“He has ten.”
Rhyshladlyn’s voice was a thousand knives that whistled through the tension and power charged air, the Qishir’s back bulging where his wings pressed against his skin; something she only knew by the way his shoulders lifted and rolled back over and over again. He invaded his Healer’s space like he would crawl into her lap and then into her body, root around among her insides like he had rooted around in Sheieh’s mind. Watching him lean down into the round, white face of the Snake Shiftkin, Thae’a was hard pressed to believe he wasn’t already doing that.
But in truth she only noticed anything about her Qishir, her friend, in an absentminded haze. There was too much noise as her native tongue and the language of the Otherborn danced off the walls and shook her hard enough she heard her chair scrape softly on the stone floor beneath it. There was a roaring in her ears that was either her blood following the orders of her rapidly beating heart or Adïmshyl growling at Rhyshladlyn’s too sudden movement coupled with the going from docile to predator in the space of an eye blink.
She didn’t bother trying to figure out which it was though. It honestly didn’t matter.
Rhyshladlyn tensed and relaxed in waves, the bulging in his back strong enough now that it made his shirt ripple and flutter. She briefly wondered if his wings emerging right then would tear his shirt to shreds much like they would tear his skin with the violence of their emergence. It was such a random, unrelated thought that she blinked, shook her head to clear it and leaned forward across the table towards Bayls, gesturing for the paper the Sinner held. After a brief hesitation where those hazel eyes stared at her with a perception they hadn’t had when the little Sinner had first wandered onto Thae’a’s farm what felt like thousands of years ago, Bayls leaned forward and handed her the paper.
The moment she touched it she hissed harshly through her teeth and fought not to clench her fingers into a fist around that precious connection to the past, to a truth her Qishir desperately needed, that they all needed, as her power slammed to the surface, bringing her nature with it before she could do anything to slow it down let alone stop it.
“Hold on!” she cried as the only warning she could give before she Spoke the Weave to bring to life the memory that saturated that paper so strongly it forced its way up and out of her mouth.
Power made the air hot and humidity-thick around her. Her hands were cramping in the way that told her she’d been writing too much, breath wheezing in and out of her chest, whistling through her nose, much too fast to be healthy but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Her face was wet with tears though she couldn’t tell if that was from exhaustion, frustration, the grief that hits before one loses someone important but knows its coming, or elation at finally figuring it out. Though she was willing to bet it was the elation, which would also explain why she didn’t care that she was borderline hyperventilating with the need to shout her triumph to the Worlds.
“What did you figure out?”
She frowned at that voice. It didn’t belong here. Not in this room that was covered in her notes on every action she’d ever thought of taking, started but left unfinished, or successfully completed. Here among the shelves, both hidden and seen, a room only her beloved Snake had seen the inside of, knew the way to unravel the wards to get inside safely, that voice didn’t belong. Not the one that haunted her dreams, that invaded her waking thoughts until all she could see was that scarred, perfect face and the orange-amber eyes that burned with power despite being cut off from it and the strong, warrior-built body that moved those eyes closer and closer, that crossed the distance with the grace of a flowing river and the banked danger of a hurricane.
But try as she might to ignore it because it didn’t belong here in this most sacred of her spaces she couldn’t not answer him. Had never been able to deny him an answer to any question he asked of her, no matter how much she tried to fight it. Just one more reason to be thankful he never asked the right questions.
“How to activate them. I know what triggers the event that starts the pair singing to each other,” she answered dreamily and wiped at the tears that still streamed down her face. She’d finally get to be close to him, truly close, the way her little brother had been. Only she’d be closer. She would finally have something little Relly never had. Something that if she did it right no one would ever again. “I figured out how to get them to sing in sync with each other, too.”
There was silence then and while she could feel him standing close, could all but feel his warm breath on her face, bringing the fear-born arousal that it always did when the Qishir was so close she could reach out and touch him, he was quiet. If she wasn’t so happy to have him here, to share this with him finally, even if her grief was growing stronger by the moment, she’d be unnerved by that silence. But she had worked for centuries to find this answer and she had finally found it. She had won, even if no one else knew it yet but her. Even if no one else would ever know it but her.
The attend slammed into her but not with the force she expected. It was more like an ocean wave breaking against the shore: strong only by virtue of where it came from not on purpose. It burrowed deep and touched her Self, pet it, cooed to it. Danced with her true nature and urged it, lovingly almost, to drop the Weave, to step back. For this room with its humidity-thick power-laden air and its secret was not where she belonged. The memories and emotions she was locked in weren’t hers and–
“Thae’a, come back.”
