Did they know they had put him in the same room he’d been in before the juggling match of locations had begun months ago? Did they know that no one had destroyed the notes that he’d had strewn across the desk, written in a language no one but he could read? Probably not because if they had he’d have been put somewhere else.
He stared sullenly at the table he’d been kept strapped to for the first couple days they’d been back. Stared at the blood stains that covered its surface as well as the floor around and beneath it. It was his blood, left there as a reminder of what would happen if he didn’t cooperate and learn to behave. As though that was enough to deter him? It wasn’t and he’d said as much while laughing in Lílrt’s face. Because after Anislanzir no one was capable of giving him any reminder good enough to make him “keep in line.” The Anointed One hadn’t taken that particular slight any better than he had any other slight he’d given the un-male. But it hadn’t stopped him from continuing to laugh while the blade sliced through his skin, while fists pummeled the meatier parts of his body hard enough that the bruises showed immediately, while Healers frantically worked to Heal the damage so he didn’t die before Lílrt said he could.
Rolling his eyes, he unfolded himself from the chaise lounge where he’d been sitting, waiting for the next customer to come through the door and demand the use of his body in exchange for coin. Walked over to the desk where all his old notes were; stared at the scribbles he’d penned down when he’d had more hazy days than clear ones. He gently touched the paper at the top of the rough stack and trailed his fingers across the words written in what had once been Tengú’s written form, not that anyone but him knew that anymore. Wondered what had been in his head when he wrote these words, when he dictated that research had found that Imènians, like their Dhaoinic counterparts, also had a neodrach gender. Wondered what was so important about that that he had written it down at a time when his hope for escape was so low he had nearly succumbed to the dark thoughts that had told him freedom was still possible… if he died.
He froze and reread the words scrawled in a shaky handwriting that only made reading slightly difficult. Knew by that alone that he’d written them while barely coherent but knew that they would hold importance later and had penned them anyway. If he wasn’t so caught up in what they said, with the puzzle piece that had slid into place, he’d be a bit more afraid of how he didn’t remember writing them.
“The neodrach gender is not just a Dhaoinic-specific occurrence. It has shown up in Laedens and Imènians as well. All the traits are similar across the three humanoid types, including the ability to flow between forms. The only thing that separates the Dhaoine neodrachs from their Laeden and Imènian cousins is that they don’t need the aid of a Dhaoine to help them shift forms; Laedens and Imènians do.”
Hope swelled in his chest until he felt too warm despite wearing nothing but a pair of loose fitting trousers that hung low on his hips. A smile pulled at his lips because he finally had a–
The door swung open with enough force to bang off the wall and he whipped around in time to see Iköl toss Xefras inside, the slave hitting the floor limply and hard. The Cymerian smirked and slammed the door behind him. In the ensuing silence he stood immobile, staring at the too still form of his friend, at the blood that seeped out from beneath his body and began to stain the edges of the rug a red so dark it was almost black.
Rhyshladlyn slowly, carefully, made his way across the room and when he got close enough to see Xefras clearly, his hope died, taking his smile with it. And in its place fury rose swift and cold bringing his power to the surface in its wake. As it filled him he remembered.
Remembered that the first layer of the collar’s spellwork had been burned through and still hadn’t been fixed. That while he wasn’t at full power, he had enough to make the very foundations of the compound rumble and shake around him as he threw back his head and roared. He was a force to be reckoned with, even contained as he was, and gods above, below, and surrounding, he was so furious he couldn’t see straight. Couldn’t see color as it bled away and was replaced by shades of grey when he placed his hands on Xefras’ body with all the care of a craftsman working glass and gently rolled the other male onto his back. At the sight of the damage to his friend, wounds and misuse he knew well because he’d spent time under Iköl’s watchful eye and lightning fast hands and cruel mind, he loosed another roar, this one wrapped around the Cymerian’s name and an attend order that made the air burn.
