87

Just like centuries ago in the audience hall of the palace in Ryphqi City, he moved without thinking about it. Called out Alaïs’ name as he threw himself into harm’s way to defend her. Moved on instincts honed across centuries of trauma, constant training, and the heightened need for self preservation. Didn’t care about the consequences that existed on the other side of his choice, only cared about saving the first Dhaoine who to look at him with something other than pity after Rhyshladlyn had wiped Lulphé from the face of Existence and sent the Worlds into chaos and war. Cared only about ensuring that Thayne didn’t die with her Companion, that Nhulynolyn’s mind didn’t get shattered by the loss of his Other, that another war didn’t descend upon the Worlds all because Lílrt couldn’t die quietly or without fucking shit up for the rest of them.

He knew he had made the right decision when the blade pierced his back, sliding between his ribs to slice through his heart, and punched out his chest, bringing with it a feeling not of pain but of warm acceptance; like one coming to terms with their death as they mounted the gallows’ stairs. The force of the impact made him stumble and almost fall into Alaïs who was only two feet away, eyes wide and face slack with disbelief, one hand flung out towards him as though to warn him, stop that blade, or catch him. He chuckled wetly, blood spilling from his mouth like a river breaking free of a beaver’s dam, hating the coppery taste of it as it slip-slid across his tongue with the consistency of old honey, hands uselessly patting at his chest below where Beannacht‘s silver tip glinted in the sunlight, soaked with his blood. Watched with a weird sort of detachment as giant, heavy drops of that blood fell and splattered loudly on the ground at his feet.

It was like it was all a dream, so real that if he didn’t know all too well what it felt like to be stabbed through the back and chest that he’d have thought it a nightmare fueled by Thae’a’s Weaving ability. But it was so much stronger than what the Dreamweaver could create. This was reality and there was no changing it, no waking up from it. Another impact rocked his body as Alaïs wailed his name, her voice high and clear like the Temple bells had been the day the Worlds had mourned Rhyshladlyn’s believed loss three hundred and forty years ago: ethereal and final.

The World swam with colors and sounds and magick that burned and tickled all at once. Fire spread from the wound in his chest, like it was going to battle against the numbness that started in his extremities and moved slowly but surely inward, like winter’s biting chill chasing away the remaining touch of autumn’s warmth. He listed from side to side, eyes falling closed and flying back open over and over until eventually he didn’t have the strength to open them again. He slumped forward, wondering absently as his awareness began to fade entirely how the fuck he’d not fallen over yet. Not that it really mattered if he did or not, he was dead either way. No Dhaoine could survive a direct heart wound, not even one with Other’s. It was only a matter of time before he opened his eyes again and saw the After instead of the living realm.

They can if the life they are leaving is given freely in sacrifice for something greater.

He frowned because that wasn’t his voice despite being inside his head. Tried desperately to stay conscious enough to find the source, to remember why that voice was familiar, to understand why those words meant something important. But he was so tired and the air felt so good through his hair, crisp and clean as it played with the soothing water that lapped at his ankles. And gods but he was so tired, of fighting, of moving forward when everything in him wanted to stagnate and rest. He was old and he had nothing left to give.

That’s where you’re wrong. You have so much more to give. So focus for me now, Eiod, you only have one shot at this.

That crisp air turned biting and full of sharp edges like daggers hiding in thick fog. His chest constricted, lungs seizing as they tried to make use of this painful air, to turn it into something that didn’t hurt. But it was a struggle and a half to do what that voice demanded. Because he knew it was important, whatever it was, but gods See him there was too much of everything and not enough of what he needed and I don’t know what to do.

Yes, you do, Eiod. Focus and think. Take a deep, deep breath. He did so and cried out at the agony of it, drowning on copper and old honey and air that tasted like metal and failure. Good, now let it out and think. You know what I mean, you know what I’m talking about. But it must be given freely. He let that breath out slowly, falteringly, and let his Shields drop with it. Trusted that familiar voice and the magick that wrapped around it, that filled his head and his chest with the comfortability of an old lover’s experienced hands.

The World blew apart, scattered into a million colors and sounds unlike anything he’d ever seen or heard in his life. He could feel the rough debris under his knees, could feel the hands on his chest and face, could feel the way many voices buffeted his skin with their pleas for him to hold on, to survive, to keep fighting godsdamn you, but that was surface level shit. What he needed was beneath; hidden far below, tucked away in a box he had forgotten about in the thousands of years he’d been alive. A memory too painful to focus on but he needed it now.

That’s it. Now decide, Eiod. But do it quickly, you’re running out of time.

