The fires had started in the Temple though the gods only knew how or why. All he’d known was that they weren’t accidental.
He’d raced ahead of them back to the safe house to alert Xitlali, playing the part of her dutiful personal guard even though he’d wanted nothing more than to ensure she didn’t make it. But he had given his word, he had a part to play and as much as he wished not to, he wouldn’t abandon it until his work was done.
Whenever the fuck that would be.
He’d made it to the castle in time to find Xitlali waiting for him with a horse saddled and ready. Had wasted no time mounting up and following her and the small convoy she’d put together out of the grounds and eventually the city-village’s limits. They’d made it maybe five leagues from Ahkshen when the air vacuumed and an explosion rocked the city-village and rumbled across the Province like an earthquake.
They watched from a plateau to the west as Ahkshen burned, as shadows gathered in the streets and converged on the courtyard of an orphanage that hadn’t been far from the Temple. He shuddered as the air shifted direction and brought a bite of cold that was unnatural, as the ambient magick of the area changed in a way that felt like the wild magick of the Temple had blanketed the entirety of Ahkshen but it was so much more than that. He watched as those shadows shifted and took forms that towered over the Dhaoine that worked to try and combat the flames and those that chose to try and run for safety instead. He felt the air in his lungs burn as he watched a Dhaoine he’d recognize anywhere take form in the shifting smoke and shadows and saw the more that walked rode that body like one rode in a Line coach.
“An Old One is in Ahkshen,” Jerald whispered from his own horse to Eiod’s left, gaze riveted upon the unmistakable form of Rhyshladlyn.
“How do you know?” he asked.
Figuring that the answer would have something to do with Alphenians being more in touch with the Old Ones, with the gods that had been around since the First Children walked the Worlds.
Or even because the only Dhaoine powerful enough to handle an Old One taking over their body was the Grey Qishir; that not even the most powerful and devout of clergy in the Worlds could handle more than allowing a god to speak through them, never mind use their body like it was Their own.
What the Alphenian said in answer had nothing to do with any of that. It didn’t even answer his question.
“The god is using Rhyshladlyn’s body to communicate. It’s one of his Patrons.”
“How do you…” he trailed off before he could voice the question fully out loud, eyes darting to the side to look at Xitlali but she wasn’t paying either of them any mind, her red-brown eyes lit by the distant flames, her scarred face looking pockmarked in the stretching shadows of made by the fires. She was too focused on the burning city-village, a frown pulling at her mouth and eyebrows. No doubt she was already certain that something had purposefully set the fires and that it probably had something to do with her having chosen Ahkshen and its castle as one of her safe locations should her compound in Ryphqi City ever fall.
She’d be wrong but it wouldn’t stop her from thinking it regardless. She was unbelievably self-centered like that.
“Because I can feel him,” Jerald answered, pulling Eiod’s attention back to the Alphenian. Apparently for all that he didn’t ask it fully, Jerald knew the question anyway.
The answer only gave him more questions, each one more dangerous than the last to voice aloud.
He looked up from where he sat repairing a ripped seam in one of Lulphé’s dresses to where Thayne stood in the doorway, wringing her hands. For all that she looked guilty and only slightly suspicious, Lulphé knew better and just smiled, putting her book down to focus fully on her eldest.
“Yes, dear one.”
“In lessons today, our teacher spoke of qahllyn and the qahllyn’qir that can only be seen by the Qishir and the one who possesses them until the Qishir touches them in Acceptance, Answer, or Oath,” Thayne began, sounding hesitant, as though she couldn’t figure out how to word the question that weighed on her so heavily correctly.
“You wish to know what it is like? What those marks look like and the feeling a Qishir and their qahllyn have?” Eiod offered, guessing at what she wanted to know because he had wondered the same at one point.
The young Qishir nodded.
“It is a feeling, dear one,” Lulphé answered, voice holding the conviction only a Qishir who had found at least one of their qahllyn had. “Something so profound and so strong, there exist no words to describe it in any language. It is a peace that settles over you, a sense of home and safety and wholeness and yet it is so much more than all of those things.”
“And each qahllyn’qir looks different from Dhaoine to Dhaoine. They are not too dissimilar to magickal signatures,” Eiod added with a small smile.
“Gods have mercy on us all,” he whispered and when Jerald turned to look at him, head tilted to the side, Eiod knew. And his stomach dropped out to play tag with his suddenly very weak knees. “You’re qah–” he stopped himself mid-word remembering where they were and who they were near at the last second.
But Jerald seemed to know what he had been about to say again and just smiled serenely as he looked back towards Ahkshen, expression one of calm that Eiod had never seen on it in all the time he’d known the other male.
“Yes, and I know what position I am supposed to fill.”
Clearly they would address how Jerald seemed utterly unbothered by the fact that he was admitting this all to the one person who stood just as much of a chance of betraying him to death as anyone else within the Mad Court at some other time.
He’s telling me because he can sense that I’m not going to sign his death warrant because doing so for him would mean doing the same for me.
“Which one?” Eiod asked, raising an eyebrow, telling himself whatever the answer was it couldn’t be worse than hearing that the Mad Qishir’s slave was qahllyn to said Qishir’s number one enemy. Couldn’t be worse than be trusted not to divulge that information now that he had it. Couldn’t be worse than playing double agent for the Grey Qishir.
“I am to stand at his right hand as Warrior,” the words were spoken in a reverent whisper and Eiod felt like throwing up.
I hate being wrong.