90

Sheieh grabbed the arm of a passing Healer, a short Druid with eyes the color of moss that squinted at him and the audacity he had for touching em. He disliked being so disrespectful but he had been wandering the halls of the new Eighth Palace for what felt like hours and he still hadn’t found his intended location. And no Dhaoine he passed would stop long enough to answer him and if they did, none of them knew the way either. So when he turned a corner and encountered a Dhaoine dressed in Thayne’s livery with the Healer crest on eir chest, his hand snapped out before he could think better of it.

“My apologies,” he murmured and let go of the neodrach who absently smoothed out the wrinkles Sheieh’s grip had put on eir shirt sleeve, “but I was wondering if you could point me to the infirmary. Everything seems to have changed on me since the birth of the new City.”

The Druid shook emself and Sheieh watched as ey appraised him before answering, “Luckily for you it is roughly in the same location it was before, only half a corridor away.”

“Half a corridor away?” he questioned and the Druid laughed.

“Aye,” the Druid confirmed. “Do you remember how to get there from here?”

Sheieh didn’t press for an explanation on how that statement made any sense, just asked for directions to make sure he made it there without any more upset. The Druid provided them and after confirmation that he had them correct, Sheieh bowed deeply and gave proper farewell in the Druid way.

“May the Many See you and smile always,” the Druid replied with a smile before continuing the way ey had been going.

Sheieh smiled at hearing the traditional Soul Healer farewell before his face smoothed out and he resumed his walk. Rubbed absently at his arms to try and relieve the twinging itch of his gretluos as they sensed his g’agsha so close. Of all the meetings he needed to have, that he’d had, since the Worlds remembered the truth of things, that was the one he was most apprehensive about. He both wanted to see Relyt and didn’t. Even though he’d seen Relyt when Rhyshladlyn had tossed him into the meeting hall what felt like months ago, the clearer memory of his g’agsha was the last time he’d seen his real charge forty years ago; the vision of Lílrt snapping his neck as sharp now as it had been the moment Sheieh had seen it happen. And after Rhyshladlyn had learned exactly what had happened, how deep Relyt’s betrayal had gone and his own part in that betrayal, Sheieh had sought to distance himself from the male he had begun to feel a connection for that ran far deeper than what was expected of a Guardian and his charge.

With greater effort than he was happy with, Sheieh put his hands behind his back, fingers curled around his forearms, and did his level best to remember his upbringing and the teachings of his people. Slipped the stoic mask he had spent nearly a thousand years perfecting to back into place as he turned a corner and encountered more Dhaoine. I must be getting closer to the infirmary. Squared his shoulders and gave a quiet prayer of thanks to the Many that the rooms he’d been assigned and all his belongings hadn’t been ruined in the remaking of Eyrdo City so that at least he walked among the growing crowd of Dhaoine dressed in the winter grey of his Clan, the symbol of his sire line stitched over the center of his chest, a mimication of the way his gretkewq looked embedded in his forehead, surrounded by the various swirls and points of gretluos that made it look like a snowflake.

Not many eyes turned to him but enough did and those who read his signature and had regained their memories knew him as Relyt’s Guardian from before the mind spell and their expressions darkened. But thankfully none of them acted upon the disgust that twisted their features. Which was a mercy, he didn’t think he had it in him to deal with any sort of conflict.

“Everyone, please. We will explain what is going on as soon as we can,” a female voice said with all the scolding sting of a mother who had said those words one time too many to have hardly any patience left with her wayward children. The crowd’s attention swung away from him and towards that voice and the Dhaoine it belonged. Though all he could see was the set of ornate doors she stood before with their a set of scales on each, tipped towards each other so the left of one and the right of the other were sinking towards the door handles in the middle, each scale itself holding a single puff of crimson flame that seemed to flicker like real flame in the afternoon sunlight that filled the hallway. The crowd shifted and mumbled, a collective sound of discontent.

That has to be the new audience hall where the Numbered Qishir and the Honorable and Grey Courts are sequestered.

“I will not repeat myself a third time, not if you lot want me to be kind about it,” that voice snapped with far more bite and not a trace of patience. He recognized it then as belonging to Thae’a and ducked his head to hide the glimmer of mirth he couldn’t keep out of his eyes as the Dreamweaver continued, “Now either get into some kind of order and line up along one side of the hallway or disperse and wait quietly for news like everyone else.” She paused just long enough for the murmuring all around her to fall into an apprehensive hush, “Or every last one of you can get the fuck out of this hallway. You choose.”