Hands shaking, he lifted that box out of the hole he’d buried it in and ripped the flaps open with a shriek that was all the crying screams of a fledgling who refused to believe the monster that haunted his dreams was real and had sired him. Wailed as the truth of his history rose from the darkness of forgotten memories and took the form of a question that gave him a choice: yes or no. Answering yes would see him come into a heritage a million times more worthy than the one he’d been born to. Answering no would see him pass into the After to live out the eternity between lifetimes alone because there was no one waiting for him on the other side of the River.

It wasn’t a hard choice really. He’d never done well with being alone, it made him twitchy.

What do I do now? It seemed woefully bereft of… something. His mind was too sluggish to fully grasp what he as thinking or feeling, only that the question seemed to fall short of some invisible, arbitrary mark.

Give something up, something that the loss of it stands to potentially ruin you, to kill you. He let out a breathless chuckle at that. He’d already lost something like that. Had watched her destroyed before his very eyes. No, that isn’t strong enough, Eiod. Think harder. Quickly, now.

From the depths of the memory box in his hands his mother’s face rose like the glowing visage of one of the High Ones, all high cheekbones and royal jawline and delicate nose. The regal beauty of the Anglë race she hailed from striking. A beauty that had drawn his father to her long before that un-male had learned of the forbidden fruit his mother had been; nobility but cursed for the High One who had touched her and made her eyes pupil-less and an orange so intense it was like trying to look at the setting sun, hair streaked with the same color only it looked like burnt copper threaded among the thick mass of black waves that fell down her back and framed her pale face. Just like the last time he’d seen her, she stood tall, wrapped in silk robes that clung to her voluptuous form, the colors of the House that had disowned her, abandoned her, and sold her and her son into slavery to regain their honor making her naturally coloring stand out all the more. His heart, what remained of it, throbbed with grief and a homesickness so strong it brought tears spilling down his cheeks. She smiled at him and whispered in the language they had created together, that perfect mixture of Sinxhët and Anglë’lylel, one hand reaching out to cup his cheek, the touch gentle and cool with the barest whispered hint of the heat that had been her magick, “Do not worry, my precious boy, I will always be with you. Now let go. It is okay… it’s time.”

“I… I don’t think I can,” he whispered back, desperately trying to lift his own hands to touch her, to connect with her but his body refused to listen to him. “Please, Mama, this is too much to ask of me. How will you be remembered if I let you go?”

Her laughter was what he imagined light would sound like if it could make noise. The smile that pulled at her full mouth shifted, became just a touch sharp but not with malice, more with sadness, with grief, with grim acceptance and something that tasted like denial.

“Because it is too much to ask of you is precisely why you must let go,” her hand dropped away from his face and she sighed sadly. “I worried this day would come when I learned your father had gotten me with child. I knew that Fate had interfered as it always had. I had just hoped that–” she cut off and shook her head. “Let me go, Eiod, it’s time. I will be okay. My memory will not go forgotten, I promise. The Worlds will not forget because Rhyshladlyn will not allow them to.”

He reached for her but it was a pointless, empty gesture. He never intended to catch hold of her. Had known the moment her memory formed, the moment he felt her presence touch him, surround him with the same warmth and feeling of safety her hugs had given him when he was a fledgling, that she was the catalyst to his sacrifice. Had argued against it knowing even as he did so that the decision had been made. Watched her fade away, the teasing hint of her perfume the only sign that she had been there, even when the warmth of her presence had gone completely.

Eiod, we are out of time. You need to decide. That voice was kind but urgent and he was thankful for it even if he hated that it was right, that it had stolen the last few moments of his goodbye. But at least he had gotten a goodbye this time. It wasn’t enough but it would have to be.

I know.

Swallowing hard he made his decision with tears streaming faster down his face to mix with the blood that stained his mouth and chin and jaw. Loosed a keening howl of grief and fury that pulled ash and cinders from the crisp air that pawed at his face and hair. Swallowed again and struggled to speak with a tongue too thick and sticky with blood. Stumbled over words that were far too heavy for his dying voice to carry but carry them it did because he left it no other choice.

“I… sacrifice the…clos-closure of aveng-ging my mother… by eradicating the Ka’ahne line… for the transgressions committed by…” he faltered, took a deep breath and let it out slow, “by our shared sire.”

His body jerked as the sword was pulled from his chest, twisting as it was removed, shredding what remained of his heart. And in the space Beannacht left behind swelled a divinity that he hadn’t felt since the day he’d knelt before the effigies of the High Ones in Ahkshen city-village’s Temple and prayed for guidance, for understanding, for forgiveness, for anything that gave him direction because he had been so fucking lost. It tugged on the torn pieces of his heart and muscles, reknitted flapping tendons and shredded ligaments. Filled him with a light that reminded him of his mother’s magick, of his father’s betrayal, of his grief and his elation and his losses and the family he had gained both in blood and in choice. Nearly fifty years later his mother’s gods Answered his prayers with five simple words: you are no longer lost.

Eiod threw back his head and roared and Eyrdo City roared with him. He was finally home.

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