“What’s the plan?” Nhulynolyn yelled over the roar of the wind as the four of them ran down the Lines, jumping nearly in sync from one to the next to avoid pedestrians, to keep from having to lose stride.
It was like he was back in Shiran City, tunnel focused on getting to the palace, desperate to save his sister, to get her and Relyt out before his father could kill them. Only it wasn’t the same, not really. Because this time he had Nhulynolyn keeping pace beside him. This time he had his Oathed Warrior and a Sinner-Anglëtinean who had more skills than he let on running at his back. This time he was tethered to the City he was running towards. This time he was older, he was Awakened, he was stronger.
This time he had nothing left to lose because he’d already lost it all, over and over again.
“Kick ass, obviously,” he yelled back and laughed when Nhulynolyn’s annoyance tickled the side of his face.
But his mirth faded as quick as it flared. Because something told him he was already so close to being too late. Though too late for what he had no idea. But his instincts were screaming that he needed to get there now, hours ago, days ago. Demanded he go full speed, or fuck even open a Gateway, but he didn’t listen. Couldn’t trust that urge, that demand, not after Azriel’s bullshit right before he’d left. Not after hearing the sincerity that he wished he could believe wrapped around logical reasoning he’d have listened to any other time. Not after hearing the words that he’d never heard often enough spoken like an apology Rhyshladlyn doubted the Anglëtinean would ever again prove with actions. It had thrown off his rhythm and because of that he wasn’t going to do exactly what his instincts said the moment they even began to warble. Not until he was certain they weren’t just trying to get him farther away from the Companion he didn’t feel connected to anymore.
Ryphqi’s Watchtowers rose above the desert dunes far quicker than he was expecting, their golden glow brighter than normal against the inky black of night as the sun fully sank beneath the horizon. A pang lanced across his heart, a morbid sense of homesickness. He missed the desert, the cold nights and sweltering days, the Storms that ravaged the lands and brought the rains that filled the wells for the year. Though, if he was being honest with himself, he missed more how simple things had been back when he’d lived in Fènwa. Missed how clear the future was, how certain he was of where he stood and who stood beside him.
“Alright, here’s the plan,” he shouted, motioning with one hand at Eiod and Jerald to catch up, forcing himself to focus on the present. Waited until they were close enough that he didn’t have to yell as loud or throw his voice as far. “I’m going to take the area around the Companion Tower. Nully, take the Steward Tower and Jerald take the Warrior Tower. Eiod, you’ve got the area between the Sacred Three Towers since they’re much closer to each other than the Triads.”
“Why are we taking only the Tower areas and not a grid of the City?” Eiod asked.
Rhyshladlyn smiled, felt it tug at the muscles of his face, knew it wasn’t a nice one by the way Nhulynolyn twitched. Was careful not to look over his shoulder until he could wipe it off.
“Our presence in the City will draw them out and to those locations, just by virtue of Ryphqi’s flexing its sentience to greet us. So when they gather, we’ll handle them from there,” he answered. “It’s better than searching for them and missing any in the process.”
“Fair enough. But one problem,” Jerald grunted as they jumped to another Line, “Nully and I can easily communicate with you, Eiod cannot.”
“That’s easily dealt with,” Eiod replied before Rhyshladlyn could. He raised an eyebrow at the Anglëtinean-Sinner. “Back during the war Ryphqi spoke to me. Its the reason I was able to answer you when you came searching for me. It kept me alive.”
Rhyshladlyn nodded, “Which means reestablishing that link for communication won’t be difficult. Good.”
*Why are none of us going to the Heart Watchtower?*
He glanced sidelong at his twin and debated what to say. Didn’t want to say the truth because it would make his earlier thought a little too real but he couldn’t lie and if he didn’t give Nhulynolyn something the Other was going to pester him. So he did the next best thing: he compromised.
*Because that’s a last ditch, there is no other choice, option. And unless I don’t have to use it, I’m not going to.*
Any more talking was cut off as the City rose out of the dunes, as the sounds of the alarms going off, the Barriers and Shield shrieking a warning that hadn’t come in time pierced the still night. Smoke curled high into the air, thick enough to obscure the City’s natural glow in places, dancing to the sound of screams that flickered like the firelight causing those plumes. Seeing the damage wrought in only a couple of hours Rhyshladlyn suddenly wished he had brought more trained warriors.
“High and Old Ones See us,” Eiod whispered.
While Rhyshladlyn didn’t disagree, he doubted highly that either set of gods were actually watching over the Worlds anymore. Or rather, not in this moment.
As they passed over the northwestern edge of the retaining wall, as he caught the claw marks raked into the stone, the blood smears and body parts and so much blood it was hard to see the golden glow of the bricks beneath, Rhyshladlyn cursed. He couldn’t wait any longer.
