It was supposed to be safe. Everything was supposed to go fine and they were supposed to be safe from this. Safe from repercussions that saw Death walking the halls of her primary compound. That saw it wearing a Dhaoinic body and stalking her through those very halls as it tossed her around like a fledgling carelessly playing with a toy. That saw Death giggling with a vicious, sadistic glee that would haunt her until Time unraveled and Existence ceased to be.

It was supposed to be safe. But Lílrt had lied. It wasn’t safe, had never been safe. And now the proof of that was grabbing her by her hair, hauled her to feet that had been crushed, pressed her weight down on legs that bent in directions that no leg should ever bend. Shook her hard enough that her bones rattled against each other, even those that weren’t broken. Laughed at the weak scream she loosed as the agony rose again and swallowed her whole, set every inch of her nerves on fire and stole the air out of her lungs before it could be put to proper use.

They never should have collared Rhyshladlyn. Never should have ignored Relyt’s warning that trying to contain him would only result in their deaths, that if they contained him it needed to be for long enough to allow them to actually succeed in killing him. Should have listened to him because the High Ones knew Relyt would know. After all, the Grey Steward had seen the remnants of Anislanzir’s attempts to do just that and what the failure had meant. Had walked the halls of Shiran City’s palace, had told her, Lílrt, and Hujiel about the horrors that had lived there, the echoes of the nightmares that had made Rhyshladlyn what, who, he was before the Worlds had even heard his name for the first time. Before they knew exactly who carried the weight of them upon his shoulders.

But she and Hujiel and Lílrt hadn’t listened. Lílrt had instead plotted behind Relyt’s back, made the collar into something the Steward hadn’t understood or realized. Hujiel had argued against her, too. Had said the Anointed One knew what he was talking about, that they would be safe. Had believed wholeheartedly in a cause that never stood a chance. And High Ones forgive her, but she had been blinded by the need to show up her sister, to prove to their dead mother that she was just as good as Thayne, if not better. And what better way to do that than capturing and enslaving the fabled Grey Qishir himself?

Fuck if that wasn’t a stupid plan, and an even stupider reason to die.

“You should have killed me that night, Xitlali,” Rhyshladlyn said conversationally as he shook her again and she screamed, too far gone from the pain to even try and hold it in, to deny him the pleasure of hearing and seeing her pain. “After what I did to your mother, to mine, to my father, let alone to all of Shiran City? You never should have let me live once you had that collar around my neck.”

She swallowed convulsively, hands coming up to wrap around his wrists. Or they tried to but her arms weren’t working right and she couldn’t feel her fingers. What’s wrong with my hands? All she could do was stare at those orange-amber eyes filled with a fury so strong it pressed against her skin, at the vicious smile with its twisted corners that sent those eyes to glowing. He’d systematically destroyed her one punch, kick, toss, bite, and clawing swipe at a time. How she hadn’t died yet was a mystery. Though given the way he was smiling at her with what could only be the same sadistic glee she’d seen all those centuries ago in Ryphqi City when she’d last faced off against him like this, it was likely because he wanted to prolong her suffering. Wanted to enjoy every second of it that he could.

She really wished she could hate him for that but she couldn’t. Because if their positions were reversed she’d be doing the exact same thing.

“I…I tried to-to t-t-tell–” she coughed and cried out at the way her throat tore and blood dribbled over her lower lip, body convulsing with the pain and by all the High Ones that only made things worse, “him that bu-but he… would…n’t listen.”

“Tell who?” Rhyshladlyn asked, voice still conversational, still light, as though he wasn’t waiting for the perfect moment to end her life. To send her to the After or the Cliffs or to the nothingness where those who were wiped off the face of Existence went. Of all the things that had happened since she’d made the final mistake of stepping into the hallway and ordering a contingent of warriors and guards to kill him, how he was so calm, so conversational, was the most unnerving. It was how despite wearing the face of a monster he looked and sounded and acted so nonchalant, so calm, so collected when she knew he wasn’t.

No one who did to her what he had done was. Not even those who had no ability to feel emotions or empathy or both.

“Lí–Líl…rt.” Though she had also told the Anointed One’s weak-willed, spineless little brother the same thing, but the High Ones only knew that it was apparently a genetic trait for the Greymend line to never listen to reason. No matter how sound it was.

Just him?” Rhyshladlyn asked as he pushed her against the wall and held her there with the long, strong line of his body. She fought not to shiver at the feel of him pressed hard and ready against her leg if only to deny him the satisfaction of knowing that even so close to death the idea of laying with him was enough to make her body flush. Gods what is wrong with me?

When she didn’t answer right away he pulled her away from the wall and slammed her back against it, making more bones crack and others creak and whine in protest. She screamed as best she could given that her throat was failing to even let her swallow the blood that filled it, let alone form words.

Tell me.” His power bombarded her, bringing another scream, this one soundless, tearing from her ruined throat.

As the attend touched her mind, wrapped around it, petted it and spoke sweet nothings to it before it squeezed with all the maliciousness of a bully crushing a bug beneath their foot, tears fell hot and shameful down her face but she didn’t fight them or the order that brought them to life. There wasn’t a point to holding these secrets anymore. It was over. They had failed and she’d be damned if she didn’t take as many of those bastards down with her as she could.

“When you…” she coughed and choked, struggling to breathe passed the blood that slipped down the wrong part of her throat and into a lung. That order intensified, ripping the words out even though she didn’t have enough air to speak them, enough clarity to give them life. But that didn’t make them any less truthful. “When you ki…ll him, make sure he-he knows… it was me who–” she swallowed and closed her eyes as agony wracked her body, made her shudder hard, made her scream when that just brought more pain, “who told…you.”

“Who?” Rhyshladlyn asked, confusion curling around the word. “Lílrt?”

She looked into those eyes and smiled because for all that he had tortured her and ensured that her last moments in the living realm were nightmarish and full of an agony she had no words to describe and prayed she never experienced again, at least she got to watch the hope die in his eyes. Got to die knowing that she had caused him a pain for which there was no healing.

So while they had ultimately failed, at least in this, she’d won.

“No,” she answered, voice barely above a whisper but she knew he heard her regardless. “Relyt Greymend.”

His wail, for there was no other word for the sound he made, was the last thing she heard besides the laughter she loosed at the sight of the betrayal-birthed anguish in his eyes as the darkness grabbed hold of her and dragged her down into nothingness.

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