She watched from one of the parapets as Uncle, Jerald, and Eiod set out southwestward towards Ryphqi City and tried not to let the nausea that was having a seizure in her stomach crawl its way up into her throat. Tried to tell herself not to worry so much. It wasn’t like they were taking one of the Lines to get there. Instead they were traveling with one hörphé for each of them and nothing else because the six legged animals themselves were strong and seemingly immune to the wildness that the Seven Worlds’ ambient magick had become over the last three centuries.
Which, now that she thought about it, was probably why there’d been at least three separate genetic lines with five generations each of hörphé in every Sanctuary City across the Worlds. After all, who better to breed and use a magickal animal that was immune to all magick, regardless of whether it was tamed or not, than the Greywalker race?
It had been tens of millennia since hörphé had been used for travel within the Worlds since Line travel was far faster and more reliable, but when the Balance of the Worlds had died traveling the Lines was a death sentence waiting to happen. Especially because the ambient magick of the Lines would spike to Chaotic or Ordered at absolute random and with no warning before things went shit sideways and caught on fire. The worst instance had been when a group of seven hundred refugees were traveling from Txiwteb World near the Forest of Dreams and Darkness via Line Carriages when the first Chaos spike had hit. All of them had died when they’d been thrown from the Line at the same time. It had taken five years before the Worlds labeled the Lines unfit for travel. And that had only happened after some ten thousand Dhaoine total had perished Worlds-wide.
Of all the things that had changed since Rhyshladlyn had been lost, the loss of Line travel had only been the beginning of the Worlds’ woes where magick was concerned.
Those first few decades had been a nightmare of failed magick, ambient and cast magick running rampant and wild where the rules were either nonexistent or something no one understood because whoever was controlling them now hadn’t informed anyone else, and that was to say nothing of what the Fields had turned into. She honestly believed that had it not been for the loss of Balance Worlds-wide, that the war wouldn’t have ended nearly as quickly as it had. Not when Xitlali’s Eighth Army had known Rhyshladlyn was gone, that the most powerful wild card the Grey Army had was no longer in play. But it was kind of hard to fight when the magick one was used to drawing on in battle suddenly couldn’t be counted on anymore.
Alaïs came up and slipped an arm around her waist, leaning her head against her shoulder, pulling Thayne out of her thoughts. She wrapped her arm around the Sinner’s shoulders and pulled her tight to her side with a contented hum at the contact. Feeling the way the other female’s qahllyn’qir slip-slithered across her skin where they touched, even with their clothes between them, made her shiver and wonder if Rhyshladlyn had ever felt Uncle’s and Relyt’s do that. Wondered if theirs had done something differently. I wish I had known I was would have a Court of my own, qahllyn and Oathed or otherwise before we lost you. There’s so much I would ask you that I simply cannot ask anyone else.
“They’ll be okay,” Alaïs’ voice was soft and filled with a surety that Thayne had never learned how to mimic or feel herself.
Like do you ever stop wondering what you did to deserve your Companion?
Looking down at the shorter female, she watched those clear blue eyes track the group as they disappeared into the swirling snowstorm that had picked up intensity over night and into the early morning. Watched that regal, tanned face shift and dance with a myriad of emotions before settling on one: hope. The strength of it made her breath catch in her throat. Because her mate, her wife, her Companion, was anything and everything but hopeful. It was one of the things that had enabled them to work so well at first, before they’d learned that it was more than just the call of the Chosen’s Blessing through Thayne’s Ancient side but that of qahllyn to Qishir between them. Because Alaïs had never once argued with her precautions and the paranoia that birthed them. Not after what they’d lost, not after the struggles they’d faced, that she’d faced, trying to hold the Seven Worlds together as the Eighth Qishir. Especially when they’d both been so very aware that the Worlds hadn’t wanted Thayne to rule them but the Qishir she’d pledged her fealty to.
But she was all they had until the moment Rhyshladlyn returned. If he returns.
“Stop thinking like that, Thay,” Alaïs admonished and she blinked, refocusing back on her mate who was now looking up at her.
