67

It was such a stupid idea to come here, and she knew that, but she hadn’t been able to stop herself from changing course from Eyrdo and coming here anyway. Pulled by a Call nearly as strong as the qahllyn that tied her to Rhyshladlyn, an echo of the one the stories said had brought Relyt to him some seven hundred and eighty-five years ago. That and the reports that had run up and down the Lines saying that Shiran City had risen from the desert sands had piqued her interest; for very little in Existence was capable of raising a City, especially one that had been condemned and sunk by a Greywalker.

As her feet touched the sand in front of the main gates, she swayed. The City before her reeked of Rhyshladlyn’s pain. A pain that had taken the memories it was attached to and given them a physical presence. Turned them into living, breathing things that walked the fabled streets of the City he had sunk. Moved like ghosts one caught out the corner of one’s eye but never full on.

But it was more than that, as though what walked the City’s streets wasn’t just the memories of the events that had birthed that pain but a piece of the Self she had been surrounded by in the Eighth Palace. She could feel Rhyshladlyn as though he stood just on the other side of the gates. As though if she reached out, she would feel his skin beneath her fingertips. But the echo-Rhyshladlyn that walked the streets behind the gates and the wall they were cut into wasn’t the one she knew today, or even one the Worlds knew today. No, this one was a terrified young with no escape, no hope, nowhere to go, and no one coming to save him. The piece of his Self that had ripped off and been buried with the Dhaoine who’d been unable to escape in time was nothing more than the terrified, abused child he’d never been able to reconcile and Heal.

And by all the gods, her heart ached for him. Instincts born of what she was and the qahllyn that connected them demanding she fix this as tears blurred her vision. But this pain was old, a festering wound that no amount of lancing and cleansing would clean. This was a scar that had been smoothed out when the City had been sunk beneath the sands, allowing Rhyshladlyn to function as though the wound it represented had been Healed. But now that it was back, risen with the twin who had sacrificed himself to keep her Qishir alive? I don’t even want to think about how he’s handling this.

The sense that she was being watched, that there was something — or rather some things — that wanted her to step inside stalled her thoughts. Brought with it the urge to touch the gates with their old, old wood. To come inside the bluish-gold retaining wall with its faint black and violet veins as though it were constructed out of marble and not stone, to walk the design-laden cobblestone streets. To make manners at the Temple with the Dhaoine who hadn’t seen someone new in way too long. But nothing living was behind those gates and the surety with which she knew that made her hesitate to listen to that demand, that urge.

The wind shifted and brought with it the taste of Nhulynolyn’s power, just a hairsbreadth weaker than Rhyshladlyn’s pain. Strong enough despite how his former ‘s own power and memories overpowered it that she berated herself for not noticing it sooner. Made her wonder for half a second if he was still here. Even though she knew realistically that he wasn’t. He’d left long before she’d gotten here.

But not before he’d tethered to the City’s Heart Tower.

Rhyshladlyn may have been the one to bring Shiran to life before he’d sunk it but it had never belonged to him. Not the way it did to Nhulynolyn.

Ahdyfe lifted a hand and hovered it just above the handles of the gates, hesitating as she felt the warmth of the power that wafted off that old wood. Tracked the way those barely visible veins of color twisted and fell over each other. She felt safe here, for all that she stood within touching distance of a once-buried Sanctuary City that thrummed with a Call that had nothing to do with the Dhaoine who now held its Heart, and yet she couldn’t bring herself to touch the wood. Couldn’t bring herself to answer that Call. She felt safe, knew that as Rhyshladlyn’s qahllyn Healer that no City in the Worlds could or would harm her, but something felt off.

Then she got it. It feels like a trap.

The second the thought registered she jerked her hand back as fear soaked its way down her spine and froze the air in her lungs. It felt like a trap because it was a trap. Rhyshladlyn hadn’t just sunk the City, he’d fucking cursed it so that anyone who was uncertain of the Truth of what had happened there, the atrocities visited upon Shiran’s citizens by Anislanzir would be Called inside and once there, they would never escape. Shiran would eat them alive and make them just as much of a ghost as the memories Rhyshladlyn had left behind. It was the most complex and terrible of death magick. And the Qishir had done it so effortlessly that she’d barely caught it in time.

She turned and ran for the dunes in the distance, for the sea of skeletal remains that stretched for leagues beyond them, instinctively knowing that if she tried to catch a Line before she made it out of the Valley proper that that Call would just suck her right back in because she wasn’t strong enough to resist it entirely just yet. Cursing she ran as fast as she could and wished she hadn’t fucking come here. But even as she finally crested the dunes to the boneyard beyond and caught a Line after several bone-crushing steps, she couldn’t bring herself to regret it.

Because at least now she knew without any doubt that she was making the right choice by siding with her Qishir.

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