3

His skin was tight and loose at once, twitchy where it knitted over his joints. His muscles screamed and cooed in equal measure, a teetering singsong that made his teeth itch and set his nerves on edge. He was completely safe in Eyrdo, especially so in the Eighth Palace, whether he was a guest of Thayne’s or not, but for some reason he didn’t like the feel of the stone walls, or the labyrinth corridors, or the guards that stood sentinel at random. It pricked at some part of him that flinched and rebelled at the mere idea of being confined by walls and ceilings. But he couldn’t say why only that it did.

It sure as fuck didn’t help that Azriel, fresh from another voyage on the ship he captained, was all wave-legged and fuck land where the Anglëtinean walked on his left and a half step behind him. And Rhyshladlyn wasn’t even going to try and theorize about what had crawled up Relyt’s ass that was making the Soul Healer throw off waves of get me the fuck outta here.

But they’d been summoned and for all that Rhyshladlyn had a lot of leeway when it came to how he operated in the Worlds, when a direct order came from the Eighth Qishir, he listened. Even when he didn’t want to.

As he took his seat at the other end of the long table from Thayne, flanked by Azriel on his left and Relyt on his right as was customary with Jerald standing like an mountain of Dhaoinic flesh and muscle at his back, he looked around the table at the mixed Grey and Honorable Courts. In the last four decades since the war had ended, since he’d bent knee to Thayne and spoke words of fealty to her, their Courts operated almost as one unit, mixing here and there, despite being separate both in title and Oaths Spoken and Answered. And it was never more evident than when they shared a table.

When the last of them was settled, he turned to Thayne expectantly. He had a vague idea what this meeting was about even if no one had told him. Expected it was because the Worlds felt off, the reason one that sat just out of reach like a word one couldn’t remember but was right there on the tip of one’s tongue. An off-ness that he’d tried to find the reason behind for forty years; a reason he had the sinking feeling as behind whatever purpose he had lost since the war had ended. But in all his searching, in all the research he’d done, he’d still found no answer. For all his effort he’d only gotten sleepless nights, headaches, and this nagging itch under his skin like his true nature was restless but not enough to slam to the surface and demand to be freed.

Thayne said nothing, just met his eyes steadily, her eyes sharper than usual but duller in color despite that sharpness, the flush she naturally had absent, making her look pale and almost sickly. A quick glance told him that only Alaïs knew why Thayne looked like she’d been sucker punched in the stomach and was fighting not to vomit everywhere. The other members of the Honorable Court looked harried but clueless. Same with his own Court members. All save Relyt but that wasn’t surprising. His Steward tended to find and hoard knowledge, only divesting himself of it when the Soul Healer thought the time right for himself.

As the silence stretched into the third minute mark Rhyshladlyn huffed and leaned forward, rapping a forefinger knuckle on the table as he said, “What’s got you so on edge that you called all of us to this table? Is it because the Worlds feel off?”

Thayne jerked, eyes narrowing before her expression smoothed out. Ahh, so it’s something worse than that. Oh goodie. He was absently aware of Nhulynolyn snickering under his breath while Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú’s silent amusement slipped warm and soft across their link.

“Something like that,” Thayne answered after a few heartbeats and shook her head. When she fell still, it wasn’t the Eighth Qishir sat across from him but rather from his friend. “It’s been forty years since the war ended, though it’s felt like centuries instead of decades. But the real reason I’ve brought everyone here is because roughly ten years ago I wondered why Xitlali hadn’t shown up, why her Court and our Mother’s were utterly absent not just from the Worlds’ eyes at large but from the Records themselves. So… I enlisted several trustworthy Dhaoine to search where I, myself, could no go.”

Now you have my attention. Rhyshladlyn leaned further forward, unable and unwilling to school the excitement from his face.

“And?” he pressed when she didn’t continue despite it being obvious that there was more.

“I found documentation that my little sister had several compounds, two of which were in Imèn World, one in Fènwa World, and one in Anglë World, that she had used frequently during the war. However…” Thayne trailed off and shook her head.

“…however,” Bayls picked up, hazel eyes flicking to Rhyshladlyn almost guiltily, “when searched for, the only compound we could find besides the destroyed one in Ryphqi City was the one near the northern border of Imèn World where it touches both Majik and Txiwteb. There were no traces of the other reported compound in Imèn World, supposedly closer to the Fènwa border or the one in Anglë.”

“And I’m guessing this is even more concerning because the Records are always highly detailed and give a location down to the exact inch on a map,” Azriel spoke up. Bayls nodded at the Anglëtinean.