He didn’t even know what it was for, didn’t even know what he’d ordered, and he didn’t fucking care as he tore off what little remained of Xefras’ clothes, baring the bruised and broken skin beneath. Took in the way his hips were black around the joints, the way his legs seemed too soft, as though they were empty inside. Took in the blood that was smeared across thighs made thick with muscle from centuries of sinking to his knees in supplication and rising again over and over again. Took in the way those brown eyes, eyes that he knew were so much more than the pure brown many thought them to be, looked nearly black with the pain he was in stared up at him, full of pleading that he didn’t speak aloud. Wondering why, Rhyshladlyn gently touched his chin and when Xefras flinched and the bone under his fingertips moved independently of his head, Rhyshladlyn’s fury ratcheted up several notches, leaked out of his eyes, trickled passed his lips, and swirled around the room in a wind that felt gentle and pleasant but carried a warning in the bite one could just barely feel.
A warning that by the time one realized what it was it would be too late to find shelter, to find safety, to escape.
The door rocketed off its hinges as Iköl forced his way passed the guards that Lílrt had likely sent to try and stop him from following the attend. But where he had expected the Anointed One to shoulder his way in behind the Cymerian instead he saw Xitlali with Hujiel hot on her heels.
His smile hurt his face as it twisted his lips and tugged at muscles that hadn’t been used properly in far too long but he didn’t care. Not when Xefras had been brutalized in a way that even for a slave under Xitlali’s brand wasn’t acceptable. After all, there were certain taboos that Dhaoine followed no matter where they fell on the spectrum of cruelty and rape was only superseded by incestuous rape. Iköl doing that to him had been one thing, Rhyshladlyn had grown up with it, had been born into that kind of cruelty and disregard for the Laws and taboos, but Xefras was innocent. Had only caught the Cymerian bastard’s attention because he was close to Rhyshladlyn.
With an effort he took a deep breath and let it out slow as he rose to his feet, that smile still in place, dancing at the corners of his eyes, as he watched Xitlali and Hujiel struggle to hold Iköl back. Xitlali whispering her own desperate attend to try and overtake his own but the stupid bitch had forgotten that he was the Grey Qishir. Had forgotten that the only reason her older sister was sat on the Eighth Throne was because he had bent knee to her, had conceded the Throne to Thayne because he wasn’t fit to rule. Not by a long shot. But he was still the most powerful Qishir in the Worlds and no one could fight off his attends. Not even the Eighth Qishir.
“Give it up, Xitlali,” he barked, voice shattering against the walls like ice breaking underfoot. “I was able to break your mother’s attend before I was even ninety namedays and when I hadn’t even come into my full power yet. There is no one in the Worlds capable of overtaking my attends. So don’t try. Just let him come to me.”
“No.” He raised an eyebrow and she paled but kept speaking. He didn’t know whether to be impressed with her idiocy-born bravery or annoyed. “No,” she said again with more force behind it, “because the second you touch him you’re going to kill him.”
He growled at her. “I have every right to.”
“No, you do not,” Hujiel spoke up, voice shaky around the edges, eir fear making eir native accent dance thickly around certain syllables. He purposefully didn’t think of how it reminded him of Azriel. “You are nothing more than a slave and slaves have no rights.”
Of all the things Hujiel could have said in that moment that would have helped them, that wasn’t one of them. He closed his eyes and focused on two points: the collar around his neck with the runes that had begun to glow as his power hit a level that triggered off its own and Iköl who stood like a candle flame caught in a draft as the Cymerian struggled to get to him.
Gathering as much power as he could without setting the collar completely off he tossed it at those runes, one hand coming up to brush across them, smudging several as he did so, and at Iköl as he opened his eyes and whispered, “What you have done to those weaker than you will be Known by you; all their pain, all their suffering, all their fear, all their deaths and almost deaths. And the Knowing of it will destroy you.”
