She watched as Rhyshladlyn paced along one side of the table, stopping here and there to pick up a piece of parchment or move a map, twirl a pen around a finger, or just stare before moving again. It was so eerily similar to what he’d done during the war that it was hard to believe that not even a week ago he’d been carried through a Gateway with a hole through his chest that had nearly killed him. To look at him with his loose cotton shirt untucked over black breeches, bare toes curling against the stone floor as he moved to help keep him balanced, one wouldn’t know just how close the Worlds had come to losing him. To watch him move with such confidence and focus, it was hard to think of him as anything but the infallible, fabled Grey Qishir, the master tactician.
She’d followed him to the meeting hall after he’d dismissed Thae’a, Eiod, and Sheieh to get changed. Had watched as he’d carried tomes and parchments he’d raided from the Palace’s library and dumped them onto the table. Had watched as he’d spread everything out and begun slowly pacing up and down that side of the table. He’d been at it for roughly an hour now, the minutes ticking by slowly as Jerald and then Eiod joined them. But otherwise the hall had remained empty save for the four of them.
Azriel was still hunting Relyt down. Sheieh was reportedly with Jaro checking on the Soulless’ wounds. Thae’a was with Adïmshyl checking the Palace’s defenses given that Relyt not only managed to murder his own g’agshaïrt but get away before anyone could stop him. And Thayne was in the audience hall with Nhulynolyn and Bayls, debriefing what happened in Ryphqi City and then with Shiran’s rising before they came to the audience hall.
Watching as Rhyshladlyn floated a map above the table and shifted a few parchments around while glancing at that map, she wondered if he now felt Nhulynolyn’s proximity the way she used to with Anis. Wondered if the link that had connected them as kè and Other was still there in some form or if it had severed with Nhulynolyn’s death. Felt guilty that she was enjoying the thrumming vitality of the link that connected her and Nhulynolyn now that it was no longer routed through Rhyshladlyn. Reeled just the tiniest bit from the loss of insight to how her baby brother was feeling, what he was thinking, now that her kè was a living Dhaoine in his own right and no longer dependent on Rhyshladlyn for life and power.
So much has changed in so little time and none of us have the spare time to discover ourselves in that change.
“You look exhausted.”
Alaïs turned to Jerald who sat beside her in the chair Azriel had occupied weeks ago, brown eyes never leaving his Qishir as the Alphenian tracked Rhyshladlyn’s every move with the hyper-awareness she knew only Oathed Warriors had.
“How would you know? You aren’t even looking at me,” she snarked and chuckled when Jerald raised an eyebrow and turned an unamused look on her before looking back at Rhyshladlyn. She sighed and rubbed at her eyes, mirth draining away as she slumped back in her chair. “Yeah, I’m fucking tired as shit but the gods only know when I’m going to be able to get decent sleep again. Especially when we don’t know who did this shit or if its permanent.”
Not everyone in the Honorable and Grey Courts had regained their full memories, just Rhyshladlyn, his Others, and his twin. But they remembered enough to know that someone had performed a spell strong enough that it blanketed the Seven Worlds, that it had happened forty years and that the war had ended, technically, three hundred years prior to that. Knew that Azriel had sat for three days straight to get his qahllyn’qir permanently tattooed as a memorial for his Qishir, who the Worlds over had thought dead. But anything beyond that was fuzzy and it seemed like they all remembered random moments and never recalled the same thing simultaneously, always staggered.
It was part of what Rhyshladlyn was researching. He was trying to find the discrepancies between what older records in the Palace said and what more current records said about those same time frames. What was different was the keys to unlocking the truth. Or that was the hope, at least.
“And if it isn’t permanent, what are the consequences of reversing it after so long,” Jerald shifted his weight in the chair before leaning back and letting his body relax fully against the plush back, one leg coming up to rest with his ankle on his knee, hands resting on his calf. “I’m getting really sick of this damned if we do, damned if we don’t thing.”
Rhyshladlyn’s laughter startled them both. “It doesn’t ever end, Jer,” the Qishir commented, orange-amber eyes sparkling with mirth as he glanced up at them. “Though I wish vehemently that it would.”
“Oh come on, Rhys,” Jerald hedged with a crooked grin and a wave of one hand, “all things sleep.”
“Not this,” Rhyshladlyn corrected and blew his hair out of his face, hair-bells utterly silent. “I’ve been alive for eight hundred and eighty years, Jerald, and believe me, this kind of shit? It has never once taken so much as a nap.”
“It’ll nap if I punch it out,” Jerald commented and Rhyshladlyn’s laughter boomed out making the Alphenian’s grin broaden.
“If you manage to find something solid enough to punch, Jer, lemme know, cuz I wanna be there for that shit,” Rhyshladlyn replied.
