She wiped the sweat and blood from her face with a disgusted sneer and a huff, shouldering her way in the front door, flicking her sword clean when she stepped inside the front room. All around her were bodies of dead Hounds and Oiki, all of them rotting and reeking with it in the sudden heatwave that had hit in some last ditch weird effort on the Worlds’ part to protest the lack of Balance. Even though they were rapidly approaching the Festival of the Flesh, even though the weather in this part of Fènwa World should be getting frigid at night and not as blisteringly hot during the day, it had decided to do the exact opposite of that.
It made fighting mini-battles all the more difficult especially when the risk of sudden heatstroke was way higher than normal. And they’d fought a lot of those on the way here because while the Hounds and Oiki and Xhlëndïr had stopped trying to eradicate all Dhaoine held areas of the Worlds, the deadly fucks hadn’t returned to whatever nightmarescape they’d crawled out of.
Fuck, Rhys needs to get back asap just to fix this bullshit weather, I swear to the gods. And this whole influx of deadly magickal creatures; those are annoying as shit, too.
“If you could not run ahead like that again, I’d ‘preciate it,” Nhulynolyn muttered testily as he stepped inside behind her.
“Maybe keep up next time and my running ahead won’t be a problem,” she snarked with a wink over her shoulder before she walked further into the cabin, free hand coming up to cover her nose and mouth against the smell that only got worse the further in they got. “Mother’s tits, this is bad.”
Nhulynolyn made a noise that sounded suspiciously like he was gagging somewhere behind her.
“I’m more upset that for bein’ here nearin’ on two months they sure as fuck don’t look as though it’s been that long.” The Other’s disgust was clear, voice muffled like he had his hand covering his mouth and nose, too. “Like even if we ignore that they ain’t as rotted as I personally expected them to be, there’s no sign that any carrion pickers have been in here. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe even pickers shy away from these things?” she ventured.
“Nah, they ain’t that picky. If it’s dead an’ unguarded? They’ll grab it,” he snorted and she didn’t have to be looking at him to know his face was scrunched up with disgust as he walked. “An’ this is one helluva feast for them. Fuck it not makin’ sense, it’s unnatural.”
“Well that’s an unpleasant and ominous thought. Thanks, babe,” she quipped and his laughter chased the shadows away, brightening up the room more than the sunlight that pressed its too warm light against the walls had.
“I aim to please.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Focus, Nully. We have shit to do and I’d rather get the fuck outta here sooner rather than later.”
“Yeah…” he agreed and she could feel his awareness spread through the cabin like a creeping, invisible fog. “Something feels… I dunno… off in here an’ it ain’t us disturbing what amounts to open graves.”
She tightened her grip on her sword, eyes constantly roving as she moved slowly, carefully across the floor, dodging bodies and the gods only knew what else as she went. She didn’t bother clearing anything outside the one hundred and eighty degrees field of vision in front of her, Nhulynolyn would handle everything else. They’d fought on enough Fields together that they fell into perfect sync as they moved through the cabin, each step done in unison to mitigate the amount of noise they made as they tracked through cracking and sticky blood and less liquid things. With each step they took she had to remind herself that there was a good reason they were here, a good reason they’d spent days longer than necessary just getting here, to keep the urge to just call it a bust and get the fuck out at bay.
After Azriel had told the entire Court what he remembered doing to Relyt, after he’d expressed his concerns about the Soul Healer and how they could free Rhyshladlyn, she’d confessed to seeing Rhyshladlyn’s notes on how the Qishir had planned to make a blight of the land when he’d Oathed Azriel and Relyt to him at the cabin. She remembered exactly where Rhyshladlyn had hidden his journal in the kitchen but naturally no one wanted her to travel that distance alone, it wasn’t safe to travel alone through the Worlds right now. Not even with the boon Alaïs had gotten from the Xhlën back at the Eighth Palace. So Nhulynolyn had agreed to go with her, said while she was finding that journal he would search Relyt’s old bedroom for any proof, if it existed, of the betrayal Azriel assumed the Soul Healer was guilty of. And provided they had the time, the two of them would then pull apart the cabin to see what else, if anything, they could find that would help them save their Qishir and either clear or implicate his Steward.
Admittedly, she didn’t like the Soul Healer, hadn’t for a while, but the Court didn’t need a traitor in their midst when the Dhaoine meant to hold them together, to protect them, was otherwise occupied. But for all that she didn’t want Relyt to be guilty for a variety of reasons, even she had to admit that he’d lived at the cabin steadily, and alone, the entirety of the Worlds War when Rhyshladlyn had disappeared the first time, albeit under less dire circumstances. Who knew what hidey-holes the bastard had? Or even what shit he’d gotten up to in that time?
As thoughts went, it was not comforting. It’s apparently a day for unsettling thoughts.
