“Shiran City lives. An’ I’m the Greywalker tied to it.”
He burned the air in his lungs speaking a curse that carried just enough magickal weight to it that fine cracks ran in the marble floor beneath his feet as the truth that hid behind the perfect mask of his Dhaoinic skin and face shifted just so. Half a heartbeat later he slammed the doors between his Court and his remaining Others closed and crossed the distance between himself and his twin, only half aware as he did so that he was naked and shaking and that steam rose from his skin as his power began to boil his blood. Grabbed Nhulynolyn by the shoulders and gave him a soft shake, the muscles of his back so tense they ached in the effort it took to keep from violently shaking his twin. Restrained himself because it wasn’t Nhulynolyn’s fault that that cursed City had risen again. Was less his fault that he was tied to it; a bond that only death weakened and lack of rebirth broke.
“Are you certain?” His voice sounded like broken glass as it scraped up his throat, painful enough he was half surprised he didn’t taste blood. Watched the way the skin beside Nhulynolyn’s eyes tightened, making his lids drop just a bit as though he was squinting and trying not to make it obvious. But Rhyshladlyn knew what that movement meant. He’d hurt his twin with those three words but not in the way many would think. But he had to ask, had to know.
It wasn’t a question of whether his twin could speak truth or even if he remembered correctly. No, it was a question that a survivor of horrors unimaginable spoke when the very place that had housed those horrors suddenly wasn’t as distant or conquered as one had thought. It was like dreaming one had escaped an impossible situation only to awaken and have reality come crashing down like a bucketful of ice water: jarring, terrifying, and hope-stealing all at once. Rhyshladlyn asked because he had buried Shiran City for several reasons; repayment for the part its denizens played in his continued abuse, a burial place for his father’s bloodline and the horrors it had committed upon the race it had ruled, and to stay alive because if he hadn’t robbed Shiran of its sentience and those Dhaoine who had been inside its wall when he’d sunk it, Rhyshladlyn knew he’d have never survived his Awakening.
But to hear that it lived now, that it had been risen from the sandy grave in which he’d put it, it made him sick and a level of terrified that went beyond words. Filled him with a dread that made him want to throw up as nausea shook his internal organs and clawed at his lungs.
Nhulynolyn to his credit just weathered Rhyshladlyn’s invasion of his space and the shaking and that question that trembled in a way his voice hadn’t since he was very very young, back before he’d known his damned birth giver had wrought a spell so that he was kept from Nhulynolyn. Back when it was just him fighting against Anislanzir, the only one to not merely suspect the Lord King of the atrocities attributed to his name but to know it without any ounce of doubt. Back when he was utterly, truly alone despite having allies, despite being surrounded by those he trusted. The Nameless prevailing, but he had prayed he’d never feel that way again. And he hadn’t.
“Are you absolutely certain?” he pressed when Nhulynolyn remained silent, blue eyes that were shot through with the same golden glow their birth City had held right up until the moment it sank moving in quick, short movements. Like Nhulynolyn was trying to memorize his face or read him. Or he was stalling for time, it was hard to tell anymore when so much of his ability to read his twin had come from their link as kè and Other. Funny, never thought I’d need a magickal link to read anyone close to me.
Nhulynolyn’s hands came up and wrapped around his arms just above his elbows, palms warm and fingers chilly. At the touch their new connection flared, muted though compared to when Rhyshladlyn had been trying to calm him in the meeting hall. He sucked in a breath, felt the floor writhe beneath his feet as though it meant to suck him down. He stayed standing by sheer force of will alone, knowing instinctively that pulling away before the right time would be far worse of an experience for the both of them than whatever he was about to see from Nhulynolyn would be for just himself.
He felt Shiran spring up around him. Felt the way the walls hummed a subtle, gentle sort of greeting, like the wind through the high grasses of northern Txiwteb World. Saw the base of the Heart Tower, heard the soft melody that was as unique to each City’s Heart Tower as a Dhaoine’s magickal signature whisper out from stone that now glowed a blue-gold like his twin’s eyes instead of pure gold. Squeezed his eyes closed in an effort to keep the tears at bay but it didn’t stop them, just sped them up. Felt the memory echo through Nhulynolyn as his twin’s hand touched that stone, long dead but alive now, just quiet, waiting for the right Dhaoine to touch its surface and bring it screaming back to life. Only his twin had had no idea what its final memory would be, had not known that a once dead City could be brought back by a Greywalker powerful enough to hear its Song, to be tied to it and so he hadn’t known what to expect. Hadn’t been prepared.
