He felt Thae’a’s magick thicken the air, watched as the City he’d been running through changed before his eyes. Felt reality shake, quiver, stretch, and for the briefest of moments snap before everything settled. Nothing seemed different but he knew better. He may not have spent a lot of time around the Dreamweaver, may not have even really known what it meant for her to be one, but he knew that the Ryphqi City he ran through now was not the one he’d spilled out of the front doors of the palace into. It wasn’t the one he’d been in when he’d left Azriel’s side. It wasn’t the one he’d been in three centuries ago when Ryphqi’s sentience had touched him, urged him on, begged him to touch the smooth surface of the Warrior’s Watchtower, before it led him through the twisting maze of streets to the feet of the Qishir he was qahllyn to. But at the same time it was. And gods aplenty but that was just unnerving.
But he didn’t stop running. He didn’t let himself get distracted. He knew that even if the Hounds, Oiki, and Xhlëndïr made it through Ryphqi’s Shield before he and Azriel could reconnect with their Towers that he would survive. Because the Worlds’ three most deadly magickal creatures didn’t know the difference between the races. They didn’t know that as an Alphenian he was nearly indestructible. They didn’t know that they’d have to absolutely destroy his Self for him to die. But for all that he was virtually immortal, Azriel, Thae’a, Adïmshyl, and Eiod were not. The poor citizens of the City who ran for the secret tunnels and the above ground gates with a dizzying quality as though his eyes were crossed, weren’t so lucky. He wasn’t the only Alphenian left in the Worlds, but he was the only one to venture this far south, ever. And without the might of the sheer numbers of his race at his back, he couldn’t be a physical shield for the Dhaoine scattering all around him.
So he ignored them, shook his head to try and settle the double vision, and ran faster. Took corners far sharper than he should have, far quicker than was safe, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. He couldn’t bring himself to slow down. He remembered the desperation that had flashed across Azriel’s mismatched eyes, that had darkened the Anglëtinean’s face like the shadow of true night falling across the land. And that desperation and the Fear that choked the air, that tried valiantly to tighten the muscles of his legs beyond usability, was more than enough incentive to keep him moving. To make him risky enough that he unsheathed his claws and dug them in the stone of a building as he took its corner with the same blur of speed that had had Azriel loosing a whoop of battle-elation. The sound of talons on bricks made his ears ache as he let go, planted his feet, and kept going.
Everything faded to the background in a low buzz that was noticeable enough to be irritating but not loud enough to distract him. Because over all of it: the screams, the pleas, the sounds of those creatures flinging themselves against that glowing golden Shield, the sounds those same creatures made, and the elated hum of Ryphqi itself, he heard the siren call of the Watchtower he was tethered to. Felt its pull just behind and below his navel, as though the tether between them was a fishing line and the hook was buried deep, beneath muscle and skin and tendons and ligaments, caught on bone and held strong. He reached down a hand, only half conscious of the thought before he did it, and plucked at that line, that tether, like one would a fiddle string. And a single, loud, resonant note twunged out around him. It shook the air, brought dust off the stones beneath his feet, made the golden glow of the buildings he ran past pulse. Ryphqi repeated that note back to him as he heard a second note, one only a touch deeper, more bass than his baritone, vibrate out across the City. And he knew by the sound of it, that it had been Azriel. Knew without being able to see him, knew without Ryphqi saying Companion and Warrior making Songs with a happy chitter that it had been his fellow qahllynshæ.
Rounding another corner, his stride faltered at the sight of the Warrior’s Watchtower stretching high above him. It seemed far more imposing than it had all those centuries ago when he’d been bleeding, broken, and terrified of Xitlali as she crawled out of the rubble of the City like some nightmare made flesh. It seemed more daunting than it had when he’d pushed off it and ran for his life, following the City’s lead, hoping that it wasn’t a trick, that it wouldn’t lead him astray.
He had that same hope now but for a different reason. Not too different, but different enough that when Ryphqi’s indignation shivered across his skin he found it more amusing than he did anything else.
He hoped that he wasn’t making the wrong choice as his hand touched that smooth, glowing stone, and he felt Ryphqi roar to life around him. Felt it thunder passed all his Shields and his Barriers, felt it burrow deep into his Self and wondered if this is what it had felt like that first time. Wondered if back then he’d lost consciousness because it had been so very intense. Wondered if the elation that stole his breath and brought a shuddering gasp from his throat simultaneously had been just as breathtakingly powerful then as it was now.
But he didn’t have time to wonder for long because several blocks away he felt Azriel touch his own Tower, felt the link between them flare to life, felt the residual magick of their Qishir that had been left behind in the City rise to the surface and burst out of whatever had been keeping it contained. He felt Relyt’s head whip around, could almost make out the fear and shock in those grey eyes before he was slammed back into his body. He felt the entire Grey Court like one long line of rippling, shivering power and fear and worry, and he knew that what was happening here was happening across the Seven Worlds.
And just as Azriel’s mind touched his and together they worked to settle Ryphqi so they could access its battle reserves and engage them, he heard the City’s Shield shatter with a sound like an ice shelf collapsing into the sea.