Jaro dropped from the Line in front of a house that was beautiful four decades ago but now looked like something out of a horror story. All the windows were blown out, the porch was sagging at one end as though some large creature sat upon it and hadn’t moved. The paint was peeling in long strips that looked vaguely claw-like and several shingles on the roof were gone, showing the emptiness where the boards beneath had given way over the years.
If he hadn’t seen what it looked like before everything had gone to shit he’d never believe it had looked anything but like this. But Thae’a had taken care of her home with all the intense focus she gave to everything in her purview and if she knew that it looked like this? Oh she’d have a fit. And that just made everything about this new reality worse. He missed his family, missed his friends.
Rubbing at his arms and hating that he was here, hating even more that Sheieh’s stupid mysterious ass couldn’t have picked a less unpleasant place to meet up, he crossed the street and slipped through the front gate. The sense of betrayal pressed against his skin, a demand for vengeance that rode on the hot wind. The shadows and resignation that clung to the walls like chipping paint made his stomach flip. But he ignored it all, pushed passed the urge to demand Sheieh meet him somewhere else, anywhere else, and mounted the stairs in one leap. Shouldered open the front door and looked around, trying to get his bearings.
He hadn’t been back here in decades. Hadn’t been able to bring himself to go to the place that stood as a clear testament to his failure. Couldn’t bring himself to face even the echoes of the Self-deep emotions that Rhyshladlyn had felt the day he’d shown up here. The memories alone of how his Qishir had looked like a monster out of the Old Stories taking on a shaky Dhaoinic-form were bad enough. The physical reminders only made them worse.
But yet, here he was. Looking around at the marks on the wall, the blood pools crusted on the carpets, the destroyed table, overturned chairs, smeared counters, clawed cabinet doors, and dented floors and walls. The fight between Nhulynolyn and Relyt that day had been one for the history books. Had taught him yet another reason to fear the Otherborn. Because the restraint Nhulynolyn had shown as he chased the Soul Healer around that day had been incredible. How he’d only backed off when his kè had arrived and upended the entire game board with a laugh that had sounded like silk-draped thunder. That fight and the reason behind it, everything that had led up to it, had been a tipping point. One that he didn’t doubt would have changed things irreparably within the Court had Balance’s return not sent everything, and everyone, scrambling.
Jaro still had no idea how the only Dhaoine to die that day had been Lílrt. Never mind how Relyt had even managed to get close enough to do the deed himself before anyone else had even reacted. Before Rhys was able to stop him.
Shaking his head he snapped his fingers, manifesting candles all around the main room and on any flat surface available in the kitchen. He wished he hadn’t because now it was easier to see the devastation that had been left uncleaned for so long. Now he had visuals to go along with the smells that made his stomach protest its very existence. The memories tied to them rattled the boxes he’d buried them in.
“Sheieh?” he called and walked further into the main room, skirting around the low table and its dent. “Where are you?” He stared at the largest blood pool in the open area where the main room met the kitchen and dining room.
He watched as Nhulynolyn delivered a truly spectacular roundhouse kick to Relyt’s jaw, the distinct wet snapping sound of a joint dislocating echoing out seconds later. Watched as Relyt screamed, the sound cut short as his jaw compound fractured near his chin from the radiating force of the blow. As he went flying into the dining room, taking out the table and denting the wall. Nhulynolyn was already moving after him before the dust had even settled, before the walls had even registered the shaking of Relyt’s impact.
As the Other hauled Relyt out of the rubble by fistfuls of his tunic, howling his rage into that broken and bruised and bleeding face, Jaro was struck by how terrifyingly beautiful Nhulynolyn was in that moment. The Other fought like liquid fire, all quick grace, consuming everything in his path with no remorse or regards for the collateral he took down in the process. He and Rhyshladlyn fought similarly in that they were a grace that moved faster than the eye could track, a feeling that hit seconds after the blow actually landed. But where the Qishir was a cold so strong it burned, Nhulynolyn was something else entirely. And that else had nothing to do with him being an Otherborn.
Nhulynolyn shook Relyt hard enough that the Soul Healer’s teeth clacked together, forcing that broken jaw bone further out of his skin with a squelching sound like wet paper being torn. Jaro’s stomach revolted at the sound but he didn’t move from where he was pressed against the wall near the entrance to the main hallway. He didn’t dare. Not when Rhyshladlyn’s twin was on the war path and looking to settle the score with a life forcibly taken in the most brutal way a Dhaoine could with their bare hands. He was more than happy to let the Other’s focus remain on Relyt. It was safer for everyone that way.
