13

Relyt had wanted answers, had asked questions he could hardly stomach and what he got back was a set of answers to everything but those questions. It was… he shook his head and fought not to crumple the parchments in his hands into an unrecognizable jumble. The curses he spoke in a jumbled mix of Gretlök and Common tasted like ashes on his tongue, made his throat click as he gulped in air to make more even though he shouldn’t say them. Not when he wasn’t alone, but he did anyway. Couldn’t stop himself because it was either he cursed or he punched something.

And somehow he doubted that Eshere would stomach him getting physically violent. Even though the neodrach in question stood behind one of the plush reading chairs before the hearth, fingers curled over the top of it, and watched him with cool, detached eyes, absolutely at ease. I envy you that ease. Watched while Relyt gripped the parchments ey had handed him with a care that made his hands and arms shake. Watched Relyt pace the confines of his room, curses trailing after him like ducklings. Watched him try to process what he had read at least twenty times since his g’agshaïrt had arrived. This had been going on for nearly an hour, if not longer, and yet Eshere seemed no more upset than ey had when ey’d arrived.

Still didn’t make Relyt think ey’d be so collected if he just suddenly punched the other chair in front of the hearth.

With a growl that he only managed to halfway keep from coming up, he turned to Eshere with a face that hurt for the expression that contorted it even though it was blasphemous to show emotion. Again the neodrach didn’t seem phased, just took it in stride. Relyt didn’t know whether that was a good thing or not. Just knew in that moment that for all that he missed being around his own kind and the ease he felt when living with them, he had come to rely on the expressions and tones and emotional fluxes that non-Greys were known for in moments such as these. And finding himself without that much to go off of made his already frayed nerves all the worse.

“Come with me,” he vanished out the parchments, snapped his fingers to Call his satchel to his hand, and made for the door. It was only a handful of minutes before the dinner hour was rung and he’d already wasted too much time pacing and cursing instead of trying to piece together what information he had into some semblance of coherency.

G’agsha?” The questions of what and where were obvious in that single word. But for all that Eshere spoke that title with confusion and no small amount of reservation, ey still followed dutifully after him.

“You’re coming with me to the meeting hall,” he answered even though he didn’t need to. Even though, despite being his g’agshaïrt, he didn’t owe Eshere an explanation by virtue of him being Gret’yinl.

The remainder of the trip was silent, allowing Relyt to struggle with how to explain the information Eshere had given him. How can I possibly say this aloud and not shake everyone to their very Selves? The answer was a simple one, he couldn’t.

The guards outside the hall doors pulled them open as soon as they saw him turn the corner. The tension that he’d left behind hours earlier breathed into the corridor and made his breath stall out in his lungs and his heart skip a beat. Like it had just spent hours fermenting and by the Many that did not bode well for the conversation that was about to happen. Beside him Eshere tensed, steps faltering, but ey didn’t stop and didn’t show any other sign that that tension affected em.

As the doors closed behind them, he noticed that he wasn’t the last to arrive, but it was a close call. Taking his seat, Eshere moving to stand behind him and slightly to the right, eyes scanning the hall, Relyt tried to relearn how to breath. Tried not to notice the way every single member of both Courts seemed even more on edge than they’d been when Rhyshladlyn and Thayne had dismissed them. As he Called in the parchments and unpacked his satchel, Azriel dropped into his chair on the other side of Rhyshladlyn’s empty one, pulling his attention over. It took everything Relyt had not to physically recoil. The male looked like he’d gone a couple rounds in the training pits and hadn’t held his own at all. Gods aplenty, what the fuck happened to you?

Eshere’s hand on his shoulder stopped him from verbalizing the question. Mouthing thanks at the neodrach, he went back to gathering his parchments and the other copied scrollwork that Eshere had brought with em while the rest of the seats in the hall were filled.

“Anyone know where Rhys is?” Thayne asked as she sat down at the other end of the long table, tone hard and spiked at the edges, bringing Relyt’s attention swinging around to her. But her expression gave him nothing more than her tone did.

“I last saw him in the honored guests’ wing, my Qishir,” Ishmariel offered up. Relyt squinted at the Anglëtinean, wondering what was off about the male’s words. A cold blast of air circled the room at the same time Azriel growled low in his throat and Ishmariel flinched ever-so-slightly. It’s like he’s… embarrassed? But why? And what the fuck about it has Azriel pissed off? “But that was hours ago, I do not know where he is now.”

Nhulynolyn huffed a sigh as he took form in the chair next to Bayls, the Other’s normally bright eyes dark. “Rhys’ on his way. Said t’start without him.”