“Therein lay our greatest struggle though,” Alaïs’ voice was even, calm, but when he looked at her he could tell his sister was pissed at the lack of answers. It was a look she’d worn daily when it was just them and Anis in their private corner of the Lord King’s palace library. “No map in the Worlds to date matches anything the Records list for landmarks with regards to finding these compounds. It is as though–” she cut off abruptly with a glance at Thae’a who was staring hard at the table in front of her.

“–for a point in time there existed a reality separate from the one we currently live,” Rhyshladlyn finished for her and felt more than saw Thae’a’s eyes snap up to him. He held up a hand before the Dreamweaver could speak. “Peace, Tee, I know you didn’t do anything.”  He smiled at his friend who gave him a relieved, albeit shaky, one in return as she leaned against Adïmshyl who nodded to him once. Like I could ever doubt you? Honestly. 

*To be fair,* Shadiranamen murmured as the Phuri glanced around the table, sapphire eyes bored even though she was far from it, *Tee has had very little experience in not being blamed for things, even if it were proven impossible for her to have done them.*

*Fair point.* 

Thayne waved a hand towards Relyt, “Take it from here, Rel? After all, it’s the information you managed to get recently that had me call this meeting.”

He turned slowly to face his Steward, watched as the Soul Healer didn’t look up from the table in front of him, from the notes he’d produced from the gods only knew where. Watched as those slate grey eyes touched everyone else’s face except Rhyshladlyn’s own while he detailed how the search party he’d been leading through the Worlds was traveling through Imèn World when one of the pack horses had slammed into something solid and invisible. Listened as that rolling voice that struggled to make the vowels of Common smoother than the short and harsh ones of his native tongue told of how they’d discovered it was a City that had been cloaked from sight and magickal sense until one physically, and literally, ran into it.

Relyt had just started to talk about how they’d found a compound half consumed by the earth and what had happened to the one Dhaoine who had managed to get nearly to the front doors when Rhyshladlyn’s chest grew heavy and his lungs constricted as the air rattled in his nose and throat. Because suddenly the words weren’t good enough, he needed more.

“Show me.”

Relyt jumped at the interruption and those grey eyes looked at him for the first time since the Soul Healer had sought him out after the fights and passed along the order from Thayne. And just as it did every time, that old instinct rose rapidly from its hiding place with an urgency that made Rhyshladlyn’s stomach flip. But he fought it down, beat it back, because right now the last thing he needed was to hear it scream. The last thing he needed was to feel, to think, that no matter how much everyone else may think or say otherwise, he should never trust Relyt. That for all that the Soul Healer had spoken his Oath, one that Rhyshladlyn had Accepted if only one way, Relyt was a trap waiting to be sprung.

It was the feeling of again that tacked itself to the end of that thought that set him the most on edge.

“I… what?” Relyt spluttered, pulling him from the spiral of his thoughts.

“I believe my twin said, ‘show me,'” Nhulynolyn supplied helpfully from where he sat two chairs down on the left from Azriel. Bayls turned her face against her mate’s shoulder, no doubt stifling a giggle.

Relyt didn’t look away. Just stared with a soft look that Rhyshladlyn couldn’t place. Well, he could, but he really didn’t want to. Because the knowledge that his Steward was deeply and inexplicably in love with him made something in his stomach turn rotten and toxic with it. Made that don’t trust him, he’s a trap waiting to spring again feeling all the louder, all the stronger.

“Show me what you saw,” Rhyshladlyn elaborated, holding out his hand even as he wanted to do nothing more than escape the room because the air just kept getting thicker and thicker. Even though he struggled to push his feelings towards his Steward into a box, to keep them from showing on his face and in his scent.

He had searched for answers to the weird half dreams of hazy landscapes, nightmares that had him waking in cold sweats and tears in different rooms in the cabin and the sprawling compound in the Forest of Dreams and Darkness, filled to the brim with old aches and whispered tortures but none of it was solid, let alone clear enough to understand. Like they were his memories but not. And Rhyshladlyn hoped in that moment, despite how stupid a thing it was to do, that Relyt may have found a piece of the puzzle that would give him the answers he sought, that he needed. Because there was so many unanswered questions bouncing around in his head. So many things that didn’t fit.

Relyt hesitated for only a few moments more before his hand slipped against and passed Rhyshladlyn’s until their palms were flush against the inside of each other’s wrists. Rhyshladlyn squeezed once, gently, and found himself smiling despite himself. Despite the situation and his instincts telling him to trust Relyt only so far and not one inch further than that, Rhyshladlyn wanted his Steward calm. Felt the Soul Healer’s apprehension like a wet cloth against his skin.

