It launched at her before she could even draw breath. Moved faster than anything she’d seen before but despite that, she was still a Phuri, she was an Other, and so she was faster, if only barely. As she twisted away from the thing that spoke with her kè‘s voice, scrambling over the sand-scattered cobblestones, terror turned her blood cold.
For before her crouched something, though what she didn’t know, she’d never seen anything like it before, never even heard of anything like it before. It bore the face of a Dhaoine, all high cheekbones and sloping forehead, dainty nose, and strong regal jaw. A pouting mouth with a thick, bowed upper lip moved around a voice that didn’t belong to those black, endless eyes that stretched from edge to edge with no sclera or iris. Long thin neck, equally thin arms and legs that bent at odd angles despite looking humanoid stretched out from a body that was corded with muscle but bare of any cloth or fur or even flesh. It was as though whatever this thing was had rotted slowly before that rotting had just stopped and left the visage that watched her struggle to put distance between them. Left patches where its insides were visible and its bones glistened wet and white. It was a like a Hound almost but worse. So much, much worse.
“Shadi, why are you afraid of me?”
She snorted. “Because for all you speak with his voice, you are not my kè.”
It cocked its head to the side and its blank expression shifted and with the change she saw the true monster beneath the vaguely Dhaoinic face it wore. With that shift she knew that for all that she was fast, for all that she was powerful, this place was its home, its domain, and she was nothing here. Not compared to it. But she wouldn’t give in, she couldn’t. She had a kè to find, she had fellow Otherborn to return to, she had places to be, and one measly surprise monster wouldn’t keep her from achieving those goals.
And if it did? It wouldn’t win without a fight.
“Of course I’m your kè, Shadi. Just listen to my voice.” It shuffled forward half a step and stopped, that huge body rippling and shivering with the aborted movement and her stomach clenched tight with the need to vomit at the sight. “Your eyes lie to you here, you know that. Just take my hand, Shadi. Everything’s fine now, I already got the collar off. Please, just take my hand.”
Rising slowly to her feet, she shook the sand off as she rose to her full height and let the Shields and Barriers on her power fall away like a prison dropping their shackles one at a time. She bared all of her teeth and hissed at full volume. She would not cower, she would not show her fear, she would not let it win without a fight. After all, she wasn’t the Other to the most powerful Qishir in ages for nothing. That kind of honor came with a reasonable amount of power and one wasn’t given that power, one either came with it beforehand or they never received the honor in the first place.
“Do what you will, monster, but know this,” she growled, shifting into a fighting stance, body loose, muscles protesting softly after the running she’d been doing, “I am Shadiranamen Eytír, I am a Phuri Otherborn, and I will not fail my kè.”
It shook itself and straightened from its crouch until it stood well over seven feet tall, arms nearly as long as its legs and she knew its reach was nearly three times her own. Knew that with its speed on top of that reach that she was borderline fucked. But she had trained with Rhyshladlyn and even a few days worth of that was enough to enable one to face off against anything and stand more than a sliver of a fighting chance of walking away the victor. But even then if she could avoid fighting this thing she’d do so because if there was one of it there was likely more.
“Fine, Shadi, if you wish to pretend I’m not who I am, I’ll play along.” It shook itself again and every muscle shifted and rippled with it, every exposed ligament and tendon where its golden-brown flesh had rotted away quivered and her stomach clenched harder than before. “Just know that you could have done this the easy way but you chose not to.”
She braced herself as it moved but only a breeze made of the air it displaced hit her, only the sense that something was different settled over her shoulders. Opening eyes she didn’t remember closing she found that monster held by its throat off the ground by a hand as black as night connected to a body just as dark as that hand. Saw its face darkening from lack of oxygen as the owner of that hand held it over a head that rose easily eight feet tall and wondered what was even happening anymore. What alternate reality had she been thrown into when her connection to Rhyshladlyn had snapped. Because surely the black figure stood before her as her savior, wasn’t a being. Those were extinct legends, not reality. Right?
“I know you know better, Ikil,” a voice like the pressing darkness of a cave spoke into the sudden Silence that had engulfed them.
She slowly moved further away, moved until she felt the solidness of a building touch her back and pressed herself there as she watched everything unfold. Because she hadn’t even heard this being manifest itself. Hadn’t sensed its approach let alone its appearance and the last thing she wanted was to find herself flanked.
“I was only playing, Uo! Promise! She was alone and unTouched! How was I supposed to know she was still spoken for!” The monster whined, voice no longer Rhyshladlyn’s but its own unique one.
The being growled and shook it. “It matters not that she is unTouched! All of you here know to whom she is Otherborn. You all know that she, Xheshmaryú, and Nhulynolyn are to be left alone. Yet you alone decided to break that rule.”
Black eyes widened and Shadiranamen felt sorry for it for half a second before her own righteous fury hit the surface and sent her power swirling around her, bringing the being’s attention swinging round to her. She shrugged when it looked at her, smiling crookedly as if she couldn’t help it. That gaze swung away from her and back to the monster in its grasp. There was a breathless moment of waiting and then a sharp crack and the monster dropped lifelessly to the ground in a heap that was all limbs and rotted skin. Then its eye lids fluttered, those black eyes opening to look straight at her. Only this time they were filled with the fear she had felt. It wasn’t dead, gods have mercy, just paralyzed.
Does nothing die in this place?
“Come, Shadiranamen, we must get to the Heart Watchtower before your time comes to return,” the being, Uo, said as it turned and held a hand out towards her.
She raised an eyebrow at the hand and then at its face. “Forgive me, but I don’t know who the fuck you are besides the name that thing had used for you before you dropped it, and suddenly I’m supposed to trust you?”
“I am Otherborn to Rhyshladlyn just as you are, Shadi. Read my signature, you know it is true. But we must go. Nhulynolyn has already been returned to the living realm. The next to do so will be you and Rhyshladlyn will not survive pulling another of you through if he has to search you out first.”
“Oh and I’m just supposed to jump on that wagon?” she scoffed.
Uo sighed heavily and turned fully to face her, dropping its hand back to its side as it frowned at her. “No, but you’re not supposed to fight me. Please, Shadiranamen, I can only do so much to help Rhyshladlyn limited as we both are with that collar around his neck. I am trying, but I cannot do it without help.”
There was no lie there, none that she could hear, and she knew of beings. Knew enough to know that while they were creatures birthed solely of darkness, of shadows, of deep secrets, and woe, they never lied. Their Truth was the most blunt, the most painful, because of what they were made of. And so if this one that went by Uo stood before her and said it meant to help Rhyshladlyn, that it was just as much his Other as she was? She believed it. She didn’t want to because it made no sense, because she had not remotely sensed another besides herself and Xheshmaryú and Nhulynolyn, but she had been wrong before.
She was already doomed to live out her time in the in between stuck in the buried Shiran City, running from nightmares and monsters alike. What else did she have to lose?
Pushing off the wall, she held out her hand and raised an eyebrow when Uo stared at it much like she had started at its own. Laughing she shook it a little, “My only teeth are the ones in my mouth.”
Uo’s laugh boomed around her like thunder in the mountains as it took her hand and then the World tilted and she prayed she had made the right decision.