The sands were rough beneath his feet, the wind holding just the faintest of winter chill to lessen the spring warmth. The feel of so many Dhaoine packed into one place was claustrophobic even though there was several blocks before he reached them yet. His bare toes curled and relaxed as he walked, heels kicking up sand grains in his wake that danced and sparkled in the sunlight that filtered through the grating in the ceiling several feet above his head. The brilliance of the sand sent white sparks bouncing off the stone walls around him, making him homesick for Fènwa if only because for all that Anglë World’s sand was pure white, it wasn’t nearly as soft as what made up Fènwa’s great dunes.
It was still a shock that he’d volunteered for this. That he had gladly accepted the offer when it came if for no other reason than to have a chance to Feed without draining his victims. If only so he could dull the sword-edge need to destroy things. A need he felt but didn’t know the reason behind. A need that sent him coming back to this time and time again even though he knew it wasn’t really healthy. Even though it made everyone in his life worry for his health, still he returned.
As the walls began to hum with the collective voices of hundreds of Dhaoine, he moved with a surety he only felt on the Fields, a surety that had left him when the war had ended and Thayne had ascended the Eighth Throne in full and truth. His steps never faltered, his stride loose and relaxed. To anyone looking at him, he was the perfect example of calm, of a nonchalance that had bite to it, of banked aggression and a thirst for violence. But inside?
Inside he was empty. And not because of any reason one would think. He still had his Others. Azriel’s Bond thrummed with vitality and life, now stronger for they both bore an Oathing Mark. Jerald’s Oath was still new enough that it nearly outshone Azriel’s. Relyt’s Bond, however one way it was now, was just as strong as Azriel’s and Jerald’s but yet not. For he hadn’t responded in kind to Relyt, had held back at the last second as some ancient instinct rose from depths he hadn’t known he’d had and screamed.
So for all that he was finally free, for all that he was healing from the trauma he’d survived, he was empty. He was alone and deadly with it and everything else he lacked. Which is why he was here in Ûshir, walking through the tunnels that spread beneath the streets from Death’s Gateway where Thayne had rebuilt it after Zhalharaq City had been destroyed towards the stadium at the city’s western edge. He needed to do something that made that emptiness sting less, that dulled that violent need, that gave him a purpose he had lost somehow when the war had ended.
With a soft sigh, he blinked the rest of the way, eyelids fluttering in the sudden brightness of the midday sun as he took form again in the middle of the arena. The cheering at his arrival was so loud he felt it against his skin like lover’s touch. As the noise grew with Thayne’s distant voice announcing him officially, he threw his arms wide, tossed back his head, and roared. Smiled as the hundreds to thousands of Dhaoine seated in the rising tiers of bench seats all around him echoed the sound until the air practically vibrated with it, as the Currents winged all around him, teasing at the bells woven into his hair.
He may not know where he belonged anymore or what was missing in his life that left him empty and so on edge, but here in the arena he felt calmer at least. Here standing amid the bodies-churned sand and the blood and gore only fighting could birth, he felt at home in a way he didn’t at the cabin or the Palace or anywhere else he laid his head down to sleep with Azriel and Relyt curled around him while Jerald shared the next room over with Eiod.
Dropping his arms he turned in a circle, taking in the whole stadium as he called in his swords and slowly reached up to curl his hands around the hilts. He had always hated being the center of attention, had learned early and young with it that being noticed netted him nothing but pain and disaster. But here? Surrounded by a cheering crowd, a crowd that made bets on how many Dhaoine survived the day against him? Oh here, he smiled and put on a show and loved it. Closed his eyes, inhaled deep, and felt the Worlds sigh happily as he Fed from the spectators, from the prisoners that were being marched out into the arena with him, from those who hadn’t managed to get a seat inside and were watching on two-way mirrors set up on the perimeter of the stadium.
As the first defiant war cry brought the roaring crowd to a fever pitch of cacophonous sound, Rhyshladlyn pulled his swords and turned to meet the rush of bodies, that emptiness melted away. And by the Nameless’ Scythe he relished in its absence.