28

When Thae’a and Adïmshyl turned and asked him what was wrong when he stopped and looked at first Jerald and then Azriel seconds before the two males stopped walking in tandem and looked at each other, he didn’t answer them. Not because he was being rude but because he couldn’t answer, not with anything that would make sense. Because all he knew was that he had felt a brush of something that was at once achingly familiar and new enough to confuse him. Something that raised the hair all over his body and made his skin crawl simultaneously. Behind him, he heard Thae’a and Adïmshyl stop walking and ask what was wrong but he didn’t answer them.

He didn’t take his eyes off them even though the part of him that had been trained as a warrior and a spy chittered at him to take stock of everything around them, that he knew better than to allow himself to become this distracted. But he didn’t dare even try to look anywhere but at them because something told him that if he looked away he’d miss it and whatever it was was important. Whatever it was needed a witness who wasn’t biased, who wasn’t wrapped up and sinking with it under the onslaught of tragedies that struck one after another like punches in combat. So he ignored his instincts for the first time in a very long time and kept his eyes trained on the Grey Companion and Warrior and hoped, no prayed, that it was the right call.

He figured it was when the look Azriel and Jerald shared made that skin crawling, hair raising feeling intensify until he lifted his hands to unconsciously rub at his arms. It was the kind that said they were hearing things, seeing things the rest of them weren’t, that the rest of them couldn’t. He remembered seeing Kírtlaq and Uveis and the rest of Lulphé’s Triad and Sacred Three look that at each other that way. Remembered that every time they did he’d felt the whisper of the magick that made up the Blood Oaths they shared with the Crimson Qishir as they talked to each other over the link that bound them together with a magick older than divinity. And to see that here, of all places, of all times, between two males who weren’t Blood Oathed fully to their Qishir?

It made his teeth itch and his hand ache to be wrapped around his blade. But he didn’t dare do the latter and he flat out ignored the former. Because that would make him a player and not a witness and he very much needed to be a witness.

“Do you feel it?” Azriel’s voice was quiet and filled with a calm sort of awe that Eiod hadn’t heard since before the Worlds went to shit.

“Yes,” Jerald’s voice was just as quiet and filled with just as much awe.

“This… is this real?” Azriel asked and Eiod watched as that tattooed face twisted, as those eyes darkened and that expressive mouth pulled into a frown as the Anglëtinean registered the words he’d spoken.

He didn’t get the chance to do more than formulate the thought to ask them what the fuck was going on when the ground shook and the City shrieked around them as every inch of stone turned a brilliant gold. Throwing up his left hand to shield his eyes, he stumbled to the window at the side of the hall, drawing his sword as he tucked his shoulder to wall beside the panes of glass. He tried to hear around the blood that was suddenly rushing in his ears as he remembered the last time Ryphqi had shuddered around him. Tried to tell himself that what had happened centuries ago wasn’t happening now but it was difficult when all around him were the sounds of screams and cries of confusion and yelling voices. He drew his sword and used it to knock the glass of the window out, letting fresh air come rushing in, bringing with it a sound that made his bones thrum.

The glow didn’t so much dim as become less intense and when he could see around it his breath left him in a whoosh that left his knees weak and his chest tight. Because they were on the eighth floor of the palace and from this height he could see over the other buildings to the retaining wall. Could see the Shield that pulsed on the other side of that wall, pushed up against it as though it was made of it just as much as he knew he wasn’t. And on the other side of a glowing Shield that was made of solid golden light, there was a roiling tide of shadows and nightmares racing for the City in loping mass that moved far faster than anything in the Worlds had any real fucking right to.

When the first wailing cry and eerie laugh reached them, when a click click chirrup that sounded like it was right beside him wove around those wails and that laughter, he knew they had to get out of the City. Because Ryphqi’s natural Shields wouldn’t hold that many Xhlëndïr, Hounds, and Oiki out for long, not without the Qishir who had tethered himself to its Heart. Not without the full Triad who belonged to that Qishir who were tethered to its other Watchtowers. He glanced sidelong at Azriel and Jerald who stood staring out the broken window with identical looks of terror and awe and took a deep breath to steady himself. Having two of the four here evened their odds just slightly. Not a lot, but slightly. But even with the Grey Companion and Grey Warrior, even with a Dreamweaver and a Lupherinre, even with himself here, they still had to get out of the City before the Shields fell, because they would fall, it was only a matter of when not if.

And if they were still here when that roiling mass of the three deadliest magickal creatures in the Worlds made it through? Nothing short of the gods Themselves would save them.

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