96

They stared at the web in front of them with nothing short of terror. Try as They might, They couldn’t look away, couldn’t stop what was happening because it was the Will of the Creator and no amount of prayers and pleas would change that so They just stood and bore witness. It was all They could do even if it wasn’t what They wanted to do.

“Of all the webs you came to check on, why this one?” They blinked and looked over at where the Nameless stood gripping its Scythe staff so tightly that if it had had skin, They didn’t doubt that the flesh across its knuckles would have been white and splotched with color. But here in Their domain its truest form was what one saw, not the one it wore to put mortal minds more at ease.

“I’m surprised you’re not in the After,” They hedged, looking away from Their sibling and back to the web. They were stalling, yes, at least partly, but They didn’t want to risk speaking something into existence that may not happen otherwise, it was bad enough They were thinking it.

The irony of Them being superstitious was not lost on Them.

“No point. It will be days yet before the last of the Selves clear the Veil,” the Nameless answered and They knew without needing to look that it shrugged by the way the skulls hanging from its the staff clacked softly against each other, the bells in the empty eye sockets giving distressed, muted chimes. Their sibling had always been so blaisé about when and how it saw to fielding the influx of Selves into the After. Especially after a World altering event. Even when all Their other brethren were running about, caught up in the pandemonium, the Nameless was calm and unbowed. “Never mind that those who arrived first will be able to help across those who are meant to cross. I am not needed yet.”

They made some noncommittal sound as a wind that shouldn’t exist here of all places brought a whiff of wrongness and taint to mingle with and distort the raw, natural ambient magick that made up Their domain. They wrinkled Their nose as the Nameless cursed softly.

“I think it’s safe to assume that Desolation succeeded in its plan, whatever that had been,” the Nameless spat, its staff-skulls with their bells for eyes clacking and chiming angrily. “Would we had gotten here sooner and were able to stop it.”

“There was no stopping it, not really,” They whispered and felt fear slide down Their spine as slowly the silver and gold with hints of crimson began to fade from the strands before Them. Their spider-creatures swarmed around Their feet, getting tangled in the robes that swirled around Their ankles, as They prayed that some color would remain. Prayed because the alternative was far, far worse.

“Fate…” the Nameless sounded the closest to scared They’d ever heard it, the weight of its attention a nearly physical thing as it noticed Their spider-creatures. “What is going on.” It was a question but Their sibling spoke it like a statement, all sharp vowels and sharper consonants.

“Nothing good, Our sibling.” It wasn’t a real answer but it was all They had right then. The fear was too thick in Their throat as more strands began to lose color that it made speaking almost impossible. Which was so peculiar, They had never felt mortal emotions so strongly before. Not until They had become invested in freeing Rhyshladlyn from the mind spell that had controlled the entire Seven Worlds. Something that They weren’t allowed to help with because of all the gods the Creator had birthed, Fate was supposed to be the one who remained impartial over even the Soullessly Heartfelt.

But that did not stop Us from trying to find loopholes, now did it?

“Would you care to elaborate…?” the Nameless prompted.

Fate laughed softly but it was empty and brittle as one of the lower strands, now a grey so dark it was nearly black, began to crumble into a dust so fine it was almost impossible to see in the shadows cast by the light of the webs that surrounded this one. First in small pieces, then chunks, bigger and bigger until the entire strand itself fell away. Watched as the ones nearest to it began to tremble ominously, their color leeching away with each minute that passed. They clasped Their hands together, tucked away in Their sleeves to hide the way they had begun to shake, and swallowed hard as more and more lower strands began to crumble into dust until the entire foundation was gone. Watched with a sinking feeling, like the air in Their lungs, air They didn’t need to breathe, had suddenly been sucked out, as that dark grey color spread until there was only two strands left, the thickest and longest of the entire web, that remained untouched, untainted, but even their intensity had begun to dim. Even their vibrancy had begun to fade.

Any other time They would have reprimanded the Nameless for speaking to Them in such a disrespectful manner but They just couldn’t bring Themselves to do it. Just like They couldn’t look away from that nearly greyed-out web and the danger to the Worlds its disintegration heralded. Because if this web had kept any of its color, no matter the number of strands lost, there would have been a greater chance the Worlds would survive. But it hadn’t done that. And now the odds of survival were stacked even more against the Worlds and Fate didn’t know what to do with that.

“Whose web is this?” the Nameless demanded. Its voice sounded distant and so close all at once; the weight of it pressing against Their skin like a soaked blanket, sticky like drying blood but slick like oil. They shuddered and shook Their head. “Tell me who, Fate.”

