She stared at the journal in her hands. It was barely six inches thick but for all that it wasn’t as large as some she’d seen, as some she’d written, it was intimidating. Sure Bayls had said it was Rhyshladlyn’s journal, sure the Sinner had told her, told them all, that there were things written on the thick vellum pages that should never have seen the light of day. Things that shouldn’t have existed but a young Dhaoine, one who was both a Qishir and a Greywalker, had created horrors unimagined by the Worlds over. Things born purely of magick and the mind of a Dhaoine so powerful that an enemy had Harvested millions of Selves just to try and contain him.
But one wouldn’t know that such an unassuming journal with its plain brown leather covers and thick spine and thick pages held such horrors. Wouldn’t know that the compact, clear, sweeping handwriting that filled every inch of those pages detailed the exact ways to turn someone’s nightmares from unconscious manifestations into reality. Wouldn’t know until they got to the diagrams, who knew Rhyshladlyn could draw?, that accompanied those words.
And that was probably the worst part really of reading her Qishir’s journal from front to back repeatedly. Because each Working, spell, charm, hex, and curse detailed in those pages had been perfected because they had been performed. They weren’t the late night musings of a Dhaoine doodling in an empty journal whilst bored and waiting for the next interesting thing to happen. They were things that Rhyshladlyn had done to actual Dhaoine, real living, autonomous Dhaoine, enough times to document what worked and what didn’t and why. And each act, each recording was clinically discussed, clinically approached and documented. As though at the end of the day, Rhyshladlyn hadn’t cared whether those he’d tested his theories and his magick on had lived or died or come to harm. They were mere puppets to him, things to be used to further his knowledge and discarded once they had served their purpose, nothing more and nothing less.
Thayne wasn’t afraid of Rhyshladlyn, not now and likely not ever, but to know that such things had happened, that anyone had managed to do them? It made her stomach twist into knots. Terror tried to settle deep in her bones and she didn’t blame it. After all, she had grown up learning about the Greywalker race, learning what they had done, why the Worlds had feared them, why they still feared them. But book knowledge was nothing compared to real life experience-born knowledge.
What will restore Balance quickly and perfectly with minimal action and upset? That is the question one must always consider when performing any act of magick or power in the Worlds. For Balance is the primary thing that the Worlds strive to achieve. With each magickal act the ambient magick we pull from and use must reach Balance again in order to allow for the next magickal act to be performed without blowing back on the performer.
But what happens when something is done that upsets that Balance enough that it would take too long for the Worlds’ natural ambient magick to settle itself back out?
Day 126, test of Balance Restoration on Subject 58
Thayne snapped the journal closed before she could fully understand the diagram that was drawn below those words. No matter how many times she’d seen it, no matter how many times she’d read it, what she saw never got any easier to comprehend, to handle. If anything it got worse.
“I told you to stop reading, Thay,” Bayls muttered as she walked through the dining room doorway, coming from the hallway. “It doesn’t get any better, trust me.”
“But I just… how could we not know he’d done all of this? How did this escape even my mother’s notice?” she countered, shaking her head as she pushed the journal across the table. While she didn’t judge Rhyshladlyn for what he had done, what he was, she still needed to distance herself from the proof of it. Just for a little while. “He performed Workings that should have been classified as at least Arcane but yet there was no ripple of its affects in the Worlds. There was no upset from its performance. Why? How?”
Bayls shrugged as she pulled down two mugs and put water in the coffee pot before setting it to fast boil on the stove top.
“It’s Rhys, Thay. For fuck’s sake, he Awoke and buried an entire City and the only reason the Worlds at large even knew about it was because there were witnesses.” The pot shook with the force of the boiling water, letting out a low whistle as it did so. Bayls grabbed for it and cursed softly as some splashed onto her hand. With a frown that was more glare than anything else, the Sinner turned off the burner and carefully carried the pot to the sink where she poured it through a strainer that held coffee grains into a pitcher set up beneath it to catch the fresh coffee. “What gets me is that when I’d first seen it the only thing it contained, that I could see at least, was what he’d planned to do when he finally Oathed Az and Rel.”
“Wait,” she pushed back from the table in an effort to put more distance between her and the journal that seemed to mock her from where she’d slid it to. “You didn’t know there was more than that in this thing?” she asked as Bayls poured the coffee into two mugs, put them on a tray laden with sugar and creamer and anything else one would add to coffee and carried it over to the table. “It’s a thick journal!” There was more she wanted to say but her brain spluttered and failed to let her articulate anything else so she didn’t bother to try.
