19

His back hit a tree with enough force it shook and he couldn’t be certain if the crack that followed was the trunk or his back. Growling both in defiance and to curtail the want to scream despite not feeling a lick of pain, he threw his arms up in time to curl his fingers around the horns of an Oiki just before it made contact with his body. Roared into the thing’s face before he tossed it away as power poured through the trees, making the hairs all over his body stand on end.

He froze as the collective attention of every single monster that had been hunting him perked up and looked skyward. Felt their attention sharpen, like they had asked a question of that power, recognition as thick as a wool blanket filling the air. As the underbrush exploded with flapping as winged creatures he didn’t even know were there took flight high up into the canopy, their attention skyward just like their fellows’, he jumped. All around him the Forest came alive in a way he had never felt it in the entire time he’d been running through it, lost and forgotten among its underbrush and down its labyrinth paths. 

What’s going on? Turning in a slow circle he noticed just how fucked he’d been before his enemies had been distracted. Swallowed as that power flexed, stronger than the first one, and movement exploded all around him as creatures ran in all directions. And for all that it was probably a horrible idea, he ran after them. Followed them over fallen trees, across small ravines, through streams, through groves. Followed them even when his legs began to protest, even as his lungs sawed air down his throat in great pulls, desperate for more. Ran with them until the trees parted in a large clearing where he skidded to stop, pulled by some instinct he couldn’t explain, some need that yelled at him that he couldn’t miss this. Looked up in time to see, far above the canopy, a Dhaoine jump from one Line to another with a fluid grace that made his heart miss a beat. Watched the shadows of four wings flare wide to the left, pulling that agile body around a Line Carriage, and finally recognized the power flowing all around him. Berated himself for not recognizing it sooner.

“Rhyshladlyn,” he whispered reverently.

And though it was riskier than following the deadly creatures that had been hunting him, he ran blindly through the trees. Followed Rhyshladlyn’s rapidly traveling magickal signature. Kept to that direction even when it faded, even when he couldn’t see even the after image shadow of the male anymore. Even though he was in desperate need of food and sleep and water, he kept running. Used the hope the sight and feel of his Qishir, even if it had only been at a distance, even if it was only for a moment, to spur him on. Used that hope to create the adrenaline he needed to hit his limits and then push passed them.

He crossed leagues like that, blind and fueled by hope-born adrenaline. Uncaring of the deadly magickal creatures that still moved for whatever posts they were taking up as he twisted and turned to avoid them without breaking stride, without losing touch of that signature. Moved in easy tandem with his Others who took as much physical form as they could given his dwindling reserves behind him, making sure he didn’t end up getting flanked or ambushed.

Sure he should be more careful, but it had been so long since he’d seen his friend, since he’d seen his Qishir, felt his power, heard and smelled his signature in equal measure. His Others were good company, no doubt of that, but they didn’t give him what he needed, what he wanted. But that brief sighting, the ebb and flow of that power all around him? That did. And he was not going to go without it again. No matter the risk to himself, he would get out of this nightmarish place and would stand at his Qishir’s side again.

He grinned so wide his cheeks ached as muscles he hadn’t used in years suddenly got put to work. Smiled all the wider, laughter that sounded more like a choked sob than anything else bubbling up, as he caught sight of the Forest’s edge. Wasn’t remotely afraid of the hundreds of Hounds and Xhlëndïr and Oiki and others he didn’t know the names of that gathered there, standing sentinel. Didn’t know or care whether they were guarding against Dhaoine coming in or going out. He was too happy, too full of hope, spurred on by the way Rhyshladlyn’s magick wrapped around him, to care. Let out a whoop as he got closer and closer to the treeline, to the freedom it heralded.

But before Xefras made it everything went a blinding white as the very air became agony incarnate, and then nothing but darkness. Cold, silent, absolute darkness. 

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