37

It was warmer than he expected as he plunged his hands inside, fingers curling around Rhyshladlyn’s half shredded heart, wings flaring wide as he dropped every Shield and Barrier and ward he had on his power and pulled from the beneath, from the still unstable ambient magick, from the dying Selves of the flesh-less things that littered the ground around him. Convulsed his hands, pulsed them like a heartbeat, and willed the organ trapped between them to pick up the rhythm and move on its own as he scrambled to help the Qishir’s struggling magick to Heal the damage. But it wasn’t working. That once incredibly strong heartbeat kept getting slower and slower, kept spilling its precious, scalding hot blood all over his hands and wrists. Even as he threw all that power down his arms until his gretluos seared his vision with their brightness, it still wasn’t enough.

With a curse that was far more blasphemous than anything he’d ever thought of in his long, long life, Sheieh reached through his gretluos and his gretkewq to the millions of Grey Soul Healers in the Worlds and demanded they give aid. He may not have been a Gret’yinl, may not even be one of the Ildir, but the second they realized who he was trying to save, they didn’t fight him. The light of his gretluos grew brighter as a roar shook the air and something out of the most nightmarish of the Old Stories burst into the square. But he didn’t focus on it as it began tearing into the creatures all around him. Merely focused on the task at hand.

Looking down at the Qishir’s blood-splattered face and orange-amber eyes that were dulled by pain and widened with fear and something else, Sheieh wondered if this was what Relyt had seen in Shiran City when he’d held the Qishir’s life in his hands. Wondered if that had been when Relyt had fallen in love. Wondered if in that moment, suspended between the living realm and the After, balanced precariously on the River’s bank, if that was when his g’agsha had been lost to the pull of the Grey Qishir. Brought to his knees by the strength of Rhyshladlyn’s determination to survive even when all the odds were stacked against him. Made to see the Greywalker in the one way that no one else in the Worlds ever would: dying and terrified and wanting to live all while grateful to finally be allowed to rest.

It was a sobering thought in such a moment. And an illuminating one. He could easily see what had drawn Relyt to Rhyshladlyn not just as his Steward but as the lock the Qishir was meant to open. Did you know what role your Key would play for you, g’agsha?

The Many, the gods of the Worlds in entirety if he were being honest, had one sick sense of humor. He’d come here hoping to find someone strong enough to help the Soulless he’d made a rough friend out of. Had run for the taste of Rhyshladlyn’s power on the wind, having forgotten until the moment he’d arrived why he’d stayed away. Had come looking to save a Dhaoine no one but himself remembered and instead was faced with the daunting task of keeping the Grey Qishir alive. The irony of it wasn’t lost on him.

After all, he’d once helped with the collaring of the male whose heart he held literally in his hands. Hadn’t cared for whether the Qishir had lived or died under Lílrt’s control. Had only cared that he fulfill the role the Anointed One had hand picked him for, one that had been centuries in the crafting. But for all that Sheieh had been dedicated to his role, to the job he’d practically been made for, there had come a point where he cared more for Relyt than he had expected, than he was supposed to. And because of how he’d felt for Relyt his view of Rhyshladlyn had shifted, slowly but surely. While it hadn’t been enough to make him want to take matters into his own hands to correct it, he hadn’t participated further than keeping Relyt as safe as possible in the aftermath.

He’d only been invested in correcting the memory loss across the Worlds for selfish reasons. Sure he told Jaro differently but really all he’d wanted was another chance. Was freedom from his past, a past he only had because he had forsaken his beliefs, had disregarded the warnings, and failed in his duties. He’d been sick of suffering alone through nightmares, waking up in cold sweats and to the sound of his own screams. Had wanted to no longer be plagued with memories of the night he’d lost everything.

Or that’s what he’d thought until the moment Nhulynolyn had cursed, drawing Rhyshladlyn’s attention. Until he’d seen the Companion Tower glow the color of the Grey Qishir’s eyes. Until a flesh-less creature took advantage of that precious moment of distraction and tried to rip Rhyshladlyn’s heart out. Until the moment Sheieh had screamed Rhyshladlyn’s name, bringing the Qishir’s attention around just in time for him to try and dodge the blow, to try and protect himself.