The wave crested and broke against her again, stronger this time and she knew if it hit a third time she would drown under the power of it. So she reached up a hand through the water, desperate for a lifeline, and felt her fingers brush something before a solid weight settled against her palm and slid between her fingers. Between one breath and the next that solid weight pulled and she jerked out of the Weave as it crumbled around her in long, string-like pieces that tinkled like wind chimes as they hit the floor to either side of her chair. She blinked at them in shock for a moment before she looked up into the orange-amber eyes of her Qishir who was staring at her from behind a face that was emotionless, more so than she’d ever seen it, even when the Else that was the reality of him filled the Dhaoinic body Fate had crafted to hold it. She glanced around them and noticed she was in the middle of the hall, far enough away from the table that the longest pieces of the broken Weave didn’t even come close to reaching the table’s closest edge.
“What happened?” she whispered and looked back at Rhyshladlyn. “How did I get in the middle of the room?”
“You touched that paper my mate gave you,” Nhulynolyn nodded to where she was unconsciously smoothing the paper on her lap, as though it was wrinkled. Or like one lovingly strokes a pet. “An’ then you cried out a warnin’ but none-a us moved fast enough to stop whatever it was y’did after that.”
“You literally became the writer of those words until I pulled you out,” Rhyshladlyn clarified, his eyes pinning her with a look that dared her to argue with him.
She glanced at Nhulynolyn and back at Rhyshladlyn before shaking her head and looking at her hands where they rested on her lap, shaking now on top of that damned paper and the cursed words it contained and the even more cursed memories, muscles cramping like she’d been writing for hours–
“Wait,” she made to stand up but the way Rhyshladlyn shifted ever so slightly kept her right where she was as she blinked up at him, “you… pulled… me out of a Weave?”
“Well, to be more precise he put you in the middle of the hall,” Alaïs shrugged when she looked at the Lord Queen with a raised eyebrow, “and then he pulled you out of it.”
“I… how though? That isn’t possible,” Thae’a waved a hand impatiently. They weren’t understanding her question and she didn’t know how to reword it so that they did. “It shouldn’t be possible for him to have done that, even as well… himself. Not even other Dreamweavers can pull one of our kind out of a Weave once it’s begun. To do so risks locking the one in the Weave inside that Weave and killing the one who tried to pull them out.”
“What do you know about Shiëtzirs, Tee?” Rhyshladlyn asked and she frowned, the topic jump jarring.
She thought about it and shrugged one shoulder. “I only know the name and that the last time a pair of them had been activated in the Worlds was, supposedly, the day the Phuri race was wiped out.” She closed her eyes at the wounded sound Shadiranamen made and the expression it caused to ripple across Rhyshladlyn’s face before it settled back into that emotionless mask.
“Shiëtzirs are something for which there is no Common translation,” Shadiranamen’s voice was careful, muted in a way that was utterly uncharacteristic of the Other. “It is a Sinxhët word because the Sinner Demon race was the first to discover all the abilities of the damned things.”
“They are the only non-living things in the Worlds that are sentient in the way we are,” Rhyshladlyn took a couple steps back from her, those eyes scrutinizing and missing nothing before he nodded and made for his chair. “They operate almost like Greywalker Cities do but whereas the Cities were designed as safe havens of Balance and have life like Dhaoine do, Shiëtzirs are the literal embodiment of chaos and the destruction and malcontent it breeds and as they were never alive, they cannot die.”
Thae’a watched him cross the room, taking his nod to mean that she was safe to return to the table. Slowly, carefully, she picked up her chair in one hand and that damned paper in the other, and moved back to the table, dodging the pieces of the broken Weave as she went.
“How is that the Sinner race knows so much about these things?” Thayne asked, crimson eyes narrowed.
“Because,” Ahdyfe answered, snapping her fingers so that the paper Thae’a had dropped on the table when she sat back down flew to the Snake Shiftkin’s hand, “the Sinner Demons are very distant relatives of the Phuri race. It was the Phuri race’s neodrachs who mixed in with the Dhaoinic Sinners. Though to be fair, there weren’t many that went to the Sinner race, but there was enough.” The Snake smoothed the crinkled edges out of that paper, diamond-white eyes staring at it with a mixture of emotions Thae’a couldn’t read but could guess at. The key one was disgust followed closely by horror, specifically the kinds that came from realizing one missed something crucial about someone they thought they could trust.
