The Forest wasn’t nearly as dark as it had been but for all that it had less darkness it was hard for him to see what was around him. As though in losing some of its darkness, some of its shadows, it had compensated by limiting his vision.
Unease made his stomach lurch and then rattle against his lungs before trying to crawl up into his throat. He knew that feeling well. It was the one he’d chosen as the alert for when his journal was moved, the one he’d shown Bayls what felt like lifetimes ago in the kitchen of the cabin. The only Dhaoine who knew about it was his twin’s Sinner female. And the only reason she would be going after it now of all times was if Nhulynolyn had managed to save them all and told them he was alive.
Or that was his hope at least.
It would also explain why he was back walking these paths, ones he knew by heart, ones he walked now from memory and not by sight, with Uo pacing him somewhere to the left and three steps back. Because that warding predated his Awakening, predated almost everything. From the moment he’d decided he was going to kill his father, he had started writing in that journal. Every spell, curse, charm, hex, and Working he’d created and perfected was written there. Every step of his thought processes for them was recorded, too. So with it being disturbed, he was able to bypass the collar yet again and come home, to walk among the echoes of his ancestors, to walk among the trees that had grown specifically to guard and shelter his kind. Was able to be here without there being a time limit that was ticking down to when the collar had had enough of him and sent him into convulsions.
Though he doubted highly that he was here because Bayls had collected his journal. Something so simple and small wouldn’t have pulled him to the in between. It had to be something much bigger than that; something that wouldn’t have been put into motion unless, or until, Bayls had gone to the cabin for that specific reason. Which wasn’t a warm and fuzzy thought because the things he’d written in that journal could be World-ending events if performed by the wrong people. Or even the right people for the wrong reasons.
“They know, my kè,” Uo’s voice was just as cave-deep as it had been the first time he’d heard it. Just as thunderous and dark. It should have scared him that he had a literal being for an Other but oddly it didn’t. It was comforting, satisfying even. Which really made no sense whatsoever. “I have found Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú. All you needs must do is tell me which you wish to send back, to pull from here and send home, and I shall direct your Intent.”
He should definitely question what Uo meant by that, let alone why he’d said it in the first place. But he didn’t because he felt that there wasn’t time for it, not right now. The knowledge of that settled deep and fast in his bones, burrowed to the core of him, to the Self that lay buried under several layers of intricate spellwork and a betrayal so strong merely acknowledging it had even happened had nearly broken him and stroked that part of him that cried from being caged for so long.
Soon. We will escape soon.
So for the first time in his life he didn’t question something, just went along for the ride and prayed that what he found at the end was friendly.
“Where are they going?”
Tension filled the air so suddenly and so thickly it felt like he was trying to breathe through liquid cotton. And with each second that Uo left his question unanswered the worse that tension got. He stopped walking and looked over his shoulder towards where he could feel Uo standing, could feel those pure black eyes watching him with an intensity that was almost a physical weight against his body, and tried to convince his body that he couldn’t actually suffocate here.
“Uo,” he prompted when he trusted that he could talk and not just make gagging noises, tone making it clear he wasn’t going to ask again.
“Think about it, my kè. Nhulynolyn was ultimately sent to Ryphqi City where your Triad so desperately Called for you,” the being answered. “Now where is this latest Call for you coming from?”
He frowned and shook his head, looking towards the canopy that he couldn’t see clearly but knew was there. “It isn’t a Call, Uo. It’s something else that brought me here, that bypassed the collar’s control of me. As though some event is coming, something nearly as big as my escape from Lílrt and the Mad Qishir will be, and this is the beginning. This is the moment, right here, where it starts and how it goes will dictate the ultimate outcome.”
Laughter that was like dark chocolate had a sound danced around him.
“My question remains valid, kè,” Uo said, each word colored by that dark chocolate laughter. “Though in fairness, I shall amend its wording: where are you to send the two Others of yours that aren’t not otherwise occupied?”
Phrased like that the answer was easy and immediate, bubbling up his throat and passed his lips before he’d done more than draw half a breath, “The cabin. My Court seat.”
“Now who is going there?”
He hesitated at that because Balance dictated that Shadiranamen returned next for she was the second Other to show him their face. But Xheshmaryú was the Other for whom the cabin held significance. For it was there, when Rhyshladlyn’s second set of wings had reappeared as though they’d never been taken from him, that the Nochresi Other had emerged from the depths of his mind. It was right before things had gone absolutely pear shaped that Xheshmaryú had revealed himself. And had he not all those centuries ago before the war had started in full, before he’d lost Azriel, before everything, Rhyshladlyn didn’t doubt that things would have gone very differently and not necessarily for the better.
So while Balance dictated it should be his Phuri Other that was sent back this time, that he follow the order in which he’d learned of them, it didn’t feel right. Shadiranamen would return to the living realm but not until he was closer to freedom. And when he was? She would go home to ensure that his Court was not harmed by the maelstrom of power he would become the second he was freed.
“Xheshmaryú,” he answered finally and felt Uo’s smile like a lover’s caress on the back of his neck but he didn’t look away from the canopy far above his head.
“As you Will, so it is done.”
The tension snapped and his heart seized, skipped a beat, and suddenly sight came back with a roar of wind in his ears and searing heat and concussive waves of power that buffeted his body until he feared he would fall. But he couldn’t fall, he was already laying on the floor on a pile of blankets staring up at the same stone ceiling he’d been looking at any time he was awake for the last nearing on a week while his injuries were Healed at a snail’s pace to teach him some lesson or another that he had never learned and never would learn. Not that Lílrt had grasped that concept yet.
Xefras swam into his field of view, one hand cupping his cheek gently.
“yshlad?” the slave asked but in a way that told him that wasn’t the name or even the term he wished to use. He said Rhyshladlyn’s slave name but his tone said my Qishir.
“They know I am alive,” he said apropos of nothing and shifted just enough so he could look at the slave without Xefras having to balance awkwardly above him. “They know, Xeffy.”
He relaxed against the blankets and closed his eyes, feeling more at peace than he had in centuries. Even with the wounds of recalling Relyt’s betrayal still fresh enough to sting, even with the collar digging into the back of his neck, even without the ability to hear Xefras’ magickal signature despite it being so close to him, he felt hope. A tiny spark, barely strong enough to be noticeable, but it was there.
And for the first time in his entire life, it was enough.
“What does that mean for us?” Xefras asked.
“It means,” he said as he smiled but it was nothing more than a baring of teeth and the kind of elation that only imminent victory in battle brought, “we wait.”
“Oh well that was informative,” the slave muttered under his breath.
He laughed. “Where’s your sense of adventure, Xeffy?”
The slave rolled his eyes so hard Rhyshladlyn’s own hurt in sympathy.
“It died the day I realized who you were.”
“Have you met you?” Xefras asked, raising an eyebrow at him while his deft, long fingers worked at replacing the gauze on one of Rhyshladlyn’s leg wounds. “You make a simple adventure into a game of death and more death. It’s insane.”
“You should see me when I’m at the top of my game,” he replied, laughing.
“Oh I would much rather not do that. That sounds absolutely disastrous.”
His laughter bounced off the walls. “You have no idea, Xefras.” But I’ve got the eerie feeling that that’s gonna change soon.