Soon as he had stepped into the room he’d been given at the Palace and locked the door behind him he let his careful mask of indifference slip just a little. Let his emotions fill his face as he looked around at the muted opulence of the room. Looked at the thick steel-grey rug that stretched from wall to wall, with only the area in front of the hearth and the attached bath suite being done in a tile the same color as the rug. Looked at the black oak desk and it’s matching high-backed chair situated in front of the floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the main courtyard of the Palace. Looked at the bed with its dark green pillows, soft grey quilt, and the black oak support posts and headboard.

It wasn’t anything like the personal office he had back at the cabin or in the Sanctuary Keep in the Forest of Dreams and Darkness, but it had been decorated with him in mind. The colors and wood accents and layout done with careful consideration for his style and his preferences. The first time he’d seen it, he’d been touched, had almost loved it. It had been the perfect home away from home for the long stretches he was often faced with at the Palace, doing ambassador work for his race and the Grey Court; had a place for him to sleep without having to navigate the maze-like Palace corridors. Now though?

Now he hated it because it only reminded him that here in the Palace he was pushed aside. Here among the throngs of Dhaoine who walked the corridors and visited the city, he was distanced from Rhyshladlyn, from Azriel. Here the Qishir and Anglëtinean acted as though they all didn’t share a bed at home or anywhere else they spent the night. It angered him and, if he were being totally honest with himself, made him jealous of Azriel who never was asked to act as though he wasn’t their Qishir’s lover. Made him resent this beautiful room, set aside and decorated specifically for him. Which was unfair and rude and made him feel worse for a whole new set of reasons.

Growling under his breath, he rubbed at his face vigorously, as if he could wipe away the angry thoughts and the lack of control they brought, his fingers catching at his gretkewq reminding him that he needed to make manners, and soon. Pushing away from the door he stalked across the room to the windows and looked down at the bustling courtyard, at the Dhaoine who scurried two and fro, looking like tiny bugs from his place eight storeys above them. Watched them move and wondered if anyone would notice if he didn’t show back up at the meeting hall in a few hours. Wondered if anyone cared just how deeply Bayls’ words had cut, both her accusation that he was a coward–however unfinished it remained–and her implication that Rhyshladlyn didn’t trust him and that that was why his Blood Oath was only halfway completed. Wondered if anyone would come looking for him if he disappeared without a trace suddenly. Wondered if he would be missed.

He knew the answer but it didn’t stop him from petting the question until it arched and bloomed in his chest, until the only emotion he felt was a bone-deep loneliness. It was blasphemous, for certain, but it kept the anger at bay. Kept him from drowning in it, allowed him to retain his stoic expression. And ultimately that was what mattered most: that he never, ever, showed any emotion except for what he choose to show.

Get ahold of yourself. You’re better than this. Turning away from the windows and taking a seat at his desk, he stared out at the room, seeing it but not noticing much of it. He needed to calm down and regain control before he called Eshere, before he dove into the myriad questions that plagued him and the Court at large about what was going on in the Worlds. After a few minutes of just breathing while the muted sounds of passersby in the corridor outside his room and way down below in the courtyard filtered over the sound of the small fire in the hearth, he pushed his hair out of his face, tucking the strands behind his ears with the absentminded thought that he needed a damn haircut, and reached for the drawer his two-way mirror was in. Flipping it open on the desk, he swiped his thumb over the reflective surface, engaging the spell to call his g’agshaïrt, and prayed his mask was firmly in place.

“O’ Great Leader, you bless me,” his g’agshaïrt‘s voice was smooth and clear, eir Gretlök perfect, face as smooth as a statue. “I am your ready and willing servant.”

“The Many See you always, Eshere,” he replied with a smile despite how melancholy he was feeling. Despite how he just wanted to draw a bath and wallow in the hours between now and dinner. “Any more news for me?”

Eshere sighed and shook eir head, “No, g’agsha. Though there is mention in the scrollwork that the Mad Qishir made a singular visit to the Grand Palace, it contains nothing else. No reason for her visit, how long it lasted, or when. Merely that she came and did not remain here.”

He swallowed the urge to curse and looked away as his expression flickered with disappointment. It had been too long since he’d been around his own people, surrounded on all sides by controlled expressions and empty emotional landscapes, and he was long out of practice. Too long mirroring others in order to fit in becomes habit more than chore after too long.

“Is there any mention of a City in Imèn World near the eastern Fènwa border in the scrollwork?” He asked, still looking away, eyes tracing the intricate designs carved into the mantle above the hearth as Eshere answered, only half aware of what the Soul Healer was saying. Was too caught up in how the swirls and dots and knotwork reminded him of his gretluos and Azriel’s qahllyn’qir.