The male had drowned under the onslaught of that last memory, burned into the very stone right where their father had been murdered. And now, days later, they both drowned under it. Though, mercifully, it was shorter this time. There and gone again because that recollection wasn’t the proof he needed of Shiran’s return. No, what he needed was the sound of Shiran’s voice calling Nhulynolyn Heart’s Keeper to believe his twin’s words. Loosed a sob as tears burned their way down his cheeks. Pulled away with a swallowed wail, stumbling backwards towards the shower. Listed to the side and only barely kept his feet by gripping the sink counter hard enough that he felt the marble bend beneath his strength like soft clay. Tried desperately to suck in enough air to stay conscious, to keep his lungs happy but not so much that he gave his vocal chords enough strength to produce the full volume of the wail he’d swallowed the bulk of.
One hand lifted to touch the scar that had earned Nhulynolyn the most blessed title among Otherborn, a title that Shiran had taken up and assigned to its new Heart, its own Keeper. A scar that would remind them both that for all that he was jaw-droppingly powerful, for all that he was Marked by four of the Worlds’ most powerful gods, he was not immortal. He was fallible and if he wasn’t careful, it wouldn’t be just his life that was lost when he fell. He sucked in great lungfuls of air, fingers touching the still tender ridges of that newest scar, using it to remind him that he wasn’t a fledgling anymore, that he had escaped, that he was safe. Desperately tried to avoid reliving the rest of the memory of the day he’d conquered Shiran, taken all but tiniest of sparks of life, and then sank it. Tried not to think of the way Nhulynolyn’s confusion and fear had felt like oil coating his skin. Tried to forget the way his twin’s new Self, wholly his own, had curled around the aura he no longer had, the way that dual confusion and singular fear had smelled like burnt incense and tasted like days old blood dried around teeth and on lips cracked from days without water.
When Nhulynolyn stepped up behind him, whispering softly in Sinxhët, the words of their native tongue unrecognizable for all that the tone was soothingly and calm, Rhyshladlyn twitched. When his twin’s hands curled over the tops his shoulders, long fingers just barely brushing across the top of the outermost runes of his Nameless Mark, he shuddered hard but didn’t pull away, didn’t tell him to fuck off. Instead he sank back against the strong line of Nhulynolyn’s body, let his twin give him strength as he wrestled with the ghosts of a past neither of them had deserved let alone wanted. Caught his bearings and his stability just as he felt Jerald’s worry press at the warding on the bathroom, sharp enough to tell him if the Warrior didn’t get confirmation he was okay soon, he was going to be faced with two hundred plus pounds of pissed off and worried Alphenian. Tapped one of Nhulynolyn’s hands with his own and tried not to hate the way he felt like a piece of himself was peeling away when his twin let him go and stepped back.
“Just a moment, Jerald,” he called as he felt his Warrior raise a fist to knock on the door. Snorted at the inelegant curse the Alphenian snapped at him but it was all the attention he was willing to pay to anyone else at the moment.
“So what d’we do now?” Nhulynolyn asked, tone light and easy. Like the last hour of conversation and space shared and memories relived hadn’t happened. Like it was old times when they’d steal a few minutes to themselves in the midst of chaos and unpleasantness and battles barely won, when the Fields and their dead filled their sleeping moments, too.
He turned to Nhulynolyn and smiled, trying not to grimace at the way the salt from his tears made the skin of his cheeks feel dirty, lifted a hand to cup his twin’s cheek. Smiled wider at the way his twin frowned at him while raising one eyebrow.
“I have a gift for you, brother mine,” he whispered instead of answering and fought down a laugh at the way Nhulynolyn dropped the frown and instead raised both eyebrows in his classic what the fuck, Rhys look.