“How do you know what I was thinking?” she asked teasingly.
“It was written all over your face,” the Sinner replied. “You were wondering if Rhys will ever return to us. And you need to stop thinking like that.”
She sighed and pressed a kiss to the Sinner’s forehead before resting her own against it.
“I’m trying, Ally. I’m really trying. But it’s…” she sighed again and even to her own ears her words sounded like excuses but she wouldn’t swallow them. There were no secrets, no lies, between her and Alaïs and not just because as Qishir to Companion, linked by a Blood Oath spoken on both their parts they couldn’t lie to each other, but because they had promised they never would. “It’s been three hundred years. Even Uncle was reborn in fifty. If Rhys was dead, if he was going to be reborn, wouldn’t he have been by now?”
Alaïs was quiet for long enough that Thayne started to notice the cold air around them despite the warming spells that were constantly being redone all over the Palace as the ambient magick just nixed their effectiveness at random. Was quiet for long enough that she leaned back and looked down to find the Sinner Demon looking out at the spread of snow and rolling hills of southern Ansyen Lontän World. Her eyes were shadowed, haunted in a way Thayne had never seen them, not on her. But she had seen that look in Rhyshladlyn’s eyes. And seeing it now in Alaïs’ reminded her all to starkly that her Companion had suffered the same atrocities that Rhyshladlyn had, just maybe to a lesser intensity.
High Ones be thanked Anislanzir will never be reborn.
“When I had first left the Grey Army to take up ruling my kind, Rhys had snuck into the palace to meet with me,” she spoke quietly with a type of hesitation that made Thayne nervous. “He told me that it wasn’t over. That the trials and struggles we would face had only just started. I tried to get him to explain what he meant but he wouldn’t.”
She shivered and Thayne stepped behind her, wrapping her arms around Alaïs’ waist and tucking her nose into her hair, taking in the desert spices and vanilla that made up her natural scent. They stood like that for several more minutes but Thayne didn’t press her, didn’t push. Alaïs had a lot of nightmares and horrors to work through, things that she had waited over a thousand years to be free from. And Thayne knew she just didn’t have any experience similar to pull from, to do more than try and empathize with. So whenever her Companion got like this, she just held on and waited her out. Alaïs would speak when she was ready.
“I’d asked him if he had another mantle of Fate he carried,” Alaïs’ voice was soft, barely above a whisper as though she was afraid to talk too loudly. Like some boogeyman was listening for her voice and when it heard it, it would come and hurt her. “He just smiled and told me not to mourn him when he was gone. Told me that he was never truly alive when I knew him.”
“The fuck does that even mean?” she asked, and mentally smacked herself for how harsh the words had sounded. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to snap at you.”
Alaïs chuckled that beautiful rolling laugh she did whenever Thayne had done something to truly amuse her, which wasn’t very often.
“I think he meant this,” she waved her hand in a vague gesture at their surroundings and themselves. “I think he was trying to warn me that something worse than Azriel’s death and Shiran City’s sinking and the war, all of it, was going to happen. But he can’t influence the outcome of Fate, he can only Balance the Worlds and do what he can when even that fails him.”
The stillness that fell over Alaïs then rose the tiny hairs all over her body. Made her slowly let her go and step back a few steps to watch as the Sinner female turned and faced her, eyes wide and mouth slightly open, a look of astonishment contorting her features.
“Thayne, that’s it!”
“Hey!” she called out as her Companion ran past her and back inside the Palace proper, her footsteps echoing up the tower, her slippered feet slapping against the stone stairs as she ran. “What’s it?” she mumbled testily, turning to follow her mate with a roll of her eyes.
But before she stepped through the doorway to the stairs, she turned and looked out at the falling snow and the rolling hills, sending a quick prayer as she did so to the High Ones that the Grey Court be spared whatever new dilemma the Worlds were about to face. Because she knew better by now than to think that there wasn’t one. Knew better than to think that the Grey Court wasn’t ass deep in it already.