As the first scream pierced the air he laughed. Laughed as Xitlali and Hujiel let go of him like his skin was suddenly scalding to the touch and stepped away. As they loosed their own screams, as Iköl’s rose in pitch and fervor, coming as quickly as the Cymerian could draw breath, as the bastard un-male hit the floor when his legs collapsed beneath him, hands pressed to his temples, eyes wide and jaw unhinged, Rhyshladlyn reached out and touched the life force that was draining away. Took it, let it fill the empty spaces where his own no longer was, and then redirected the rest at Xefras. Aimed it with the sole purpose to Heal the slave, to free him. Because Iköl had cut off the brand Xitlali had placed on all her slaves, all of them except Rhyshladlyn himself, and if the skin where it had been was Healed just right, Xefras would be free.
And Rhyshladlyn was going to make certain it Healed perfectly.
He watched, still smiling, as blood leaked from between Iköl’s legs, as the Cymerian writhed and screamed, skin shrinking against his bones, eyes too large for a face that was now death-thin. One popped with enough force that it sprayed blood and goopier things all over Hujiel who made a sound like ey was struggling not to vomit eir stomach out eir mouth. Then two smaller pops sounded in rapid succession and Iköl’s noises shifted into something that Rhyshladlyn had only heard a handful of times in his lifetime and he knew that the Cymerian’s testicles had ruptured. His laughter at that knowledge, at the way Iköl crunched in on himself, hands fluttering halfway between his head and his groin, was terrifying even to his own ears.
Finally, after what felt like hours but was really only a handful of minutes, Iköl cough-vomited blood, his one good eye roving wildly in his face where it bulged so far out of its socket Rhyshladlyn was amazed it hadn’t fallen out yet. The screaming hadn’t stopped but it was hard to keep making noises around a throat that had become torn and raw with such continued use, let alone had half-collapsed on itself when all the muscles and connective tissue had rotted away with the loss of his life energy and his power. Rhyshladlyn glanced at Xefras to find the slave was watching him with eyes that were much clearer now, expression something halfway between awe and arousal with just enough fear to make Rhyshladlyn certain that Xefras would never cross him.
Healed enough to be turned on. His smile changed, twitched at the edges into something else, something worse, something darker. Xefras blinked but didn’t look away, didn’t flinch. At the rich scent of his arousal, Rhyshladlyn laughed for an entirely different reason before he snapped his fingers and released the attend. He crossed the room to where the Cymerian lay in a twisted heap, that one emerald green eye landing on him and staying still for the first time since its twin had popped. He squatted down just far enough out of reach in case the un-male got it in his head to try one last ditch effort to harm him.
But the Cymerian didn’t have enough energy to do much else but struggle to breathe, to whine and whimper softly high in his throat, and watch him with the air of prey having been caught in a trap that they knew there was no escape from.
“You are going to die, Iköl,” his voice was soft but it carried in the Silence that had fallen in the room, brushed at the stillness that had settled over everyone else, as though they were terrified to move and risk drawing his attention to them instead. “I always told you that you’d die at my hand, didn’t I? And I never break my word.”
He smiled again before reaching out and wiping his hand through the blood that had pooled under the Cymerian. Smeared that blood down his own face as he rose to his full height and looked down at the un-male who had done despicable things to him, who he had escaped once and ended up right back under the hands of despite that. But this time when he escaped it would be for good. This time Iköl Aodh would never be able to hurt him, or anyone else for that matter, ever again.
“Die,” his power breathed through the room and slammed into Iköl who screamed one last time before his hands lifted to his throat, claws digging in slowly, and just as slowly he ripped his own throat out. Rhyshladlyn stood there and watched as the life died in that green eye, stood there and breathed in the terror and disgust that soaked the room and laughed as he Fed.
And as that Feeding settled deep into his bones, he snapped the second layer of spellwork before turning to look at Xitlali and Hujiel with a smile that more reminiscent of a Hound than a Dhaoine. They flinched but otherwise remained still, waiting to see if he would move for them next, to see what he would do. He looked between the Qishir and the High General before he snarled at them.
They screamed and yelped respectively and ran for the door, tripping over themselves and each other in their effort to get the fuck away from him. His laughter chased them into the hallway, danced around the guards who struggled to get the door back onto its hinges, to get it to close properly so they could lock it as though a measly door would keep anyone safe from him. Still laughing, he turned around and faced Xefras who looked up at him with an emotion he couldn’t name and didn’t really think he wanted to even if he could.
