65

“You told us that the collar was guaranteed to work!”

“Yes, thank you for stating the obvious yet the fuck again, Xitlali,” he snapped, pinching the bridge of his nose as he paced the work room. And for reminding me why I almost just let you die instead of having Healers called. “I am well aware of what it was supposed to do. But that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that it isn’t doing that and how the fuck do we fix it so it does.”

To say he was rapidly losing the ability to remember exactly why he kept the stupid cunt around was an understatement. Sure he’d excused her from his far reaching hatred of the Qishir caste in general because he’d needed someone who could command armies with a single word. At least in the beginning. Now? After watching how she failed to do even the simplest of shit, after seeing the way she’d watched him and Rhyshladlyn before the Grey Qishir had knocked her out? He was beginning to seriously consider cutting her out entirely.

But she knew too much and simply naming her anathema to his cause wasn’t good enough. She would have to die and killing a Qishir wasn’t as simple as many would think. Attend orders were pesky fucking things.

“The Anointed One is right, my Lady,” Hujiel said and Lílrt looked over his hand to watch the Anglëtinean High General lay a calming hand on Xitlali’s arm, calming her almost instantly. I wonder if they’ve figured out that Hujiel is qahllyn to her yet? “The problem is not that the collar was supposed to work but rather that is not. Ergo, we needs must find out why.”

Gotta love echo chambers. It took a lot more effort than he wanted to expend to keep from rolling his eyes at the two of them but he managed.

Xitlali took a deep breath and let it out slow before she patted Hujiel’s hand and nodded. The High General let her go with a soft smile. Gods, I want to vomit all over the two of you. Turning away from them so they wouldn’t see his less than respectful expression, he paced over to the desk where all his notes were. Stared down at them as though they held the answer he needed but he knew they didn’t. Not really. What he’d done with Rhyshladlyn had never even been attempted before let alone succeeded in. So the fact that it was failing now after three hundred years was a conundrum he worried he wasn’t going to solve in time.

“So we know the collar is powered by the Selves we pulled from the in between,” Xitlali said and he only half paid her any mind. “Hujiel and I saw to that working, but you were the one responsible for getting it to activate.”

“Again, things I already knew, Xitlali,” he muttered, still only half paying attention as he sifted through his notes. Because loathe as he was to admit it, and never out loud to her, the Qishir had managed to spark a thought, something about how the spellwork had been activated. And that information was in his notes. Somewhere. “If you have a point, get to it. Please.” He only added the please to make sure she didn’t take forever by sparking off another fight.

“Fine. How did you activate it?”

“What?” He abandoned searching through his notes to look at her.

“How was the spellwork Hujiel carved into it activated?” Xitlali asked again, elaborating just enough that the thought she’d sparked before went from a flickering candle flame to a full fire.

“An Oath,” he whispered as he hastily dug through his notes, searching for the one he needed. He finally found what he was looking for in a leather bound journal in one of the desk drawers. Scanning over it he fwapped his hand against the page and smiled up at the other two. “It was an Oath,” he repeated, this time loud enough for them both to hear.

Xitlali blinked at him and Hujiel looked dubious but he couldn’t blame either of them. He’d kept the secret of how the collar really worked from everyone. Had written his notes on it in a code only he and Relyt knew how to use but just in case his little brother had gotten a change of heart, Lílrt had made certain to write that code in a language he knew was old enough that Relyt didn’t speak it and sure as shit didn’t read or write it.

It had taken over a century and a half to perfect the spellwork, to figure out how to get it just right and make sure it didn’t unravel. Then it had taken another century just to make sure that he was able to get everything he needed to replicate his success enough times to so much as chance making the final version.

Keeping that part of it from Xitlali and Hujiel and the rest had been difficult. Especially when he’d found himself successful, when his experiments didn’t die, or explode, or go goat fucking insane and magickally murder everything within a two and a half foot radius of themselves. He’d wanted to brag, wanted to gloat, at being able to do something magickal theorists had been trying for eons and never gotten right. Not until him. But if anyone knew what he’d done, knew about the failed attempts and everything that had gone wrong with his experiments, let alone knew how everything really worked? He’d have had a target on his back that was far more dangerous than the one that existed there because he was the Anointed One.

“An Oath, my Lord?” Hujiel asked.

His smile broadened, sharpened, as he looked back at the journal in his hands.

“Yes,” he answered. “‘An Oath of great significance, one normally spoken with utter trust but instead spoken in unfettered betrayal holds a power far more heady than that of an Oathing Sacrifice. For it is the Oathing Sacrifice’s exact opposite in that it doesn’t save a life, it takes one.'”

“So that explains how you got it to contain a Greywalker Qishir,” Xitlali said, waving one hand in a wide, vague motion. “But it doesn’t explain why it worked before but isn’t now.”

“But Rhyshladlyn is not dead, my Lord,” Hujiel added. “He very much lives, he’s merely rendered as magickless as an Imènian.”

“Exactly! Judging by what you read in that journal,” Xitlali rolled her eyes and sighed, must you be so godsdamned dramatic all the time?, “the Oath spoken should have killed Rhyshladlyn but it didn’t. It just activated the collar in a way that it took his magick from him. Why?”

“So long as the one speaking the Oath doesn’t wish for the true death of the one being collared, then the spell won’t become the Oathing Sacrifice’s opposite.” Lílrt closed the journal with a snap and grinned when the Qishir flinched at the sound. He vanished out the journal because now that he’d found it and they knew what it looked like, he didn’t want to risk it falling into the wrong hands. “And so long as the one who says the Oath doesn’t waiver in their belief that they were justified in what they did, the spell would hold as I designed it.”

“What happens if that belief does waiver?” Xitlali asked.

He raised both eyebrows at her at the intelligence of the question. Sometimes she had her moments like that where he was reminded why she’d caught his attention at first, why he’d let her live this long.

“Well I’d imagine it’d backfire and take them both out, but I can’t be certain seeing as this has never been done before, at least not successfully,” he answered and shrugged as he began righting everything on his desk. “Though keeping both the one who said the Oath alive is a must in order to make sure that nothing goes entirely sideways. Admittedly, using someone other than who I did would make keeping the obstinate fuck alive much easier but I didn’t.”

“Why?” Hujiel asked crimson eyes filled with confusion. “Who did you use, my Lord?”

Lílrt just stared at the Anglëtinean while he pondered whether to answer truthfully or not. Doing so presented a major risk especially since he was beginning to think Xitlali was losing or had already lost her nerve with their work. And speaking that particular truth out loud? It opened him up to be really fucked over if he was right and he was losing her. And of course then there was Hujiel who was always waffling between being fully supportive and questioning literally every tiny move he made. If the two of them went against him together? He lost everyone he had close enough to know the truth behind why Rhyshladlyn had dropped off the face of the Seven Worlds three hundred years ago.

“Lílrt?” Xitlali pressed. “Who did you use?”

He snorted and figured in that moment that the look of shock on her face alone would be worth the risk of her and her pet Anglëtinean High General betraying him.

“My brother. I used Relyt, Rhyshladlyn’s very own Steward.”

He was wrong. The look on both their faces made the risk so very worth it.

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