58

“Do you know how Greywalkers were originally created?”

“Well if this book is to be believed…” a pause as long fingers delicately turned the crinkly parchment pages of the ancient tome resting on the polished table between them. “Fate made them. Reached through the in between from Their domain and plucked a Chosen Dhaoine and placed them in the living realm.”

“Chosen Dhaoine?” The confusion was clear both in tone and eyes as the speaker leaned forward, one hand tugging the book across the tabletop. “What does that mean?”

“It means Otherborn, my children.”

The two looked up at their mother who stood smiling down at their guilty expressions. Waved a hand with a chuckle when the eldest tried to close the tome, mouth opening around an apology.

“No, no, my beloved daughter,” she murmured, pulling out a chair to sit down with them. Smoothed her skirts beneath her with a grace that both children envied if only because they had yet to match it. “Feel no guilt nor offer me any apology. You are within your rights to be curious and to seek out answers to satisfy that curiosity.”

“But, Father–” her youngest began.

“–can get over himself,” she winked and laughed outright at their shocked expressions. “What he does not know cannot hurt any of us. So… what were you researching exactly?”

Her children shared a look that spoke volumes in a language she would never understand. For every set of twins had one, some verbal, some non. Others yet had a language that was far more intense, far more beautiful; the blessed twins sought after by all in the Worlds, whose bond once forged could never be broken, not even by death, Otherborn and. Absently she rubbed a hand over her belly, feeling the slight protrusion of it, just enough for her to notice but not enough to catch the attention of anyone else, not yet at least. The gods be thanked.

“How Greywalkers were created,” the eldest, her daughter, answered at length, clear blue eyes swinging over to look at her.

“Specifically whether there was anything in their creation that explained what made the Worlds fear them enough to wipe them out,” the youngest, her son, added as he, too, looked at her with eyes identical to his sister’s.

Were their genders not different they would have been identical. It was obvious in the bone structure of their faces and how they carried themselves. They were even of a height, making her daughter tall even for her sire’s kind, let alone for her mother’s. It had never not unnerved her to have the weight of those young yet oh so intelligent eyes turned upon her. Especially in tandem.

“Then let me tell you, my beloved children,” she smiled even as the young that grew in her womb twitched and a sense of foreboding settled high in her throat. “It is said that Fate Themselves would find an Otherborn tied to a , one who gave a sacrifice all Others are prepared to give but seldom few ever end up performing. And in return for that sacrifice, They would gift that Otherborn with something greater than the honor they had in serving as the protector of a .”

“But, Mother,” her daughter interrupted, “why would Fate care so much of the doings of Others and their Hearts?”

It was a surprisingly perceptive question but then again she shouldn’t be surprised given that her first children were well over several hundred years old now. For all that she wished they were still young enough to come to her for everything, to play hide and seek among her skirts in the gardens, to sing with her in the Temple, they had long since grown out of such things. But such was the downside of motherhood; one must watch one’s children grow and flourish and pray they never floundered, that one never had to bury them.

“Well, my dearest daughter,” she answered with a smile, “Fate is the first Multitude. It is from Them that all other Multitudes come.”

“Wait,” this from her son, “Fate Themselves created all Multitudes?”

She made a waffling gesture with one hand. “In a manner of speaking. More that They give Their blessing upon that Dhaoine.”

“And all Greywalkers were once Otherborn?” her firstborn asked.

She nodded. “In some manner, they can all trace their lineage back to Otherborn. All save one.”

Her children shared another look, one rife with that unspoken language she envied them for before they looked back at her and spoke in unison, something they rarely did anymore, “Who?”

“Fate itself, of course,” she laughed at the look on their faces. “Granted, that isn’t confirmed as the last Otherborn known in the Worlds was one attached to a Dragaen who wandered Qishir Xhala Qinshi’s Court some nine thousand plus years ago. And that Otherborn wasn’t very forthcoming about his kind and their secrets.”

For long minutes neither of her children spoke, just looked at each other and communicated in that careful, silent way they had. She watched them and swallowed hard around the lump of foreboding in her throat. Fought to keep her face serene and empty as that feeling settled hard and heavy in her stomach, making the already unhappy organ even more so. But she knew her people’s history, especially the history of her family itself, and while her first born children weren’t yet ready to hear those lessons and stories, this lesson, this story, she could tell safely. Sensed that maybe one day it would save one of them.

“Listen well, little ones,” she said softly, catching their attention swiftly. It had been centuries since she’d called them that and she did it now to let them know that what she said next was important, something they must never forget. “Otherborn are Greywalkers waiting to be made. They are the literal physical embodiment of the Veil that separates the living realm, the in between realm, and the realm of the dead. It is why what affects the living does not affect them. Just as Greywalkers bring Balance, just as they themselves are the physical embodiment of Balance, Otherborn are the anchors upon which all Greywalkers rely. Without them, the Balance Walkers would be lost.”

In the distance, shouting rose, sharp and angry, and she frowned. Apparently her absence had been noted far sooner than she had expected. Taking the tome from her daughter’s hands, Azhuri sent it soaring back to its proper place among the shelves of the library. Smoothed her skirts and affected a calm, peaceful expression just as her husband pushed into the library, scattering servants and other palace staff as the doors banged off the walls.

At the sight of the Lord King, the heavy lump of foreboding in her stomach caught fire and seared her from the inside. But she didn’t let it show on her face as she rose to her feet and bowed as was respectful and expected. Anislanzir regarded her coldly before glaring at Alaïs and Anis.

“You two have studies you are late for.” He said nothing more. Both her children rose, bowed to their father, came around the table to kiss her cheek and all but ran for the library exit.

She turned to face Anislanzir. Watched the fury twist his features and knew she had no choice. Knew, too, that for all that she didn’t want to speak these words so soon, it was make this concession or risk dying and taking her unborn children with her.

“My Lord,” she whispered demurely before he could speak, “I am with child at last.”

The library doors closed with a muted thud that made her bones thrum with a sense of finality, of change. Watching Anislanzir’s face light up in genuine surprise and delight had her praying for the first time in centuries to the Nameless. Prayed that her family survived whatever lay ahead.

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