Without a word, he dropped from the Line early, arms tucked to his sides, used his magick to keep him going in the right direction without releasing his wings. As he felt Nhulynolyn leave the Line, then Jerald, then Eiod, he released some of the Shields on his power. Let it sweep to the surface as Ryphqi’s sentience tasted them all as they dropped through the wards, passed through the Barriers and Shields, and aimed for their respective targets. Distantly heard Nhulynolyn cursing him as the Other fought against fire updrafts and smoke clouds. If Jerald and Eiod had any comments, he was too far away to catch them.
As he fell through the air towards the City below, he took stock of the burning buildings, the bodies that littered the streets, piled high in some places, nothing but stripped bones in others. Windows were blown out, blood splattering what remained of the glass, the crossbars that held the panes in place jagged weapons that had torn through whatever had broken them, pieces of skin and clothing flapping in the wind. It looked like any other urban setting he’d been in during the war only worse. Because at least before the war’s end, this kind of scene was expected, was normal even. But now? So long after the last battle had been fought? He shook his head. This shouldn’t have happened; how is it possible that a creature that isn’t a Hound or Oiki did this much damage to a City in matter of hours?
Just as he was coming up on one of the taller buildings that surrounded the Companion Tower, he had another, much more unsettling thought: Why aren’t the wards screaming, too? Why didn’t they activate and keep these things out? But before he could try and touch Ryphqi’s sentience, to ask, to investigate, a Dragaen in full form scramble up the side of one of the buildings and onto the flat roof. Three flesh-less creatures that were horrifying enough, even at a distance lit only by Ryphqi’s glow and the fires, to make Rhyshladlyn thankful he didn’t have to see them in the light of day, took to the roof after the Dhaoine, the clack of their claws loud even from this distance.
Oh yeah fuck that.
Altering his course slightly, he hit the roof with a roar, crossed it in an eye blink, crashed into two of those things, and took them off the roof with him. Flared his primary set of wings to slow his speed just enough that he didn’t lose total control of his descent, left hand locked around one’s throat, his right gripping the other’s bicep. As the motherfuckers screamed and flailed in his hold he cursed and let go of the one whose arm he held. Cried out when it raked its claws down his right wing as it fell, desperate to hold on, to kill him. But as soon as it was off him, he shifted focus to the other one as it tried to sink its why the full fuck do you have that many teeth into his face, the sounds it made reminding him of the old rocking chairs on the cabin’s porch, creaking and loud. He hissed at it, cocked back his right arm and punched it in the jaw, smiling as he felt the long bones there crack and splinter. It shrieked at him then seemed to finally realize they were in a free fall and it was the one on bottom; went from trying to kill him to trying to flip them around.
Like that’s gonna happen. Rhyshladlyn’s smile twisted as he tucked his wings in, sank his nails into the leather-like muscles at the front of the thing’s throat, free hand pressed flat against its chest. The flesh-less monstrosity swiped at him with its claws, kicked with its feet, tearing long gashes in his biceps and forearms, ripping open old scars and creating new ones, bruising his shins and making his knees go numb. Howled in defiance and anger and something he didn’t understand. But Rhyshladlyn didn’t care. Didn’t even try to stop it because it didn’t matter.
“Welcome to Ryphqi City, bitch.”
They slammed into the ground hard enough to send cobblestones flying in all directions. Hit hard enough that he felt its spine pulverize as his weight hit and settled. Laughed as it screamed. Laughed harder when it gurgled pathetically after he ripped its throat out and stepped away. Whirled, hands pulling Beannacht and Mallacht from their sheaths at the sound of claws clicking on stone and that old-wood-creaking noise echoed around him, coming face to face with the creature that’d clawed his wing to the Cliffs as it leapt out of the plumes of stone dust and fire smoke. Let loose a war howl that shook the air, Mallacht swinging up to block its hands as they swiped down towards his head and shoulders, Beannacht sweeping up and from the side to bite into its side, slicing through muscle and cracking bone. Glittering blood flew in an arch as it screamed in his face at a decibel that made his ears ring.
He planted his feet, disengaged just far enough to be able to properly punch the fucker’s neck, collapsing its trachea and larynx in one go. Flipped the grip on Mallacht and swung around in a circle, severing the thing’s head clear from its neck at the apex, more of that glittering blood spraying. Before the body had even begun to convulse with its death throes, Rhyshladlyn was turning to face movement at his right. Shouted a Sinxhët curse as the Dragaen came rocketing out of the smoke, dodged out of the way before it he, definitely a he could slam into him. Watched as that glorious, beautiful form rolled across the cobblestones before it smacked into the Companion Watchtower hard enough to shake it.
Everything froze for a heartbeat at the thrum and pulse of recognition that raced along every nerve ending the second the Dragaen touched that Tower. And he could only watch as several of those flesh-less creatures came shuffle-running out of the smoke and dust cloud, frozen in shock and something that felt dangerously like hope. Struggled to get his body to obey his command to intercept them, to move godsdamn you, to defend this Dhaoine who clearly was struggling to hold his own. But he couldn’t.