He blinked and went still, his heart stopping in his chest. How would I know what Azriel’s qahllyn’qir look like? The answer was simple: he wouldn’t.

G’agsha?” Eshere’s voice held a twinge of worry. “What ails you? Are you alright?”

Swallowing hard on a suddenly dry throat, he pushed the thought away. “I am fine, Eshere,” he replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “My apologies, it has been a long morning,” he looked back at his g’agshaïrt, taking care to school his face into blankness, to make his eyes warm, and put that gentle smile back on his mouth. “You were saying?”

Eshere narrowed eir eyes at him, like the neodrach wasn’t buying any of his shit but ey was too well raised to call him on it anywhere but in true privacy. The Many be thanked. That isn’t a thought to speak aloud without careful planning. 

“Only that it was called N’phier City before it fell.”

He sat up straighter, snatched the mirror off the desk and brought it closer to him. “Wait… it fell? The scrollwork says that?”

Eshere nodded. “When the Genocide was enacted and the Worlds lost their Balancers, all the Cities in Imèn World went dark. For the only thing that kept them lit was the Greywalkers who created them and gave them true life.”

Relyt sighed, feeling what little hope he had for answers die in his chest, and rubbed at his eyes, feeling a headache beginning to form. Which was just great and the absolute last thing he needed. Five steps forward, seven back. 

“Anything about what befell it in the interim?”

“Only that it’s sentience was felt three hundred and forty years ago for the first time in millennia. But it did not fully flare, only registered as a blip of activity and then went dead again.”

Dropping his hand to the desk and gently placing the mirror back down, Relyt frowned. Something didn’t add up. Because three hundred and forty years ago was during the height of the war. If a City’s sentience had registered at all, anywhere, especially that early, especially so soon after Shiran’s sinking, he’d have been aware of it. Everyone in the Court would have. It made no sense.

“Copy that section and have it sent to me via runner immediately. I want it here in Eyrdo city at the Eighth Palace before the dinner hour.”

“Aye, g’agsha. I am sending someone now,” Eshere bowed eir head and touched eir gretkewq before motioning out of sight. The sound of running footsteps followed by a door opening and closing was loud in the tense silence that followed. Eshere looked back at him, expression expecting. Like ey knew there was more Relyt wanted to ask.

He closed his eyes and gathered his courage. Weighed the pros and cons of voicing his earlier thought out loud, of digging for more information.

“One last thing,” he said after a minute more of debate with himself. He didn’t want to ask, the sense of dread in his stomach told him he shouldn’t ask, but he was too curious not to. No matter the risk, he had to know. “See if there is any mentions of Grey Companion Azriel showing his qahllyn’qir to the Worlds.”

Eshere’s sharp inhale told him that the order was a shock. Told him that Eshere knew the implications. After all an Oathed Companion only ever showed the Worlds their qahllyn’qir when their Qishir died. And Rhyshladlyn was very much alive and had been for as long as they had known each other. But Relyt knew he’d seen Azriel’s qahllyn’qir and long enough to recognize similarities between it and the carvings on the mantle of his Palace room. Had looked at them long enough that that wasn’t a random thought of this is probably what they look like but a stone-set knowledge that was unshakable truth.

“How…” Eshere swallowed audibly and tried again. “How far back shall I look?”

Relyt opened his eyes and pegged Eshere with a hard stare, one the neodrach met head on and didn’t flinch from. That’s why I named you g’agshaïrt. That right there.

“The start of the war to now. No one else is to search for you or help you search. This is between us and us alone.” He paused, one hand rubbing at his forearm dancing over the scars there. “Send whatever information you find, however little it may be, with the copied scrollwork about N’phier City.”

“As you will, g’agsha. Be blessed and well in the eyes of the Many,” Eshere touched eir gretkewq and disconnected the call.

Closing the mirror and placing it back in its drawer, Relyt sat back in his chair, hand still rubbing at his scars, eyes unfocused as he stared out at the room. The feeling of dread in his gut blossomed into something bordering on fear and drove him to his feet. Sent him pacing to the windows before he went for the attached bath suit. He didn’t light any candles or engage the spellwork for light. Just stripped out of his clothes, filled the bath with water hot enough to fill the room with steam in minutes, and sank down to his chin in the tub.

But for all that a hot bath normally slowed his racing thoughts and calmed his heart and relaxed his muscles, it didn’t work this time.

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