It had been a week since Xefras had escaped. A week since Rhyshladlyn had murdered Iköl and Lílrt had been chased out of the Grey Qishir’s room. And they were no closer to finding an answer to how to kill him than they were a week ago.

Though that hadn’t stopped Lílrt from tearing apart the library, from harassing every single historian and magickal theorist they had in the ranks that could be trusted explicitly. Hadn’t stopped the Anointed One from trying to recreate the spellwork that had gone into the collar currently around Rhyshladlyn’s neck. As though all he had to do was make a new one that was stronger, was better, and just replace them. But that had been scrapped as soon as he remembered that they had used all the Selves in the in between plus those they’d stolen at the point of death across the Worlds when they’d tricked their followers into speaking an Oath that didn’t belong to them.

They were out of options because for all that Lílrt had said they needed to kill the Grey Qishir by any means necessary, he hadn’t realized just how difficult it was going to be to actually achieve that. Hadn’t realized that millions of Dhaoine the Worlds over had tried that very thing and failed time and time again. The only Dhaoine who had come close enough to nearly succeed had been Rhyshladlyn’s sire but in the end, even the infamous Lord King Anislanzir had failed. But still the Anointed One searched, still he tried to find an answer she didn’t think existed. If it ever had.

Because if it had existed she was certain her mother wouldn’t have fallen victim to him. Was certain that when Azriel had died, Rhyshladlyn would have followed him. Was certain that when Lílrt had wanted to seek revenge for the mistreatment of his little brother, the Soul Healer would have killed him outright not just collared him for centuries.

A week had passed without any progress made. A week since she’d felt a tremble pass beneath the Worlds; a warning so powerful it had sent her to the Temple to genuflect before the High One’s altars one by one until her knees were sore and her legs numb and her hands shook. She hadn’t felt any better walking out than she had walking in but she didn’t regret it, not really. She knew she was going to die soon, could feel it like the first trickles of winter in the evening breeze. Could feel it as surely as she knew that the Festival of the Flesh was almost exactly a week away and that something big was coming.

But she didn’t tell Lílrt any of that. Not because she wanted to watch him fall, wanted everything he had worked so hard for, had nearly succeeded in keeping, crumble into dust around him — though she did want all of that.

No, she didn’t tell him because she knew he wouldn’t listen. That and whatever was coming, if anything was coming, they’d find out soon enough. She could taste the Danger on the wind outside, could feel it in the way the air inside the compound felt stagnant in comparison.

She paused at a crossroads in the hallways, looking down the one to the left, and the guards that lined the hallway and flanked one of the doors. Watched each guard in turn look at her, shake their head, and go back to staring straight ahead, a subtle sign that Rhyshladlyn had made no movement that they could hear, that they were aware of. Unnerved as she ever was when she came to check and found that the Grey Qishir was content to just sit in his rooms and wait, even though he’d clearly been able to destroy the first two layers of spellwork on the collar, she rubbed at her arms and kept walking straight ahead. Just walked, wandered aimlessly as she had since the day she’d looked through the open doorway to Rhyshladlyn’s rooms and saw the most perfect balance of the Worlds’ three genders blended into one Dhaoine and known they were fucked.

It was hard to focus on anything else at the sight of that, of the scarring that had been hid by glamours in the collar, the god-Marks that the Worlds hadn’t seen in centuries on clear display. The way his power had lapped at her skin like the ocean waves lapped at the beach haunted her dreams. He had been barely able to scratch the surface of the truth of him and even that little bit had been enough to leave a lasting impression. Because the last time she had encountered him at full power, when he’d attacked her in Ryphqi City, that display of power had been equal to the blip he’d tossed out when he’d killed Iköl.

And High Ones prevail her, she was terrified to see how much stronger he was when the rest of the layers of spellwork finally failed.

“What have we done?” she whispered as she turned towards the library where Lílrt had said he would be, had demanded she and Hujiel meet him after the midday meal.

No one answered her, neither gods nor Dhaoine, but the wind that blew through the open windows as she moved down the hallways of her home carried what sounded eerily like laughter.

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