Several voices rose in protest at that but he didn’t catch what was said to Thae’a or what she responded with as he rounded another corner and out of earshot. Wondered as he followed the Druid’s directions whether he should have stayed to ensure Thae’a didn’t need help. Scrapped the thought because he had never known the feisty Dreamweaver to be far from her Lupherinre mate, never mind that her Court was on the other side of those ornate doors, so really she was fine.

After countless turns and back tracks and what felt like hours later, he finally turned a corner and found himself faced with what seemed like a foyer that lead into a large ball room or dining hall, not the infirmary it had to be.

The hallway he had turned down only had one direction, the one that ended in the infirmary itself, which is probably where that Druid got the ‘half a corridor’ from. Though it was still structured much as it had been before with an open air area that had several beds, this wasn’t a long, narrow room but rather spread across several rooms with what looked like two smaller hallways that bracketed that open space. It reminded him a lot of the first floor entrances of several of the Worlds’ hospitals he’d been in, though the air here was markedly different. Which no doubt could be owed in whole to the fact that he stood in a Greywalker City.

He approached a desk that was situated right where the short hallway flared into the whole of the infirmary and bowed his head to the female Healer who sat behind it. She smiled at him, her teeth almost as white as the tunic and leggings she wore, the black tips on her fangs telling him she was a type of Shiftkin though he couldn’t get a clear read on what kind she was before she was on her feet, eyes the color of the sun at high noon, that soft yellow that was almost white, sparkling as her pitch black pupils shrank to slits.

“Greetings!” she said brightly and he found himself smiling unbidden at the happiness she exuded, his stoic mask cracking just enough to allow it. “How may I help you?”

“Blessings,” he replied and bowed again, this time a bit deeper and held it for the count of five before he straightened again, “I am here to call on Jaro Erosson, he was a Soulless who had been injured in Ryphqi City. Is he still here?”

Those pale yellow eyes darkened slightly, her brightness dimming just a bit and he fought not to frown though his smile did falter a bit, which only made her narrow her eyes as her power brushed him gently, like she was trying to read his signature but where most Dhaoine, especially Healers, could do so without the receiver being aware, she made a point of being obvious about it. After several heartbeats, she nodded and looked down at the desk, moving a few papers around, her long fingers distracting in the way they reminded him of butterflies hovering over flowers to drink the nectar, before she looked back up at him and gestured behind her.

“If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to him,” she answered, her smile still in place but it wasn’t nearly as open, didn’t have quite the same amount of happiness as it did before, though her eyes weren’t nearly as dark. “He was recently moved to a new room by just himself.”

“Did I offend you somehow?” he asked as she led him into the open air room with its entire wall of windows that looked out over Eyrdo City with its new retaining wall and crimson walls and various Watchtowers, its Temple bell tower a beacon that was nearly as tall as though Towers. A random thought of whether all Cities were as large as Eyrdo came and went at seeing the distance between the Palace’s outer grounds and the City proper. Maybe before the genocide, but not since then. Not until now.

She chuckled but it sounded off, wrong almost, like it had mirth to it but also had enough derision to make one flinch ever so slightly.

“Oh no,” she waved one hand, “nothing like that. You’re just not the first Dhaoine to come calling on Jaro. Though I appreciate that your energy is far more pleasant that his previous guest’s. But that was why I needed to read you because if you had felt like that previous male? I would have ensured you never made it past my desk.”

“Who was here for him before me?” he asked rather than focus on the way his mind purred at the suggestion that she would hold her own against a seasoned warrior, especially one of his standing and from his Clan. Asked because he wanted to know whether he needed to get someone else to back him up. Because what he really wanted to ask was if the visitor felt so wrong to her, had she let him stay or removed him. But some questions were rude even when phrased in the context of making polite conversation to help put a Dhaoine at ease.

The Shiftkin shrugged. “That was before my shift began, but when I walked by the room and he was there, talking to Jaro…” she trailed off and shook her head.

“That was more than enough to tell you that it was not a pleasant visitor,” he finished for her.

“Aye, exactly,” she gestured with a hand towards the left hallway and he trailed after her, hands still clasping his forearms behind his back, carefully looking around without making it obvious that was what he was doing.

There weren’t many beds filled in the open area, though there was more than enough to house a small army at once without worrying about overcrowding. Which was a mercy given that when Lílrt’s Oathing Sacrifice had touched Rhyshladlyn the Grey Qishir had only been able to clear the top floors before it had winged out and taken the entire seventh floor out as though it had never been there. But the lack of filled beds didn’t mean the rooms in the bracketing hallways weren’t filled or that they didn’t have multiple beds per room. Sheieh hoped it meant that the number of injuries were minor and didn’t need intensive medical care but short of asking he had no way of confirming it so he let it go.