“But that isn’t why my sister’s race learned as much as they could about the damned things,” Rhyshladlyn picked up when it was clear Ahdyfe wasn’t going to offer anything else at that moment. He leaned forward, forearms extended flat on the tabletop, fingers laced, shoulders hunched up as he made eye contact with them all. If the reason behind this lesson wasn’t because they were facing a new, terrifying reality, Thae’a would be smiling, happy even, because it had been way too long since her Qishir had taught them something and by the gods she had missed the sound of his rumbling vocals untainted by emotions too powerful and too old have names. “The first natural occurrence of Shiëtzirs was in a Sinner settlement in northwestern Fènwa World.”
Questions exploded around the hall at that.
“These motherfuckers occur naturally?”
“Wait, I thought the last sighting of them was when the Phuri race was wiped out?”
“Are you serious?”
“Do the gods jerk it off to us mortals gettin’ fucked by Their insane creations?”
“I’m with Nully but add: and if so, could they stop?”
Rhyshladlyn held up a hand for silence, chuckling, the sound deep and soothing in a way Thae’a hadn’t heard it be in centuries, but it was Bayls who answered.
“The settlement’s last reports were of strange, ethereal singing, almost chime like. Said they searched for ten leagues in every direction — they were located at the farthest most reaches of the desert lands, where it’s half desert, half fertile farmland — and found no possible source. But they heard that music for nearly a full year. And then one day,” Bayls shrugged, hands held up before she tapped them down against the table, “the settlement’s inhabitants just vanished.”
“That makes no sense. Nothing is capable of–” Relyt stopped mid-sentence and glanced at Rhyshladlyn who was staring at him with a really nothing is capable of doing what, Relyt look on his face. The Soul Healer gulped and tried again, “That makes no sense. Was there any sign of what… disappeared them? Are they dead?”
Bayls tilted her head back, chewing at her bottom lip in thought. “Honestly? I can’t remember.”
“Grandfather sent a search party after the distress signal reached Shiran when our father was barely a few decades old,” Alaïs’ said, staring at the table like it held the answers to every question the Lord Queen would ever have and at the mention of the female’s sire, Nhulynolyn and Rhyshladlyn tensed but it was the only sign that the Ka’ahne twins were troubled still by the memories of Anislanzir. “I got my hands on the unfiltered reports once. All that was found were empty buildings, rotting food, and bones that had been stripped clean of anything that had once held them together to look remotely Dhaoinic. Zero signs of a struggle, no blood, no innards, nothing but the buildings, rotting food left to lay where it fell, and those bones.”
“It wasn’t until four days later that the searchers found the first Shiëtzir,” Rhyshladlyn picked up when Alaïs trailed off. He gave his sister a crooked grin when she lifted her eyes in question to him. The unspoken you weren’t the only one who liked to snoop through the records hall, sister was clear. “The first one to touch it burst apart, turned to dust so fine it was like sand. Left behind nothing but bones to give proof that the Dhaoine had once been there–“
“This is all really fascinating,” Adïmshyl interrupted, his banked fury making his voice sound like thunder, “but how does this pertain to what just happened to Tee and why she and everyone who ain’t a Sinner Demon or tied to one are acting like we just got the news you’d supposedly been killed again?”
“Dïm!” Thae’a hissed, smacking at his arm because while she understood he was pissed at Rhyshladlyn’s view of them, that gave her mate no right to be so publicly rude. He knew better than that.
“No, Tee, he is right,” Rhyshladlyn sighed and sat back in his hair, rubbing at his forehead, voice muffled from behind his hand. “We reacted this way because the only way to destroy Shiëtzirs influence and the magick that makes it so powerful is to break the connection between a pair. It takes a lot and not every pair is disrupted the same way. They activate or are activated in a specific way for a singular specific purpose but even those controlled by a Dhaoine or some other sentient force doesn’t have complete control over them. Shiëtzirs are literally sentient things in their own right and as such have a lot of their own power, the extent of which is still an unknown.”
The Qishir dropped his hand from his face and Thae’a recoiled at the resignation that twisted his face. Felt the atmosphere in the hall shift and change at the sight. Realized that they very well may have found the one thing that the famous Grey Qishir would be bested by. And Rhyshladlyn very well knew it, too.
