34

Blood flew in an arc above her head as she leaned back out of the way of talons the length of her hand until her hair brushed the floor. Gritting her teeth she hissed, dropped her shoulders fully to the floor to brace her weight, and kicked up with both feet, sending the throatless Hound flying up and over her. She didn’t look to see where it landed. It was out of her direct path, that was all that mattered. Swinging her legs in a windmill motion she got her feet under her and was moving forward before any of the other creatures that choked the Palace hallway had even registered that their fellow had had its throat slashed and then its dying body flung away.

She’d lost count of how many bodies she’d dropped. Lost count of how many Hounds had come and gone. Lost count of how many Oiki she’d dropped. Lost count of how many Guards had fallen under the onslaught, skilled enough to hold out until their deaths were far more painful than had they succumbed immediately. Everything was a mixture of acidic blood that ate through the stones around her, the wailing and that responding chittering laughter, the Self-deep cold, and the sound of swinging metal. She couldn’t tell if they’d been fighting for hours or minutes but it felt like years and there was no end in sight.

Is this what it was like when the Hounds had attacked the cabin?

She growled and punched her hand through the soft underbelly of an Oiki as it attempted to launch itself over her head towards where Bayls and Thayne were fighting back to back behind her. It shrieked and flailed, its claws trying to rip her open but she’d found its heart and squeezed until she felt it pop. She laughed, the sound low and dark and filled with danger, before she cocked her arm back and threw that limp, iridescently beautiful creature into the tide of churning, loping bodies scrambling over each other to get to her, Thayne, and Bayls, scattering them in all directions as they scrambled to avoid being taken down by it.

She, Thayne, and Bayls weren’t the only ones still alive in the hallway but it was a near thing and the longer they fought here, the greater the chances that they’d be the only ones to make it out of this hallway alive. After all, they’d only advanced maybe fifty paces from the Main Hall where Bayls had found them and gone no further. They had to hurry up before they got flanked. But that was easier said than done.

With a thought she felt Ishmariel and Y’adtrik two floors down and closer to the main branch of the Palace, fighting their own horde of deadly magickal creatures. They were nearly to a wall of windows that opened up into the back gardens and the labyrinth of plants and trees and herbs that she and Thayne had spent decades cultivating. Ishmariel sent a thrumming thought that if they made it to the windows they would try and lose the fuckers in the garden before taking one of the secret tunnels and meeting at the rendezvous point. She nodded and passed that information to Thayne who let out a yip yip of acknowledgement before the connection softened and she was once again focused in on the fighting around her.

She ducked and parried and slashed and eviscerated and jumped and dodged. Hound after Hound, Oiki after Oiki, until it was all a blur of blood and bodies and pain and anger and frustration and terror and the ever present need to die. But she ignored the last two because they weren’t real. They weren’t her. They were caused by the creatures that were doing everything they could to paint the walls and ceiling and floor with her blood and body parts. And she refused to let them. Refused because while they were deadly, terrifying magickal creatures, she was the daughter of Lord King Anislanzir. She was the fucking Lord Queen of the Sinner Demons, the first of her kind. She was the Honorable Companion, Blood Oathed to Qishir Thayne. She was the blooded sister of Qishir Rhyshladlyn, she was the twin sister of Anisfajir. And she would not be brought down by worthless creatures who resort to trickery and mindfucking to get their kills.

Loosing a yell that shook the walls around her, that sent the Currents to tumbling over each other with shrieks like metal tearing, she threw her sword at the face of a charging Hound, planted her feet, dived into the core of her being, down to her Self, then beneath and touched the part of her that made her what she was. The gift that Nhulynolyn had given her the day he’d saved her life in Shiran City, when the gods had accepted her unborn child as payment for Nhulynolyn’s boon. She pulled off the Shields that contained it, kicked off the Barriers that kept it hidden from the Worlds, threw off the wards that only let pieces of it trickle out here and there, and let it cascade up the long hallway between its room and the surface of her skin. Let it fill her until when she opened her eyes she saw only a blue haze that sparkled and danced.

“Fuck all of you!” she screamed and brought her hands together in front of her, sending that power, that truth, that magick thundering out in all directions. Felt it touch the impurity of the Hounds and Oiki, felt its elation at being allowed to play, felt it burrow deep into the hollow spaces of them, and heard it chitter right before it consumed them in a burst of blue flashes and a noise she had no words to describe. Just as the last body hit the floor she felt an awareness touch her mind, felt it gently brush the entire Grey Court and through her, the Honorable Court, and even without getting a chance to read the magickal signature attached to it she knew it was Jerald. Knew through that touch that this was not an isolated incident, knew that the Worlds were under the same attack they were here.

She didn’t have the chance to try and see with the Alphenian’s eyes before the connection snapped and the World around her went cold. Blinking to clear her vision she flinched and stepped back when her eyes registered what stood in front of her. Thayne’s stifled scream and Bayls’ too loud curse confirmed that she wasn’t imagining the writhing mass of shadows stretched nearly to the ceiling in front of her. Confirmed that this nightmare was real, that its mere existence breathed hopelessness until the air was saturated with it. She swallowed with a throat suddenly so dry it burned.

If Xhlëndïr could smile without a mouth she knew this one would be as tendrils of shadows drew back to reveal its faceless face and neck while it loomed over three feet above her own head. Knew, too, before it reached out a hand that was nothing but bones covered by the same grey skin as its face and neck that it couldn’t touch her. Knew not because she had to stop it or it would wipe her from Existence and take Thayne and the rest of them with her. No, she knew because while Hounds and Oiki could kill anything save the gods Themselves, Xhlëndïr could only kill what the laws of the living applied to.

She watched that smile that wasn’t a smile slip away from its face in small increments until only a great stillness remained. As though if she so much as blinked it would disappear. Watched as it slowly dropped its hand back into the writhing mass of shadows around it and tilted its head to the side, regarding her with eyes that didn’t exist but that she could feel travel the length of her body regardless. Watched as it grasped why she stood before it unafraid seconds before it spoke.

“You are Otherborn.” Its voice made her heart seize but she breathed passed it, breathed passed the cold it wrapped around her, breathed passed everything but the absolute certainty that she was untouchable. That that gave her a chance they wouldn’t have otherwise, a chance to save them all.

So even though it had phrased those three words like a statement she replied as though they were a question, spoke the knowledge verbally for the first time since she’d woken in her bedroom in Rhyshladlyn’s cabin.

“Yes, I am.”

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