Thayne’s frown was loud in the ensuing silence.

“Oi, don’t gimme that look, Thay,” Nhulynolyn flapped a hand then dropped it to the table, fingers tapping in a wave from pinky to forefinger and back again. “I’m just the messenger.”

“And what held him up this time?” Thae’a asked from where she leaned back in her chair, the picture of nonchalance despite the way her dark brown eyes flashed.

Adïmshyl hummed from where he sat beside his mate. “Especially given that he knew what time we were reconvening.”

Nhulynolyn shrugged. “All’s I got was he needed to take a trip before the meeting.”

“And that he needed go alone,” Jerald added, his voice flat, dangerously so.

Relyt raised both of his eyebrows as he twisted around in his chair, one arm slung along the back of it as he looked at Jerald. The Alphenian met his eyes for a brief moment, the emotions swimming in those honey-brown depths making Relyt’s blood run cold and boil at the same time. Jerald was pissed that much was obvious. After all, since his Oathing, the Alphenian hadn’t been more than a handful of yards from Rhyshladlyn at all times. For such was the requirement of the position of Warrior: the Dhaoine who was qahllyn to Warrior protected their Qishir, regardless of difficulty, regardless of collateral damage, regardless of situation. Even going so far as to sacrifice their own mates and young to ensure that their Qishir survived.

And yet wherever Rhyshladlyn had gone, he had ordered Jerald to remain behind. Had left the one Court member who wouldn’t hesitate to step in front of him and act as a living Shield behind. And judging by the looks on Jerald’s, Azriel’s, and Rhyshladlyn’s Others’ faces, no one knew where the Qishir had gone. By the Many. 

“Fine,” Thayne muttered and Relyt turned in time to watch her rake a shaking hand through her hair. Why do I feel like I missed something? “Let’s get started then. Does anyone have any new information?”

Alaïs rapped her knuckles on the table, clear blue eyes staring at the wood beneath her fingers like she was drawing strength from it.

“I might have something,” she sighed and looked up, but Relyt could tell she wasn’t seeing any of them, “there was a notation in Ryphqi’s Records that a major event happened. Something that literally broke through the City’s natural Shields and Barriers.”

A smattering of shocked noises danced about the hall and Relyt felt like someone had violently shaken his chair. The Shields and Barriers and wards on a City were ancient and a level of powerful that to pierce them was a nearly impossible task. Never mind that to do so and not have the City’s back up defenses engage and wipe out the threat was unthinkable. Especially given that Ryphqi City was fully tethered to a Qishir and a Triad.

I feel like I got really drunk and am missing so many memories. 

“Does it–” Eiod began but cut off when Alaïs shook her head.

“No specification on what it was. Just that it came from outside the City. That it made it nearly to the heart of the City and was only stopped when the Triad Towers were activated. That’s it. Nothing else.”

“Wait… only the Triad Towers?” Bayls asked.

“Yup, just them; starting with the Companion and Warrior Towers, then the Steward some time later. None of the others even registered,” Alaïs replied.

Azriel leaned forward then, frowning hard enough that it made the lines at the corners of his eyes stand out. “But… how? We–” he gestured at Relyt and back at Jerald “–are the only ones tethered to Ryphqi’s Watchtowers. And I distinctly don’t recall activating them like that. Not since we tethered to them in the first place with Rhys when some dumbfuck was doing Oathing Sacrifices back during the war.”

A trickle of sweat rolled down his spine as the oddest sense of déjà vu smacked against the side of his face.

“I second Azriel on that,” Jerald spoke up, almost sounding hesitant. “And it would make no sense why only we three would active our respective Towers and not have Rhys there to activate his. Or to do it remotely.”

“I agree with my fellow qahllyn,” Relyt added before letting out a slow, careful breath. “But what Alaïs said backs up some information I found in the scrollwork at the Grand Palace,” he held out a couple copies of the missive Eshere had brought to the neodrach with a murmured, “Take these to Thayne,” before handing a copy to Azriel and sliding one across to Nhulynolyn.

“What is this?” Thayne asked as she took the parchment and handed one off to Alaïs, The Lord Queen passed it over to Thae’a and Adïmshyl as she rose to stand behind Thayne and read over the Qishir’s shoulder, Ishmariel and Y’adtrik doing the same. “This… this cannot be right.”

Nhulynolyn hissed out a curse just as Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú, who’d no doubt read it through their fellow Otherborn’s eyes, did the same. Bayls stared down at the parchment, the color draining from her face, before handing it to Eiod. Azriel let out a long, low whistle that both managed to downplay the information he read and accurately describe it at the same time as he held it up and over his shoulder for Jerald to take.

