48

It was so freeing to slip his skin. To let the Truth of him loose as Ryphqi’s wards activated and locked down everything that didn’t belong. Mouth spread in a smile that made his victims’ Fear soak the power-laden air. Hands that were nothing more than too many joints and talons caught bodies and tore them apart just before he swallowed the pieces whole. His laughter rang like breaking glass as he moved in the echo of his names, the whispers spoken now like prayers for a forgiveness he could not, would not, grant.

He moved so much easier like this, unrestrained, unchecked; just a literal Walker of the Grey Lands, the place that existed between the living realm and the realm of the dead and the in between realm. A purgatory of sorts where only those born to and of it could go. And he walked there now. Shed one skin for the reality of another. Wrapped the touch of the Grey Lands around his shoulders like one would a blanket on a cold night and left pieces of it in his wake.

Free like this he was nothing more than an apex predator. Something for which there existed no natural combatant. For nothing stood a chance against one like him.

Smiled and laughed as he consumed body after body. Until they were a blur, until he lost count, and still he kept going. Didn’t stop moving, didn’t try to hide his face, his form, from those he consumed. From the Court members who tracked his every movement with equal parts awe and terror. He had warned the Worlds ages ago to leave him and his family alone, after all. Had told the denizens of the Forest that those who bore his touch weren’t food, weren’t playthings. And with those warnings, with those orders, had come the promise that he would unleash something the Worlds hadn’t seen in eons should he not be listened to. And he always kept his promises.

And here he was, slipped of his Dhaoinic skin, an Else given free reign, tearing through enemy after enemy while Ryphqi held them at the ready. Planted the understanding of his profound Loss, his unspeakable grief, into the Selves of each creature right before he took them. Before he rendered them obsolete and useless. Before he gave them back to the Worlds they had sprung from; monsters created for the sole purpose of striking terror into the muscles of their prey, immobilizing them. He was their cousin in that, made good on that name for himself at least, as he turned the base of the Companion Watchtower into a stage for a one-Dhaoine war; a gruesome play that only he survived.

Each one of the Unchained he ate, he gave their magick to Ryphqi. Stock piled it to funnel to the body of his twin that lay protected by his former and current Companions, his Warrior, Eiod, Shadiranamen, the now awake Soul Healer whose name felt like a cool mountain stream in his head. He tasted each of the ten warriors Thayne had sent through the Gateway that sang softly just outside the square and the destruction he wrought within it. Felt Azriel’s and Xefras’ Others where they paced the perimeter of the City, kept out both by his own degree and the edict of Otherborn tradition. Felt the power that kept him alive and upright, a power that was the cool spring breeze he hadn’t felt in three hundred and forty years; a power that had been lost to the winter that had rushed in fast and hard after the collar that had been fashioned to make him pay for his sins had closed around his neck.

He felt it all and yet acknowledged none of it. Not yet, not until he was done.

More bodies. More magickal signatures destroyed. More hearts eaten. More Selves denied the After. Step, slide, grip, tear, laugh, swallow. Over and over, never ceasing, because if he even so much as slowed down the memories he could feel waking up from whatever slumber they’d been in for forty years would hit. And he couldn’t let them. Not yet. Not until every last flesh-less piece of shit was wiped the fuck off the face of Existence as penance for the death of his twin, for his own death, for the Awakening of the Companion he wasn’t supposed to have yet, that he had only Acknowledged because if he hadn’t they both would have died.

He kept moving. Kept wreaking havoc and leaving destruction in his wake. And when he did finally fall still, when he turned the Else of himself around and faced the building his family hid in, he let the first tear fall, and another and another, each one spluttering the coldfire that dripped from the holes in his cheeks. He opened his mouth and roared his Loss, sent his grief rocketing across the Worlds on a name he would carve into the very fabric of reality itself before the last flame of the funeral pyre died.

His roar hadn’t even faded when he started walking towards that building and the mismatched eyes that stared at him from a broken window. Walked and walked, slowly, one step at a time, listening to the groaning cobblestones beneath his too heavy feet. The closer he got, the more he rebuilt his Dhaoinic body. It didn’t fit right, felt even less so, but he didn’t intend to harm those he walked towards and his truest form was for Death, for Desolation. It wasn’t meant for anything else. So even though it felt so very wrong, he packed the Truth of himself back behind the mask of his Dhaoinic form. Put as much of himself back inside that skin as he could, until the cobblestones no longer sagged beneath his feet, until the terror and awe that seeped out from the building in front of him lessened in intensity.

He stopped a few feet away from the building and those eyes that were surrounded by orange-amber tattoos that marked where Azriel’s qahllyn’qir had been. Stopped as brown-gold eyes swung around to look at him with some emotion he didn’t have a name for. And if he was being truthful with himself, he didn’t think he wanted to find one. It was too much in a World that was nothing but overwhelming sensations and Loss and he was so tired and so angry. His tears burned his face more than the coldfire that still dripped from the holes in his cheeks and from the corners of his still slightly too wide mouth. But he didn’t try to stop them. Doing so would be an insult to his twin’s memory.

Instead he just closed his eyes and sighed softly, feeling the last of Nhulynolyn’s power drift away on the wind. He sobbed out a soft, “Please… take us home,” and let himself go. Only barely felt the impact when his body hit the ground before unconsciousness swallowed him.

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