Alaïs couldn’t help but smile at their exchange. Out of all the members of Rhyshladlyn’s Court, Jerald had been the one that had the best influence on her brother. They’d been good for each other if only because they’d both understood what it was like to be the unwilling playthings of tyrants and it had only made their qahllyn-birthed Bond stronger. She couldn’t think of a single Dhaoine better suited for the role of Grey Warrior than Jerald Tar’rant, besides maybe Eiod but the Anglëtinean-Sinner was more devoted to his role as Jerald’s friend and the odd espionage jobs that she and Thayne sent him on. And while Eiod respected Rhyshladlyn, he’d never quite forgiven the Qishir for taking Lulphé from him, even if the Anglëtinean-Sinner logically knew it had to be done and agreed with the reasons behind it.
“Any idea why the spell weakened now of all times?” Eiod asked, shifting the subject back to more important things.
He sat cross-legged on one of the smaller tables along the left side of the hall cleaning and sharpening his sword, gold eyes hyper-focused on the task even though Alaïs knew he still saw everything in the room. Would things have ended differently if Lulphé had sent him to Shiran instead of Azriel? It was a stupid, silly question, one she already the answer to. It was written in the way Eiod absently shook a wayward strand of black hair that had escaped the hastily done braid out of his face; it was in the tenseness that one only saw if they knew what to look for. If Lulphé had sent her most trusted personal guard to Shiran instead of her brother? Anislanzir would have been dead the moment he’d made even a passing comment of mistreatment in Rhyshladlyn’s general direction.
Which wouldn’t have been a bad thing but Alaïs knew that the gods would have never allowed that. Fate wouldn’t have allowed that. If it hadn’t been Anislanzir and Azhuri with their mistreatment shaping Rhyshladlyn into who her little brother had become, it would have been some other Dhaoine. It would have been circumstances that Rhyshladlyn would have very likely not survived at all, no matter how well the odds were stacked in his favor.
Rhyshladlyn clicked his tongue and that floating map dropped back to the table with the soft rustle of paper, a small frown making lines between his eyebrows, casting shadows under his eyes and along the underside of his sharp cheekbones, that pulled the scars over his right eye and the twisted scar that stretched from his right ear to the corner of his mouth tight. One hand snatched up a pen that he tapped against the palm of his hand, fingers manipulating it so that it swung out, back, ta-tap, swung out, back, ta-tap, over and over again. She shared a knowing look with Jerald that Eiod raised an eyebrow at. He only fidgeted like that when he was certain he’d solved the puzzle before him but was hesitant to say so until he was absolutely sure he had the correct answer.
“Admittedly, I’m not that well versed in mind magick,” Rhyshladlyn answered at length, setting the pen down as he started to chew on his bottom lip, eyes roving over the table before him, as though searching for something he’d seen before, “but everything I can find says that mind magick requires a pillar, something to anchor the spell. And if that pillar was killed, destroyed,” he waved a hand vaguely and shrugged, “what have you, then the spell would deteriorate or fail entirely.”
“Then why did the mind spell done on Iköl only affect Iköl and not him and Eiod?” she asked. “If the Anointed One was strong enough to perform such magick, it stands to reason he would have done it perfectly each and every time, right? A spell strong enough and wide-reaching enough to effect the Seven Worlds as a whole isn’t something one learns in three hundred years.”
“The Anointed One who did that spell didn’t use a pillar,” a voice said, drawing their collective attention to the doorway. Sheieh stood freshly showered but looking no better for being cleaned of Eshere’s blood. “That’s why it only effected the Cymerianthrope and not them both.”
The Soul Healer crossed the hall and came to a stop at the head of the table, hands curling over the top of Rhyshladlyn’s chair, winter-sky eyes riveted on the table, as though he couldn’t bring himself to look at anyone else. Not that Alaïs blamed him. Both the Grey and Honorable Courts had remembered enough to know the Guardian hadn’t been entirely innocent in what had gone down forty years ago. It made it hard to make eye contact when one didn’t know what one would see reflected back at them.
“What do you mean?” Alaïs asked as Sheieh took a deep breath and let it out slow, shoulders trembling with it. He stood close enough that she could see that he was shivering despite the long sleeved shirt he wore under his tunic and the thick leggings that covered furred slippers.
“A pillar must be living in such a way that it has magick, either ambient in the way a non-living magickal object does or active in the way a Dhaoine does,” Sheieh answered without looking up from the table. “When the spell on Iköl back before Rhyshladlyn was captured was cast, a pillar wasn’t used, which is why it failed to touch both Iköl and Eiod.” The Soul Healer closed his eyes like he was gathering himself. “My g’agsha didn’t know that back then, so he didn’t anchor the spell to anything. Had only rifled through Iköl’s mind and shattered the pieces that retained the memories of what had happened. Then he replaced those shattered pieces with a falsity. Which worked… but it meant that it only affected Iköl and left Eiod with his own, truthful memory intact.”
“Wait…” Jerald leaned forward in his chair, eyes burning as he stared Sheieh down, “who is this g’agsha?” The Alphenian’s butchering of the Gretlök term would have been funny if the temperature in the room hadn’t dropped five degrees. “And are you telling us there was more than one Anointed One?”
