89

Fate stood on the top of the retaining wall that surrounded the newly created Eyrdo City and stared blankly at where Rhyshladlyn was being helped back into the Eighth Palace by Shadiranamen and Nhulynolyn, as Dhaoine milled about in the destroyed courtyard chattering excitedly, dispersed into the rest of the City proper to spread the news, or returned to the Palace. As Dhaoine emerged from their homes in the City, from shoppes and taverns, from the Temple, looking around in shock and awe and a muted sense of horror because drastic changes in the Worlds didn’t come without a major price. No one noticed Them standing on the southern section of the wall, the wind playing with Their robes and hair, a blotch of grey and black and white against the backdrop of the early afternoon blue sky and the glowing wall. Which was just as well, They didn’t want to be noticed.

They blinked once, twice, a third time, absolutely at a loss for words in light of the way Rhyshladlyn had responded not just to the choices They had given him, the same choices given to every single Dhaoine who had been gifted divinity like he had been, but to the conundrum of finding a replacement for Alaïs when taking his Sinner Demon sister would have decimated the Worlds. Felt a mixture of surprise and admiration at how Rhyshladlyn had so expertly straddled the line between divinity and mortality. How it had taken him scant minutes to master it before he used it to his advantage to find the solution that allowed him to deplete the remaining divine power gifted him by Lílrt’s Sacrifice and make another Greywalker to stand alongside himself and Nhulynolyn so that he had almost the number needed to safely take on a single Shiëtzir.

But really They shouldn’t have been surprised, Rhyshladlyn had always been a master tactician, seeing a hundred steps ahead and no less than twenty versions good and bad to either side of the main path. But this was the first time They had gotten to see Rhyshladlyn faced with a choice that not only affected his own life but the lives of the entire Seven Worlds. It was the first time They were able to watch first hand just how lightning fast the Qishir’s mind worked, how he went through thousands of potential outcomes until he found the one that matched, either outright or nearly so, his preferred end goal, and then achieved it before the variables could alter it.

They had come so close to seeing the birth of another god, the first since the Original Seven Races walked the newly formed Worlds. And in the space of an hour, if even that, what would have been the god of Balance came and went. Marked a single Dhaoine and gave up his chance at true divinity, at absolute immortality, and the guaranteed safety of his family and his Court all because the now meant more than the future. All because he was tired of being forced to choose between a death-dealing option and a life-altering one.

And if Fate were mortal, too, perhaps They would better understand the why behind Rhyshladlyn’s actions. But They weren’t, never had been and never would be, and so They were confounded by his choice, by his absolute refusal to see sense in acting for the benefit of the long term and the whole of the Worlds rather than the short term and the benefit of only a handful of Dhaoine who might have a Worlds-wide impact.

Laughter rang out around Them, the kind pulled by surprise from deep in one’s stomach; pure and genuine in a way that almost always brought laughter out of everyone around the laugher. They looked to the right and nearly fell off the wall at the sight of that god bent over with its hands on its knees, mouth open wide, great body shaking with a mirthful sound that was like every mountain river had broken free of the winter ice simultaneously. Took a step back and then another when They realized it was crying with laughter. That with each rumbling note of that sound, the air around it sizzled like water poured on a hot pan, burned in the wake of something that one such as that god should never be.

Had Desolation ever laughed? They honestly couldn’t remember. Which in turn meant that it was safe to assume it never had because why should that god have reason to ever feel genuine entertainment or mirth? Which only made the entire thing that much more frightening and bizarre. They debated jumping off the wall entirely when They realized that the darkness that surrounded the laughing god was thin enough that They could almost see the body that only those who fell by its hands ever did. It wouldn’t solve anything but putting space between Them and the god laughing borderline hysterically not that far away seemed like a really good idea the longer it spent making the frightening noise.

“Are you… are you laughing?” They asked, voice hesitant, shaky. A tiny spark of anger flared because if Rhyshladlyn had just done what was expected of him, what he was supposed to do, They wouldn’t be faced with the one god no one in all of Existence wanted laughing standing beside Them doing just that. They wouldn’t be wondering if it was safer if They ran or stayed here to make sure Desolation’s laughter wasn’t a prelude to something horrendous.

But Rhyshladlyn hadn’t done what he was supposed to, he never did, and so now Fate was faced with a crying laughing Desolation wondering what in the innumerable genitalia, both existent and speculated, of all the gods was going on and how did They get it to stop.

After several moments, all of which Fate spent in a type of crisis They were certain no god should have to ever deal with, Desolation straightened up and wiped its face with both hands, body still shaking with the aftershocks of its laughter as it fought to regain composure. It took several more minutes for it to shake off the mirth that seemed to have surprised it just as much as it had Them–not that that made Them feel any better but it was a start–until eventually a sound that was normally joyous and not terrifying finally stopped. Thank the blessed Creator.

