So much desperation, so much grief, encased the Worlds that it hurt to breathe, to think, to even be alive. Need followed on the heels of it all and stole what little breath had survived the first wave. Reality whined and wobbled as the second hit and then the third and fourth and fifth in rapid succession. It settled out but in those precious, terrifying moments when it had failed an Answer to the second most powerful Call the Worlds had heard in several millennia thundered out on familiar laughter that brought hot tears to cheeks flushed with fear and hope and pain and desperation.
And then that Call amplified as a sixth wave of desperation and grief and need crested over the Worlds. This time when reality whined there was no hesitation, no fear, only a determination that had brought about the first Oathing Sacrifice in generations. He stepped through that hole and dropped to one knee in the hallway as feeling rushed back in with sounds he had thought he’d never hear again. He knelt there breathing through it, letting the knowledge that he was back settle over his shoulders while he stared at the shifting shadows that the Xhlën had for feet. It recognized him as the one it had been searching for at the same time everyone else did. He didn’t take the time to think, just pushed to his feet, whirled to face Alaïs and Thayne and Bayls to find them with identical looks of shock and disbelief, but with Bayls there was something more. Something he didn’t have words to describe but it made his heart clench.
There wasn’t time to say what he wanted to, to do what he wanted to, and he’d hate himself later for leaving her again without any explanation but at least this go round he had enough time to finish speaking.
“I’ll explain when I can. I have to save them first.”
And then reality moved and he was suddenly struggling to stay on his feet in Ryphqi City. Was suddenly faced with hundreds of Hounds and Oiki, their Xhlëndïr cousins felt a few blocks away like a rogue wave of pure cold. Everything froze as the City took stock of him, as the magickal creatures tried to make sense of his sudden appearance. Ryphqi recovered first and pushed energy up through his feet all the way to the Self that had wandered bereft of its kè twin and with it he loosed a laugh so much like Rhyshladlyn’s it made his heart hurt, clapped his hands with a grin that touched his eyes with darkness, and filled the City with shadowfire.
Ryphqi gave one shivering cry of elation lost to the screams and roaring of his fire as he took off down the street, aiming for the Heart Watchtower. He couldn’t feel Rhyshladlyn or Shadiranamen or Xheshmaryú, it was just him in his head, in his heart and if he had the time he’d be so very frightened by that, but he didn’t have the time. Plus he could feel Azriel and Relyt and Jerald, could feel the whole Court as though he were their Qishir and not Rhyshladlyn’s Other, and that more than anything else held his full attention because it was abnormal, even by the Grey Court’s standards.
The Call that had brought him back from the in between was so much stronger here, loud enough that the desperation that had made Azriel drop all his Shields and Barriers and disengage his wards overshadowed Ryphqi’s own. But that didn’t surprise him. It took a lot to bring an Otherborn back from the in between when their kè remained trapped and unable to supply them with the energy, the magick, the essence needed to keep them alive. But Azriel had done it. Gods have mercy, he’d done what no other Dhaoine had been able to. And that is why he’s the Grey Companion. For only his need, his love, his desperation, could balance out what Rhyshladlyn cannot.
So he filled the City to the absolute brim with shadowfire and for each creature that fell to it, he regained strength. For each Dhaoine sent gently to the After, he gained solidity he hadn’t realized he’d lacked. For each step he took, he felt the truth that lay beneath Ryphqi’s very foundation. Felt the tethers that connected it to its siblings flare and strengthen. Felt Shiran shake off the long sleep it had sunk into when Rhyshladlyn had buried it beneath Shiraniqi Desert. And he smiled.
He smiled as he walked through that fire and fed off the deaths around him. Fed off the fear and hope and vitality and unbalanced magick and desperation and grief. He fed and fed and fed until he was full and then he fed some more so he could give it back the Court that had gone for so long without. Tossed it out to catch first Azriel and then Relyt as they fell from their Towers. Tossed it at Jerald to keep him from succumbing to the Hound he was fighting. Tossed it at Adïmshyl so the Lupherinre caught up to Thae’a in time to pull her inside a building and out of the path of his all consuming fire. Tossed it at Eiod so the Anglëtinean-Sinner could jump the parapets and make a Shield wall to protect those evacuating from the shadowfire he wouldn’t stop even if he could as it consumed the Hounds and Oiki that were nearly on top of them.
And as he fed, he walked the City streets. Walked until he passed Thae’a and Adïmshyl. Walked until he passed Relyt who stared at him. Walked until Azriel came sprinting around a street corner and stopped dead when he saw him, falling sideways into a building as his knees gave way. Walked until he glanced at Jerald in time to see the Alphenian toss a Hound at the Warrior Watchtower hard enough to shake it. But he didn’t stop. He couldn’t, not yet.
A few more blocks and he saw the base of it, the Heart Watchtower, glowing with streaks of orange-amber and ice blue. It gave off a pulsing hum that sung a melody he’d known since the womb. He sang it back, harmonizing in the way only an Other could and reached out his right hand to touch the stone opposite where Rhyshladlyn had centuries ago when he’d tethered the Grey Court. As soon as his skin made contact he felt him. Felt the icy fire around his neck. Felt the bone-deep wounds and the hopelessness that was a wound all its own. Felt small hands holding his face as a voice murmured in a language that was too painful to be soothing but soothed him regardless. Felt the jolts that sent his body into convulsions as a whole new type of agony burned along his nerves.
Then there was only Ryphqi. Only himself in his head. Only Azriel’s Call and Rhyshladlyn’s gods-given Answer spoken through his throat this time as he threw back his head and howled it to the skies as Ryphqi shuddered like a snakat shaking off sleep.
“I Hear your Call and in Answer I say–“
And down the long hallway he’d never thought he’d see ever again, every single door blew open as his twin’s voice echoed his own, as his power flowed through him into the Watchtower under his hand and for a heartbeat he could have sworn he saw him standing beside him, orange-amber eyes filled with mirth and something far darker but he blinked and it was gone and instead he was looking up at Azriel’s face so full of shock that for a few seconds he couldn’t make sense of the tattoos that covered every available inch of him. The World tipped dangerously to one side and he had the thought of oh, I’m falling, just as hands caught him before he could fall back onto the stones. He didn’t have to look to know who spoke his name with a mixture of anger and amazement and gratitude and prayer.
He looked at mismatched eyes that weren’t as furious and cold as they’d been the last time he’d seen them and tried to smile but he doubted it was anything but wobbly and filled with exhaustion but he still tried. He owed the Anglëtinean that much.
“Heya, Feather Duster, long time no see.”