“Relyt Greymend,” Rhyshladlyn’s voice was soft, careful, the enunciation of his Steward’s name a damnation that made Alaïs’ skin burn. “Sheieh was the Guardian to Relyt forty years ago, held that position for two hundred and eighty of the three hundred years I spent collared by Lílrt. The g’agsha of the Grey Soul Healer race has always been my Steward, it is a term the Soul Healers would apply to no one else living during that time or this one. Isn’t that correct, Sheieh?”
The Soul Healer nodded, still not looking at anyone. “That is correct, Qishir Rhyshladlyn, on all counts.”
“And yes, Jerald,” Rhyshladlyn continued, tone hard and absolutely unforgiving, “there were two Anointed Ones: the public face that the Worlds saw and then the real one who was only seen by those most trusted in the organization.”
“So I… Relyt was a traitor, even back then?” Eiod spoke slowly as though each word was chosen with utmost care. He knew just as well as she did the dangerous territory they were all walking now. “I thought all he’d done was collar Rhys.”
“He did much more than that, Eiod,” Sheieh whispered and looked up.
Alaïs gasped, one hand flying to her mouth in an attempt to silence it. The pain in those eyes was immense and ran canyon deep. He stared at Rhyshladlyn not with any hope of forgiveness, not even with any hint of contrition or need to make amends. No, that was the expression of one who had been running for their life for too long and they were too tired to run any longer. Resignation darkened the edges of those striking eyes, made a face that was already cold and full of edges and slopes not unlike the ice shelves his people mined for their gretkewqi and the ink they used for their gretluos seem softer, more gaunt. As though the acceptance of his fate as a Dhaoine who aided a traitor, a qahllyn Court member no less, in acts committed against their Qishir had stolen the health and strength from him and left Sheieh as nothing more than a husk.
“I give you my solemn vow, Qishir Rhyshladlyn, that I had no idea the true depth of what Relyt was into during the years I stood at his side or the four and a half centuries that preceded them,” Sheieh’s voice shook, hands tightening on the chair as he closed his eyes and swallowed heavily. But he didn’t keep them closed for long and for that Alaïs gave him credit; he was no coward. It was more than she could say of the Dhaoine he’d been Guardian of.
“Lílrt had tasked me initially with keeping an eye on Relyt because my g’agsha had been subjected to a mind spell that Lílrt had feared hadn’t anchored correctly, one that affected every single Grey Court member in the Steward Corps camp the day you were collared and those with ties to you that weren’t there. My only involvement was to keep Relyt safe and alive at all costs. Before I met him personally, I know that he had done some of the work prior to your enslavement willingly for Lílrt. But my g’agsha didn’t believe wholeheartedly in the Anointed One’s cause. At least, not by the time the Worlds lost the touch of you for three centuries.”
Rhyshladlyn turned to fully stare at the Soul Healer, leaning one hip against the table, arms crossed loosely over his chest. He looked relaxed, not quite at ease but not far from it. But Alaïs could read in the way his eyes darkened, in the subtle glow that made his dark skin seem more bronze than the dark brown it really was as his power rose to the surface that he was anything but relaxed. Could hear the soft hum of his god-Marks long before the silver-hue of them intensified with his growing fury. She glanced around the hall and saw that Jerald had both feet on the ground, hands resting on his thighs, but hadn’t made any other move to stand. Eiod’s cleaning supplies had been vanished out, sword left laying docilely across his lap but unsheathed and ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
Both males exchanged a look with each other before looking at her with raised eyebrows in a silent question of should we move between them? She shook her head minutely. Until they either had more of the family get here or Rhyshladlyn made a move, they would wait. It was always safer to hold off and follow her brother’s lead rather than risk triggering off a fight when there otherwise might not have been.
It was a lesson she’d learned the hard way more than once.
“And why should I believe anything you say to me, Sheieh?” Rhyshladlyn growled, the sound like thunder trapped in a small space, strong enough that it made the table shake. “You have sided with the Greymend brothers since the very beginning, why should I believe that this,” he waved a hand between them, “isn’t part of that plot?”
“Because the Relyt you and I both knew and loved died forty years ago in Thae’a’s house in Ryphqi City and the one that’s been masquerading as him is actually Lílrt,” Sheieh answered and Alaïs felt like the World had tilted violently sideways. Was only vaguely aware of Nhulynolyn saying he and Thayne were on their way, of the distress that her fellow qahllyn as they answered Thayne’s Call.
“Can you prove it?” Rhyshladlyn demanded, every inch of his body coiled and ready to spring.
“Yes,” the Soul Healer answered, “I can prove it.”
Between one blink and the next her brother was beside Sheieh, turning the Soul Healer to face him with a rough jerk before cupping his face in hands she didn’t remember being so thin. And before any of them could say anything else, before Nhulynolyn could get there with back up, she was pulled back in time as her little brother’s power dove into Sheieh’s mind and brought the past to life around them.