Rhyshladlyn fell still in stages, starting at his feet and rolling up his legs, every muscle going lax in the way one only sees on the dead but he knew the Qishir yet lived because he had to be alive; because after all the work he’d done and after the way Rhyshladlyn had woken up, anything short of alive and breathing was just unacceptable. When that stillness, when the relaxation of his muscles, reached that striking face the door to the room flew open, banging against the wall and stopping short before it could finish its rebound. For the second time in less than ten minutes he jumped hard enough he was certain he felt his bones rattle. It took him far longer than he was willing to admit to realize that it was Anointed One Lílrt stood in the doorway, one large, long fingered hand curled around the inner edge of the door.
But it didn’t matter that he’d caught on to that too late. Didn’t matter that he swiftly sank into the proper position of a slave when faced with their better. It didn’t matter because the only Dhaoine in the room that the Anointed One had eyes for was Rhyshladlyn where he lay bleeding, half Healed, and deathly-still in his unconsciousness. It was as if Xefras himself didn’t exist, as if the Anointed One had tunnel vision, called to the room by the collar around Rhyshladlyn’s neck. He doubted highly that the Black Soul Healer would have even noticed had a Hound or five been in the room with how intently he stared at Rhyshladlyn.
I could kill him before he even realized I’d moved. It was a very tempting thought but he squashed it before it became anything more than that and instead took the opportunity to observe the tall, imposing Anointed One.
After all it was rare to be able to watch any of his betters, let alone Anointed One Lílrt, without reservation, without fear of being caught out at it. And what he saw on that tanned face, in those eyes that were so light a black they were nearly grey, made his heart clench. Because that look wasn’t one of a better looking upon their property, property that very well could die if it wasn’t Healed properly and soon, but rather that of an equal looking upon someone they loved. And of all the things he’d ever expected to fear the sight of, that hadn’t even been entertained in his wildest of nightmares. Because betters didn’t love slaves, they owned them. There was no relationship there, nothing healthy at least. Not with the destruction of the Old Laws where slaves were concerned.
“How did you get him here?”
He blinked and looked back at the floor, startling again when that cultured voice slithered through the room, making the air tremble. Gods aplenty, I’d forgotten what it was like to hear him speak when one has his full attention. It was almost as powerful as Rhyshladlyn’s voice. But then again, they were both gifted orators, they had to be to command the number of Dhaoine that they did. His eyes slid to Rhyshladlyn and he felt his chest grow tight, that they had.
“Just use your voice, I don’t have time to read your hands,” the Anointed One snapped as he rose up to pull his hands in front of himself.
“As you will, Anointed One,” he answered, clearing his throat when his voice came out scratchy from having spent the last hour begging Rhyshladlyn to not die, to not make him bury the obstinate male, and then yelled at nearly full volume when the Qishir came flying awake with a scream that had made the air around them burn. Because scaring the absolute shit out of him was apparently a favorite pastime of the Qishir. “I found him collapsed in a hallway and injured. I dragged him to this room away from the fighting to do what I could to assess his injuries and stem the bleeding.”
It wasn’t a complete lie and thankfully his race wasn’t one of the few incapable of it, but the act singed his tongue and made his throat tight but he could not tell the truth of what he’d done. Not if he wished to stay alive to keep an eye on Rhyshladlyn, to see that they both survived this new reality that had descended upon the Worlds. Not if he wished to see the full truth of the Grey Qishir look out of those orange-amber eyes while his power filled the space around him like water filling a tub as his god-Marks shone with a star’s brilliance on his wrists and chest ever again. The gods would forgive him the half-truths if it meant that one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, Balance would be returned to the Seven Worlds.
He shrugged and held his hands palms up and out to his sides as he fought to keep his face blank of anything but the serene acceptance that all slaves were expected to have. “I cannot say which, Anointed One. I was more focused on getting slave yshlad to safety so I could treat his more life threatening wounds than I was on where we were when I came upon him.”
“Funny, because I was just a floor above this one and could have sworn I’d seen him fighting Hounds before the hallway filled with fire and then he was just gone, nothing more than a smear of the signature of his collar on the floor to prove I hadn’t imagined him.”
