12

She slammed the door to her chambers forcefully enough to rattle the stone walls to either side of it. She was furious but it was a lie, it was a mask she had perfected over the centuries to hide her terror, to hide how even though she trusted Lílrt’s work, how she trusted the research she and Hujiel had done before capturing Rhyshladlyn, she was terrified that he’d escape. That she was terrified of what Old Story that wore a Dhaoinic face she’d brought home to live with her. Because she knew better than to underestimate Rhyshladlyn, that was how Dhaoine died. But the gods only knew she also knew better than to underestimate magick-tampering spells.

But the spell that had been laid into every single part of the collar he wore was supposed to be strong enough to render him magickless. It shouldn’t have allowed for any loophole to be found and exploited so that whatever had happened in that room could actually be done. Because it wasn’t supposed to. She had been promised that he’d be powerless, that he would never have access to his powers, to the truth of him, so long as he wore that collar. And the only Dhaoine capable of removing it had too much to lose so they would never risk touching it, let alone disengaging the spell.

So she wore the lie of being angry at the guards who had failed to protect a client, who had failed to see the danger Rhyshladlyn had been before that client had walked into his room. But she didn’t lead with a punishment like she would have normally. Not because she was giving the guards themselves the benefit of the doubt. But rather because she didn’t doubt that if Rhyshladlyn had managed to do that to someone else while wearing a collar that rendered him Imènian in all but birth then he could have hidden the danger when the guards had checked on him. Could have waited until the right moment to show that while he was supposedly powerless, he still had tricks up his sleeves.

But she had to pretend she was angry even if she wasn’t going to punish these guards from the get go. Had to pretend that she wasn’t so very afraid that the collar that should have kept him contained and docile was failing. Had to pretend that she wasn’t the one to blame for bringing him, and the danger he posed, among them all.

The old adage of keeping one’s friends close but one’s enemies closer didn’t apply to the Grey Qishir. He wasn’t her enemy, he was her murderer. He’d promised her as much and if she’d learned nothing else from or about him, it was that Rhyshladlyn never reneged on his promises. If he didn’t follow through immediately then it was just a matter of time.

I should have killed him when I had the chance.

“What the fuck were the lot of you thinking?” she spat as she advanced on the kneeling guards. “What possessed you to not check on him before letting the client go inside?”

The tallest guard lifted her head, turquoise eyes bright but her face was perfectly blank. “We did, your majesty. We always do.”

“Aye, Qishir Xitlali, we know who we guard and the danger inherent in if he somehow found a way to be aught but what he is supposed to be,” the only neodrach of the lot added.

“So in the several seconds between you checking on him and the room in the full sweep you’re required to do, he turned into that and effectively killed the client?”

Rhyshladlyn knelt on the floor facing the large windows and the snow that fell in thick dancing fluffs and glittering flakes through the inky night. The collar was still around his neck and it wasn’t glowing, the runes quiet in the silver they’d been engraved in. But something was off about him. It took her a minute and blinking several times to realize that it was because the stone floor where he knelt was surrounded by a rug. A rug that was smoking at the edges of the hole he was sat in, as though he’d burned through it to the stone beneath.

And then she saw the way the stone glowed a soft, muted gold, the way that that gold spread in tendrils across the dark grey throw rug he’d been sitting on, the one he’d ruined. Then she noticed the way the light from the fire in the hearth and the lanterns spread throughout the room seemed to disappear the closer one got to him. As though he were eating it. 

She turned to Iköl, hoping as she did so that her fear wasn’t as noticeable as his was. But even if it was, they were in this together, and if anyone would understand her fear and her inability to hide it, it would be the Cymerian.

“How long as he been like this?”

All five of them looked at her then and she saw in their eyes, in their blank expressions, in the way they trembled ever so slightly that they were just as afraid as she was. They didn’t say anything but they didn’t have to. She knew the answer and she didn’t like it but it didn’t change things in the slightest.

They hadn’t stopped the client from going in because to them, Rhyshladlyn had appeared normal. Nothing had seemed off about him or the room. The wards and the Shields and the magick tampering spells on the walls and ceiling and floor and windows of his room were all intact, as was those on his collar. So his guards had done what they were supposed to do: let his next client in and step out until the client was done then escort him out until the next one came.

Her anger at that realization was more authentic because Lílrt had promised her that that collar would keep Rhyshladlyn as weak and magickless as an Imènian, that as long as it never came off him, he would never be found by his Court, he’d never again stand in their way. Which meant that unless the collar is damaged, unless there was something about the Grey Qishir that none of them had learned from Relyt or their own research, there was no reason Rhyshladlyn should have been able to make another Dhaoine magickless and shatter his mind when he himself couldn’t even sense magick let alone do anything with it. But he had. He’d done the impossible and gods See me always. 

If this is what he could do when he was rendered as powerless as an Imènian she didn’t want to even think what he could do, what he would do, if he ever got free.

She sighed as the anger leaked away and left glimpses of the fear that flowed beneath it. Running a hand through her hair she turned her back on the guards and made for her chamber doors as she tried not to think about how no one in recorded history had tried to collar a Greywalker. Tried not to think that she was slipping in her conviction if she allowed the guards she’d personally selected to watch Rhyshladlyn to see the fear she shared with them. But they had known what they were risking when they’d taken this assignment, when she’d gone to them and told them what it would entail. They had volunteered for this position know the risks, knowing the cost, and they had chosen it anyway.

So the least she could do is be as real with them as she could be.

“Stay here. I’ll decide what punishment you’ll receive once I’ve spoken with Anointed One Lílrt.”

The door closed on a chorus of ‘aye, Qishir Xitlali’s but the door didn’t stop the worry and relief that wrapped around those words from chasing her down the hallway.

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