Sweat stung his eyes, mixing with the blood that already half-blinded him but he didn’t stop moving. Even when seeing was nearly impossible because of that burn, even when keeping his eyes open was too exhausting because he was already dangerously close to passing out, he didn’t stop moving. He couldn’t, even though he wanted to. Couldn’t because that happy-to-help voice chittered to not give up, that he was almost there.
He didn’t know where there was or even what it was, just that he couldn’t stop running.
Because if he did?
What pulled him back to consciousness was Xitlali ripping the knife out with a snarl while he stared up at her, jaw slack as that awareness slammed into him with all the force of a hurricane, Healing his useless leg and the deep wounds and broken bones caused by falling debris from the blast.
Seeing the Mad Qishir backlit by the glowing gold of Ryphqi City, what little remained standing of it at least, was nightmare fuel.
“You’re not getting away from me that easily,” her voice was just as painful as the knife she’d stabbed him with. He weakly swung at her when she reached forward to yank him away from the obelisk by his throat, her fingers squeezing against his windpipe and effectively cutting off his screams before they could even form. “I’m going to make you regret ever being born, slave. You are my property and until I have set you free? You are allowed to go nowhere.”
He shuddered and lost his footing on an uneven crack in the street and hit the ground hard, the crack! of his face connecting with the stone ricocheting back at him. But he didn’t feel the pain in his face or his knees or any other part of him that hit the street, his adrenaline and desperation was too high. His hands fluttered weakly beneath him, trapped by his body but they didn’t follow his orders to press against the street and push him up. Not that he was all that surprised. After three days of fighting to stay alive under Xitlali’s hands, he was exhausted on a level that there existed no words for. Was desperate to survive in a way he’d never felt before.
It was that desperation, fueled by the awareness that brushed incessantly against his Self with softly cooed sweet-words, that had kept him going for this long. It was that desperation that had seen him able to spend a literal day evading Xitlali among the rubble of the Northeastern Compound, speaking hurried prayers for forgiveness for disturbing the bodies of the dead as he sought to use them as shields to hide himself. But he’d been found each and every time. It was only by some boon from the gods that he had been able to evade her one final time and get out of the Compound’s boundaries, to escape into the City proper. But it seemed that whatever boon of mercy the gods had seen fit to gift him had ended with that meager success.
With a heavy sigh he went limp and tried to breathe through the blood pooling beneath him from his broken nose, from what felt like hundreds of lacerations that Xitlali had gifted him since she’d first found him amongst the rubble crawling towards that obelisk. He closed his eyes too tired to keep going; not even his desperation was enough to fuel him to go any further. Not anymore. Let her kill me. I can’t do this anymore.
Despite his closed eyes he could still see the street in Ryphqi he had been running down, could see the path he needed to take still to get to there indicated by stones that glowed an orange so bright it nearly hummed. It wasn’t something he questioned anymore, though he probably should. But his exhaustion was too great.
That awareness chittered louder, followed by an insistent push against the skin that touched the street, urging him to get up, move, almost there, safety, move, Warrior.
I’m too tired. Please, just let me be. This is my Fate, there is no sense in fighting it anymore.
It no longer chittered at him. Now in battered against him like a child throwing a tantrum replete with punching fists that carried the weight of a grown warrior. And for every blow his exhausted ebbed away. With every blow that stole that exhaustion that weighed him down, that sentience hollered a single word:
MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOV–
“Fuck okay! Okay! I’m moving.”
And he did though by all the gods he couldn’t say how he managed to get up, couldn’t say how he kept running, how he didn’t trip again.
Just that he didn’t.
Just that the desperation that thrummed along his bones wasn’t just his own. Not anymore.
But it didn’t matter because he could hear her now, the Mad Qishir, his slaver, drawing closer and closer. The time he’d spent on his face had allowed her to gain ground. Her triumphant laughter made him jump because it sounded like it was right behind him but he knew better. Knew she was just messing with him, that she was capable of throwing her voice no matter the distance.
