands of Shiraniqi Desert. So that theory only got them so far.
It just made no sense. Oathing Sacrifices didn’t destroy whatever surrounded the Dhaoine that enacted them, they destroyed the Dhaoine to protect that Dhaoine’s surroundings. So using one for this purpose it was…
She didn’t have words.
“Have you eaten today?”
She jumped and swallowed a yelp, one hand pressed against her chest as she looked at Bayls who stood on the other side of the kitchen island, both eyebrows raised, utterly unapologetic for startling her.
“Gods, woman, don’t do that.”
Bayls rolled her eyes and shuffled around the island counter to the coldbox. She hadn’t needed her cane for the last couple of days but walking was still difficult for her. It was by sheer luck that Relyt had been powered up enough to Heal her after she’d launched out of bed to follow Nhulynolyn when the entire Court had been woken up by the Oathing Sacrifice that had ripped through Ryphqi City. Without the Soul Healer, Bayls would have never been able to walk again because the damage done to her spine and her hips hadn’t had enough time to heal naturally before she’d kicked her adrenaline up and slipped into battle mentality. The yelling match between her and Nhulynolyn when she’d collapsed to the floor in a bleeding, sobbing heap as the pain hit on the heels of the adrenaline drop had been one for the Scrolls.
“Bayls D’anwi Qaeniri, what the entire actual fuck are you doing out of bed!” Nhulynolyn’s voice was sharper than steel but brittle as ice, shattering against the air the second it reached the vocal range.
To her credit, the Sinner Demon managed to look properly chastised, though uncowed.
“Shit was going sideways, Nul. You honestly think I was gonna let you run out alone? No. We’re partners,” the way she said “partners” made it clear they were definitely more than that but no one called them out on it.
“I was fine on my own, Bayls! You’re still injured!” the Other snapped back but it was all bluster to cover the naked worry that twisted his face.
Bayls just rolled her eyes. “Right, you’re always fine on your own.”
“Fuck you! I am!” Nhulynolyn snarled, tone less brittle now, but only by a small margin. But when Bayls turned hazel eyes clouded with pain to the Other he blanched and shuffled backwards half a step.
“Now if you’re done hiding your fear behind assholicness, stop scolding me and help me.”
He was moving before she’d even finished speaking. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t feel my legs.”
Bayls was so incredibly stubborn and resilient that Thayne envied her. Because while she was a Qishir, just like Rhyshladlyn, and yet in the wake of Zhalharaq’s loss, in the wake of the reports that had trickled in slowly over three days that had passed since then, she was left dumbfounded, speechless, and any knowledge of strategy and disaster planning had flown right out the window. But Bayls… gods, Bayls was unwavering in her support and her determination. She was every bit the warrior she had grown into, every bit the powerful, fierce woman the Worlds associated with her name. And not once did Thayne ever see anything stop her short for longer than the minute it took to process it. After that minute? The Sinner was moving and didn’t stop until the issue was handled.
And yet Thayne was fighting every waking and sleeping moment not to shake the fuck apart. And she was failing.
Her home was destroyed, millions dead and hundreds of thousands more dying, and she was hidden here, locked under new wards and Shields and Barriers that Xheshmaryú had erected himself after Rhyshladlyn had drained them dry during the Hound attack. It was pathetic. She should be on site, helping with the recovery process. Helping Heal those she could and bury those she couldn’t. But no, she was here. Watched closely by Xheshmaryú who missed about as much as Rhyshladlyn ever did, fluttered around by Bayls who for all that she had no tact or royal court training managed to watch her with greater intensity than Xheshmaryú did. But with the Sinner she didn’t feel like she was cornered and drowning with it.
“Thayne,” Bayls’ voice was just sharp enough to pull her from the rising tide of her thoughts, “have you eaten?”
“I will,” she answered on autopilot, looking back down at the reports she’d been trying to read for the last hour or more but in truth hadn’t registered a word of, “when I’m done looking over the newest reports.”
She didn’t see Bayls’ flat stare but she could feel it. No wonder Nully is a better male for being with you; you won’t let him be anything else.
