34

Metal clanked as he moved, the sound bouncing off the too-close walls, bringing the attention of his guard up from the meal the neodrach was eating. But ey disregarded him when ey saw he was merely shifting position to be more comfortable. Or as comfortable as one could get on concrete floors with smooth walls and only a thin blanket riddled with holes to use for warmth and a bed simultaneously. Never mind the shackles fitted tight to his wrists and ankles connected by magick reinforced chain, runes carved into the wide, thick-set metal shackles themselves that tampered his magick; effectively trapping him far better than the walls and the steel bars that blocked the only entrance to his cell.

The guards had put him in the most secure of cells the Worlds had, shackled him with the strongest magick-laced and -made metal and steel, because they knew he posed a great risk. Thought that he was a danger because of the crime he was accused of but they had no idea the span of his crimes; didn’t know what he’d really done. Which was probably a good thing because if they had? He wouldn’t have been locked away, shackled and made to wait for a trial he was likely never to see and if he did he’d only end up in the arena facing off the one Dhaoine he was desperate to see anyway.

He’d resisted being brought here at first. Argued until he was forcibly taken to the ground that all he needed was to be brought before the Grey Qishir. That the qahllyn’qir that writhed beneath his skin and chittered horrible things in his ears when the sun set and all was quiet and still seen would be proof enough that he was who he said he was. That even if his signature was ignored, those wouldn’t, couldn’t lie. But no one had believed him, no one had listened.

And really, he didn’t blame them. Understood it even. After all, there were few offenses more severe than impersonating the Court member of a sitting Qishir. But he wasn’t impersonating anyone and he certainly wasn’t lying. But he knew that he didn’t have proof, not the kind that would be accepted at face value. Which was why he was here, in Ûshir, locked in the deepest part of Death’s Gateway, awaiting word to reach the Eighth Qishir and for a trial date to be set. And it was a trial he would lose unless the Grey Qishir himself attended and decided just the once to do something that was expected of him. And that wasn’t even counting on whether Fate had decided he’d repented enough for his sins; whether the oldest of the gods believed that one horrible, gruesome, terrifying death had been enough.

Slowly, carefully so he didn’t make any more noise than necessary, he crossed his legs in front of him, hands coming to rest on his ankles. Taking a deep breath he closed his eyes and relaxed back against the wall before letting that breath out nice and slow. Tried to meditate passed the feeling of the walls closing in on him. Tried to ignore the way his mind was trying to panic at how muted his magick felt, how distant. Like the longer he went chained like this, the greater the chance he’d permanently lose it became. Neither were real, merely a figment of his imagination, hyper-active from so much time spent in solitary confinement, waiting for answers, for freedom, for any contact with the Worlds outside. Waiting, ever waiting, for someone, anyone, to remember who he was, to realize who he was, and save him.

His eyes flew open then and he stared at the guard who had finished eir meal and was sharpening eir throwing knives. But he didn’t see em. Instead he saw someone else. Saw a collar made of pure silver with intricate, beautiful runes carved deep into its surface, humming with a power so strong it made his bones shake. Saw instead the moment that collar closed around a neck that he’d once buried his nose against and breathed deep of the special scent that always hovered there. Saw the way fear became a physical thing that pressed against skin and made eyes glow so bright the sun was dim by comparison. Saw the moment when true understanding flashed clear and absolute across a face as sharp as obsidian and just as unforgiving in its beauty. Remembered how the betrayal that soaked a voice that screamed for him to come back, that he didn’t know what he’d done, demanded to know why, ever why, and how it didn’t touch him. How he didn’t care.

“By the Great One, I belong here,” he whispered, the Gretlök sounding harsh in the still quiet.

“What the fuck you say?” his guard snapped, making him jump.

“Apologies,” he replied in Common, “was nothing.”

“Keep it that way,” ey growled, eyes hard and unforgiving as the steel they were colored like, “vermin like you don’t deserve to speak.”

He didn’t reply verbally, just nodded. Because ey was right. I belong here. For what I did… I belong here. I deserve worse than this. Shaking, fighting back tears that suddenly sprang to his eyes, he brought his knees up to his chest. Hooking his arms as best he could over them, he buried his face into the dirty, torn fabric that covered his legs and sobbed without sound.

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