And when Nhulynolyn’s voice ricocheted off the walls, the words he spoke riddled with a thousand tiny knives dripping with a poison he had only heard stories about, Jaro felt like this was a tipping point. Felt like they had crossed a line and they could never go back.
A sound behind him had Jaro whirling with a snarl, hands coming up in a defensive block. “Easy, Jaro. It’s only me,” Sheieh soothed from where he stood at the end of the hallway, hands raised to show he was unarmed, eyes wide like the Soul Healer hadn’t expected to startle him so easily.
“You need to wear a bell,” he snapped, dropping his arms and shaking them to release the tension. “Doing that shit is gonna get you hurt one of these days.”
Sheieh bowed his head. “My apologies, I had thought you heard me.”
He waved his hand and wandered over towards the dining room and the destroyed table. “So why are we here, anyway?” he asked as he stopped in front of the large dent in the wall from where Nhulynolyn had thrown Relyt.
“It was the safest place I could think of to have this conversation.”
“Oh, well that’s awesome,” Jaro tried not to let his frustration show. But the gods only knew it was all but impossible where Sheieh was concerned. The Soul Healer was nearly as difficult as his damned charge was. “However, I still have no fucking clue what’s going on.”
“Rhyshladlyn has found and Acknowledged his Healer.”
Did the floor just give out? Looking down he confirmed the floor was very much right where it was supposed to be but by all the gods did it feel like it wasn’t close to stable. Looking at Sheieh who was staring at the large stain on the floor, Jaro tried to wrap his head around what he’d just heard.
“You… I,” rubbing a hand across his mouth he tried again. “Did you just say Rhys found his Healer? Like his Sacred Three Healer?”
“Yes,” Sheieh answered and looked so very tired. “That was the Tower you saw glowing when I called you earlier. Ryphqi City woke it in response to Rhyshladlyn’s Acknowledgement.”
He looked back at the floor, mainly because he didn’t trust it not to give way when he wasn’t paying attention, and struggled to understand why it felt like he couldn’t breathe. Wondered why this was an emergency. It should be a good thing. After all, the more Oathed qahllyn members of a Court a Qishir had the better. Though it also meant that the Qishir was more at risk of being taken out if an Oathed qahllyn was killed. But this is Rhyshladlyn we’re talking about.
Jaro lifted his head, intending to ask why that was a bad thing only to take an involuntary step back at the look of naked fear in Sheieh’s winter-sky eyes. Words failed him and his throat seized. He had never seen the Soul Healer lose his stoic façade like that; it was blasphemous after all. And while Jaro had long since suspected that Sheieh didn’t quite believe in the Many as much as he had centuries ago, that was an old habit that would take longer than forty years to break.
For long moments they stood like that, staring in silence that stretched on and on. And when it clicked what could have possibly scared Sheieh so much about Rhyshladlyn finding his Healer, Jaro felt the blood drain from his face.
“That isn’t the correct Healer, is it?”
“No,” Sheieh shook his head, “it’s not.”
“How does a Qishir fuck that up?” he barked and paced in a tight circle, cursing under his breath as anger replaced his fear, masking it before it could drown him. “Never mind. Better question. How can that not be his real qahllyn Healer?”
“Think about it, Jaro,” the Soul Healer walked passed him to the island counter where he leaned back against it, arms crossed over his chest, legs crossed at the ankle. “Rhyshladlyn has no recollection of what happened after the war really ended. He doesn’t know that he technically underwent two more Awakenings in the escape from Xitlali’s compound in Imèn. So this reality we’re in, it’s altering everything and not just the memories of everyone but us. It’s altering which Dhaoine are qahllyn to him.”
He really didn’t like where this was going.
“What happens if he Blood Oaths this Healer,” Jaro asked, even though he logically knew the answer, even though he didn’t want it confirmed despite that, “y’know, the wrong one?”
Sheieh wouldn’t look at him. “I fear that if that happens, this reality will become permanent.”
His curse was drowned out by the sudden blaring of Ryphqi’s alarms going off seconds before the Shields and Barriers came to life with bloodcurdling screams and a creaking like old wood struggling to support too much weight. Pulling his sword he made for the door with Sheieh hot on his heels. Had no idea what he was going to encounter but given that the last time Ryphqi’s alarms and Shields and Barriers went off like this a veritable army of deadly magickal creatures had swarmed the City, he was mentally prepared for anything.
“Where are the wards?” he yelled over the noise at Sheieh who kept pace beside him, “Why aren’t they respon–“