She rounded the island counter aiming for the cabinet she needed when she felt a ripple of something down her spine. It was hard to describe what it was except that it wasn’t a warning, wasn’t magick, wasn’t her instincts coming awake. But for all that it wasn’t any of those, it was all of them at the same time. And that made even less sense than what the weather was doing, what was going on with Relyt and Azriel’s fighting bullshit, and the whole rotting but not rotting Hound and Oiki bodies. What the fuck?
“Nul?” she called as she froze in place, not daring to move.
“I’m here,” he answered from near the hallway by the sound of it. “The fuck was that?”
“I dunno for sure,” she answered. “But it feels almost like when the ambient magick is getting strained and ready to snap towards Chaos or Order. Only not quite.”
“B, the magick here isn’t unBalanced like it is elsewhere we’ve been,” she could hear him frowning, knew by that tone that he was looking around, eyes narrowed as he did so. “An’ there ain’t any tension built up. We didn’t do anything but disturb the blood an’ shit that’s dried on the carpet and splattered the floors.”
“So whatever that ripple was… it wasn’t about that.”
After a couple minutes with no other ripple or sign that something was off, she took a careful, hesitant step forward. When nothing happened, she took another and another before she slowly opened the cabinet she needed and looked over her shoulder at where Nhulynolyn was watching her. His eyes glowed against the back drop of the darkened front room, the frothing mass of his red hair making the look more intense, like someone had turned blood into hair. He looked like a ghost almost standing there surrounded by carnage and shadow and backlit by the sunlight that didn’t seem to reach farther than a few feet inside the broken windows. The shadows his laughter had chased back minutes before had returned with a vengeance and felt almost alive. Like they were watching and waiting. And gods but that thought was not one she wanted to have when it was just her and Nhulynolyn here. If ever there was a time she agreed that having back up was a nice thought, necessary even, it would be now.
Azriel is gonna shit himself when I tell him that later.
“I think we’re good?” She shrugged when Nhulynolyn tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. “Maybe hurry though just in case I’m wrong about that?”
He nodded and was lost instantly to the darkness of the hallway, the sound of his footfalls fading quickly the further into the depths of the cabin he got. She swallowed on a suddenly dry throat and shook herself as the skin between her shoulderblades crawled and her wings pressed against her skin demanding to be released. But she ignored both and focused on removing all the kitchen utensils and plates and other shit in the cabinet so she could reach the back wall and tap along it until she found the tab to pull it out and reveal the hidden space behind it. Nothing else mattered beyond obtaining her objective. And getting out alive.
Thank fuck Relyt never remodeled the kitchen.
Pulling the journal out, she wrapped a swiftly spoken warding and Shield around it before slipping it into the carry pack at her hip and let out a low whistle that echoed around her. Nhulynolyn’s acknowledge sounded short and quick followed by two longer notes letting her know he’d found something.
As soon as she’d taken a step out of the kitchen and into the hallway the World lifted and shook before it dropped back into place again and she stumbled against the wall, throat raw like she’d been screaming but she knew she hadn’t made a single sound. Nhulynolyn was suddenly in front of her but as she met his eyes she realized that for all the body looked like her mate’s it wasn’t him, the Self that filled those eyes was wrong. And he was fast but coming from the back of the cabin where Relyt’s rooms were? There was no way he’d gotten there immediately unless he’d blinked and there had been no displacement of air like there always was when he traveled that way.
“You shouldn’t be here. But that isn’t surprising, he never did know when to leave anything well enough alone.” the voice was like glass shoved into her skin and she gave a wordless scream, sword coming up and around to take its head from its shoulders. As it dropped away the real Nhulynolyn came sprinting around the corner at the end of the hallway, eyes wide, shadowfire trailing from his eyes and mouth and fingers as he ran.
She didn’t say anything, didn’t wait for him to either, just turned on her heel and ran for the front door. Dodged the bodies of Hounds and Oiki that had been rotting but were now moving and twitching as though they’d stand up and come at her any second now. She ran faster because fuck all of the idea of that happening.
Hitting the door hard enough she took it off the hinges, she vaulted the stairs to the grass and kept running. Behind her Nhulynolyn cursed in the language of his kind, the sound of it making her eardrums hurt. But it didn’t slow her down, she didn’t let it. She just trusted that the Other could handle himself, trusted that he would be right behind her just as he always was, that she wouldn’t lose him so soon after getting him back. They’d gotten what they’d ultimately come here for, now all that was left was to survive.
As she leapt over the half destroyed retaining wall that surrounded the entire oasis and the cabin itself, Nhulynolyn was just suddenly there, his hand curling around hers.
“Brace.” It was the only warning he gave before the World tilted and pulled behind her navel as he blinked them towards safety far faster than he’d ever done before.