With more difficulty than he’d ever admit to, he stuffed himself back down, forced his true nature back behind the mask of normalcy he had crafted nearly a millennia ago, as he watched Xefras stare at him. When he could see colors again he looked back at the desk and the answer was suddenly he knew what to do, how to escape. Just like that he had a plan of action. Now he just needed to get the board set up so that when he made the first move, all the pieces he cared about protecting were exactly where they were supposed to be. And all the pieces he didn’t care about where right where he fucking wanted them.
“Xeffy, you need to run,” he said apropos of nothing and held up a hand before the slave could do more than take a breath to try and protest. “Don’t. Please, just listen to me.”
He looked back at the slave who raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest, remarkably calm given what had just happened. But he didn’t have the time to dissect that, to poke at it and find out why. Later, if there was a later, he’d make sure his friend was actually stable, was actually calm. For right now, though, he’d take it at face value.
“I’m only partially free of this stupid thing,” he tugged angrily at the collar around his neck and sighed, “which means that no matter where I run, Lílrt can find me, can control me. So until this thing is off my neck I can’t run. But you can. Your brand is gone, there is nothing to tie you to Xitlali, to these fuckers, any longer. So run. Run and find my Court, find Azriel or Bayls or Thayne and tell them what’s happened. Lead them back here. Tell them about this collar, tell them about Lílrt, tell them everything. But you have got to get out of here right now.”
Xefras stared at him for a heartbeat longer then nodded as he slowly stood up and walked closer. He went still as the slave reached out and touched his cheek, smearing the blood Rhyshladlyn had wiped all over his own face. The look in Xefras’ eyes as they tracked his own fingers’ movements through that blood made a whole different kind of hunger stir in Rhyshladlyn, one that wasn’t too different from the kind that had made him Feed on Iköl, but it was different. Because unlike with the un-male, Rhyshladlyn didn’t want to kill Xefras.
“Is there any other message you wish me to pass along to them?” Xefras asked, pulling Rhyshladlyn from his thoughts.
“Tell Bayls to use the plans I showed her before Azriel’s death. Tell her I’ll be ready one moon cycle before my nameday. If she has the lines drawn by then, I’ll get free.”
“But… how? We’re in Imèn World. There’s no magick here,” Xefras said, frowning. “And there’s a chance the Anointed One will move you, especially after that,” he added with a flippant gesture towards Iköl’s body.
“Imèn World eats magick performed in it and stores it. It doesn’t give it back unless a Dhaoine knows how to speak to it. If you wish to train in peace and hidden from the rest of the Worlds until you’ve earned all of your bells, this is the best place to do it.”
“There is if one knows where to look,” he answered cryptically and laughed at the suspicious look the slave gave him. “Go, Xeffy, before Xitlali and Hujiel get their shit together and come back here. They won’t touch me until Lílrt returns so I’m safe for a while yet. But you’re not.”
Xefras raised his other eyebrow and rolled his eyes but he stepped back and turned for the slave door near the fireplace. “How do you know the Anointed One isn’t here? Let alone how can you be so certain that he won’t move you again?”
“He’d have been the first one through that door if he was here.” Rhyshladlyn laughed and shook his head. “And I don’t but I have a feeling that the next time I leave this compound will be as a free Dhaoine.”
“Your feeling better be right, my Qishir,” Xefras replied, tossing one last look over his shoulder before he stepped into the slave corridor behind that inconspicuous door and pulled it closed behind him.
“Because if it isn’t we’re all dead,” he whispered, fighting the sinking feeling as he turned away and went back to the chaise lounge. With a sigh he dropped back down onto it and prayed that he hadn’t made a miscalculation anywhere. Prayed that his feeling wasn’t wrong, prayed that with two layers of spellwork broken and only five more to go, that everything would work out and he’d be free, that everyone would be free.
For now though, all he could do was relax and wait for the fallout from killing Iköl to hit.
He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t looking forward to it.