He stood surrounded by shelves and shelves of books, marveling absently how they were still in the same perfect condition they’d been when the City had sunk beneath the desert sand. Ran his fingers gently along the spines, feeling the whispered traces of magickal signatures from those who’d last held them, turned their pages, looked for guidance among the words printed neatly and carefully between their covers. Wandered the aisles aimlessly, not really sure what he was doing here. Why he hadn’t gone home, followed the tug of his connection to Rhyshladlyn, to his mate, to the rest of his fellow Otherborn. Not fellows anymore… I’m no longer Other in the way they are.
That thought was his answer. He needed to come to terms with what he was now and the role he had to play. Needed to take time to acclimate to a City that Called to him as loudly as Ryphqi Called to Rhyshladlyn. Needed to understand, even if only partially, what was in store for him now. So he had come here, to the old palace library. Had walked to the corridors and rooms of the place he and Rhyshladlyn had grown up in, the literal shit show that had shaped who they were. Which was dumb because he hadn’t seen these walls in well over seven hundred years, yet here he was instead of going to his real home.
It wasn’t like he didn’t want to go home. Gods, he wanted it desperately. But he had no idea how long he’d been gone, Fate hadn’t told him. It felt like ages but was probably only a few hours, maybe a few weeks tops. It was just daunting to know that he had been dead, locked in a part of the in between that no one had known existed before him. That he’d stood in Fate’s domain and seen the webs that dictated the lives of every Dhaoine within the Seven Worlds. That when he’d been pulled from it, he’d been reborn. No, he’d been remade and what he was now wasn’t something he knew how to handle. And until he did, he wouldn’t risk going home.
Because he remembered how dangerous it had been when Rhyshladlyn was first learning how to handle the newness of his reality. How potent his twin’s power had been before he’d gotten even a modicum of control over it. And that was a flesh-and-blood Dhaoine. Nhulynolyn had been an Otherborn, had been something removed from the laws of the living, a step out of reality, the fabric of life itself woven into the very skin that caged his Self. Now the rules had been changed and the game board upheaved onto the floor. And the gods surrounding, but he was still trying to make sure he had all the pieces.
Nhulynolyn plucked a book from the shelves at random, tracing the title embossed in the looping, dotted script of Sinxhët. With a stab of nostalgia for an easier, long turned to dust life, he opened it, letting the pages fall where they may, wondering if he’d find the answers he needed penned in the fading ink and the barest hint of familiar magick sticking to the bindings that kept them from falling away from the thick spine. As the pages fell still and he read the passage printed there he started to smile, then chuckle as he read more and more. Until finally his laughter rang out all around him, scattering the Currents and the silence in equal measure. As the sound, just this side of hysteria, bounced off the walls and ceiling and shelves around him in a cacophony that would make ocean waves proud, he closed the book with a snap, vanished it out, and blinked out of the library.
Taking form at the base of the Heart Watchtower in the deepest parts of the Great Temple, Nhulynolyn stopped at the threshold to the room. Stared at the shadowed base of that obelisk with its blue-gold glow and the dust that had piled several inches thick all around the room. There was a smear of something on the side that faced the doorway, a stain that went far below the surface of things, all the way down to the beneath and kept going. Wove around terror and disgust and something that felt like lust but wasn’t nearly as soft. And that was to say nothing of what clung to every other available surface in the room like mold that hadn’t quite gotten the message that it wasn’t fucking wanted.
With a deep breath and more than a little apprehension, Nhulynolyn stepped inside the room and felt like the air had been sucked from his lungs as the emotions that had spent centuries festering smacked into him and he knew instantly what that stain was. Berated himself for not recognizing it sooner. Especially when Shiran’s awareness brushed against his mind with an ancientness that rattled his bones and made his eyes cloud with tears. Rhyshladlyn’s loss and fury were interchangeable, tainting the air much like the essence of their sire’s magick stained the Watchtower he’d died pressed against. That stain would remain there forever because Rhyshladlyn was the Greywalker Qishir who had been tethered to the City when that act had been committed. Nothing and no one would ever be able to get rid of it.
Which is just as well. Let it be a reminder, a warning, for any who dare to think they can do what that rat-fucker did.
Shaking his head, he crossed the room in a few quick strides. Lifted his hand to touch the stone and that stain before he could talk himself out of it. There had been enough moping, enough waffling on what he should do versus what he wanted to do. As his shaking hand touched the stone of the Watchtower, watching its blue-gold glow spread across his fingers to his hand, Nhulynolyn felt the whap of Rhyshladlyn’s magick hit him, felt the tug in his chest all the way down to the Self that lay beneath it, curled in confusion around an aura that no longer existed.
He blanketed his rage and his pain and his loss and his grief over the Worlds because if they hadn’t fucked up, if they hadn’t allowed his kind to be exiled and mass murdered his Companion would still be alive. If they hadn’t feared what they didn’t understand, if they hadn’t supported a Qishir who cared only for the furtherance of her own power, Azriel wouldn’t be dead and he wouldn’t be alone again, he wouldn’t have had to give up his mate in order to Awaken and bring Balance back to the Way of Things.