The Shiftkin stopped at the entrance to the left hallway and smiled at him.

“It’s the fourth door on the right,” she bowed and walked away before he could thank her let alone ask her name. He watched her leave, fascinated for some reason by the way the tip of her white-blonde braid swayed just above the swell of her hips. Shaking himself he turned and counted the doors before making his way to the fourth one on the right.

Ten feet away he knew why the Shiftkin hadn’t liked the energy of Jaro’s previous visitor. Felt every muscle in his body tense as a voice he hadn’t heard properly in decades filtered through the partially open doorway, bringing him to a dead stop in the middle of the hallway.

“I did not mean to upset you, Jaro.”

There was a scoffing sound that could only be the Soulless. Sheieh had heard that noise from the male enough times over the last forty years to recognize it in his sleep, never mind while awake.

“That’s the thing, Relyt,” Jaro replied, tone hard, “you never mean to do anything negative to anyone in your life but it still happens. And that’s the takeaway: the bad shit still happens and you’re the one who does it.” A soft creaking, like the joints of a hospital bed settling as weight moved on top of it. “Plus there ain’t anyone here but us right now, so spare me the theatrics of pretending like you give two shits about my feelings and tell me why you’re really here.”

The air thickened with the smell of spring and Sheieh retreated a slow, careful step to avoid being touched by Relyt’s reaching magick. Debated risking cloaking himself but scrapped the plan as his g’agsha‘s power receded back into Jaro’s room. The silence that replaced it was thicker than the air had been, charged as though a thunderstorm approached, and Sheieh swallowed hard. He shouldn’t be here, eavesdropping like some fledgling who didn’t know better, but he was compelled both by Rhyshladlyn’s unspoken edict and his own honor code to take care of Jaro. And leaving the Soulless alone with Relyt for any longer than he had been seemed like the best way to not do that. So he stayed right where he was, just close enough to hear them speak but not so close as to give away his presence.

“I need to know what books the palace in Ryphqi City has on the Greywalker race,” Relyt said at length and Sheieh raised both his eyebrows.

“What?” Jaro spluttered, surprise clear, “And why would you ask me?”

“Because,” Relyt snapped, exasperated, “I can’t very well walk up to Alaïs or Eiod and ask them. I sure as fuck cannot ask Rhys and I’m not going to risk asking Tee or Adïmshyl for it either. Which leaves me with you.”

Especially when you are supposed to be under lock and key while Rhyshladlyn handles the Oathing Sacrifice and the issue with the Shiëtzirs that your brother created. Sheieh tugged at his braid where it tickled his hands where he gripped his arms behind his back. Debated whether he should risk getting the yellow-eyed Shiftkin Healer at the infirmary desk to send for guards or stay here. Yes, it was probably best to alert someone that Relyt was wandering the Palace corridors unaccompanied, harassing people for library books, but leaving him alone while he argued with Jaro seemed worse. So he remained where he was and hoped he wasn’t making the wrong choice.

“That’s fair but why do you want that information? And why not search the library here? It’s gotta have better options than Ryphqi does.”

Sheieh felt his stomach swoop as a memory of Jaro saying that right after the Oathing Sacrifice one of Lílrt’s faithful had spoken ripped through the original palace in Ryphqi City that Alaïs had gone to the library in search of something related to the legends and myths of the Grey Soul Healer race because something about it had made her think it could help end the war, to help them figure out what was going on with Relyt and the Anointed One and the Oathing Sacrifices. Though the libraries in Shiran and Ryphqi would have likely held better information, neither had been standing at the time. Especially not the palace libraries. But what, if anything, they’d found in Azgerdyl’s library was unknown to him.

Oh, Relyt. Do you mean to continue your brother’s work? Is that why you ask for such information? Because he, too, sought books on Rhyshladlyn’s race.

There was a long pause that was answer enough even without Relyt’s eventual murmur of, “I do not wish to say.”

“Tough shit,” the Soulless’ laughter was short and sharper than steel. “Given your track record for trustworthiness, I’m not giving you shit all of information on anything without a damned good explanation of why you want it and why you made damn sure that we were alone before you brought it up.”

Relyt sighed heavily and there was a muted thunk, like a body dropping heavily into a chair that wasn’t entirely stable on the floor.

“I fear that what my Qishir did will see worse things brought upon the Worlds than what we would have faced had he accepted his Sacrifice-given divinity. And I wish to do research to confirm, or deny, my suspicions before I bring them to him, before I upset the Courts more so than they already are.”

