73

It was hard to not feel slighted, to not harbor a grudge. But he did, even if it was stupid, even if he knew he’d brought all this on himself. Probably especially because he’d brought it on himself. But it wasn’t all his doing, not really. He was merely the product of his situation and the consequences of the choices he’d been forced to make.

And by the Great One, there was only so much one could handle before the pressure became too much. And he had passed that point centuries ago.

Had passed it when he had reached out for help and gotten cold shoulders and scoffs.

Had passed it when city after city, village after village, and metropolis after metropolis had closed their borders to him.

Had passed it when he’d found himself on himself on his knees sobbing after even the Grey Qishir had turned him away.

Had passed it when he’d tried to move on, tried to make things better, to be better and faced only failure at every turn, faced the expectations of everyone else that he would fail.

Had passed it when he’d been starving, dehydrated, and dying and the only Dhaoine to see him and help him, to take him in despite the cost to himself, had been a Cymerianthrope with two faces.

He had been forsaken from a young age, faced losses too great to put on anyone, and yet he had come out on top, come out the better for it all. It was why he’d taken up the mantle of the Anointed One. Why he had chosen the Grey Soul Healers to emulate, to honor.

Who better than a people so marginalized the Worlds only remembered they’d existed when the Grey Steward had appeared to Rhyshladlyn? Who better than a people so in control of themselves that the Worlds’ natural, ambient magick didn’t affect them?

In hindsight it may not have been a very well thought out plan but he had been scared and alone. And if the Grey Soul Healers had ever caught wind of what he was doing in their name and with their culture, of what he’d stolen from them? He figured the response wouldn’t be too bad. After all, the whole of the Worlds knew that they were conscientious objectors, purely built for defense and nothing else. Knew that the Grey Steward’s ability to fight on the Fields of War without issue was an anomaly born only of him being Gret’yinl. Well that and him being the Grey Steward.

But for all that he had taken up the culture and stolen the power of the Grey Soul Healers he was better than them, was better even than their precious Gret’yinl. Because he wasn’t living a lie. He was living his greatest truth insofar as he was allowed. And where others had failed? He had succeeded, no matter the cost.

And with that success he had become the Anointed One: born of Darkness, raised in Light, and taught by Balance.

“Iköl,” he called, watching as the male dropped what he was doing and turned to face where he stood at the edge of the camp, pressing a hand to his chest in respect, head lowered and eyes averted. Ever since he’d visited the Cymerian in Ryphqi City and mind magicked an altered truth to the idiot attacking Alaïs, Iköl had been far more respectful of him. As was proper and a long time in coming.

“It is time. See to it that Xitlali is ready and report back to me directly.”

Emerald eyes darted up to him long enough for him to see that the starburst of blue was brighter than usual before they looked away again.

“As you will, Anointed One. What of the rest?” It was so very odd to not hear any snark from the obstinate male. A relief to be certain, but still odd.

He smiled, slow and sickly sweet and darker than any smile his Soul Healers had ever seen, turning to look at the breaking dawn. He felt their collective distress against his skin like the softest of silk, tasted it like the finest of whiskeys.

“They will be handled in due time.”

Iköl didn’t ask any other questions, knowing he was dangerously close to disobedience with what little he had asked, however valid the question may have been. Which he was grateful for because he was tired, his back ached, and he still had several other camps to get to before he could finally rest so verbally sparring with Iköl and keeping the Cymerian in his proper place required too much effort at present. Effort he just didn’t have in him.

He watched disinterestedly as Iköl straightened up and turned away, barking orders across the camp at his fellows, at those who had become his family when his own had turned their backs on him. Without them he would have given up long ago on seeking retribution from Rhyshladlyn. They were the reason he was still here, why he would see his plans to completion, no matter how difficult, no matter how long it took.

And when he was through?

The Worlds would know what true suffering was.

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