“Oh, of all the things I expected my Scion to do,” Desolation’s voice was drowning deep, a sound that was nothing but the intense pressure found at the deepest parts of the oceans where no light went, where there was no sound, nothing but the crushing darkness and the endless, motionless water, “that certainly did not come close to the list.” Laughter still drenched its voice, like the ominous sound of an underwater earthquake; disrupting that all consuming pressure and making the death-still waters shift just enough to remind one that time wasn’t frozen, to remind one that they still lived, for now.

Unable to decide which was the safer option, snarl at it for its laughter or run, They elected to just stare at it in much the same way Rhyshladlyn stared at those who took him by surprise and managed to enrage him at the same time. We will need to examine why We are mimicking the mannerisms of a mortal later.

“He was never one for doing what he should,” They replied eventually, the statement evasive because They were still unhappy with the obstinate Qishir’s choice, and looked back across the City as it pulsed with a power that was unlike anything They had felt since the Creator first woke Them.

“That is an understatement, sibling mine,” Desolation snorted, the sound one that was even less expected than its laughter had been and Fate fought not to look at it.

“But of all the things he could have done, We never foresa– We never thought…” They trailed off, words failing Them and wondered as the last echoes of Desolation’s laughter was shredded by the wind where Their favorite brethren were. How after everything that had happened in the last few hours, the three other Patrons who had Marked Rhyshladlyn were nowhere to be found. Which, added to Desolation laughing, did not remotely bode well. They shook Their head and tried again, “Of all the things he could have done, he managed to find the one option that allowed him to achieve what Lílrt had thought he wouldn’t be able to do without that un-male’s Sacrifice.”

“Aye,” Desolation allowed. “But the ingeniousness of Rhyshladlyn’s actions will not change the fact that there will be repercussions.” Any trace of the gentleness its laughter had brought to its voice and face and power was suddenly gone as though it had never been there. There was nothing but that ocean deep pressure and the feeling of an absolute wasteland given living form draped in the bone crushing intensity of its power.

Fate frowned and clutched Their hands where they were folded together inside the sleeves of Their robes. Tried not to let the thought that had plagued Them before this latest upset had begun resurface, to get any louder than it already was for fear that Their brethren would hear it. Because the way Desolation stared at the Palace, at where Rhyshladlyn had walked through the front doors not too long ago, made Their skin itch. Made Them wish that Rhyshladlyn had Called any other god the day his sire had torn his wings from his back. Wished even more that Azhuri hadn’t given her second born son a name that had literally made it impossible to keep him un-Marked by Desolation.

But the fate of some Dhaoine was beyond even Their control. Were set before They even laid the first strand of the web that dictated the Dhaoine’s future. And Rhyshladlyn had been one of those, still was, even now. Even after everything that had happened. Even though he had somehow managed to make his own future, to change and mold and shift his fate to fit what he wanted, what the Worlds ultimately needed in the long run while everyone, gods and mortals, were thinking only about the short term. The infamous, legendary Grey Qishir had willingly accepted the mantle They had crafted for his shoulders but he had never allowed that mantle to shackle him to Their will.

It would have been inspiring and admirable if it wasn’t so infuriating. If the risked consequences didn’t have the potential to be so utterly devastating.

“He technically didn’t choose wrongly,” They hedged, knowing that while true it wasn’t going to be good enough. “It was merely not a choice any of Us would have thought possible for a Dhaoine to make.”

“Aye, that is fair and true,” it replied and its gaze slid over and touched the side of Their face but They knew better than to look over at it now. Even if the weight of that gaze felt the same as it had back in Their domain when it had insisted They look at it. “But despite there not technically being a wrong choice, all Qishir are presented with the same two options when made into divinity by an Oathing Sacrifice. And they must choose between those two options only. There are no other choices.”

Oh, Rhyshladlyn, if only you knew the real risks inherent in your not taking one of the choices We gave you. They willed the World to stop trembling even though They knew it was not the World that shook but rather Their body as fear rose swift and bristling with spikes and poison from Their gut to wrap around Their lungs and crawl up Their throat. Found Themselves glad that even in the living realm gods weren’t bound by the same rules as Their mortal children as that fear began to clog Their throat.

“And because Rhyshladlyn did such an incredibly rare and yet stupid thing, the Worlds are not Balanced right now, Fate,” They closed Their eyes like a young did to hide from the monsters that were hidden unseen beneath the bed, as though if they could not see them, then said monsters did not actually exist. But this monster was very real and nothing They did would make it otherwise. “And you know as well as I that the cause of that lack of Balance cannot be the one to right it again.”