Not until the male screamed. As the sound echoed around him, Rhyshladlyn moved before his body had even registered it was willing to comply with the order. Shifted through the air faster than blinking, sheathing his swords as he crossed the distance, and met the closest of the damned beasts barehanded and furious. Thrust his hands into the thing’s back, wrapped his fingers around the front of its ribcage and, with a sound that made the air burn, he tore it apart. Was moving before he’d ever finished, wielding those halved pieces like gruesome swords to take down the other two. Met every new one that slunk out of the smoke with them, disregarding his swords entirely. Moved with the singular thought of for harming that which belongs to me, I shall kill you with the pieces of that which belonged to you.
Swung and twirled. Parried and ducked and dodged. Moved until the legs were limp and useless. Dropped the torsos and ripped one half of the split spine out of one and the solid femur out of the other. Twirled and flicked the mock whip, filling it with power so it became as solid as steel, as indestructible as diamond, as sharp as obsidian. Stabbed out eyes and ripped through throats and chests with that femur until it got tangled in a ribcage, snagging deep on the heart below. But even as he let it go, he merely found a new weapon, a new body part of his enemies to use. And with each enemy felled he never stopped moving. Used his bare hands, his teeth, his legs, his fists, and weapons fashioned out of their body parts after he’d rendered them useless. Kept moving because if he stopped, he’d think too hard about what it felt like when the Dragaen had touched that Tower. So he didn’t stop.
Didn’t stop even to suck in a deep breath until there was a battle lull. Until it was just him and the Dragaen who lay crumpled and bleeding at the Companion Tower’s base, true form half hidden beneath its Dhaoinic one. And even as Rhyshladlyn dropped those gruesome makeshift weapons to the ground, he was still bouncing from one foot to the other. Even as he turned and got a better look at the face that was revealed as those scales receded, he didn’t stop moving. Not until he stared into brown-golden eyes that looked up at him from beneath wind-tossed, blood-soaked black hair and froze. Because he suddenly knew exactly who he was looking at.
But before he could say the name dancing at the tip of his tongue, the smoke shimmered with a veritable wall of bodies as the brethren of the things he’d killed arrived to see what the power flare had been about. Found their mutilated fellows and tore at the air with a noise he didn’t have words for. As he stood perfectly still, they gathered in a mass behind his back, moving slowly and carefully, realizing that by virtue of him being the only one standing and covered and gore and that oddly glittering blood, that Rhyshladlyn had been the one to make a sea of dead. As those creatures settled into a loose formation, him turning just as slowly as they’d moved to track them, they loosed another of those screams. Only this was far worse for it wasn’t just one voice, it was ten times that.
Feeling blood trickling from his ears, Rhyshladlyn shifted until he was fully in front of the Dragaen who was rapidly gushing blood from a torso wound that showed far more of his insides than Rhyshladlyn was comfortable with, who had at least one very badly broken leg. Counted the things before him and knew that there was no way he could take on this many enemies and make sure the Dragaen didn’t die from his wounds. And that only served to righteously piss him off.
*Nhulynolyn!* His twin stumbled across the City and turned to look in his direction. Rhyshladlyn didn’t waste time using words, just showed the Other what he was seeing. *I’ve got the shift of locales covered, just get here.*
As his twin disengaged from his fight, Rhyshladlyn passed the information to Jerald, told him to find Eiod, that there was a change of plans. His Warrior, blessedly, didn’t question him. Just moved immediately to follow through on the new orders.
Taking a deep breath, Rhyshladlyn slipped beneath and touched Ryphqi, smiled when it cooed at his attention. Chuckled when it brushed against his legs like a snakat, purring its happiness at his return. It didn’t argue or question him either when he told it what he needed, merely agreed it without hesitation. And as tension built in the ambient magick around him, the Balance of it wobbling, he smiled slow, sweet, and dark at the wall of flesh-less creatures in front of him. At that stationary yet writhing mass of horrors that never should have left the Forest that contained them.
“Well?” he quipped when none of them moved on him. “Waiting on you.”
They launched at him in one single rippling mass of movement, like they were each parts to a greater whole. He pushed off the ground, loosing a sound that made the air quiver around him. As he made contact, that smile twisted. As he felt bones shake and crack, felt his skin get torn by claws, joints ripped out of the socket and knocked back in on the next blow, he laughed. Laughed and kept pushing until he was surrounded. Until all he saw was those writhing, flesh-less, leather muscled, brownish-white boned things with their talons and too many teeth and tongueless mouths.
Ryphqi took a breath and held it, that tension building all the further as he fought to get to the street. And when Rhyshladlyn slapped his palms onto the stones beneath his feet, Ryphqi let out that breath and the tension snapped.