And now Sheieh was here, straddling Rhyshladlyn’s lap where he’d laid the Qishir flat on the gore-soaked ground, hands plunged into his chest, hands palpitating a heart that was missing three of seven chambers and at least two of the main arteries. A heart that was held in place only by a prayer and several stubborn tendons and ligaments and Sheieh’s refusal to let go. Rhyshladlyn was only alive because his heart hadn’t been in the correct place but rather tilted towards his right side, positioned nearly under his sternum, and several inches below his left clavicle. Had it not been for that, Sheieh knew this wound would have been instantly fatal.

He was supposed to be Nhulynolyn’s mirror. 

“O’ Great One… Hear me.

The prayer came easier than he expected after so long without speaking it. After centuries spent adrift between being faithful and unable to find a reason to be. After all the battles he’d seen and losses he’d suffered, of course it would be here, in this moment, during this battle, that he would find his faith again. It would be here, staring at the dying form of the Qishir his g’agsha had loved, that Sheieh would speak the prayer he’d been taught since birth for the first time in nearly two and a half centuries.

“Give me the Balance to swim in Sadness but not drown. Give me the Balance to feel Anger but not be consumed. Give me the Balance to accept my Guilt but never expect forgiveness.” He funneled all that power through his body, felt blood drip down from his ears as those flesh-less things screamed. Felt tears burn his cheeks as Nhulynolyn’s desperation hit the air, thick as honey but not nearly as sweet. Felt fear and grief fight for a place in his chest as a voice like a fire’s flames catching whispered out a demand he couldn’t hear clearly but could feel the weight of despite that.

Taking a deep breath, Sheieh blocked out anything else but the prayer he spoke as he willed Rhyshladlyn to live. Spared a thought, not really a full prayer but close, that whichever gods were responsible for the Dhaoine who shaped the Worlds by their mere presence took pity on them all and kept the Grey Qishir alive. Because Sheieh didn’t want to think what would happen if Rhyshladlyn died, even if it was for only the time it would take for them to get Nhulynolyn to help revive him.

“Give me the Balance to experience Happiness but not hoard it. Give me the Balance to know Fear but never be afraid. Give me the Balance to taste Disgust but not let it color my words. Give me the Balance to experience Desire but not be ruled by it. Give me the Balance to take Pity but never feel it. Give me the Balance to recognize Envy but never let it blind me,” he swallowed hard and gently squeezed the heart in his hands. Felt it rebuilding itself but not fast enough and swallowed down a sob.

“O’ Great One, for the gift of Balance I sacrifice my autonomy. For the Balance You give me, for the control of the emotions that would make me weak, I pray that one day Love shall grace me. That one day I can give this gift to another, so that they, too, may know Your Balance.”

Just as he spoke the last words of the prayer, Sheieh watched the light in those orange-amber eyes flicker, dim, and fade before it flickered back again and again, taking longer each time to return. In that moment Sheieh understood finally what the Many’s teachings really meant.

His kind weren’t meant to control their emotions for Balance or because lack of that control made them weak. It was so that they would recognize the moments when Love touched them, in all the forms it took, of which there were more than the ten heads of the Many itself. And in that moment, as Sheieh watched his power flow into Rhyshladlyn’s body, watched his own hands gently squeeze in a heartbeat pattern around that torn organ, he knew why Relyt had suddenly gone from Gret’yinl in name only to Gret’yinl in power, too, virtually overnight. Love. Love for the Qishir Sheieh was trying to save, the one he’d disregarded so flippantly centuries ago, caring for nothing but the Anointed One’s agenda, but the role Sheieh himself was destined to play.

“Destiny isn’t everything, Sheieh,” Relyt made a derisive sound as he sat heavily down on his bed and flopped onto his back.

“I do not understand, g’agsha.”