He ran faster. Put any and all magickal energy he had to spare towards boosting his speed, taking corners at a blur, only knowing where he was going based on that glowing path he could see in his mind. Guided by it and the gentle nudges of that awareness stroking along his senses. He leapt over piles of bodies, dodged Royal Guards and roving search parties. None of them where there, none of them were his goal, whatever that may be. So he didn’t stop, he didn’t slow down. Not until he was there.
Almost. Close. Move move move. Warrior, keep going.
I don’t know who or what you are but please don’t be leading me to a trap.
A ripple of indignation slid down his spine and he snorted, unable to help it. His life had become a stage play, something that was fantastical and impossible. Two hundred years and he was finally breaking, his mind unable to help it. And all it had taken was being part of some damn giant explosion and touching a piece of Ryphqi City that had sprouted like some stone plant from the ground and now he was talking to some ancient sentience that called him Warrior? I’ve lost it completely. There’s no other explanation.
He didn’t hear the sounds of unknown voices until he came round another corner and collided with something hard enough that it knocked him backwards as an explosion of sound met his arrival.
“Oi! Watch where you’re fuckin’ goin’!”
“Nul! You alright?”
“Yeah, no thanks to this fuckwit.”
His vision swam violently and his stomach protested loud enough that he closed his eyes to try and regain what little control over his body he had left, hands pressed against the stone beneath him in an effort to prove to his stomach that he was in fact stationary. It worked only marginally.
Home. Look, Warrior. Safety. HOME.
Slowly, he opened his eyes and felt the World tilt and shake and settle in a way he’d only heard stories of. Stories that were told with the hushed voices one only used for ghost stories and myths and legends. Stories that he had always brushed off as being just that, stories. Nothing possibly based in reality.
But that was before he found himself sitting on his ass with the Mad Qishir on his heels, blood and sweat in his burning eyes in a blown to the Cliffs Ryphqi City staring up at a Dhaoine that stole what little breath he had left and then some.
Orange-amber eyes looked down at him with a detachment that he recognized as battle calm, full lips that sat beneath a perfect bow brushed beneath a nose that was at once masculine and dainty curved in a half smirk that spoke volumes and yet said nothing. A single eyebrow raised over those piercing eyes, head tilting to the side with a muted chiming of bells as his locks fell over themselves with the movement. A body that was one solid mass of muscle and barely restrained violence dripped aggression and fearlessness into the air around them, making it thick with a scent that was what he imagined coming home would smell like. His other eyebrow moved to join its fellow and that was when Jerald noticed the lack of an aura, noticed the energy that winged out in all directions, the shadows and darkness and bursts of light that slid along his skin like rain drops running down a windowpane. Noticed the intricate swirls and filigree that swooped and twirled and spun between them, like a rickety bridge that gained stability the longer they stood in proximity to each other.
The Dhaoine before him crossed his arms over his chest, bringing attention to the glowing runes that slanted across the skin just below his collarbones and all at once Jerald knew exactly who stood before him and the World tilted again.
The Grey Qishir, Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn Ka’ahne. That ancient sentience brushed pure happiness against his Self and he let out a rasping breath of a sound that was barely audible and burned as it escaped his lungs, searing his throat along the way. He knew the second that the Qishir in front of him heard it because those battle-calm eyes suddenly hyper-focused, his magick probing beneath and closer and Jerald whimpered, eyes closing of their own accord. He didn’t fight that invasive touch because he knew that safety lay before him and death behind him. Didn’t fight it even when his skin itched, even when he felt those intricate swirls and filigree that swooped and twirled and spun between them become just this side of fully solid.
Because he finally knew what, or rather who, the there that awareness had chittered at him to get to was. And with that knowledge he felt true hope for the first time since Xitlali had enslaved him.
“Who are you?” the Qishir asked and Jerald’s eyes snapped open as a voice that rumbled along his skin like thunder, that trembled in his chest in the way only a true baritone octave ever could, made those swirls and filigree solid with a snap against his skin.
He never got the chance to answer.