He absently rubbed at his arms, fingers searching for the bumps and ridging of scars that no longer existed there; scars that had marked him for the coward he was long before he’d proven it. Looked for them by touch to remind him that this wasn’t the past, no matter how similar it felt with the wards cooing every time they registered his presence again. Used them as an anchor to the present in a way that nothing else did. Not even the ebb and flow of Rhyshladlyn’s Call as his Key was enough to keep the past at bay, not for long at least.
He’d been here for days, just aimlessly wandering the corridors. Well, that and hiding from anyone who may even remotely recognize him. Though he’d originally come here after escaping Death’s Gateway to reveal himself, he hadn’t yet. Mainly because he was scared. Had heard enough in passing to know that the majority of the mind spell that Lílrt had enacted — for there was no other explanation for what had gone on the last forty years — had failed. Knew that the chances of Rhyshladlyn remembering everything from Relyt’s betrayal of him to Lílrt’s cohorts to collaring the Qishir to everything that came after was exceptionally high. And while he desperately wanted to help his Key whose pull was just as powerful as it had been eight hundred plus years ago when Relyt had first heard his desperate Call in Shiran City, Relyt knew he had to time his return to the Court just right. Too early and he wouldn’t be able to help them because he’d be dead. But if he waited too long… there was no telling what other nefarious shit his older brother had up his sleeve.
And anyone who remembered reality as it was supposed to be, as it really was, and believed Lílrt had died that day in Thae’a’s house was an imbecile.
Groaning, he pushed his hair roughly out of his face and ducked quickly around a corner only to stop short. Felt the blood drain from his face as he watched Rhyshladlyn close a door to a room and lean his forehead against it, entire body tense. The dejection and loss fell off his Qishir in waves that filled the corridor with too much heat and a coldness that lived beneath that heat, like a snake hidden in the grass, known only when one stepped too close and got struck. His black tunic hung loose on a frame that while just as muscled and strong as Relyt remembered looked smaller somehow, like he’d lost way too much weight and not all of it healthy. With his eyes closed, hair done in a hasty braid that hung down the back of his head and over one shoulder, so much longer than it had been forty years ago, Relyt marveled at how tired he looked, how much older. Not even the war had brought such exhaustion to him that the scars that marred that striking face stood out so vividly against his dark skin. Not even the horrors he’d survived in Shiran City at the hands of his sire had brought shadows that dark to cling to his shoulders like a cloak that was trying to drown him as much as it was trying to protect him from the elements.
This was not the god-like creature who had captured him in N’phier City right before vaporizing it out of Existence and memory. This was not the fully Awakened Greywalker who had spoken an attend of sacrifice against another Dhaoine without a single moment’s hesitation for the atrocity of the action. This was a broken male, brought down by too many failures, too many nightmares, too much mistreatment with no idea who to trust. And Nhulynolyn’s death had been the final nail in the coffin that had seen fit to bury Rhyshladlyn alive.
The Many forgive me the part I had to play in this moment.
Relyt stood there and drank in the sight of his Qishir, the taste of his power, the feel of his magickal signature, the melody of his presence filling the corridor until it was as though the very air itself had been replaced. But then again, it had always been like that with Rhyshladlyn. His power, his presence, proceeded him. Lulled one into almost a false sense of security that Rhyshladlyn could take on anything and everything thrown his way and come out the victor. But Relyt knew that the Qishir wasn’t infallible though the Many only knew the Worlds over prayed he was. He needed desperately to touch him. Needed the confirmation that this was real. That the scent of desert wildflowers and sandalwood and summer nights filled with humidity and campfire smoke was actually Rhyshladlyn and not a specter of Relyt’s creation.
This was the perfect time to reveal himself, to step out of the shadows he’d been skulking around in for days, to finalize what he’d started in his cell in Death’s Gateway, but he didn’t move. Just stood there, rooted to the spot a stride and a half around the corner. So close but so far away. Only moved when running footsteps at the other end of the corridor had Rhyshladlyn’s head lifting from the door, face shining wetly in the light cast by the lanterns scattered along the walls. Relyt slapped a hand to his mouth to stifle the gasp at seeing his Qishir crying, at seeing glowing orange-amber eyes that had haunted his dreams for decades. Quickly stepped back around the corner and out of sight, slamming his back against the wall, heart suddenly in his throat as sweat broke out along his spine.
“Qishir Rhyshladlyn!” There was the sound of boot heels clicking together as the Dhaoine no doubt saluted. “The Eighth Qishir requires you return to the audience hall immediately.”
“Just me?” Relyt swayed as those words reached him on a wave of Rhyshladlyn’s rich baritone voice, so much deeper than he remembered it being. Could feel the Qishir’s attention swing to the door he’d been leaning against moments ago before it resettled on the runner.
“Aye, my Lord. Bayls Qaeniri’s presence is not necessary nor required. Only yours.”
“What has happened?”
“A visiting dignitary was murdered near the front entrance, my Lord.”
“What?” Rhyshladlyn’s voice was sharp, full of danger and promised horrors. “Who?”
Relyt didn’t catch the answer, only the sound of retreating footsteps and the sound of his breath gusting out of him in relief. Stayed like that for a few moments more before he pushed off the wall and went back the way he’d come. Clearly the part of the Palace he’d found himself in wasn’t safe for him to wander right now. Not with Rhyshladlyn awake and aware, not with some new crisis afoot. He needed to find a set of rooms to hunker down in until things calmed enough for him to safely be able to come forward and see his family, his Qishir, his Court again.
He was stalling, looking for any excuse not confront the past as it collided with the present, but he couldn’t help it. He was terrified of what this meant for him, for the family he had been so violently taken from. But he couldn’t bring himself to cross that line just yet. The timing wasn’t right.
This was a mistake. I never should have come here.
The World tilted suddenly, the air whooshing out of his lungs as his back hit something unyielding. He flailed a punch out but it was knocked away as pressure was put on his throat. For one horrifying moment he thought it was Anislanzir who held him pinned, that he hadn’t escaped Shiran City after all, that it had all been an elaborate nightmare or hallucination. But he blinked and his vision cleared, the flashback fading with the sight of blazing mismatched eyes set in a face that was twisted with fury and surprise and something else he didn’t have a word for at that exact moment. Nothing except for a name that he whispered with a reverence that surprised him.