35

“You’re what?”

It took a lot not to guffaw at Bayls’ incredulity but she managed. If only because their current situation dictated that she couldn’t be distracted. Though gods only knew she’d likely have thrown the Xhlën more off guard if she’d full out barked laughter in its face. After all she doubted highly that it had been prepared to encounter an Otherborn. Especially a wayward one. Add sudden laughter where she should be cowering in fear? Yeah, doubt that’d go over well. Hilarious, but probably not well.

“Thought that was obvious, B,” she tossed back, not looking away from the Xhlën still stood with its head tilted to the side, its eyeless eyes a weight on her skin that made her squirm before she could tamper the urge.

“Well not to me,” the Sinner muttered testily to Thayne’s giggle.

“You are the one Made in the palace of Shiran’s great City.” Again her heart seized at the sound of that voice, as though the deep dark of true night had been given a sound. And with its words the amusement of her Qishir and friend died. “The sacrifice of an ill-gotten unborn was the price for granting your Creator’s boon.”

Its way of referencing Shiran City told her of its age better than anything else would because before the Greywalker Genocide, before the first fall of Balance in the Worlds, the layout of Fènwa World was mightily different. Not enough that one wouldn’t recognize it on older maps but enough that the labeling would throw one off. Specifically that Shiraniqi Desert used to be Shiran, as though it were a Province all its own, with the City that had taken its name ages later sat at its center. She’d always suspected that that was how the Cities had gotten their names; that the areas around them had been a weakened version of the City’s limits, an extended protective area, whereas the true Sanctuary lay behind the physical walls that surrounded each City. But that had been ten thousand years ago which meant this Xhlën was at least that old. She doubted that it would have spoken that way if it were younger, after all even magickal creatures had to speak in the way of the time they were born, just like Dhaoine.

Though how it had known that the gods had taken her ill-gotten child as payment made her uncomfortable because she thought only Nhulynolyn, herself, and Rhyshladlyn had known that. Or rather knew it for certainty. Everyone else had likely guessed when she’d woken up and was no longer heavily pregnant but no one had asked for confirmation. And if they hadn’t guessed, she was going to have some very nasty words with them about their lack of situational awareness and communication. Provided I make it out of this.

“Aye,” she answered. There was no point in lying. Who would it tell that would believe it let alone give it the time to try and convince them? Who in this hallway besides Thayne and Bayls and herself would make it out alive or be willing to spread the words of this exchange if they did survive?

Part of her wondered if the Hounds and Oiki had known, too, or if it had just been the Xhlëndïr. Wondered more if she’d managed to shock it that she was that Otherborn. But she didn’t ask, she didn’t say anything just met its faceless face, stood fast and unwavering under the weight of those eyeless eyes, and waited. Let the silence settle thick enough that the sounds of fighting and screams and offensive and defensive magick was suddenly loud now that their own wasn’t filling the hallway. Felt the tension growing tighter and tighter with each passing minute and knew that if they didn’t get out of here before the shaky Balance of the Palace tipped, they’d have far worse to worry about than surviving the Worlds’ top three deadliest magickal creatures all at once.

“You would ask something of this one.” A statement again but she answered despite that.

“I am untouchable.” It nodded and she felt a slow, dangerous smile curl her lips, one that would have made her little brother proud. “All whom I am tied to are also untouchable.”

It went even more still if that were possible before straightening its head and seeming to grow larger as it did so. She swallowed thickly and waited, praying to any gods that still listened that she hadn’t made the wrong move.

“This one shall grant your boon but you must grant one, too.”

She frowned. “What could one like me possibly give you that you cannot get on your own?”

Thayne’s shocked snort told her that she was barely on the line of diplomatic. Bayls’ muttered, “Great Mother’s quivering cunt lips we’re gonna die here,” made her twitch with the physical effort it took not to snort herself. But her amusement died when it answered.

“Tell us where your Creator is.”

She didn’t need a mirror to know all expression left her face. Could feel it in the way her muscles relaxed. Could feel it in the way Thayne’s energy shifted, the way Bayls’ breath hitched before the heat of her power pulled back denoting that she’d taken a step away from her. Could feel it in the way the tension that filled the air increased just a hairsbreadth. Why would it need to know that information? Couldn’t it sense his lack just as much as it could sense what she was?

“He is gone, was lost when his was taken from this plane,” she answered, voice nearly as frigid as the cold brought on by its mere presence.

It was beyond disconcerting to see something that didn’t have features on its face frown.

“That is not possible.”

Diplomacy was over now, she was too angry with those words to bother with it anymore. She didn’t fancy being called a liar, fancied even less having the same argument she’d had for centuries with Relyt with a fucking magickal creature of all things in a hallway littered with bodies both Dhaoinic and creature. Before she could think better of it, she advanced a step and then another and hissed at it in the language only her kind knew, delighting more than she probably should have when it flinched. Good to know our tongue harms not just Dhaoine but magickal creatures, too.

“You call me a liar?” her voice was filled with a warning of danger that could have been heard whether one deaf or not. “For lying I am not. My brother perished and with his loss, Nhulynolyn was taken with him.”

It laughed and she hissed again, right arm coming up in front of her, the fingers of her left hand twitching and calling her sword back to her hand as she retreated several steps. Because something made of shadows and skin stretched over bones with no eyes, nose or really any mouth, that was nothing but shadows save for its neck, head, and hands shouldn’t laugh. Not like that, not like it was mocking her and found her amusing at the exact same time. She only stopped backing up when she felt Thayne’s hand press against her back between her shoulderblades.

“If you think they are both dead, then you are a fool, Otherborn,” it said around its laughter, shaking its head much like a Dhaoine would when trying to regain control of themselves. “For if they were, you would not be here.”

“And what makes you so fucking certain they’re alive?” Bayls snarked and Alaïs couldn’t even bring herself to reprimand the Sinner for it. Even though she should, she couldn’t. Gods, Bayls, but you are a treasure.

Slowly the Xhlën turned that face and its weighted eyeless gaze to the Sinner Demon who flinched hard enough she displaced air.

“Why do you think we have left the Forest for the first time in millennia, little one?” it asked, waving a long, bone-thin hand in a vague gesture that might have been at the bodies that littered the floor. “We heard his Call. Didn’t you?”

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