The Grand Temple was quiet, almost eerily so, but given it was just after the stroke of midnight, it wasn’t surprising. He’d chosen to come at this time of night when the rest of the city was silent and sleeping, when his subjects weren’t on the look out for their Gret’yinl walking among them like he was just as common as they were because he needed to be alone. Needed to pretend he was nothing more than a simple Grey Soul Healer called to a Qishir so far out of his weight class in all aspects it wasn’t even humorous. Needed a chance to commune with his god away from the prying eyes of his people, away from the responsibility of leading them to a light he hadn’t believed in for far too long.
He closed the heavy door behind him as softly as possible, leaning his back against it and taking a deep breath that shook more than he wanted it to. He didn’t want to be here, he should be back in his rooms sleeping, or at least have Sheieh at his back if he was going to wander alone in the dead of night. But this was something he had to do on his own. This was something that couldn’t have an audience. And the gods aplenty only knew he was so tired of having his very life be witnessed by an audience, no matter if they were family or strangers.
With a sigh that shook as heavily as the breath in had, he pushed away from the door and shook off the echoes of the latest memory that had resurfaced, the latest nightmare that had driven him from his too cold bed in his too cold homeland and to the only place where he’d felt at peace in nearly a millennium. He slipped off his sandals and pulled off his tunic, dropping it in a haphazard pile onto of his shoes and stepped from the smooth stones of the Temple to the lush grass that filled the rest of it. Wove his way around and among the trees and shrubs and carefully cultivated wildflowers to where the large effigy of the Many stood tall and almost imposing with its ten heads staring out into the long distance, stone-carved eyes unseeing. For a moment he stood unmoving several feet away, hidden in the shadow of a tall mountain oak.
He felt like an impostor. Felt like he was lying to himself and to the god he had struggled to keep unshakable faith in for the majority of his adult life. But his gretluos still glowed, his gretkewq still pulsed with the power of his people and the homeland they were connected to. And if ever the Many had turned its back to him, if ever his faith had fully died, his gretluos and gretkewq would have been lost to him as much as his power would have been. It was not as comforting a thought as it should have been but then again seldom little had been over the last three centuries.
Sure, he knew his hands were dirty, knew he had a lot to atone for, knew he had called the Hounds to the cabin, knew that he had helped his brother gather Selves to use for a magick ritual, knew he had helped Iköl figure out the best way to break Rhyshladlyn — though it had ultimately failed. But he hadn’t known, hadn’t remembered, what he had done to see that his qahllyn’qir, his qahllyn, were gone, that there was not a single echo of either left. That only when he and Azriel and Jerald had all touched the Watchtowers tethered to them in Ryphqi City had he felt the link to his Qishir for the first time in three hundred years.
Now he knew that what he had thought had just been nightmares conjured by his guilt for failing his Qishir, for resenting him abandoning them all and all the things Relyt had done because of that resentment wasn’t horrible dreams but memories. Those things had happened and by all the gods in existence, he wished he had never remembered.
“Did You know all along that this would happen?” his voice sounded thunderously loud in the too quiet Temple as he stepped away from the tree and approached the statue and the altar that spread at its feet. “Did You know what would happen that day when You showed me the clearing in the Forest? Did You know that it would come to this?”
He shivered and brushed at his arms, stopping when his fingers danced over his gretluos and the skin that was slightly more raised than the rest. Looking down at the markings and the intricate knotwork that spelled out his familial history, who he was, what he was, and how powerful he was to anyone who knew how to read them, he wondered not for the first time what his Qishir’s knotwork would have said had they been completed. Wondered more if anything would have been different had he touched Relyt’s gretluos all those centuries ago and the reaction been unfavorable.
“You gave me a warning once that when it happens I must do nothing to stop it. What was it? Was it when I put the collar around his neck? When I learned that he had been taken in by Iköl and his lot? Was it when I turned my back on his pleas for help and ran? Because I know it wasn’t Shiran’s fall or Azriel’s death, I know that was something he wasn’t supposed to interfere on. So what was I… how did I…” he trailed off with an exasperated sound as he sank to his knees in the grass before the altar and bowed his head, hands resting palms up on his thighs.