“But he is not the only Greywalker anymore,” Fate didn’t care that Their voice trembled anymore. Didn’t care that gods shouldn’t beg, especially not Themselves, but the last time Desolation had spoken those words, it had seen to it that the Greywalker race it often guarded was all but wiped out entirely. Had seen ten thousand years of strained Balance and fear on not just the gods’ parts but that of the Dhaoine whom They all looked over. Until the day Azhuri had birthed a third young, one who never should have survived until term, one who consumed its mirror twin in utero and was born with that twin as its Other. Until the one web They never thought They’d weave or see woven took form in the heart of Their domain. “He has help from two others. There is no need to punish him for the lack of Balance his actions caused.”

“Those new Greywalkers are only barely passed their first Awakenings, Fate,” it pressed, tone hard. There would be no arguing with it but by the Creator that didn’t stop Fate from trying. “They cannot possibly right the lack of Balance in the way that is necessary before that second active Shiëtzir sets off. And neither can they tackle it with the minuscule number of them.”

“Desolation, please,” They opened Their eyes and after a moment, risked looking over at it. Swallowed hard around the scream that smacked into Their mouth at the sight that greeted Them, shuddered hard but kept talking because They knew that whatever Desolation was planning would be way worse than any natural fallout that would happen as a result of Rhyshladlyn’s choice. “There is no need to act rashly. Let nature take its course and how things fall from there, they fall. The Creator knows what its doing and it would not have Us here, right as We are, if this was not where We’re supposed to be.”

The god that all other gods feared, the one who could and would kill Them all, laughed again. But unlike before this sound lacked mirth, lacked warmth. It was cold and sharp and deadlier than the teeth it slithered between, than the talons at the ends of fingers that were all joints and no bones, than the power that breathed around it until it dripped from the wall beneath them like rain from a cloud. They watched as it rose to its full height, towering taller than the Heart Tree in the Forest of Dreams and Darkness, a looming harbinger of death and destruction and some unnameable thing that made terror lick at the spine and brought some primordial instinct that even the oldest of the gods shared with Their Dhaoinic children screaming awake with a desperate warning of danger. Desolation rolled its shoulders, twitched its fingers, and smiled.

“You always did have faith, Fate, even when it wasn’t warranted.”

Before They could do anything more than blink, than debate whether it was wise or worth it to reach out for it, that god was gone. Left behind only that power that dripped down the wall where it once stood, that stained the crimson bricks a color like unpolished copper. They looked back at the Eighth Palace and took a step off Eyrdo’s wall and back into Their domain before they could do something truly foolish like try and stop Desolation or even warn Rhyshladlyn as They had had Their favorite brethren warn him of Azriel’s death centuries ago.

Rhyshladlyn had made his choice and while They wished Desolation wasn’t right, prayed even that it didn’t do anything nearly as drastic as what it had done the last time it sought to correct the Imbalance of the Worlds, They knew that all actions had consequences. As did choices. Even when one wished they didn’t. And it was right, They did have faith especially when it wasn’t warranted but it had never been misplaced. Not so far, at least. Creator, please, Hear Us. Have We made a mistake? What is the outcome here, what future are We to work towards? What is Your will?

As They rubbed at Their eyes with hands that trembled still, a sudden ripping shriek echoed from all directions. They jumped and spun around, some instinct telling Them where the source came from, and felt the air whoosh out of Their lungs at the sight of thousands of Their spider-creatures rushing across Their domain, so many that They couldn’t see the ground beneath the things. But They could see what had drawn the attention of every single one of them and if what They had felt at the idea of what Desolation would do had been fear, They had no word for what emotion soaked Them then.

Fuck,” the word seared the air around Them, making the currents whine in distress at the blasphemy, but They didn’t care. It was the only apt response as They watched as piece after piece, section after section, of Rhyshladlyn Ka’ahne’s web tore off with rippling shrieks and fell to the ground with great clattering booms.

They watched until only one section remained, the one that had always glowed the brightest, one that They had thought destroyed hundreds of years ago, and understood what Desolation had meant by its parting words. They cursed again and sent out a Call for a meeting to all Their brethren. There had always been a risk involved with making Rhyshladlyn the first Greywalker born in purity in thousands of generations, but They hadn’t anticipated this. Hadn’t thought that there’d come a time when They wouldn’t be able to handle the fallout, the outcomes, the risks, alone. But They were wrong, so wrong, and by the Creator, They just hoped it wasn’t too late to call in reinforcements and fix this before the damage done was irreparable.

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