They stifled a cry when the remainder of that web lost the last of its color and exploded into a cloud of dust that tasted like regret and terror and a love that had never been meant to live this long. They bowed Their head half to hide the shocked grief They couldn’t keep off Their face and half out of respect. Told Themselves that They shouldn’t answer, that doing so would only complicate things further. But it didn’t matter, the knowledge would get out eventually so there wasn’t any point to putting it off.

“It belonged to Azriel Kasuske of House Veratone,” Their voice was nothing more than a whisper as webs all throughout Their domain broke into pieces or exploded into dust just like this one had, the concussive booms of pieces hitting the floor and the shrieks of Their spider-creatures almost drowning out Their words.

Belonged to?” the Nameless sounded distraught which was even more foreign than Them feeling any mortal emotion. But They didn’t look up, just stared down at the creatures that swarmed at Their feet, chittering and crying as the falling dust gathered into waist high piles. “As in… he is no longer alive?”

“Yes,” They answered simply. As if anything about this situation was simple, as if the Nameless wouldn’t have figured out the answer on its own.

“How could he be dead? Did you know this was going to happen? I thought you were supposed to warn us if something could happen that could put Rhyshladlyn at risk of destroying the Worlds!” It’s staff thunk-thunked against the floor, no doubt because the Nameless had lifted it and slammed it back down. “That’s why when Azriel died in Shiran City we were warned because Rhyshladlyn needed to be warned!”

They swallowed back the snarl Their sibling’s vehement words elicited because none knew what They did. None knew that the sacrifice Rhyshladlyn had made the night he’d Awakened in Shiran City hadn’t been of Azriel’s life but rather of the perfectly compatible love they’d shared. A love that had been so strong that losing it had been the only sacrifice Rhyshladlyn could make that would have come close to killing him, to breaking him irreparably, that was strong enough to see him through his Awakening. But because the Anglëtinean had been Blood Oathed to Rhyshladlyn at the time of his sacrificial death, that Bond had pulled the two back together across time and impossible circumstances. Even when every single future that saw them both happy and safe also showed them without each other.

The Anglëtinean was never supposed to be Blood Oathed when he died by Rhyshladlyn’s own sword in Shiran City. Was never supposed to be reborn and seek Rhyshladlyn out. And because of that, this was bound to happen. This very moment when the Creator stepped in and corrected Balance itself by any and all means necessary. And this time it had done so through Desolation who had taken the other active ahtjeer and placed it in just the right place so that Azriel had been caught in the crossfire.

And of course They’d known this was going to happen. After all They’d been shown this event when They’d asked the Creator what it had planned and They had watched Desolation pluck a strand of this very web. But They’d have known this was the outcome even without that Vision. The knowledge had been there all along, They just hadn’t wanted to think about it because doing so meant acknowledging that it was Their fault that the Worlds were suspended at the sword-edge between Ordered Chaos and Balance. Was because They had told Their three favorite brethren of the Anglëtinean’s impending death and allowed the three to warn Rhyshladlyn which had taken the known outcome and made it into a dice roll of a million possibilities, all worse than the last.

“There was nothing to warn about,” They said at length knowing it wasn’t good enough but it was all They could give.

“That’s a half-assed answer,” the Nameless growled.

“Aye,” They answered with a shrug. “But it is all We are willing and able to give you.”

“But if Azriel is dead… that means Rhyshladlyn will follow him,” the Nameless pressed. “So we’re looking a Worlds altering event.”

“Not quite,” They smiled softly at the way the Nameless huffed in frustration. “Close, but not quite.”

“So there is a chance that my Scion survives this?”

Fate looked at Their sibling and wished They didn’t have to smother the flash of hope that danced in eyes that were every known and unknown color in Existence. “Rhyshladlyn’s only chance of survival, and thus the Worlds’ survival, is if Xefras speaks his Blood Oath in time for Rhyshladlyn to Answer before Azriel’s Self crosses the River.”

“And does he?” another god asked, voice like a rushing mountain river as it fell into a steep waterfall. Fate gave a silent prayer of thanks that Their sibling hadn’t mentioned anything with stalling Azriel’s Crossing to ensure the desired outcome. “Does this Dragaen make it in time?”

Every future a Dhaoine’s web shows will come to pass, it just might not happen in the way anyone thinks it will. For all that the We focus on the paths taken to get there, that is not the important part. No, that would be the outcome, for that and that alone is guaranteed. But They couldn’t say that, unfortunately. Both because it wasn’t a real answer and because it was one only They were allowed to know. And while They had taken liberties and placed bets against the odds by ducking in and out of loopholes several times now where Rhyshladlyn was concerned, this was one time They just couldn’t bring Themselves to chance it and They definitely weren’t going to lie.

So They bowed Their head. And even though it was inadequate, even though it left a sour taste in Their mouth, They whispered, “We hope so.”

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