Azgerdyl City spread out in all directions, nearly as big as Shiran City had been, with a layout that was similar enough that she often forgot she wasn’t home. It’s sparsely glowing stone buildings hummed faintly, a siren call to an era that felt like it had been millennia ago versus only a handful of centuries.
She had relocated her throne to Azgerdyl City, the only other Greywalker City in Fènwa World, under the guise of it being the only hope for staying truly safe with the political climate having gone to total shit. But she was beginning to question if she should have left Fènwa all together and found a City in one of the other Worlds. Though given what had happened to Ryphqi City and Zhalharaq City with an entire World separating them, she honestly wondered if the old Sanctuary Cities were safe anymore or if it was just a security blanket she was using to make her anxiety lessen just enough to enable her to think clearly and come up with a better solution.
So far it wasn’t working and she’d come up empty. Though not for lack of trying.
Never mind that leaving her home World wasn’t really an option. Fènwa had been the seat of her kind for eons and she couldn’t justify leaving it because she worried that it was no longer safe for her to reside in. If the people she was tasked with ruling and keeping safe by virtue of being the Lord Queen had nowhere else to go, then she would remain her with them. She refused to be anything like Father had been; she wouldn’t abandon her subjects because conditions became inhospitable compared to what she was used to.
Rubbing a hand over her face she sighed heavily and leaned back against the wall beside the doors to her balcony, eyes falling closed as she enjoyed the gentle early morning breeze that carried a sharp autumnal bite to it. It was nearly time for the Harvest and the City below her was rapidly trying to prepare for the celebrations as best they could given the very real knowledge that the Grey Army sat barely two handfuls of leagues to the north as they worked to drive the Eighth Army from Ryphqi City entirely. Well more specifically, Xitlali’s portion of the Eighth Army. Alaïs had pulled all her own warriors out as soon as she’d been conscious at Rhyshladlyn’s cabin. And from the last reports she’d received from outward scouts, the Grey Army had only a few stragglers to take care of before Ryphqi was theirs.
But the one thing she’d always give her race credit for was their ability to observe the holy days even when everything was going to shit around them.
And things were just so incredibly fucked and she didn’t know how or even where to start to fix them. Xheshmaryú had popped in occasionally over the week it had been since Rhyshladlyn’s order for the Court to return to their normal posts, bringing what news he could from elsewhere in the Worlds. The search for those that were in league with the Anointed One was slow going at best, nonexistent at worst, and it was frustrating not only her brother’s Others but her brother himself.
It was like there just wasn’t any information at all. It was like whoever this Anointed One was hadn’t existed prior to the first official battle of the war, until after Shiran City had sunk beneath Shiraniqi Desert. Which was odd. Because the way he was spoken of, with reverence and acceptance and pure devotion? He couldn’t be merely four centuries old. Even by the short and medium lived races’ standards that wasn’t that old. So for him to be anything but far older than that was just improbable.
The kind of charisma needed to be able to lure in Dhaoine to the practices and culture, however bastardized or accurate they may be, of a race they weren’t part of, took more than a few measly years to perfect. It took centuries, nay it took thousands of years; Anislanzir was a prime example of that. And from what she remembered from Eiod’s description of the Royal Guard that had visited him after the Oiki attack on Rhyshladlyn’s camp, the Anointed One was a Soul Healer. Though Eiod had said he presented as a Black she figured it was more likely that the Anointed One was a Grey. Because only one of that race would know exactly how to make the ink for gretluos, where to harvest genuine gretkewqi, never mind how to apply both of those correctly so they actually functioned properly on non-Grey Soul Healers.
Her eyes flew open and she smacked a hand to her forehead before pivoting on her heel and going back inside, clicking her fingers at Jaro who sat lounging on a couch near the hearth with a book to follow her. She wasn’t even to the door before he was falling into step beside her, his book having been discarded on the couch.
“We’re not gonna have another palace drop on top of us are we?” he asked as he pulled open the chamber doors for her.
She snorted, unable to help it. Gallows humor, after all, was one of the few reasons she’d survived as long as she had. And even though she tended to be a bit hard on the Soulless, and even more so on Relyt for assigning him permanently to the position as her personal guard, she was thankful he was with her. Otherwise she’d likely be feeling much the same as she had before being rescued from Shiran City.
Just sans a bastard, rape-begotten child. Gods be thanked.
“Not if I can help it,” she answered, willing the memories that rose in response to her thoughts back into their boxes. She tried not to feel crowded as the two Royal Guards posted at her room fell into easy step behind her and Jaro as soon as they stepped into the hallway and turned left towards the palace library.
“Okay then…” Jaro mumbled, his frown loud in his tone as shoved his hands into his pockets and looked at her with both eyebrows raised. “I’ll bite, where are we going and why are we going there?”
“Library,” she answered easily and turned a dangerous smile on him that she knew she’d learned from her father and her younger brother. Jaro to his credit paled but didn’t put any distance between them. Ever his father’s son, Ero wasn’t afraid of that smile either. “I need to do research on the legends and myths of the Grey Soul Healer race.”
The Soulless frowned. “Wouldn’t it be better to hit the Worlds Library for that or even contact General Greymend himself?”
Alaïs glanced at her Royal Guard escort before looking back at Jaro who blinked at her, still frowning. She held his gaze without answering verbally, waiting for it to click. And when it did, his eyes widening and turning the most beautiful shade of green, she fought not to smile. He wasn’t normally slow to figure the patterns of things around him, but her thoughts operated on a wavelength only her dead twin and Rhyshladlyn could understand, so she didn’t blame him for taking heartbeats longer to keep up with her mental leaps whereas normally it took him half of a second.
“Oh. Ohhh. Oh! Okay, yeah I’m with you now.” He shook his head, wiping a hand across his mouth to hide the way his jaw dropped open a bit. Once he’d collected himself he asked a question that reminded her so much of his father it made her heart ache, “How’d you come to that conclusion?”
Those six words that held a plethora of things unspoken, things that she didn’t want to think on but knew if she didn’t that she couldn’t possibly prepare for every possibility. And right now one the reasons she was likely still alive, why they both were, was because she had a knack for seeing things others missed.
With a flick of her wrist she dismissed the Royal Guard who saluted, about faced, and promptly walked back the way they’d come without a moment’s hesitation. Part of felt guilty that she didn’t trust the very Dhaoine she had hand picked to stand at her side and guard her in the ways that Jaro couldn’t, but every time she did she remembered the Eiod had said the Anointed One had been dressed like one of her Royal Guard. And it was easier to dismiss them and not chance it. Especially when that fucker seemed frighteningly adept at mind magick.
Once she was sure she and Jaro were the only ones in the hallway, she told him as quickly and as quietly as she could. His harsh curse echoed off the walls and she couldn’t agree more with the sentiment as they resumed their trek to the palace library. By the Sands and Sky, she didn’t want these thoughts in her head, she didn’t want there to be any credibility to them.
She prayed fervently that she was wrong because if she wasn’t?
She didn’t want to even think about what Rhyshladlyn would do to the Worlds in response.