Bayls just smiled but it was empty as she set down the tray and started adding sugar and creamer to her own mug, taking the chair directly opposite Thayne. As the Sinner stayed quiet, Thayne plucked up her own mug and did the same, enjoying the quiet despite how thick it was. Despite the way the journal sat on the table next to the coffee tray, unassuming and innocent looking even though she knew it wasn’t. Never before in her life had she thought of an inanimate object as sentient enough to do anything let alone mock her but there was a first time for everything.
Especially where Rhyshladlyn is concerned.
“It wasn’t that thick when he first showed me,” Bayls said after several minutes of drinking their coffee in silence. “It was about three times smaller than that and the only thing in it was those blighting plans.”
Thayne just stared at her in mute shock and no small amount of horror.
“Think about it, Thay,” Bayls continued after taking another sip of her coffee, hands wrapped tightly around the mug as though it was the only lifeline she had in a storm that was trying to blow her away. “He couldn’t have done all that before Azriel had died, before he’d Awakened and buried Shiran City. Nothing would have escaped your mother’s notice if someone, anyone, in the Worlds had done so much as talk about doing some of the shit Rhys wrote in there. I mean, for all she didn’t act against Anislanzir, Lulphé wasn’t ignorant of what that bastard was doing to his people, to his children.”
“So what, Rhys did all this,” Thayne gestured at the journal, “while fighting the war, searching for Azriel, and after or while captured by Iköl and his lot?”
The Sinner shrugged. “It makes the most sense, doesn’t it?” She set her mug on the table and gestured with one hand at the journal. “After all during the war was when we didn’t have an actual crowned Eighth Qishir, we just had two Qishir who were vying for the throne but neither of whom actually fulfilled the role. So there were probably a lot of things that went unnoticed or documented that would have otherwise.”
“And Rhyshladlyn’s experimentation and shit was one of those.”
“So it would seem,” Bayls replied and sighed. “But honestly? As disgusted as I am by it all? I’m glad he did it. Because that means he’s done all the work for us. Now all we have to do is figure out which of the things he has in this journal can help us get him free.”
Thayne snorted and took a long sip of her coffee. “You’re very practical. I can’t even get passed the fact that the Qishir who showed me how to get safely inside Shiran City is the same one who did all of that.”
“He is the same Qishir we’ve always known, Thay. That’s never changed, we just have proof of the things we all knew he was capable of.” Bayls chuckled and shook her head. “And I’m practical sometimes but not always. It’s one of the things that Nully loves about me,” she added with a wink.
Thayne laughed despite herself but the sound faded quickly, along with the mirth that had spawned it as her eyes tracked back to the journal. Bayls was right, loathe as she was to admit it. Realistically she had always known that Rhyshladlyn was neutral, that he had no empathy, that when it came down to it he would ensure that Balance was maintained first and everything else second. But to see it so blatantly, and written in his own handwriting no less, was something she hadn’t been prepared for. Seeing that he had committed atrocities in the name of understanding, in the name of magickal research and advancement, while denouncing people like her little sister, High General Hujiel, and the Anointed One, was… she wanted to say hypocritical but that didn’t feel right enough, not entirely. Regardless of what word she assigned to it, it seemed like such a contradiction, one that made less sense than finding out that her Qishir wasn’t as morally driven as she’d always thought he was.
But that was unfair. He was morally driven, just his morals, and the ethics derived from them, weren’t the same as her own. He saw the Worlds in shades of grey from the darkest of blacks to the brightest of whites. She’d known that since the first moment she had even heard of him let alone met him all those centuries ago. He was still the Qishir she was called to serve, the one she gladly bent knee to even now that she technically outranked him. And while learning this about him hadn’t changed any of that, it did make her realize she had perhaps not been seeing him truthfully but rather through rose colored lenses in an attempt to soften the edges of him. To make him less terrifying, less intense, less him.
And if she had done all that? She was no better than the Dhaoine she was trying to condemn for the acts he’d written about in that journal.
“So what do we do now?” she asked as the silence stretched thin enough that her ears began to ring with it.
Bayls took a deep breath and let it out slow before she stood up and walked over to the sink to pour more coffee into her mug.
“We study that journal and as a Court we decide what in it we can use to help free Rhys.”
“You make it sound so simple.”
“That part is simple,” Bayls chuckled as she walked back to the table. “The hard part is finding him.”
“Gods willing they both go smoothly.”
Bayls held up her mug in a salute that Thayne mimicked before taking a sip. It was a nice gesture but they both knew that nothing ever went smoothly where their Qishir was concerned.