Rhyshladlyn took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Dove just deep enough into his Self that he could feel the last tendril of power that connected him to Shiran and, with a silent prayer that he was doing the right thing, that his instincts weren’t wrong this time, he relinquished ownership of the armor that Shiran City had given to him what felt like a hundred lifetimes ago. Bequeathed it instead to the Greywalker tied to its creator and watched as piece by piece, it replaced the clothing his twin wore. Watched his twin step back and look down at himself with a mixture of shock, confusion, and the tiniest touch of fear as that magicked armor slipped over smooth muscles and adjusted to Nhulynolyn’s bulkier form until it fit perfectly. Chuckled when Nhulynolyn turned to stare at himself in the mirror, that armor moving like a second skin, exactly like it was designed to, liquid leather that was stronger than obsidian and as powerful as the City it had been made by.
“Wait… is this,” the Otherborn-Greywalker ran both hands down the front of the tunic, streaks of blue-gold ripping in their wake as if the grey of the leather itself was the night skin just before dawn broke over the horizon. His eyes widened even further, which Rhyshladlyn hadn’t known was possible. “Is this the armor Shiran gave you?” Nhulynolyn looked up at him through the mirror’s reflection, eyes filled with childlike wonder.
“Aye,” Rhyshladlyn smiled so wide it hurt. “Though I think it gave it to me to hold on to. It never suited me as well as it does you, Nuls.”
“I don’t…I dunno what to… say. ‘Sides holy shit an’ thank you.” Nhulynolyn focused back on himself and murmured the Sinxhët prayer of thanks spoken specifically to a City and the moment he did the armor flashed the same color as his eyes, the same color Rhyshladlyn knew Shiran City now glowed.
Rhyshladlyn laughed, the sound full of pleasure at having given the perfect gift to someone who deserved it. It bounced off the walls, mingling with Nhulynolyn’s own laughter as he dropped into a squat, jumped up, and wen through a series of fighting moves to test his gift out. The sound of his twin’s happiness, the look of joy and amazement that made his eyes shine, pulled Rhyshladlyn back to center and reminded him that the past wasn’t the problem right now. He snapped his fingers and his own armor, specially crafted by a powerful armorer at his direction and sealed with his blood and power, fitted itself to his body. The last time he’d worn it was during the war but since it had never really ended, only paused as the front lines and players changed, it seemed appropriate that he donned it now. Beannacht and Mallacht settled in their customary spots on his back, their hilts peeking over his shoulders, their weight familiar in a way he hadn’t known he’d missed until it was back. He gave his twin a crooked grin that Nhulynolyn returned with a gleeful glint that meant nothing but trouble.
He had so missed the feeling of preparing for battle, of the Hunt, of the chase, of Feeding. Understood why, even when gripped by Lílrt’s cursed mind spell, he had sought out the arena fights. Why he’d been drawn to them like the moth to the flame: it reminded him of the Fields and the war that he had left unfinished.
“Ready to go?”
“Depends on where we’re goin’,” Nhulynolyn replied.
“Well, I’m late for a meeting given the way Jerald is pacing in front of the doorway. Probably means Al is here to escort me to it.”
“Mmm. An’ you think I’m gonna be allowed at this super secret Qishir meetin’?” Nhulynolyn snorted. “Not likely.”
“Since fucking when did I give a shit about doing what was allowed and what wasn’t?” Rhyshladlyn retorted.
Nhulynolyn’s laughter warmed his skin. “Fair point. So why you really bringin’ me along? Cuz it ain’t just to make the Qishir of the Worlds snippy with you,” he asked as they made for the door.
“This is a problem that can only truly be solved by Greywalkers, Nully,” he replied, stopping with his hand on the doorknob, turning so he could make eye contact with his twin whose face was all seriousness, eyes attentive. “And while you may not be a Qishir like I am, you are a Greywalker. That and we only need the Worlds’ Qishir because two Greywalkers cannot be in millions of places at one time.”
“So we’re usin’ them as our eyes an’ ears. A network of Dhaoine who think they’re doin’ shit because it suits them but really they’re doin’ exactly what we want, what we need, them to do.”
“Exactly,” he answered and opened the door to find Alaïs standing just inside the door that led to the hallway, clear blue eyes already looking at him. “Shall we?” The question was for Nhulynolyn even though he never looked away from their sister.
“Fuckin’ always,” was the answer. He laughed again and stepped out of the bathroom, feeling like he was stepping into history for the first time since the day he’d walked into the Nameless’ Shadow Chamber in Shiran’s Grand Temple right before everything went to absolute shit. He just hoped that this time the only Dhaoine to die were those who deserved it.