Few things surprised her anymore. After several thousand years of living, most of which were spent at the mercy of Anislanzir or at war with the Worlds in general, there was just nothing much that could shock her.
But standing in a hallway in the Eighth Palace facing off against a Xhlën that had just told her that it, and the Hounds and Oiki that populated the Forest with its kind, had heard her Creator’s Call she was surprised into silence. By the all the gods, she couldn’t think beyond the buzzing in her head, the empty openness that Nhulynolyn’s loss had left behind where before it had been quiet and calm and filled with a waiting that she didn’t have words to describe; like it was pure potential, for what she didn’t know, but it had been that nonetheless. And now there was nothing. But this deadly magickal creature told her it and its fellows had heard a Call and so they’d left the Forest, their home, for the first time in millennia to Answer it. To search out an Otherborn and the Greywalker who was his Heart, both of whom were dead.
It was too much. So her brain just went on a vacation and she fell still and just stared at the Xhlën which just looked right back at her with all the patience in the Worlds. It knew it hadn’t lied, she knew it hadn’t lied, but what it had said couldn’t be possible. She’d have known if her brother and his Otherborn twin were still alive. She’d have sensed them. She’d have known.
“You have to be lying…” Bayls’ voice sliced through the quiet that had settled over the hallway and in the open spaces left in the wake of her voice, she deposited her absolute grief behind. And that grief reminded them all that while they had lost a brother, a Qishir, a friend, the only Dhaoine who had any right more than Bayls did to know the truth of what had happened to Rhyshladlyn was Azriel. That grief reminded them that of them all, only Azriel’s loss was equal to Bayls’.
The Xhlën shifted its eyeless gaze to the Sinner female and while it was impossible to tell, Alaïs was reasonably certain it raised its eyebrows at her, too. If it had any to raise.
“You know my kind and my cousins cannot lie,” it said by way of answer to the unspoken question Bayls’ words had held. The plea for it to not be real because reality hurt far more than a lie would. “Just as the Greywalker race could not, so can we not.”
And she didn’t blame Bayls in the least. Because if Rhyshladlyn was dead, if Nhulynolyn and the rest were dead, then that meant they just had to hold out until her brother was reborn, until his Others came back along with him. It meant that they hadn’t abandoned him, that they hadn’t failed him by not searching the Worlds over, by not tearing them apart until there was no place left to hide any Dhaoine, living or dead, and brought him home safely. Because if he was alive, if he had been this entire time? Then that meant they had abandoned him, they had left him to rot wherever he was, thinking, praying, hoping, that he’d be reborn soon, that he’d come home. All while he waited for them to come save him.
By Sand and Sky and Stone and Blood, what have we done?
“So they’ve been alive this entire time?” It took more effort than it should have to keep her eyes on the Xhlën and not look at Thayne but she managed it, if barely. She had rejected a lot of her sire’s teachings but never taking one’s eyes off one’s enemy, no matter how civil they were being, was not one of them. “How did none of us know? For the gods’ sakes, Azriel is Oathed to Rhys! But his qahllyn’qir are gone. That’s only possible if their Bond was severed.”
The creature before her shifted as though it were closing its eyes and taking a deep breath to keep itself calm in the face of a level of ignorance that tried its patience. Though that was probably just her projecting or imagining it or some shit but yet she’d seen Rhyshladlyn do the same thing. Remembered their mother doing the same thing, remembered Anis and their father doing it, too. It was a small movement, a shift that was there and gone again, performed when one didn’t trust that it was safe to show one’s true response. But if one knew what they were looking for it was impossible to miss.
“Severing those ties is not only achievable by death, Honorable Qishir,” it said, voice undulating in a way that didn’t make her ears any happier. “Which you very well know.”
“Would you stop speaking in riddles and just fucking tell us where they are!” Bayls snarled and suddenly the smaller female was just right beside her and Alaïs tensed in an effort to keep from swinging on her. “If they’re alive and you know they are why are we wasting time debating this shit here?”
It looked at Bayls and Alaïs only kept from stepping in between them because Bayls snarled at it in Sinxhët and took a step closer as though of all the things in the Worlds that frightened her, this unreasonably tall, made from shadows and cold creature didn’t make any of the lists. Gods, no wonder Nully fell for you. Shit. And what was more was the Xhlën straightened, chin lifting slightly as though it were surprised. Alaïs just couldn’t tell if it was a good surprised or a bad one.
“If we knew where either of them were we would be there and not scouring the Worlds to find them,” it advanced a single step and Alaïs growled a low warning. It tilted its head in acknowledgement but didn’t stop talking. She didn’t know if it was an improvement. “We heard Rhyshladlyn’s Call via Nhulynolyn but something keeps them cloaked and hidden from us, and likely, we think, from each other.”
“Why are you telling us any of this?” she probably risked angering it by asking but she had to know.
It didn’t make sense for it to suddenly stop trying to kill them, for it to be willing to grant her boon but only if she could do this obviously impossible thing, and then start chatting with them. It made even less sense that the Worlds’ three deadliest magickal creatures were walking said Worlds en masse searching for Rhyshladlyn and his Others, that her little brother had Called to them and not any of his Court. Because Hounds would hunt for sport and pleasure and food, Oiki would attack if they felt their homes or young were in danger, and Xhlëndïr followed no real pattern to their attacks but had been hidden away from the Worlds’ eyes long enough that many believed they were extinct or myth. But still she had far more questions than she did answers and no idea how to go about getting those answers.
It shrugged, shrugged, and she felt reality wobble at the edges. Deadly magickal creatures shouldn’t shrug at her and they definitely shouldn’t have civilized fucking conversations with her either after spending hours trying to kill her and her family and friends. Am I dreaming? I have to be dreaming.
“You’re of better use to us alive than dead.”
Bayls snorted but it was Thayne that asked, “Oh? And how’s that, exactly?”
Its face shifted, rippled, as it looked at Thayne and Alaïs knew that if it had a mouth it would be smiling. Knew also deep in her bones that that smile would be just as terrifying as the rest of it. She was more thankful than she’d ever admit out loud that it didn’t have any Dhaoinic facial features.
“Because now that you know your Qishir lives you’ll stop at nothing to find him.”