109

Ey ran through the halls, jumped over piles of bodies, tried eir hardest not to notice the way the walls moved with the rivulets of blood that slid down them from arterial splatters on the ceiling. Ey ran and searched as best ey could for one particular Dhaoine. Searched with the hope that ey would find them alive instead of dead. Even if the odds of that were not remotely stacked in eir favor.

Two floors later ey found who ey’d been looking for. Found her laying twisted on the floor, blood and gore surrounding her. The too white bone of her skull shown through the tear that spread down her face from hairline to throat as if some great beast had hooked a claw into her skin and slid it down. Her eyes were wide and already going grey with death, mouth wide open, lips curled oddly though ey couldn’t say what about it was odd only that it was. And then ey noticed the rest of her.

Stumbling against the wall, ey turned and vomited violently. Kept vomiting until all that remained was bile, until even that was gone, until it felt like ey would expel every internal organ out of eir mouth if ey didn’t stop.

Ey didn’t want to look back, couldn’t look back Highs Ones don’t make me look back but ey had no other choice. If she had died in such a gruesome manner then the least ey could do was witness the aftermath. No matter how the mere thought of that made em want to run back the way ey’d come and do everything possible to forget even that brief glimpse.

Swallowing convulsively against the roiling of eir stomach, ey stood up straight, wiped eir mouth with the back of a hand ey swore wasn’t shaking, and looked.

Her left leg was gone, torn into pieces that had been tossed about like so much confetti. Her right leg was bent in ways no leg was ever meant to, let alone should, bend. What ey could see of her remaining foot was… ey swallowed again. My gods, the bones were crushed. Her lower torso had been reduced to so much meat, the bones of her ribs, hips, and spine wet and red-tinged. And there were pieces missing like something had taken a bite of the meat those bones had held up, had moved, had protected and took some of said bones along for the ride. Her chest was just ribbons of skin and exposed muscle and tendons and ligaments and bone. Her breast bone was cracked and pealed back like the outer skin of a banana that is a thought I did not want to have, dearest High Ones. What ey could see for the ruin of her chest, her heart was missing, her lungs both deflated and half torn apart. Only half of her face was even recognizable and even then only barely.

Something, or someone ey mentally corrected with a shudder, killed the Mad Qishir in the most brutal way possible. Had destroyed her so that any Dhaoine who happened upon her would be incapacitated by the sight, whether they had a weak constitution or not. And may the High Ones See em always, but ey was a sitting target like this. But for all that ey knew that ey needed to run, that whoever had done this to the Qishir ey had followed for centuries was somewhere in the compound, ey couldn’t get eir legs to move. Couldn’t bring emself to look away from the nightmare that had been made of Xitlali now that ey had laid eyes on her.

Look up.

Ey frowned at the whispered thought that didn’t belong to em. As eir head started to lift, eyes roving the hallway before looking at the ceiling, ey realized that it hadn’t been a thought but rather an order.

“She died with a smile on her face.” The thing that stared down at em from where it was pressed to the stone of the ceiling, large hands curled into claws, talons sunk into the stone to keep it suspended, was something of literal nightmares. As though someone had made a creature, an entity, from the Old Stories into reality and gave it a voice. Ey frowned harder as fear trickled down eir spine because ey couldn’t make sense of what ey was seeing. Couldn’t understand how this thing had the same voice as the order that made em look up in the first place. “Aww,” the thing cooed, “you look confused. Allow me to give you clarity.”

It dropped to the floor with a muted thud, eight wings spread wide until the tips touched either wall to help it keep its balance, orange-amber eyes with flickers of grey glowing with a power that lapped at eir skin like waves at a shore line. About the time it smiled and its face shifted ey realized that it wasn’t a creature that stared at him but a Qishir. Realized that it had a magickal signature that held a weight to it that made em struggle to breathe. Realized that what stared at him was a true form unlike any the Worlds had seen in millennia.

Eir brain helpfully supplied the name that went along with that signature and those eyes and that power. But it wasn’t going to save em any more than it had saved Xitlali.

“Qishir Rhyshladlyn,” ey whispered as that trickle became a landslide.

Rhyshladlyn’s smile twisted into something vicious and alive right before he moved.

Ey never even had time to scream.

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