Thayne leaned over the same table she had sat at with both her Court and Rhyshladlyn’s after learning about Shiran’s Watchtowers. But now there wasn’t refreshments spread across the dark mahogany surface but rather a map of what the Worlds looked like now. Specifically that of Imèn where it bordered Fènwa. Because she couldn’t imagine that Xitlali had pulled her forces away from the border on all sides without having known about Shiran’s Towers. There was no way her little sister’s forces could have crossed Fènwa and missed them. They were tall as fuck and golden glowing stone. It was kind of hard to miss.
“When the Worlds shifted after Qishir Rhyshladlyn’s… disappearance,” Eiod said, reaching across the table from the side opposite her to point at a section of the map in Fènwa, “the site where Shiran City once stood is now here. Leagues further to the east than it had been.”
“That’s right,” Bayls added, “it’s nearly at the farthest point of the Desert.”
She looked up at them both. “How close to the border is Shiraniqi Desert’s eastern boundary?”
“It is the border,” Uncle answered and she fought down the urge to jump at the sound of his voice behind her. But that was what she got for standing with her back to the door. Made it easier for him to sneak up on her. By the looks on everyone else’s faces she wasn’t the only one who had fought not to react to his sudden appearance.
“I’m getting you a fucking bell if you keep sneaking up on people,” she quipped under her breath and shook her head when he came up to stand beside her with a soft snort. “Is that where you were when you saw them begin to glow?”
Azriel hummed, reaching out a hand towards the map, waving his fingers over the area Eiod had indicated. His magick slithered out across the thick parchment paper, altering it as to reflect the latest updates. Part of the reason he traveled so much across the Seven Worlds despite being her personal guard was because he was the best cartographer the Worlds had and it was wholly because of the ability he’d just showcased. No other map maker in the Worlds was able to stand unaffected by the rampant, uncontrolled absolutely chaotic ambient magick of the Worlds that was constantly shifting things around with no warning whatsoever long enough to use their own magick to determine changed boundaries. No one except him.
“The Towers are nearly at the Fènwa-Imèn border. Despite the constant shifts that have been going on since my Qishir’s disappearance,” those mismatched eyes flicked up to Eiod who nodded in return before they looked back down at the map, “the Shields placed around the valley remain strong and untouched. So no one but myself has made it to the valley’s base in three centuries.”
“Is it possible that a glamour could have been placed over the Shields?” Ishmariel asked. “Enough to give the illusion that the Towers were glowing and scatter everyone to the winds thinking the Qishir tethered to them lives again?”
Azriel shrugged one shoulder before straightening, arms crossing over his chest.
“It’s possible, but unlikely. I was across the border in Imèn World when they lit up but I was close enough that a glamour of that magnitude engaging wouldn’t have been able to go undetected.”
She touched the area Azriel had altered as a thought occurred to her as she looked up at them all.
“Has anyone heard word of whether Ryphqi City’s Towers also lit up? Or if the permanent twilight that’s covered it since what happened has lifted even slightly?”
“Not that I’ve heard,” General Anrèhn answered. “But to be fair, it takes a lot longer to get messages across the Worlds now than it used to. So they very well could have, we’ve just not gotten the messages yet.”
A silence settled across the Hall then, spreading out from Uncle who was practically vibrating where he stood with magick that was nearly as uncontrolled as the ambient magick of the Worlds themselves. But she’d seen him wield it with a control that was fearsome and sword-sharp without missing a beat, so she knew it only appeared to be uncontrolled now. Knew that out of all of them, he was the one who had the firmest grasp on his personal power. That while the Worlds had changed in a way that no one had anticipated or knew what to do with, he’d rolled with it and come out stronger. Slowly she looked at him but he was staring hard at the map in front of him, an almost unnatural stillness that made him look unreal. Too much like a statue and not enough like a living Dhaoine. It made her teeth itch to see it. Because he was still but his tattoos, those twisting, dancing, undulating dots and filigree and knotwork and swirls, weren’t.
And that, more than anything else about his demeanor, told her that things were about to go from shit to fucked.
“I felt them wake,” Azriel said after several moments, that stillness slowly leaching away in tiny increments.
“High Ones prevail us all,” she whispered and she wasn’t the only one at the table who spoke a prayer to the gods.
“Why did you feel Ryphqi’s and not Shiran’s?” Y’adtrik asked.