“Unfortunately,” Relyt replied once he was sure that everyone had read it, “I believe it is.”

“What the fuck,” Jerald pulled back Rhyshladlyn’s chair and dropped heavily into it, face pale, jaw clenched as the Alphenian gingerly set the parchment down on the table like it was snake poised to strike him at any moment.

“So we have one City that woke up and then went dormant again and another whose Towers were engaged to protect from an outside attack,” Eiod murmured, golden eyes reading over the parchment in his hand again and again. Like if he just read it one more time the answers he was looking for would jump out at him. Relyt didn’t have the heart to tell the Sinner-Anglëtinean that that wasn’t going to happen. “And Worlds apart… this makes no sense.”

“I second Eiod,” Shadiranamen rubbed a hand across her mouth as she leaned back in her chair, looking relaxed but all it took was hearing how much more sibilant her voice was to know she was anything but relaxed.

“It gets worse,” Xheshmaryú waggled his fingers at Nhulynolyn to hand him the parchment. After a quick glance over those violent eyes lifted to scan the table before landing on Relyt. “Did you notice the date of N’phier City’s wake up?”

He nodded and rubbed at his chest, shifting in his seat like that would help alleviate the ache that had bloomed behind his breastbone. It didn’t, not even close.

“I did,” he answered and flicked his hand at the other missives he had in front of him, sending them out across the table. “I also noticed that there’s two periods in which N’phier’s sentience was felt. The one noted on the first report I showed you all was forty years ago. The one before that?” He paused and tapped a finger against the papers still in front of him. “Three hundred and forty years ago.”

“What?” Thae’a snapped. “There’s no way that one of the dormant Cities woke up at the height of the war and no one noticed.”

Relyt shrugged one shoulder. “I’m just reporting what I found, Tee.”

“Gods above and below,” Y’adtrik muttered.

“At the same time as N’phier City’s first wake up Mad Qishir Xitlali reportedly visited the Grand Palace,” Eshere’s voice was level, quiet, like ey didn’t want to startle anyone but it didn’t matter. Every single pair of eyes swung to the neodrach. Relyt was proud of the way his g’agshaïrt didn’t even twitch under so many intense stares. “Though the scrollwork doesn’t specify why or when exactly, I am confident in my assumption that the two occurred simultaneously after cross-referencing surrounding events in both locations.”

Thayne pushed away from the table and to her feet, hands clasped behind her back as she paced back and forth. Azriel propped his elbows on the table and dropped his face into his hands with an inarticulate sound while Jerald just stared into the middle distance, like he wasn’t seeing the present but a past he didn’t want. Bayls sat staring at the table with a blank expression, Nhulynolyn’s hand idly tracing her forearm like the Other wasn’t even aware he was doing it. Thae’a and Adïmshyl were sharing a look that said clearly they were having a private, silent conversation. Everyone else just sported expressions that ranged from confused, terrified, and blank.

“Jer,” Eiod’s voice was gentle, expression even more so when the Alphenian jumped and looked at his friend. “Did that un-female ever take you to the Grand Palace?”

Relyt slowly looked at Jerald, berating himself for not thinking of that. After all the Warrior had been Xitlali’s unwilling slave during the war, her favorite even, and wherever she had gone, he had followed. So if she had gone to the Grand Palace, either with an envoy or without, Jerald would have been with her, regardless of how long she stayed there. But if she’d gone with anyone at her side, that would have been mentioned in the scrollwork. The déjà vu grew steadily worse at that thought.

“No. She only ever bounced me between Ryphqi City’s palace and her safe houses, all of which we have documented already,” Jerald replied slowly, like he was searching his memory to make sure that was right. “I never went to the seat of the Gret’yinl of the Grey Soul Healer race, at least not that I was conscious for.”

“She wouldn’t have risked going there during the war anyway,” Azriel added, voice muffled by his hands. “It was well known among the Eighth Army’s ranks that Relyt had taken on the mantle of ruler of his people. And what she was doing with Jerald amounted to a crime not even those neutral in the war would ignore.”

“Five steps forward, twenty steps back,” Xheshmaryú said with a curse.

Silence fell thick and cloying over the room then, making the tension that already saturated the air even worse. Rubbing at his arms Relyt thought to the other set of information Eshere had found and debated mentioning it. A glance at Eshere who was staring at him with wide eyes set in a face that was paler than normal made him hold his tongue. But not because he wanted to, more because he felt like he had to.

Ignorance wasn’t bliss, and sometimes ignorance got Dhaoine killed, but there were times when not knowing was better than having a knowledge one couldn’t unlearn.

 

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