It was cold here, colder than he had expected given there was no snow or flurries or even a biting wind. But despite the lack of cold-associated weather, it was still cold, the type that sank into his bones and anchored deep. And it was dark, but not the all consuming dark of a night with no moon. No, this place was a shadowed dark, the cold darkness of twilight just before true night sank across the land; when there was just enough light to give one hope that dawn was close at hand. When the shadows danced and swayed like the silhouettes of teasing lovers.
But the shadows in this place were ones that made a Dhaoine pray that it was dawn they felt approaching and not true night. Because true night held more danger than the monsters gathered around the next turn.
And he wandered aimlessly, with a purpose and without one, through that shadowed darkness. Wandered down streets and across open courtyards feeling at once like he was back in his home World, walking the labyrinths carved into the ice shelves, and like he was someplace he’d come to know just well but that wasn’t home. He wanted to know where he was, if this was somewhere he’d been before, if this place was real or a dream or even a nightmare. It felt like a nightmare would, all fuzzy around the edges with muted colors and sounds that were sharper in some octaves and duller in others. But all of those were secondary to the question of: where am I?
He fought against the urge to ask the question aloud. Fought it because the Danger that ducked and twirled in those shifting shadows, that chittered childish giggles and singsong women’s voices at him from windows high up the crumbling buildings that rose like brick trees all around him made him worry. It made him fear and he knew, just as he knew his purpose in the Worlds, that should he bring that Danger‘s attention fully to him that he would not survive it.
But by all the gods to ever exist, by the one to whom he was pledged, he didn’t think there was any way to avoid bringing himself to the attention of whatever things lived in this place. Especially when it felt like he’d had a spotlight on him from the time he’d awoken in this miserable place that was not a place and come stumbling out of the building he’d been in. It was hard to feel like he wasn’t already being hunted seeing as he was surrounded by shadows that moved like living things that could bleed, sand loose underfoot and scraping across stone in a muted shriiiiick that made his jaw clench at his inability to move silently through this city, if that was what this was. And all the while he felt like he was missing something.
“Where am I?” By the time he realized he’d spoken the words it was too late to do much more than curse himself. His native tongue’s harsh constants and flat vowels were barely audible over the veritable cacophony of faceless voices that shouted at him from very direction:
Where you do not belong, Honorless One.
“Honorless?” He bristled, whirling in a tight circle, eyes narrowed and senses on full alert. But all he could tell was that he was well and truly surrounded. All he could tell was that he was one against millions and that fear from before became a Fear that crashed over and through him with all the strength of river during spring thaw bursting through its dams and overflowing its banks. And his anger at the insult was swept away by that Fear‘s river-like current.
Go back where you belong, Honorless One.
Go back and be anointed.
And when you return, know we shall be ready.
For you shall not escape us a third time.
He screamed as the pressure of the collective awareness of those shifting shadows descended upon him. Screamed as pain lit every single nerve on fire, pooling in his back. Screamed as his skin burned and itched all at once.
Screamed and begged himself to wa–
“–ke up, Relyt!”
His Qishir’s voice, filled with the beginnings of an attend threw him awake, but he wasn’t in Ryphqi or even their cabin.
No, they stood in a room he remembered from a lifetime ago, the ripples of the Healing pools shimmering across the walls and floor and ceiling. Rhyshladlyn stood bathed in it, covered head to toe in gore like he had been when Relyt had found him in that back alley, eyes narrowed with a rage that caressed his skin like silk that hid a million blades. When he spoke again, it wasn’t an attend that colored his voice.
“Did you think that no one would find out? That I would never notice? Relyt… how could you?”
It was betrayal. And it made his skin crawl because that the one thing besides fear he never wanted his Qishir to feel where he was concerned. Ever.
It was the one thing he had done his level best to never be the cause of for Rhyshladlyn and because of that he knew this dreamscape, for that was the only logical thing it could be, wasn’t real.
“This isn’t real,” his voice echoed thunderously despite how he spoke in a whisper, bouncing off the walls all around them. It was just as he remembered it; there was no way to speak softly in this room. Not without privacy wards. “If we’re in Shiran City, this can’t be real. The City was buried by you.”
“This is very real,” Rhyshladlyn-that-wasn’t-Rhyshladlyn said as he shuffle-stepped towards him, his useless right leg dragging wetly across the floor. Looking at him standing upright when he shouldn’t be, Relyt wondered not for the first time how his Qishir had managed to survive the last round of torture his father had inflicted upon him.
But that wasn’t even really a question was it? Because the answer was easy: Anislanzir had let Rhyshladlyn live. He had wanted him to live, had wanted him to be found, so that the torture would last longer. The Lord King’s ultimate goal had always been to break Rhyshladlyn. Not that he’d ever succeeded while alive, but that hadn’t ever stopped him from trying.
“No,” he denied, shaking his head as he carefully backed up, something telling him that this thing shouldn’t touch him. The waters in the Healing pools scattered about the room began to bubble and boil and he swallowed thickly, trying to keep his fear in check. If he was afraid, well and truly afraid, he would be lost here. There would be no escaping. “No,” he said again with greater conviction, “it isn’t real because you buried Shiran City beneath Shiraniqi Desert.”
The thing wearing his Qishir’s likeness just laughed at him and in that laughter he heard the voices of millions of souls crying out in terror and begging for freedom, for help.
“You know well as I, Relyt Greymend, that what is buried doesn’t always stay buried.”
He didn’t have time to shout or even throw up his arms before it launched itself at him and he came awake with a cry that shook the walls of the cabin around him. His cry turned into a wail as his back screamed with pain and the emptiness where his wings should be fully registered in the next breath.
A hand touched his arm and he jumped, magick whipping out in defense of him and he had just enough time to see Bayls go tumbling backwards off the bed, Adïmshyl pushing off the wall by the door to check on her. Movement to the other side of the bed drew his attention but he paused when he recognized Thae’a. Apprehension and worry dripped from her in waves, the scent of it making him lightheaded or is that the pain I’m in?. Her lips moved but he couldn’t hear her.
All he could hear were those millions of voices contained in a single bark of laughter.
You shall not escape us a third time.