“Show me,” he said once more, this time a command and Relyt did. The memories hit him in a disjointed, foggy jumble that skipped like stones across the still surface of a lake; the information he sought contained in the ripples.

He stared at a retaining wall that glowed a blindingly bright gold, the hum of it loud enough to shake his bones and make his blood tremble as it rushed through his veins. Pulled his eyes from the wall and looked around at the buildings, half standing in places, nothing more than piles of haphazardly placed rubble in others. It wasn’t right though, this wasn’t how this City had looked the last time he’d seen it, the last time he’d walked its streets.

It was the same City, for certain, if only because its signature was the same and that wasn’t something one could replicate or mimic or alter. But it didn’t look right. Didn’t feel right.

A massive compound rose from the ground before him, though in its current state it didn’t look massive but he knew it was. Could feel the echo of it where the hidden parts lay beneath the earth that had tried to swallow it and failed. Bones littered the stones of the courtyard that stretched a full block out from its front doors. He frowned at them but moved on, he needed to know why the air felt dirty. Why he wanted to leave, why he had to leave.

A Dhaoine was half a block from the front doors of that half sunken compound with its blown out windows and crumbling brick façade and bones-littered courtyard. Ey slowly turned and faced them, eyes wide and black versus the lavender they normally were. Dread filled his gut as eir mouth dropped open and eir lips moved around words but for all that his hearing was spectacular he couldn’t catch what ey said before eir hand rose in a careful, controlled, calm arc and ripped eir own throat out. He shouted in shock along with everyone else but he didn’t feel shocked. Not really.

Because this wasn’t right. There shouldn’t be any death magick here. Not in this City. Not in any City that would have had a trace of Xitlali’s signature like slime on the stones that glowed a gold nearly as bright as the noonday sun.

“Why? Why isn’t it right?”

He blinked and surfaced from Relyt’s memories with a jerk, pulling his hand back as he did so. Looking at the Soul Healer who was rubbing absently at both forearms, fingers dancing over the scars that marked the exact path of his qahllyn’qir, remnants from where the male had tried to rip them out following Azriel’s death, Rhyshladlyn took a deep breath and pushed away from the table.

He paced into the center of the room, feeling closed in, caged despite how large the meeting hall was. Nhulynolyn, Shadiranamen, and Xheshmaryú didn’t say anything, didn’t press at the Shields he’d thrown up when he’d connected to Relyt but he could taste their worry, their confusion, their curiosity. No one else moved, carefully hidden behind their own Shields. Knowing as well as his Others did that when he was like this, one wrong move could set him off. And he’d been doing so damned well about keeping himself in check.

But this? This took all that hard work and just tossed it out the fucking window.

“Rhys?” This time it was Bayls who spoke. “What was wrong with what Relyt showed you?”

He rubbed at his face with both hands and wished he wasn’t surrounded by stone and steel and glass. Wished he was outside. Gods aplenty he hated being indoors.

“The City Relyt showed me had death magick in it. But that’s not possible because death magick is what gets left behind when a Dhaoine wipes out every living thing in a certain area. Or when a City is lost so violently that it leaves a stain on the ambient magick of that area…” he trailed off, voice failing him as he thought of Shiran City and the aftermath of when he’d sent it sinking beneath the sands of Shiraniqi Desert all those centuries ago.

But the way the ambient magick of the desert felt wasn’t remotely like what he caught from Relyt’s memories. It was similar enough to give him an idea of what had happened, but not enough to be the exact same.

“Lost? How do you mean, lost?” Thae’a asked, her voice soft, distant. Like she only asked because if she didn’t the question would drive her insane. Like what she really wanted to ask was like Shiran City was lost? 

He just looked at her until she blinked, gasped, and paled.

“Yeah,” he replied to the question she hadn’t voiced but had been heard regardless. “Gone without a single trace it had ever existed save for the maps that marked it and the Records that were based on those maps.”

“How do you know?” Bayls asked.

Rhyshladlyn didn’t look at her, didn’t look at any of them. Instead he tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling. The answer was so obvious to him but he couldn’t prove it, couldn’t even explain how he knew. But it was the truth nonetheless and one that he knew deep in his Self.

With a deep breath that shook as he let it out he answered, “I tore it apart at the molecular level and scattered its sentience to the fourteen winds.”

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