Sheieh had spent centuries with Relyt, yes keeping him too high to realize his nightmares were suppressed memories of reality, but he still was with him. And Sheieh had spent those centuries studying Relyt’s mannerisms, word choice, inflections, tones, facial expression, and the way his energy tasted to ensure that he never missed anything. So hearing those words, wrapped as they were in enough sincerity to pass inspection if one didn’t know the Soul Healer well, Sheieh knew better. There was something else, something that was woven around the truth Relyt spoke but it was whisper-soft, there but not, like the flash of color in a twilit forest.

“Oh and I’m supposed to just take you at your word for that?” Jaro snorted again, the disbelief at Relyt’s audacity loud. Sheieh swallowed hard to keep the unbidden laughter that rose up his throat from giving his presence away. Clearly his Soulless friend had spent far longer around Alaïs than anyone realized to get that much of her biting wit and sharper tongue. “That after the centuries you spent betraying your supposedly beloved Qishir you suddenly up and give an actual fuck about him? Pfft. No way.”

“Do you call me a liar, Jaro Erosson?” The snap of winter’s last hold wrapped around the cool spring breeze of Relyt’s power. Filled it with a warning that couldn’t be clearer. Sheieh took half a step forward, prepared to step in and keep things from getting physical because Jaro stood no match against anyone in his condition. Let alone a fully aware and sober Relyt Greymend.

But his worry was unfounded.

“No,” Jaro replied carefully, the way one did when they didn’t want the listener to misunderstand a single thing they said but weren’t bowing down to them either, “I am calling out the inconsistency that is your entire existence as part of the Grey Court. And I am demanding you show proof that you can be trusted again.”

“I died for him, just as Azriel did, as Nully did! Is that not enough?”

Jaro snarled, the sound bouncing off the walls with a reverb that made Sheieh’s bones thrum.

“You were murdered by your worthless brother! Killed because you served a greater purpose to him dead than you did alive!” Jaro spat, every word laced with poison and the kind of righteous fury normally only heard from those qahllyn to a Qishir had when defending said Qishir. “You didn’t die to help Rhys, to keep him alive like Azriel and Nully did. You were a loose end that got snipped before it could strangle the life out of a plan you helped create.”

There was a beat of silence that was broken only by Jaro’s heavy breathing and Sheieh raised his eyebrows, the only concession to showing his surprise he was willing to make publicly. But the Soulless wasn’t done.

“And don’t you dare speak of your rightfully deserved murder in such a manner again. Or I shall see you on the dueling fields to right the dishonor you brought to my father’s name.”

Relyt growled a curse in Gretlök before the clatter of a chair falling over and accent laced Common snapped out, “You will regret this, Jaro Erosson.”

“Not nearly as much as you already do, Relyt Greymend.”

Sheieh ducked quickly into the room next door, leaving it cracked just enough to see the corridor as Relyt’s furious energy pressed at the door of Jaro’s room. He cloaked himself as that door banged open and his g’agsha strode into the hallway like a storm packed into Dhaoinic skin and walked away. Sheieh counted to fifty before he risked stepping out of his hiding spot, closing the door to the room he’d slipped into behind him quietly, and made his way to Jaro’s room. The Soulless smiled at him tightly when Sheieh closed that door gently but pointedly and locked it, but not without a spark of happiness at the sight of him.

“Did you hear all that?”

“The most important parts leading up to his unnecessarily loud departure, yes,” he answered. “Anything before it, no.”

“Gods be thanked,” Jaro relaxed against his pile of pillows and closed eyes that had changed to a blue so dark they reminded Sheieh of Shadiranamen’s. “Of all the Dhaoine to visit me, he was definitely a shock.”

“I honestly thought he was under lock and key awaiting a spare moment of Rhyshladlyn’s time to handle his traitorous ways,” Sheieh replied, righting the chair Relyt had occupied and sitting down.

“Who knows with that slimy motherfucker,” Jaro rubbed his face with his hands and sighed heavily. “What did he say in your native tongue before he stormed outta here?”

Sheieh chuckled but it was dry and brittle. “Nothing a male of honor and worth would ever speak in any language, much less translate.”

“Yeah, I figured,” Jaro laughed and some of the tension bled out of his body. When he looked back at Sheieh, his eyes were closer to their normal blue-green hazel. “What do we do now?”

“The only thing we can do,” Sheieh sighed and rubbed the skin around his gretkewq. “Tell Rhyshladlyn and pray.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.”

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