He watched Anointed One Lílrt carry slave yshlad out of his room, cradled close to the Soul Healer’s chest like one would hold something precious they didn’t want to break. Watched Qishir Xitlali and her pet Cymerian, Iköl, follow behind the Soul Healer. It was difficult to watch from the top periphery of one’s eyes whilst one’s head was bowed but he had been a slave for a very long time, long enough that he was the most practiced of all those Qishir Xitlali had. So he had learned how to see everything while bowed respectfully as one of his stature should be when in the presence of his betters. He waited to stand up from his kneeling position on the stone floor until the guards posted outside slave yshlad’s door let out twin sighs of relief. Slowly rolling himself to his feet in a well practiced move that was all fluidity and grace, he tilted his head at the guards.
It took only a moment before they noticed him and raised an eyebrow each. He liked these guards, they acted like most of his betters were expected to but they still held to the Old Laws, the ones that said slaves were sacred things, precious things, because in the Old Laws, slaves went to their betters willingly. They weren’t part of the five that normally guarded slave yshlad’s room, but they were the second string back ups if those five were unable to perform their primary duty all at the same time. Which made the situation he had come upon all the more intriguing.
Because in the three hundred years he’d been here, that he had known slave yshlad, he had seen those five guards away from this door only twice. The most notable had been when the Worlds’ Temple bells had sung mourning songs. He’d been with slave yshlad that day, spending some rarely gotten bonding time, when the bells had gone off. It was the only time he’d seen anything akin to emotions fill the orange-amber eyes that had captivated him the first time he’d seen them in the slaves’ eating quarters the day he’d been brought here. He still hadn’t found out why the other slave had stood up and slowly walked to the windows before trying to open them only to fail because the spells on the room kept them firmly closed. The sound slave yshlad had made then had been such a terrible sound. He shuddered just remembering it.
Now was not the time for that trip, though. He would unpack that box later and examine its contents after he had the answers he needed for this current moment’s oddness.
Nodding towards the retreating backs of Anointed One Lílrt, Qishir Xitlali, and Iköl, he sketched a quick set of hand signs in the slave language that all those in Xitlali’s Court knew for slaves were not allowed to talk to their betters outside of very specific situations. Any that continued after their first three warnings would lose the rights to their tongues. Permanently.
<this slave thought slave yshlad was never to leave his rooms, is everything alright?>
The taller guard, a Feline Shiftkin with eyes nearly the perfect match to the amber that mixed with the orange of slave yshlad’s eyes glanced down the hall and shrugged.
“So did we, slave,” she answered, hands coming to idly rest on the hilts of the swords strapped to either hip. He tracked the movement, muscles tensing in case he needed to drop to the proper position expected when speaking to one’s betters, but he relaxed shortly after. She had only done it as an absentminded act, one done when the performer is not on alert for danger but is not so naïve as to let their guard down. “But we were pulled out of bed to take this watch when the normal guards here were sent to Qishir Xitlali’s private chambers.”
“I’ve only ever known of two other times we were called to take this watch with no notice that wasn’t for moments when the normal ones here would sleep and such,” the other guard commented, sounding equal parts confused and worried. He always intrigued him how a Dhaoine could mix to totally different emotions at once in their tone.
“But, Oh’ha, remember that one time when he tried to escape by throwing himself through the windows?” the Shiftkin clicked her tongue and shook her head, a smile he didn’t understand the emotion behind twisting at her mouth. “That had been a damned nightmare.”
Guard Oh’ha nodded and chuckled, the ears that marked him as a Canine Shiftkin who was too submissive in his pack to fully hide his kin form flopping back and forth in his golden-brown hair with the movement.
“Oh that’s right. I remember that night. Oof, Rithal, that shit was miserable,” he replied. “I thought Qishir Xitlali was going to brand every guard slated for this duty a slave whether we’d been on the door or not.”