“You said my broth… my brother has ten of these Shiëtzirs,” Relyt queried gently, defiantly meeting the darkness that roiled behind Rhyshladlyn’s eyes when the Qishir looked at him and nodded. The Soul Healer surprisingly stumbled less over the Sinxhët word than he did over calling Lílrt his brother. “How many are active?” Relyt looked at Ahdyfe. “Do you know?”
The Snake Shiftkin shifted in her seat. “I only know of two for sure that are active right now. I also have a general idea of why the mind magick that bastard made into their purpose began to fail if it hasn’t finished failing already.”
“Well don’t hold back on us,” Nhulynolyn snarked. “Share with the class. This is a safe place.”
The Snake laughed, loud and sharp. “Not for me it isn’t, Nully. Not even as Rhys’ Acknowledged Healer. But…” she took a deep breath and let it out slow. “Their purpose was–is–to make the Worlds forget that he had taken Rhys from them for three hundred years, to make even Rhys forget those memories. But more than that, it was to make the Worlds believe he was Relyt, to the point that Rhys would Oath him as his Steward.”
“But I knew something wasn’t right when I couldn’t see his qahllyn’qir the way I could see Azriel’s or Jerald’s,” Rhyshladlyn said.
Ahdyfe nodded. “Some things not even mind magick can fake.”
“Why did they fail?” Ishmariel asked.
“One was tied to Relyt’s permanent death, the other to Nully’s permanent life. Lílrt had assumed apparently,” the Shiftkin rolled her eyes so hard Thae’a could practically feel the ache in her own, “that Rhys would have wiped Relyt off the face of Existence for his crimes and by virtue of being both an Otherborn and Rhys’ First Other and mirror twin, Nhulynolyn’s death was never a considerable thing.”
“Only I was reborn–”
“–an’ I was killed.”
Ahdyfe chuckled at the way the two of them spoke in tandem and nodded. “Yes, so when both the events that were opposite of what was keeping these monstrosities active occurred, their link was disrupted.”
“Okay, but if they’re disrupted can they be reactivated?” Y’adtrik asked. “Or are those ones out of commission and so Lílrt’s going to have use one of the other pairs he has?”
The Snake Shiftkin shrugged. “I’m not sure. It depends entirely on what he used to activate this first pair and if that can be replicated.”
Thae’a felt like the floor had dropped out from under her feet as the Woven memory she’d pulled from the page rose from the depths again but this time she was ready for it and it didn’t consume her. Because she knew that within it was the answer they needed. Gripped the arms of her chair so hard she heard the wood and leather protest.
“What activated the first pair was Rhys hitting his third and final Awakening as a Greywalker,” she whispered and blinked, clearing her vision of the memory. “When he vaporized N’phier City and walked the Worlds as the Truth that lives within every Greywalker, that was the activation that got the Shiëtzirs to start singing. But it was Relyt’s death at mine and Dïm’s house in Ryphqi City that fully engaged them.”
“That would make sense,” Shadiranamen murmured, sapphire eyes hooded, the fingers of one hand tapping her lips. “It would take something that generated the power equivalent to a Major Arcane Working to get non-naturally occurring Shiëtzirs to activate and then a sacrifice made by the one who dictated their purpose of something that could not be brought back.”
Thae’a rocked in her chair and hissed. “What happens if that sacrifice was given back?”
Shadiranamen turned those depthless eyes to her and it was like her lungs had been taken from her. Only worse. The Phuri didn’t answer but Thae’a didn’t need her to, it was written in the pain that rippled across that regal face with its dainty mouth filled with way too many teeth surrounded by midnight black hair riddled with silver charms. Thae’a shook her head, refusing to believe that answer and the horrible possibility of it. Didn’t want to think about it. But as usual, what she wanted wasn’t what she got.
“It will backfire,” Azriel whispered, bringing the spicy scent of fear swinging around the table, seeming to have forgotten the fight he was having with Rhyshladlyn and nearly everyone else in the wake of this newest disaster. “The High Ones help us all. The purpose he gave them will backfire.”
“Aye,” Shadiranamen confirmed and looked away from Thae’a and around the table. “And in doing so, they will go from created for a purpose Shiëtzirs to ones that have the freedom of those that occur naturally.”
The words Rhyshladlyn hissed then carried all the weight of an epithet but were spoken in a language that hurt more than her own tongue and that of the Otherborn. And while she had no idea what her Qishir had said, she didn’t disagree with him. May the gods aplenty prevail us all.