“Destiny is merely the justification Fate gives the gods and the Dhaoine who look to it for its meddling, for the mantles it crafts for shoulders barely strong enough to support themselves let alone anything else,” Relyt replied, eyes distant, seeing things that weren’t in the room with them. “It’s not everything, it isn’t set in stone. Not really.”

“But Fate never lies, g’agsha,” he pressed, frowning as he sat in one of the chairs around the table. “It dictates what role each Dhaoine plays in the Worlds.”

“Aye, that’s true,” Relyt agreed. “But that is merely the outcome. How one gets there? That’s up to us, now isn’t it?”

As Ryphqi City began to glow orange-amber instead of gold, Sheieh finally understood what Relyt had meant all those years ago. Destiny had told him he was going to see Rhyshladlyn brought down, killed because of the actions of someone in his Court, someone who cared for him deeply; a chain reaction that would take decades to centuries to fully blossom. It was in the scrollwork written about a web one of the Anointed One’s people who had managed to see it somehow, or so Lílrt had said. But like Lílrt, like Relyt, like them all, Sheieh had thought that had meant watching Rhyshladlyn be collared. Thought that had meant watching the life and hope in those striking eyes die after centuries of abuse and enslavement.

But that wasn’t the truth and he knew that now. Let the sob he’d swallowed finally escape, one that was so close to what had been ripped from him forty years ago at Thae’a’s house, and his tears flowed faster. Thought of all he’d failed to do in his life and found himself wishing to repent in that moment when things moved slower than normal as Death gathered itself in the living realm, ready to extend its hand to its Scion, to the one who bore its Mark for the first time in millennia. But there was nothing he could give that came close to making up for all the wrongs he’d done. But he still had to do something.

So he gave the only things he could in apology: his hope, his power, his strength, his will to survive, to see things made right. He spoke it in prayers hurriedly murmured in Gretlök. He whispered it in pleas for Rhyshladlyn to live, to breathe, to stay on this side of the River. Reached for his own Self and offered a piece of it to the Qishir, the only reparation good enough for everything Sheieh had taken from him, had been part of being done to him. Offered it up for the sake of restoring Balance, to save a life that mattered more than his own.

But he never finished the offering as sound rushed out and Rhyshladlyn’s heart stilled. He screamed a curse as a wail of pure anguish swung around the square, high and piercing, making his heart feel like it was breaking, torn like the one he held cupped in his hands. He cursed again and watched as the Qishir’s eyes flashed ice blue. Jumped when the Dragaen came stumbling to his knees beside him, hands reaching in to cover the parts of Rhyshladlyn’s heart that Sheieh’s hands weren’t able to.

“Rhyshladlyn, I swear I will kick your entire ass if you die, too,” the Dragaen snarled, brown-gold eyes glowing as the male’s own power smacked to the surface and plunged into the Qishir’s body. “Live you stubborn idiot. Live.”

Die… too? Sheieh glanced over his shoulder and felt like vomiting as Eiod closed Nhulynolyn’s lifeless eyes, the Anglëtinean-Sinner looking grief stricken though he hid it well. He looked away as the sounds of fighting increased around him. Looked back at the Qishir as power unlike anything Sheieh had ever felt before bristled against his skin. He watched it hit the body beneath him like a lightning strike. Watched Rhyshladlyn’s god-Marks come to life with a white-hot glow that made him cringe and look away.

As sound rushed back in all at once, making his ears pop, Rhyshladlyn’s heart gave a mighty thump in his and the Dragaen’s hands. Then another and another. The Dragaen laughed, high and hysterical, full of trembling hope, as the Qishir’s heartbeat quickened all the further. But something was wrong. It shouldn’t be beating that fast, not so soon after clear death. Not when his twin had just given him back the gift of life.

That was when Sheieh saw that the ground around them, hidden though it was beneath all the bodies and blood, wasn’t glowing. Saw that a circle of grey was spreading wider and wider with them at its center. But before he could do more than turn his head to look at the Dragaen, to open his mouth to attempt a warning, the tension that had been building in the absence of Balance that Rhyshladlyn had created snapped.

Then all Sheieh knew was the peculiar sense of flying followed by a sickening crack and the yawning swallow of darkness.

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