“Nope,” as the Sinner popped the ‘p’ the paperwork scattered across the island shifted and moved into neat stacks on the main room’s low table. “You’re going to eat now or I’ma call Rhys and have him come give you the Look,” glaring up at the Sinner she huffed when the female flashed her a wide grin and spun to start digging ingredients out of the cabinets and coldbox, chattering the entire time. “And I don’t know about you, but I’ll pass on having that anywhere near this cabin right now. Especially because if he leaves Ryphqi then Rel or Az — or both — are gonna come on his heels and it’s been so nice and quiet since they went off on this latest adventure,” the pure disdain around that word was palpable, “so they can stay gone for a bit longer.”
“Did you even take a breath?” she teased and grinned when Bayls shot her a Look of her own though it wasn’t nearly at the full strength Thayne knew it could be. She chuckled when the Sinner made a rude gesture with one hand and went back to getting items out for food.
For a few minutes she sat in silence and watched the Sinner female bumble about the kitchen. Marveled that for a Dhaoine that was barely over five feet and twenty pounds over a hundred soaking wet could incite immediate compliance with a look or a tone. Marveled that of all the guards that Rhyshladlyn had encountered at Shiran City’s Temple the day Anis had died, it had been this one. This bumbling ball of clumsy sass and rage and power that was a prickling heat that danced along one’s nerves. Who could laugh loud and boisterously at a joke that no one else found funny only to flip a switch and be stonily serious half an eye blink later.
Of all those in the Court that Thayne had gotten close to, had figured she would get close to, Bayls Qaeniri truthfully hadn’t ranked high on her list. But perhaps that was exactly why they had gotten close.
The gods were known for Their odd sense of humor, after all.
“I just feel like I should be doing more than hiding here and waiting.” She couldn’t say what made her speak the words out loud when she hadn’t intended to besides that she felt safe here, in the Court’s home, with Bayls’ slightly off-key humming as she worked, hair swaying against her shoulders as she bobbed her head. “I feel like I’m failing my people, the people that had loved my mother and loved me just the same, that were willing to go to war to ensure that I sat the Eighth Throne like she had always wanted me to. I should be there, Bay, not here.”
She sighed heavily and looked out the wall of windows that made up the front wall of the cabin, looked out at where she could just make out the tips of Shiran’s Watchtowers over the sand dunes. Stared at them instead of the Sinner who she could see turning to face her with an unreadable expression in her periphery. “What does it say about me that I feel that way and yet I’m still here, still waiting. That I don’t fight you and Xhesh keeping me here?”
The quiet that followed her words was heavy but not uncomfortable. She knew this quiet, this was Bayls’ thinking quiet. When she had a lot to say but wanted to make sure that when she did speak she did so in a way that left nothing up to misinterpretation. So Thayne was content to wait until she was ready.
It took until she had a plate of rice piled high with chicken and a glass of Ysborogh in front of her before Bayls finally spoke.
“You are exactly where you’re supposed to be, Thay,” Bayls began, pausing to take a bite of her food and chew it before continuing, hazel eyes unwavering when they looked up at her. “You may not like it, frankly neither do I, but you will not do your people any good if you go to that City and get killed trying to take care of them. They know that and they don’t feel you a coward or weak any more than the rest of us in the Court do. It’s covered, trust me. Let things be as they are.”
She let out a shaky breath and nodded, realizing the Sinner was right. Not that she was surprised.
Many in the Grey Army didn’t give Bayls nearly enough credit because of how much younger she was than the rest of them, but for all that she was young she was incredibly wise. It just wasn’t often that the Army as a whole had the chance to sit down and hear that wisdom in a way that wasn’t related to battle movements.
“You’re right,” she said after a few minutes of eating in silence. “Thank you.”
“Yup,” Bayls winked at her and she rolled her eyes.
She may have lost her home, the people of her City may be dead and dying and there was someone orchestrating Oathing Sacrifices in Sanctuary Cities, but at least she still had her family.
The smell of rain was the only warning before the air displaced with a snap and Shadiranamen was standing next to the island counter, eyes wild and bright when they landed on Thayne.
“We found her,” the Phuri Other said breathlessly as Xheshmaryú came running down the hall and around the corner. “She’s alive.”