There were moments where it was difficult to remember just exactly who he was. Moments when she forgot who’d they’d managed to collar and lock away the magick of. And then something would happen, something would change, and she’d remember not just that he was the Grey Qishir but Thayne’s warning from so long ago. “No matter what you do in life, Xitlali, make certain you never cross paths with Qishir Rhyshladlyn as his enemy because he will destroy you so completely the Worlds will forget you ever existed.”

She’d always thought her sister had been exaggerating. Even when she’d watched Rhyshladlyn wipe Mother from Existence entirely, Xitlali had thought Thayne had been meaning to scare her out of exacting the retribution she was due from the Grey Qishir. Because no Dhaoine could possibly be so powerful, so terrifying, that none in the Worlds dared stand against him.

But it was possible and she was looking at the Dhaoine who had managed to break every rule and expectation the Worlds had held for eons just by being himself. After all, he wasn’t supposed to have even been conceived let alone survive birth due to his mother’s pure Ancient bloodline, yet here he was chained to a wall and covered in new scars and wounds in various states of healing, the collar that kept him Imènian-blind glowing faintly as it detected his natural magickal ability trying to flare up. Here he was after fighting his way through several floors of her compound against Hounds and Oiki magickless and armed with either bare hands or a steel he stole from warriors struck down or dumb. Here he was after days of torture and interrogation and he still hadn’t broken.

Lílrt didn’t believe Rhyshladlyn’s story that the Qishir didn’t know how his Otherborn twin was back in the living realm and staying there despite Rhyshladlyn’s lack of magick. But something told her that the Qishir wasn’t lying, at least not entirely. Leaving things out? Certainly. Lying completely? Not remotely. But the Anointed One wouldn’t hear it. He was convinced Rhyshladlyn was lying, he just had to find the right button to push to get him to admit it. And Lílrt had tried everything short of raping the Grey Qishir to get him to talk. But anyone who had studied Rhyshladlyn’s background, who had heard the stories of his childhood, of the things he’d survived and endured, would know that the one thing that was constant throughout the Grey Qishir’s existence was that he could handle anything and everything one threw at him except for one.

“You’re a male of high honor, aren’t you?” she asked apropos of nothing, cutting the silence of the room like a knife through melting butter.

Rhyshladlyn jerked and groaned, eyes fluttering open before raising to look at her with the same clarity he’d had when he’d threatened Hujiel what felt like years ago but was barely over a month. He didn’t answer her, just stared but that was enough. She knew the answer to the question she was just wanting to hear him say it.

“Well?” she prompted when he remained silent.

He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Yes, Xitlali, I am. You know I am so why bother wasting our collective time asking questions you already have the fucking answer to?”

It was a gamble to try this. After all, Rhyshladlyn had walked away from his Court for four and a half centuries before returning to them only to fall victim to Relyt’s betrayal and the collar the Soul Healer put around his neck. A lot can change in a Dhaoine after three hundred years of slavery and abuse. But she had to try. They needed answers and they needed them sooner rather than later. Because if Nhulynolyn was back in the living realm even with Rhyshladlyn still collared? She needed to know what had failed and why so she could make certain that Lílrt fixed it before Rhyshladlyn got free and killed them all.

“Because,” she said and smirked as she stepped closer and gripped his chin hard enough to feel his face twitch with the effort it took not to cry out as she lifted his head so she could look into his eyes better, “I know that the mere idea of someone taking a punishment meant for you stains that sense of honor. And I wanted to make sure you knew that I knew it.”

She watched as he struggled to follow her train of thought. Watched as he got it. Watched that clarity shift into something darker as his eyes narrowed and he went still in the way the long lived races could, especially those among them who were several centuries old. It was the stillness of a predator waiting to see what its prey did so it could calculate the best way to take it down. She knew seeing that look on his face when she was close enough for him to do damage to her if he was truly willing should have frightened her but it didn’t. If anything it meant she had his full attention and that was what she wanted. She wanted him to listen, wanted him to make the decision she was hoping he would so that things could progress further rather than stay stalled out like they were.

They didn’t have time to fix everything if he held them up with his inability to be broken.

“Good. I see we understand either other,” she said, hoping she sounded as arrogant as she was pretending to be. Hoped even more that the smile she turned on him was confident enough that he couldn’t see what it hid.

“Don’t flatter yourself, bitch,” he hissed, voice gravel thick and thunderous as it danced around the room. “We don’t understand each other but I am listening.”

There’s a warning in there somewhere. Too bad I never gave a shit about listening to those.

“Either you give the Anointed One the answers he’s looking for or I will suggest we do to your precious slave friend what we’ve been doing to you.” She watched his face lose all expression, watched it smooth out until he looked like a very lifelike statue. As a shadow passed through those orange-amber eyes, taking some of the clarity and intensity they had with it, she felt the first stirrings of true fear that was strong enough her mask of arrogant confidence almost broke but she pushed it down. “You can handle a lot, I’m sure, but can he?”

Rhyshladlyn took a deep breath and let it out slow, the warm air gusting across her hand and down her arm. Slowly, carefully, he nodded with her hand still gripping his chin.

“I hear you. Tell that bastard Lílrt that I’m willing to talk whenever he’s ready to grace my presence again.”

She smiled and let him go. “Good, I will go tell him right now.”

Rhyshladlyn just closed his eyes and bowed his head, hanging limply in the chains that held him to the wall, hair falling forward to cover his face. She stared at him a moment longer before she made her way across the room to the door. That had been too easy and the one thing she had learned when it came to dealing with Rhyshladlyn was that if it was easy then it was a trap. But she also knew better than to question it. He was being cooperative so she’d accept that until he wasn’t.

“Oh and Xitlali?”

She paused with her hand on the door knob behind her, caught mid-motion of closing it as she walked through into the hallway. Looking back over her shoulder she found him looking at her through the fall of his hair, eyes glowing like sunlight filtering through a forest canopy.

“Make no mistake,” his voice was like shattered glass as it pressed against her skin and she shivered before she could stop herself, “there will come a day when this collar no longer contains me. And when that day comes? I will get my hands on you and I will take my sweet time tearing you apart until the Nameless Itself comes to collect you for an eternity on the Cliffs.”

“Bold words from someone who hasn’t been able to escape in the last three hundred years,” she retorted.

His collar glowed almost white hot as a smile slowly spread across his mouth until his fangs were visible, until it split his face and touched his eyes with something she had never seen before but knew she never wanted to see again. That white hot light got brighter, bright enough that it hummed as it chased the shadows from the room but not once did it send his body into convulsions, not once did he scream and writhe with the agony the spellwork on that piece of metal should have caused if it was glowing that brightly. All she could do was stand there frozen with her hand wrapped white-knuckle tight around the doorknob and stare at the Qishir who was proving just how strong he really was by flooding the collar around his neck that was supposed to render him magickless with enough magick that it glowed like a captured sun, the orange of the runes carved into its surface glowing nearly as bright as his eyes.

Then it started to fade slowly, like a reverse of how it had started until he stared at her with a ghost of that smile playing around his mouth, until she swallowed thickly and the fear she’d pushed down earlier flooded through her. As he opened his mouth she closed the door firmly behind her, pressing her back against it for a moment as she caught her breath and tried to calm her heart rate as his laughter pressed against the other side like it was something alive.

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