He said nothing, opting to not risk saying the wrong thing and he couldn’t get either of them in trouble if he kept his mouth shut. But Anointed One Lílrt didn’t seem to notice that he didn’t respond, didn’t seem to really care that he wasn’t alone in the room with Rhyshladlyn as he stepped fully through the doorway and walked over to the Qishir who’d he hadn’t taken his eyes off since he’d thrown the door open. Xefras watched him cross the room with a lithe grace that he’d always admired and been somewhat envious of. Watched as that expression of one looking upon their equal changed and he tasted bile on the back of his tongue at the sight.
That wasn’t love; that was obsession. He’d seen that look before, remembered it well enough to spot it anywhere, even in the early stages before it turned deadly. Even when the one feeling it still thought it was safe and innocent and pure. But that kind of love was never pure and never would be because it was the type where one loved the idea of someone and not the reality of them. And gods aplenty, it made him sick.
“I did not know you had Healing abilities, slave,” he glanced over at the Anointed One where he had squatted down on Rhyshladlyn’s other side, those grey-black eyes lifted to stare at him over the Qishir’s body.
He dipped his head and averted his eyes, afraid of what would show in them in that moment. He had learned long ago how to hide his thoughts from his face but was only marginally successful at doing the same with his eyes. And after noticing that the Soul Healer was obsessed with Rhyshladlyn, he knew he couldn’t keep the disgust out of his eyes, that he couldn’t show the truth he hid with his words and body language.
“They are more taught abilities than natural ones, Anointed One.” Again a partial truth, but it was the closest he could get without risking outing himself entirely. “My tribe lived in a remote area far from any natural Healers and as we farmed for the majority of the year, there were injuries that could not be traveled with. The responsibility fell to me to learn how to keep tribe members alive long enough to get to a proper Healer.”
“Interesting,” he chanced a glance at the other male and found him looking back at Rhyshladlyn, his face softened back into the look of love, or what Xefras had thought had been love. “Can we move him?”
“I Healed the majority of his back injury but jostling him too much could reopen it as I was barely finished when he came awake and the collar around his neck sent him into convulsions.”
“Then come with me and make sure that he doesn’t relapse until we can find a proper Healer to work on him. We need to get clear of the compound before those damned creatures find us here, too.”
He blinked slowly when the Anointed One looked back at him. He was too stunned by the other’s words to care that he was making steady eye contact. The compliment, though veiled and vaguely backhanded, had thrown him. He was a slave his importance was in what services he could provide, what he was trained to do in the capacity of a slave and only a slave. Yet… the Anointed One had acknowledged his skills as a Healer and told him to accompany him in that capacity, not as Rhyshladlyn’s confidante and friend, not as the only Dhaoine in all of Qishir Xitlali’s stable of slaves to keep the Grey Qishir even keeled.
To say it floored him would be an understatement.
He didn’t argue, there wasn’t a point to it, none that were good enough to bother voicing aloud at least. So he just nodded and watched the Anointed One lift Rhyshladlyn in his arms as though the Qishir were precious and breakable. Something valued that one didn’t want to risk dropping because once broken it could never be repaired. And the accuracy of that when paired with Rhyshladlyn was not lost on him.
As he followed them out in to the hallway, he watched that yawning chasm of undulating darkness from before swirl around them both before it settled over Rhyshladlyn like a blanket. Frowning, he focused harder on it, watched it shift until it stood beside the Anointed One, keeping pace easily, and then it turned and he saw a pair of eyes and a smile that was crooked in a face that reached nearly eight feet above the ground and he swallowed thickly around a shout of surprise that nearly bubbled out passed his lips before he could stop it. But swallow it down he did because suddenly Rhyshladlyn wasn’t the most dangerous thing in the hallway. Suddenly the Hounds and Oiki and Xhlëndïr that filled the compound no longer terrified him. Not in the face of the being that stared back at him with that smile.
Before he could figure out what to do, it nodded once at him and disappeared though for all that he couldn’t see it he could still sense it just like he had what felt like years ago when he’d watched Anointed One Lílrt carry Rhyshladlyn out of his rooms. But he didn’t need anything more than that. Because he knew what that darkness was now, knew the taste of it and wouldn’t ever forget how it felt to see it, to feel its presence wrap around him like a warm blanket on a cold night. Recognized it from the Old Stories his parents had told him when he was a young child.
He’d always thought Living Shadows were myths, that the stories that only the most powerful Greywalkers had them as Others were legends born of rumors spread to make the Worlds fear Greywalkers more than they already did, to justify the genocide enacted against them.
Obviously those Stories were real. Gods have mercy on us all.