They kept talking but the information in their words wasn’t important so he stopped paying attention and looked back down the hallway where Anointed One Lílrt, Qishir Xitlali, and Iköl had walked with slave yshlad. He could no longer see them physically but he could sense them. Could sense their respective magickal signatures and the bubbles of power they walked in, even when they were calm and that power was dormant within their Selves. But he could also sense a yawning chasm of undulating darkness that moved with them. He tilted his head to the side and tried to taste it, tried to understand what it was, where it had come from, and why it was with them. But all he could get was that it moved in time with Anointed One Lílrt, the gait just slightly off from the Anointed One’s, as though it walked in front of or behind the Soul Healer… or like it was unconscious and being carri–
“Oi! Slave!” He jumped and whirled to face the two guards with wide eyes, having completely forgotten they were there.
<yes, Guards Oh’ha and Rithal, this slave is listening.>
“Don’t you have something to do besides loiter outside this room?” Guard Rithal’s voice was hard even if her eyes were soft.
He sank into the proper kneeling position on the floor and bowed low over his legs until his forehead touched the stone floor, his hands clasped at the small of his back. He didn’t answer, it wasn’t possible to sketch the hand signs properly from this position but it wasn’t necessary.
“Then go. If slave yshlad isn’t here right now then you’ve no reason to be here,” Guard Oh’ha’s voice had the same hardness as Guard Rithal’s but the inflection was off just enough that he knew without looking up that the Canine Shiftkin’s eyes were just as soft as the Feline’s were.
He lifted his head and shoulders off the floor enough to release his hands and sign, <yes, Guards Oh’ha and Rithal, this slave apologies for forgetting himself. he shall return to his duties at once.>
“Get on then.” He wasn’t sure which said it as the words were too softly spoken but he resumed his previous position, held it for a count of five, then rose once more in that graceful, fluid motion before turning and walking back the way he had come.
The entire way back to his own room, he couldn’t shake how that undulating darkness that he had sensed moving down the hallways with the Anointed One, the Mad Qishir, and her pet Cymerian had felt. How it had moved. Couldn’t shake the way slave yshlad had looked limp and nearly lifeless carried in Anointed One Lílrt’s arms like slave yshlad was as precious as a slave under the Old Laws had been. But it was not his place to know or even question such things. Even if he desperately wanted to because for all that slaves weren’t supposed to have them, slave yshlad had become his friend. Had become his only confidante in this miserable, nightmarish place where the Old Laws were spat upon and the Laws and Etiquettes that accompanied them were burned and scattered across the fourteen winds.
And just the passing thought that his friend may never come back from whatever had happened to make the Anointed One carry slave yshlad from his rooms was enough to make his vision waver with tears he would not shed and his stomach knot with the urge to vomit that he would not follow through on.
“No matter what happens to me, slave xefras, do not mourn my loss.”
He frowned, head tilting to the side as he squinted at the Imènian slave who looked so very young but held the press of ages to him that only the long lived Dhaoinic races had. As though he had seen and done things he himself could never even imagine in his nightmares. It was a very disconcerting thought.
“Why not? If you are important to me, I shall mourn the absence of you as is right and proper.”
slave yshlad smiled and while it was the first smile he’d ever seen touch his eyes, the emotion it put there was one he’d never encountered before. But for all that it was new to him, it made his chest ache to see it. As though he’d never get a good enough breath to fill his lungs, as though he’d never find the right Healer to mend a heart that had never been broken but felt like it was in a million infinitesimal pieces that floated around his chest cavity and sliced at his insides. Those startling orange-amber eyes slid down and away to look out the windows at the falling snow and the deep night that stretched behind those dancing, glittering flakes. And the emotion that shifted slave yshlad’s body language then was one he did recognize: grief, true and absolute.
It made him want to hug the other slave but he knew better.
“Because,” the Imènian whispered after several moments spent in silence, voice so soft he had to strain to hear it, “I was never truly alive when you knew me.”