Eiod rubbed at his eyes and did a double take unable to believe that there was a presence in the far corner near the windows, tucked away in the deeper shadows of the hall outside the reach of the lantern light. Looked around to see if anyone else had noticed it but they were all focused on their tasks and conversations. Not even Nhulynolyn seemed to sense it let alone see it. What the fuck. He looked back at it and stared hard, looked until his brain let him see exactly what it was, until the fog his psyche had created to protect him evaporated. And when he could finally see it clearly, he promptly gagged on bile, body convulsing hard enough he nearly smacked the table with his face as his mind did everything it could to make him look away from the Terror stood in the corner watching them all like it fucking belonged there. Like it wasn’t abnormal, like it wasn’t a harbinger of something far worse than the fear it made him feel just to look at it.
“Oi, Eiod, you alright there, brother?” Nhulynolyn’s voice was a balm to his fraying mind, the wash of Balance that dropped when the Otherborn-Greywalker gripped his shoulder clearing the fear that had filled every spare inch of his insides until it had nearly replaced his blood and his bones.
“Aye,” Eiod answered breathlessly. “Just aftershocks of the Awakening.” It wasn’t a whole lie but it wasn’t the entire truth either. If only because he didn’t know if it was safe to point out the thing loitering in the corner. Never mind if it was even fucking real.
Somehow the thought that he was hallucinating was worse than that thing being real.
“You sure?” Bayls asked, her voice gentle but her focus as sharp as the steel she carried.
“Yes, mother,” he teased and glanced at her. The truth that lived beneath her face shimmered beneath her Dhaoinic mask and he froze. Fought to look at the half formed true face with its leathery skin and one sunken eye socket and lidless eye juxtaposed with the unmarred other side without reacting. Because if he reacted to Bayls’ face then she would ask why and somehow it would lead to admitting that there was an Old Story Terror chilling in the far corner of the room like it fucking belonged there, like it was nothing more than a grotesque lamp or something, and he really did not want to have that conversation. Did she always have a true face? What is going on? “I am fine. Just getting used to everything and my body hasn’t settled yet. Things keep…popping? It’s weird and I don’t like it.”
Nhulynolyn’s laughter was like the howling wind on the Festival of the Flesh, full of potential and promises and the edge of sadistic pleasure found during the Taking Ritual. Eiod shivered, liking that sound even less than he liked that Bayls had a true face that he’d never known about.
“Oh, that’ll not end for a while. Mine’s still actin’ up.”
“Lovely,” Eiod deadpanned making them both laugh.
As Nhulynolyn and Bayls returned to their previous conversation, one Eiod admittedly hadn’t been paying any attention to, he looked back across the hall. Closed his eyes and took a deep breath, grounded his fear, and reached out to Eyrdo. Felt his City’s awareness, ancient and yet so terribly young, touch him with a trilled sound of curiosity. He opened his eyes again and stared down the thing in the corner. Kept looking even when that fog cleared again, tensed every muscle in his body to keep it from trying to heave him into the table as bile filled his throat until he thought he would choke. Didn’t so much as blink even when orange-amber eyes surrounded by the deepest black he’d ever seen looked directly at him, the face they sat in shifting with surprise though Eiod didn’t know how he knew that considering what flesh it had looked like mushy bone. He slowly, carefully bared his teeth at it, tapping into his newfound power with Eyrdo bracing him so he didn’t drown under it, and flicked it with a distinct you don’t fucking belong here, now leave.
The thing laughed and divinity soaked the inside of his lungs, bringing with it the smell of rot and decay and the peculiar scent one smelled right before a lightning strike. Made his skin feel dirty but not on the outside, more like it was between his skin and the muscles beneath it, burrowing deeper and deeper with each breath he struggled to take. He cried out and punched the table to bring his mind back to the present, to distract it from the Terror that stared him down and laughed like he meant nothing, but he didn’t close his eyes. Refused flat out to lose sight of that thing, of that god, as it stepped into the light and the darkness and shadows that cloaked it fell away revealing the naked, mushy bone-fleshed body beneath with its map-work of scars and too many joints.
“Who are you?” he whispered and was suddenly aware that Nhulynolyn and Bayls had been calling his name, probably for a while, but he ignored them. Ignored, too, the way the hall had fallen silent, though whether it had been his words or him punching the table, he wasn’t sure and didn’t give a fuck. His primary focus was the god listing from side to side like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to walk towards him or remain right where it was. “And why the fuck are you here?”
It laughed again and Eiod caught the way everyone in the hall reacted to the sound but not to its presence. As though that laughter was pure ambient magick that moved the way the Worlds’ did when a Working touched it. He narrowed his eyes and rose slowly to his feet, shaky but determined, and loosed a cavern deep growl that shook dust off the walls and ceiling. Rolled his shoulders as his wings pressed insistently against his back, demanding to be freed, but he held back if only because it was one thing to question a god, it was another entirely to full on challenge it. Took one step and then another until the table was behind him, until he stood between his family and the god that had shown itself only to him.
“I am here because I wanted to watch.” It’s voice was like darkness given sound, as if eons were a living thing that could take humanoid form and speak. “As for my name… well you know that already, don’t you, Eiod?”
His wings tore from his back in a spray of blood, bone, and flesh so violent those strips and pieces smacked the walls to either side of him and anything that stood in the way. He crossed the distance in an eye blink, feeling the air and time split around him as he did so. Got up in that god’s face, teeth bared, growl dropping until it hovered half in the vocal and half in the subvocal register, and flared his wings wide. Gasps rang around the hall but likely not because they finally saw the thing he faced off against but because of his actions. Which was fine. The less they all saw of it, the better. Especially given that all of the Numbered Qishir and enough of the Worlds’ two most powerful Courts were in the room. The last thing he needed or wanted was for those minds to shatter.
“Desolation,” the name he spoke dripped with revulsion in too quiet hall, bringing sounds of distress and chairs clattering to the ground. But he didn’t look away. Didn’t loose sight or focus on the god before him. Knew that if he did things would go from bad to nightmarish in a heartbeat. “And what the fuck exactly are you here to watch?”
It spread its arms with a loose smile that made Eiod’s stomach churn at the way it pulled at that bone for flesh face and showed a mouth that was riddled with more teeth than he thought a humanoid mouth had any right to even try to hold, let alone succeed at. But it didn’t answer and Eiod growled again, louder this time, and shifted his weight from a dominating stance into a fighting one. Opened his mouth to demand it answer him, which was probably not a good plan but fuck it. He wasn’t about to let some god come into his home and thre–
Eiod’s vision went black as something slammed through the air like a punch to the face as screams erupted around the hall followed by the sounds of bodies hitting the floor and walls and each other. The scent of distress and rot and decay intensified until he struggled to breathe for a whole new reason. He stumbled when the floor undulated and only kept his feet when his wings flared, shifted, and flapped once. By the sounds of bones snapping and joints dislocating behind him others weren’t so lucky. He glared up at the god before him as it laughed again.
“This, little Greywalker, this,” it answered as another pulse rocked the World and brought Eiod to his knees with a scream because it felt like his insides were on fire and melting simultaneously. Eyrdo shuddered twice in rapid succession before he felt its awareness recede with a brief touch of apology but he knew it was reaching instead for the Greywalker who created it. Prayed the City reached Rhyshladlyn in time.
But as another pul-pulse pulse ricocheted off his bones and boiled his bone marrow, Eiod didn’t think it would.