Nhulynolyn surfaced from the memory with a sob, hand jerking back from the Tower and pressing against his chest as he doubled over and gagged hard on bile. Wondered absently as he worked to breathe through the incredible need to vomit all of his insides onto the floor what he had sacrificed in order to be Awakened just like his twin had been. But even as the thought came he knew the answer. He’d sacrificed their bond as kè and Other. They were now the flesh and blood mirrored twins their birth giver had believed they would be. That was what he gave up, it was the only thing that would have been strong enough, the only tie, the only bond that once lost was devastating enough to remake him.
“I’m so sorry, Rhys,” his voice sounded off, wrong, scratchy from days or longer without use even if it had only been a matter of hours since he’d been torn from the in between on a scream that had burned the air around him. “If I’d been given a choice I wouldn’t’ve taken this from you. Never this.”
Gritting his teeth, Nhulynolyn lifted both hands and touched the Watchtower. Took a breath as the City touched his mind with a soft, confused question. It knew him for his signature was familiar but wasn’t sure because now that he lived as Rhyshladlyn did, the true reality to the Qishir’s mirror, their magickal signatures were nearly as identical as they were. He chuckled softly.
“Hey, there, Shiran,” his voice was stronger now. Got steadier with each word he spoke. “I’m your new Keeper, eh?”
Keeper? Never had a… Keeper before.
“Yeah, I know. But it’s only cuz I’m not a Qishir like my twin… or at least…” he stopped and thought about it. “Let’s just go with that’s what I’ma call myself. Fair?”
Understood. You are the Heart Keeper.
“I–” he snapped his mouth closed, unsure whether to laugh or cry. In the end he just nodded, unable to speak. That term was sacred among Otherborn, one given to those who gave everything for the kè they were tasked with protecting. For an Other who gave that ultimate sacrifice lost so much more than the kè they saved; they lost fellows, they lost their Heart, their living tether, their friend, their confidante. They lost any and everyone they came to love and desire. Gave it all up not just because it was their duty to do anything and everything necessary and possible to safeguard their kè but because their love for their Heart was greater than their need, their desire, their want for a life to live on their own terms, a life they would never have.
For such was the way of Otherborn. And to hear an ancient sentience, a Greywalker City no less, that was older than some of the crumbling scrolls in the Eighth Palace, call him that? It broke his heart and made him flush with pride and something warm he didn’t have a name for.
What… what happened to Heart? Where is Rhyshladlyn?
“My twin’s safe. He just… he’s not here right now. An’ he… he ain’t…” He rubbed a hand across his face and sighed. “He won’t be your tethered Qishir, Shiran. That’s no longer his purpose.”
He felt Shiran grow still, his ears ringing with the sudden absence of the low humming its glow gave off, a humming he was so used to from when he’d lived here as a fledgling that he hadn’t noticed it until it was gone. Felt the confusion as it rolled the knowledge around, tasted it, felt its weight, debated whether it wanted to accept that or not. Felt its humming resume before he heard it and let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. Realized that he’d been worried it would reject him and what that would mean if it had.
He is safe? Happy?
“Safe, yes. I cannot answer for sure if he is happy.”
You will make certain he is happy, eventually.
It wasn’t a question or even a statement. It wasn’t even a demand. More like a fact Spoken with all the weight of an Oath or a Knowledge that was gods-sent. A reality that had not yet come to pass but would despite that. Nhulynolyn nodded again, laughing breathlessly. What has my life become that I’m a fuckin’ Greywalker like Rhys an’ talkin’ to the first City he’d ever tethered to?
“Aye, Shiran. It is my only purpose in life an’ I will do my upmost to achieve it, always.”
Then, Heart Keeper, let us join and wipe away the sins of the past.
He didn’t have a chance to answer before Shiran’s awareness sank beneath his skin, touched places he didn’t know magick could reach let alone would want to. Felt it fill holes that had been torn into his Self and his signature over the course of centuries spent fighting a war and battles both physical and non, of love lost and betrayals and self-hatred and guilt. He leaned his forehead against the stone of the Watchtower between his hands, tall enough thankfully that it didn’t touch that stain and let himself drift in the sea of Shiran’s power. Wondered if this was what it had been like for Rhyshladlyn all those centuries ago when his twin had desperately tethered himself to Shiran’s Heart Watchtower in an effort to save Alaïs as the palace had come under attack back before the war had even really started. Wished desperately that his twin was here with him for this but understood why he wasn’t, why he couldn’t be.
Some journeys weren’t meant to be traveled in any way but alone.
You are free, Heart Keeper. Shiran said eventually and Nhulynolyn blinked his eyes open. Return to your twin for he needs you more than ever before.
“Thank you, Shiran,” he whispered and meant it. Knew the words weren’t nearly enough, knew, too, that they carried an apology for the destruction his twin had wrought here, the untold number of deaths Rhyshladlyn had caused. But Shiran just trailed a soothing touch down his spine, whisper-soft and lover-gentle.
It was necessary, Heart Keeper. No offense taken and no forgiveness necessary. Now go.
With a nod, Nhulynolyn pushed away from the Tower, lifted a hand and caught a Line. Prayed as he threw power behind his stride and ran for Eyrdo that what lay ahead was better than what lay behind them.