“My faith in him was as unshakable as mine in Yours was. I loved him more than I have ever loved anyone and yet… I did that to him. I betrayed him in a hundred ways, each worse than the last. And I am just… O Great One, I am so lost right now. I have no idea where to go from here. I don’t know what to do. The Court wants nothing to do with me, Azriel has threatened in so many words and directly to kill me and he isn’t the only one. Nully is back but he told me to leave, that I have hurt the Court as an abuser would. Please, just… I don’t know how to fix any of this so here I am before You, seeking answers no one else can or will give me.”
The only sound that followed his words was the silence that filled the Temple, a soft waiting that all holy houses had, as though they stood sentinel for the coming dawn when those who would walk their halls and smooth out their floors and touch their altars and lay tribute in the coffer bowls would wake. There was no sense of inner peace he had before whenever he would pray. There was no sense of not being alone. There was just… quiet. Quiet and an emptiness that was only broken by his presence, by his voice.
“I was named anathema to my Qishir, to the Court I had come to call family. Though only I seem to remember it and I do not know how that happened or why. O’ Great One, I want to say something. To lay myself down at their feet and beg for mercy and a forgiveness I don’t deserve. But they will not believe me, on either of it. So I am lost. I am stuck with these memories and this knowledge that Rh–that his–that…” he swallowed around a suddenly too dry throat and closed his eyes to try and clear his watery vision. “Please, help me, O’ Great One. I don’t know what to do, where to go from here.”
Opening his eyes, he tilted his head back and stared at the ten faces of the Many so far above his head. Searched each one for movement, for a sense of life, but there was just the stillness of the stone they were carved from. Just a silent disregard of him and his pleas for guidance, for understanding. His anger sparked and rose to choke his throat. He tried to fight it back, to ground it out, to follow the teachings of the god he knelt before but it didn’t work. There was too much of it and though he knew he shouldn’t let it, it spilled up and out of his mouth to dance about the empty, lonely Temple.
“I am wasting my time here. None of the gods have heard Their children in three hundred years let alone answered our prayers. There’s no reason any of You would start now.” With a dismissive snort he rose to his feet and brushed grass off his knees and looked up at the effigy of his god one more time, fingers aching to play with a coin he hadn’t had in several hundred years. Shaking his head he turned away and made for the doors, grabbing up his tunic and sandals as he went.
He stopped with his hand on the door, caught with one foot inside and one in the atrium. Looking back over his shoulder he sighed.
“You taught us that loss of control over our emotions is weakness only to counter that to yield is to show strength but when we follow Your edicts and seek out guidance You ignore us. Of all the gods You weren’t supposed to be the absent creator, the absent Patron, yet you are and I am disgusted that I share any tie to You.”
With that he stepped fully into the atrium, pulled the door closed behind him, and woke with a start.
“G’agsha? Are you well?”
He frowned and looked over at where Sheieh was sitting up on his bed beside the door, the glint of silver in the dimmed lantern light beside his bed telling Relyt his Guardian had drawn one of his knives.
“Yes, Sheieh. Just… woke up suddenly.” He frowned harder and rubbed at his head as he looked away from Sheieh and around the room. “It’s nothing,” he said at length when there was nothing in the room that seemed out of place. “Just a dream.”
Relyt looked around the room one more time, the skin between his shoulderblades prickling as though there were someone, something, else in the room with them but he couldn’t see or sense anything. Just that unsettling feeling along his back, just a sinking feeling in his stomach, and the way he felt lightheaded and fuzzy as though he’d gone to bed drunk but he knew he hadn’t.
“No, I don’t think so. Didn’t feel like one but I can’t remember to say for certain.” He rubbed a hand over his face and shook his head trying to clear his mind but all the action did was make his head pound with a headache. “Go back to sleep, Sheieh. I am fine.”
“As you will, g’agsha.”
He waited to lay back down until he saw Sheieh roll over and get comfortable on his own bed. Listening to the other Soul Healer’s breathing slowly settle back out, Relyt moved carefully amongst his own weirdly cold blankets. Pinching the bridge of his nose to try and dispel the ache that was there, he rolled over to face the wall and curled his legs up to his chest, one hand idly brushing a thumb across his gretkewq, remembering a time when his Qishir would do that when neither of them could sleep. He dropped his hand away from his face and curled it in the blankets instead because the last thing he needed to think about when he was trying to sleep was him.
Just as he was about to drift off there was a whisper in the deep darkness of the room behind him but before he could do more than think that it was abnormal, sleep took hold and he was lost to dreams again.