Despite the warnings from both Xitlali and Hujiel, let alone the guards who were stood at intervals along the hallway, outside the door, and at either end of the hallway, he pushed into Rhyshladlyn’s room. Watched half distractedly as the door slowly slumped towards the ground before landing with a dull thud, utterly ripped off its hinges. Then he noticed the body on the floor laying in a pool of blood, throat ripped out, one eye missing, skin dried to its bones, its one good eye wide and staring at nothing. It took him a beat longer to realize he recognized that eye, to realize he knew the face it stared out of. And then he registered that he was being watched and his gaze lifted find what watched him.
And the Many prevail him, he wished he’d never walked into the room.
Because as soon as he laid eyes on Rhyshladlyn, or what had to be him despite the fact that the body didn’t match the male Qishir he knew, he registered something else about the room. It reeked of death. And not the fresh death that was expected due to the body of what had once been Iköl Aodh laying twisted and dried out between him and the Grey Qishir. No… this scent was something else entirely. Something that tickled at the back of his mind, a half formed memory that buzzed a warning along his skin, sending the hairs all over his body to standing on end.
But he couldn’t recall what that memory was. Couldn’t understand why the scent of death produced such a reaction from him. Couldn’t understand why watching Rhyshladlyn unfold himself from the chaise lounge, the small tight breasts that could pass for muscular pecs if one didn’t see the way they jiggled softly as he shifted an oddity on a bare chest that had been wholly masculine the last time he’d see it. And the hips those pants hung low on had a touch more of a feminine softness to them than the hard, cut lines they’d had before. And then there was the smaller sweep of shoulder, the gentleness of jaw, and dulled edges of those incredibly high cheekbones.
“You look surprised, Lílrt,” even the voice was off, not as deep as it should be, but not so high that he wouldn’t have caught the change right away. “Did you not do all your research? Or did you trust that my Steward hadn’t left out any details about me?”
He frowned, shook his head to clear it and met those orange-amber eyes that pulsed with a power that should have sent the collar around his neck to shrieking, should have dropped Rhyshladlyn into convulsions on the floor. But it didn’t, it wasn’t, why?
“What are you talking about?” he was distantly aware of Xitlali and Hujiel crowding the doorway behind him, watching, listening, but not coming inside. The message was clear: you’re on your own, we are not going to help you. Which was cowardly and bullshit but watching Rhyshladlyn walk towards him like that, all banked violence and the whisper of power that made that tickle of memory turn into a persistent scratching, he didn’t blame them. Not really. Not that he’d ever tell them that.
Rhyshladlyn laughed and Lílrt prayed he never heard that sound again in his life. Because that wasn’t laughter, that was the end of life and precious things and happiness given a sound.
“I’m a fucking neodrach, Lílrt Greymend,” the Qishir answered as he advanced several more steps.
Lílrt knew he should leave, knew he needed to leave now, but he felt rooted to the spot, stuck staring at the thing that wore a face that was the perfect mixture of femininity, masculinity, and androgyny and called itself the Grey Qishir with only Iköl’s dead body between them. And it wasn’t enough. Nothing was enough to keep that dark smile and the nightmares and agony it promised away from him. By the Many what have I done?
“Your point?” he asked and raised an eyebrow. “You’re still collared, slave yshlad, which means you cannot escape this room, cannot escape me.”
That laugh sounded again and he took a step back. Told himself as he kept walking backwards towards the door and safety that he wasn’t running, that he wasn’t a coward.
“Not yet, Lílrt, this is true,” Rhyshladlyn answered and shrugged. “But I will be one day and when I am?”
He blinked and suddenly the Qishir was right in front of him. He cried out before he could stop the sound, too surprised by how quickly Rhyshladlyn had moved. That scent of death was stronger now, so much stronger.
“I will make certain that you, that bitch and her pet General you have as cohorts, are turned into a lesson the Worlds will never forget.”
Fuck it. He shuffled backwards out of the door as quickly as he could without turning his back on Rhyshladlyn. When he was in the hallway, he waved an arm but before his magick could touch it, the door slammed into place and he felt the prickle of power so dark, so heavy, it felt like it had sucked all the air out of the hallway, before the hinges repaired themselves and the cracks in the door filled in. Then there was just silence.
Nothing but thick, tense silence.
As he turned to tell Xitlali to find more Selves, to find them now, he realized why that scent had bothered him so much. It wasn’t death. It was Death. The same scent that had saturated the air of the Fields during the war, trailing in the wake of destruction that only one Dhaoine in the Seven Worlds could cause.
He looked back at the door and swallowed.
“I don’t care how we do it, what we have to sacrifice, what taboos or Laws we break,” he whispered knowing that even as he did so that Rhyshladlyn could probably hear him, “but we have to kill him.”
Hujiel gasped but otherwise offered no comment.
“How quickly should we be ready to do so?” Xitlali asked, voice even but he could hear the quivering at the edge that brought out her native Anglëtinean accent.
If he wasn’t still reeling from his encounter with the thing that wore Rhyshladlyn’s face, the thing that he knew realistically was Rhyshladlyn, he would question why the Mad Qishir was suddenly so willing to cooperate, to follow his orders. But it just wasn’t important. Not right now.
“The sooner the fucking better.”