He’d followed Rhyshladlyn for the last thirty-five years. Had watched him from afar, protected him in a way that his Warrior couldn’t. And it had nothing to do with the Alphenian’s competency and everything to do with how the Worlds at large didn’t remember. Acted like the three hundred years between the end of the war and forty years ago when Balance had returned to the Worlds hadn’t happened.
Those first few days after he’d woken up in Thae’a and Adïmshyl’s house alone, surrounded by bloodshed and destruction, had been terrifying. Not knowing what had happened and having no way to find answers, had nearly driven him mad. And then there was the worry that there was an enemy around every corner, death in every shadow. Endless weeks of not knowing whether or not his Qishir was dead, thinking he had failed his father, that he had failed everyone. Religiously testing the Balance of the ambient magick around him to see if things had changed and then not believing it was real when things were the way they’d been before Rhyshladlyn had disappeared. Staking out Ryphqi’s palace for a month before he’d given up on seeing Alaïs, on seeing any of the Grey Court in the City.
And from there it had been traveling, endless traveling, until he’d finally learned that something bad had gone down when Lílrt had died in that house, when Balance had dropped back to the Worlds and drowned them all. Had learned that he’d been the only one to remember. At least that’s what he’d thought at first.
Watching as Rhyshladlyn scrambled to his feet and ran for the hills, his panic so thick it hit the back of the tongue and left a sour taste behind, he thought about how so much had changed but nothing really had at the same time.
You were always so much stronger mentally than anyone ever gave you credit for, my Qishir. It was a sentiment he wished he could tell Rhyshladlyn but knew that he couldn’t. Not yet. Not when the male had touched one of the seven Watchtowers that were all that remained of N’phier City, the sound of that long fingered hand making contact loud in the pressing quiet of the grassy hills, and not even known that was what he’d touched. Not when Rhyshladlyn had called up the dormant sentience of the City and hadn’t realized that was what he was doing, what he had done, before he caught a Line and left the area completely.
The World took a breath, held it, everything pausing, even the ever-present wind. And then the World released that breath and with a muted boom, the past was spat out in the form of ghosts. An echo of what had once stood where the Grey Qishir now knelt. The City had been beautiful when it was still alive, sprawling and compact at the same time, filled with spires and domes that reminded him of Shiran, reminded him of home, of a place that he hadn’t gone to in centuries. A place that didn’t exist anymore, ravaged by time and a war that had lasted way too long.
As he watched, Rhyshladlyn’s eyes flew open and that echo, those ghosts, moved. And with them, a nightmare was given life.
Bodies were sent flying, tossed by something stronger and taller than any Dhaoine he had ever seen much less heard of. Something that moved with a lumbering gait that was smooth and earthshakingly choppy all at once. Something that cloaked itself in fog so thick he only caught glimpses of a face ripped right out of an Old Story and given life, of eyes that held a burning hatred that he could feel across the decades that spanned between that moment and this one. And mixed with all of that was a desperation born only of true Fear, the kind that sent one running for their life, even when one knew there was no hope of escaping what stalked them.
Buildings collapsed in flashes of fire and billowing smoke. The sounds of screams mixed with the wet thump of bodies hitting brick and stonework and each other. The sharper notes of broken bones and dislocated joints an eerie counter-melody to the rings of steel on steel and screams. It was a war zone trapped within a retaining wall that glowed a gold so brilliant it was like the sun had taken earthly form. But it wasn’t armies that fought. No, it was innocents who ran from a creature no Dhaoine alive remembered walking the Worlds.
He wanted to go after the Qishir, to make sure that in his blind panic, drowning in the fear brought on by whatever he’d seen after that ghostly memory-echo had been shattered, that Rhyshladlyn didn’t get himself hurt or worse but he didn’t. Instead he stood and watched as the remaining wisps of those ghosts faded away, scattered by the wind and the fading reverberations of Rhyshladlyn’s scream.
Things had changed so drastically, were worse to a degree than they’d been when he and the rest of the Court, and the Worlds at large, had thought the Grey Qishir lost to them forever. Worse because they’d learned better and sure they had him back now, but the cost of that was not remembering anything that had led them here. Not Relyt’s betrayal. Not Lílrt’s and Xitlali’s mistreatment and machinations. Not Hujiel’s part in orchestrating the jarring of Selves. Not the Dragaen Xefras escaping with Rhyshladlyn’s help from the very City the Qishir had just roused from its slumber; or of that same Dragaen finding them all in Ryphqi City and giving voice to the atrocities their beloved Qishir had suffered for three hundred years.
Not how Azriel had shown up at the Eighth Palace and bent knee to Qishir Thayne in place of his own Qishir, his qahllyn’qir inked into visibility in his skin, a homage to the Qishir the Anglëtinean had failed to protect, that he had lost.
Not how Nhulynolyn, Shadiranamen, and Xheshmaryú had been ripped from the face of the Worlds only to be returned as their kè had regained his freedom piece by piece.
Not how Bayls had nearly died when her mate had been taken right out of her arms, the months of worrying that she’d not recover enough to save the young that had grown within her only to lose it shortly after birth.
Not how the Grey Court had been shattered, broken and jagged with the left over pieces, but in that moment of tragedy had come together like they’d never been lost, brought home by a loss so profound its effects had been felt for a century after its occurrence; only ever being dwarfed by their Qishir’s continued nonexistence and the unknown why behind it.
But he remembered. The gods only knew why, but he did. He remembered everything, both what had happened during the war and after. Had woken up in the aftermath unaffected and he vowed not to take that for granted. Vowed to find a way to fix it, to bring the truth to the fore and reveal the liars and the betrayers for who and what they really were. Vowed that no matter how long it took he would make the losses, the sacrifices, the hardships, the decades and centuries spent worrying and searching and sleepless and afraid and lonely worth it. Even if it killed him.
He didn’t think he’d succeed but he still had to try. He owed his Qishir, his fellow Court members, his family, that much. If they couldn’t help themselves because they didn’t know shit was wrong, didn’t know that something had happened? He would do it for them. That and he owed Relyt a solid punch to the dick for making him believe that the Soul Healer was trustworthy, was merely misunderstood; that he’d been lonely and confused and acting stupid as a result.
Too much to make up for and not nearly enough time to do it. With a heavy sigh, he caught a Line and aimed for Ryphqi City, praying the entire way that this ordeal was almost over. Even if he didn’t believe it would ever be that easy for any of them, he still prayed.
And if the gods wouldn’t help them? Well he wasn’t a master strategist for no fucking reason and Fate could suck his left testicle. It was high time his family had gotten a break. And if I repeat that often enough, maybe one day soon I’ll actually start to believe it.