The moment the last swirl, dot, and line was drawn by the three of them he felt the power snap into place. Felt the first whisper of magick so old and so powerful it made his teeth ache.
“We need to put a few leagues between us and here,” he said as he took several steps back from the line work that had started to glow despite the lack of ambient natural magickal in Imèn. But the gods only knew that Rhyshladlyn had known what he was talking about. Had known exactly where Xitlali was keeping him, exactly the kind of power he sat on and could tap into once he was free of that collar.
Part of him was impressed, another part — which was louder, barely — was annoyed that that tidbit of information hadn’t been shared.
He’d heard stories of how the Grey Qishir was a master strategist, how he saw patterns no one else did or that others saw but misunderstood the meaning of. Had heard that for every action Rhyshladlyn made, each step he took and word he spoke, he had looked millions of possible outcomes and had at least half that many contingency plans in case the primary plans didn’t go the way he intended. But seeing the proof of it in reality? Now that was something he hadn’t been prepared for.
If this works, I’m going to give him a good shake for being a knowing little shit.
“Xefras?” Bayls sounded uncertain, calmer than she had been a week ago when they’d left Ryphqi, but it was the uncertainty that made him look at her. Made him look beyond her to where Xheshmaryú was staring at the boundary wall that lay only a couple miles away. They’d been careful to work under cover of night to get the work done because they had to be as close to the city as possible so that they could be certain Rhyshladlyn would be able to reach it. But now that he’d realized where they were, even with the deadline date only a few hours away, he wondered if they were too close. Wondered if Rhyshladlyn would even have needed the Working lines at all.
Too late to ask any of those questions because neither Bayls nor Xheshmaryú could answer them.
“Xefras.” Bayls said again, tone less questioning, more insistent.
He looked at her again and answered, “We need to put distance between us and here before Rhyshladlyn begins the Working.”
“We will be safe from what my kè intends to do,” Xheshmaryú said, the frown so clear in his voice Xefras felt like he could reach out a hand and pluck it from the air. But even if it hadn’t been so loud, he’d have still known it was there, could see it clearly despite the distance and the inky darkness of the night around them. Could see that while the Nochresi sounded sure of himself, there was a twinkle of what if in his violet eyes. “After the Oathing Sacrifice incident, he’d built in a natural Shield that will spring into place around the blight area the second he begins the Working. That’s what the dots are.”
He huffed in annoyance. They just weren’t getting it. But then again, maybe he was the only one old enough to remember what the Worlds had been like before the Greywalkers had been wiped out. Maybe they didn’t know the irony of where they were, of where Xitlali had chosen for her base camp in the Worlds, of where she had placed Rhyshladlyn time and time again. How no matter where else they’d gone to this was where they’d always returned.
“That is true, Xheshmaryú,” he agreed, “but what he neglected to tell me, and therefore the rest of you, is that he’d be using it on a fucking Greywalker City.”
Shit. My impatience showed through. Oops.
“What?” Bayls spluttered. At any other moment he’d laugh at her shock, at the way her eyes were almost comically wide, her mouth half open. Would have even laughed at the way Xheshmaryú’s attention whipped around to land on the City that sat unassuming two miles away from them as though if he just stared at it hard enough and long enough he’d see what Xefras saw. It wasn’t likely but it was still entertaining to watch.
“There are Sanctuary Cities in all of the Seven Worlds,” he answered, looking back at the City before them. “But when the Greywalkers fell, in effect abandoning their creations, the Cities themselves went into a kind of limbo. Unfortunately, that meant that here in Imèn, the Cities lost a lot more than just the touch of their creators. Because without their creators to power them, to keep them cycling magick from outside Imèn, they had no way stay awake, to stay lit.”
“…so they went dark,” Xheshmaryú whispered.
“So they went dark,” he confirmed.
For several heartbeats there was only silence then Bayls shook herself and started backing up, slowly at first, then faster.
“So not only is he going to shed the containment spells that have kept him locked away from his powers and the Worlds for centuries, he’s going to do so inside a dormant City?” she asked as she moved.
“Yes,” he replied.
“That’s going to fuck with the Working in a way none of us accounted for,” Xheshmaryú sounded blaisé about it in a way that was both impressive and terrifying.
“Maybe, maybe not. Given what I know of him through stories, hearing the rest of the Court talk about him, and what I learned from him during our time together under the Mad Qishir’s thumb…” he trailed off and looked back at the City, wondering which one it was, wondering if Rhyshladlyn had really known the powder keg he stood inside, that they had laid the fuse for. “He probably knows exactly where he is. After all, I doubt the Working is going to be used to kill everyone inside the compound,” he added after a minute, slowly beginning to back up himself.
“What do you mean?” Bayls asked, voice not as far away as he expected given how fast she could move, how fast she had been moving.
He shrugged then turned and looked at her, watched her stop walking, watched as she thought about it. Saw the moment it clicked what he meant.
“The Working is to gather enough power to shatter the collar.”
He nodded. “And once he’s free, he’ll have the full brunt of his own power plus that of a newly awakened Imèn Sanctuary City at his disposal.”
“And Imèn World gives back the magick given to it if one knows how to access it,” Xheshmaryú whispered, sounding like he was quoting something, no longer sounding blaisé. If anything the Other sounded scared.
Not that Xefras could blame him.
“Yup. Definitely need to get the whole entire fuck out of here,” the Sinner turned and took off at a sprint, moving with a speed even in the dark that told him that Sinners had night vision nearly on par with his own kind.
Good to know.
Xheshmaryú followed her but Xefras took one last look at the City. Looked and debated scaling the wall and going back inside. Because deep in his gut was a tugging feeling that told him he needed to be standing beside his Qishir when everything went absolutely sideways. He shook himself clear of the nearly prophetic clairvoyant whisper that had settled in the back of his head and followed the Nochresi and Sinner across the open plains, aiming for their camp just over the low hills in the distance. They’d pack up and head back to Ryphqi City, head back to the safety of the rest of the Court, and wait to see whether Rhyshladlyn’s plan worked or not.
Just before he slipped into the hills and lost sight of the City he turned and looked one last time and smiled when he saw the faintest glimmer of gold along the base of the boarder wall just as the first soft chimes of bells ringing in the hour of midnight carried on the wind.