“Because all of us were tethered to those Watchtowers, not just him.”
She watched those eyes lift from the map and stare at Jerald who took a deep breath and let it out slow but for all that it seemed steady, it shook just enough around the edges that it was clear he was rattled. Maybe not scared, but he wasn’t too far behind.
“So that’s what that was?” the Alphenian asked.
Azriel just nodded.
She watched them stare at each other and for the first time since everything had gone to shit, since the Balance of the Worlds had died, since Rhyshladlyn had disappeared, Thayne got to see Azriel and Jerald interact in a way she’d only ever seen happen with Relyt. In that moment it was clear they shared a qahllyn to the same Qishir, one they’d both lost though they’d known him in different ways. It was clear in the way Azriel stared at Jerald with a sense of companionship that he’d not shown towards anyone else, that Jerald was very much Rhyshladlyn’s Warrior, even if they’d never gotten past the point of the Grey Qishir verbally speaking that knowledge out loud. They spoke in a silent language that only those who were qahllynshæ had and seeing it made her heart ache.
Especially when Alaïs reached over and entwined their fingers together. Especially when Ishmariel and Y’adtrik opened their links and brushed understanding and acceptance and a sense of I’m here, you’re not alone across her Self. She had never quite understood why her mother had acted so distraught when she’d seen that Rhyshladlyn had been willing to perform an Oathing Sacrifice to save Azriel, to save them all, until that moment. Until she looked at her fully Oathed Triad and knew that the Grey Court had their own Triad but no Qishir to keep them together. And just imagining being alive and not having her Companion, her Steward, or her Warrior, just imaging them being alive without her, was enough to make her want to vomit. Gods only knew what it was like for Azriel, Relyt, and Jerald.
Rhyshladlyn, I hope you’re in the After or at least unable to sense your Triad’s pain. And High Ones Hear me, I hope even more that you’re alive and find your way home to us soon.
“Would it be safe to send an envoy there to confirm it?” she asked, hating to break up their moment but this was more important. She needed to know what she was dealing with. The last thing she could afford to be was caught off guard in this game of cat and mouse with her sister and the Anointed One’s people again.
Azriel broke eye contact with Jerald and turned to look at her.
“Probably not, but then again, nothing is in this new reality,” he answered and she stared at him dumbfounded by his answer.
“I’ll go,” Jerald piped up, knocking his shoulder against Eiod’s. “We have to pass near there on our next set of rounds, may as well make a pit stop.”
“I’ll accompany them,” Azriel added.
Glancing at Alaïs who shrugged and squeezed her hand she sighed softly and tried to ignore the migraine she could feel blooming behind her eyes. It wasn’t even midday yet, she couldn’t afford to be laid up in bed until the throbbing in her head passed.
“Very well. Pack light and keep your eyes open. I don’t know what my little sister has up her sleeve but if she’s aware of the Watchtowers coming awake, I’m not taking chances that she tries to take out two of the Grey Triad in response.”
“Wait,” Bayls’ voice made her turn and look at the Sinner Demon whose eyes were wide and face paler than normal, a touch of green at the edges of her cheeks. “If Azriel and Jerald felt the Watchtowers in Ryphqi awaken, then that means so did Relyt.”
No one said anything but she could feel Azriel’s attention touch Bayls like it was physical hands on her own body. He didn’t say anything, just watched her and waited. But he wasn’t the only one, Jerald did as well. And if what the Alphenian’s gaze looked like was anything to go by, Azriel’s was probably a far sight more intense. She didn’t even breathe, couldn’t even bring herself to try. Not when the implications of that simple statement were so great.
There was a nagging sense in the back of her head, some muted instinct that was just loud enough to catch her attention but not enough to give her more than that this was familiar. That this sense of dread and Warning wasn’t new to her and that she shouldn’t ignore it. That doing so would be deadly.
But the gods only knew anything more specific than that.
“When did you feel Ryphqi’s wake up?” Alaïs whispered the words but in the silence that had thickened the air around them, so close to being a Silence, that it sounded like her Companion had shouted. She squeezed her mate’s smaller hand and pushed her shoulder against Alaïs’.
Azriel smiled, slow and sickly sweet and dark, as he looked back at the map spread across the table before him and she felt her blood run cold.
“Two hours after Shiran’s.”