The man swept a mocking bow. “Conor arei Tal. And you were once Nisar.”
“Before I killed you.”
Aran tightened his grip on his sword. “I have heard that about you - that in every life you, Tal, rise. That you devour your new self, time after time.”
Tal shrugged. “I am stronger. The strongest wins. As always, little cousin. As I taught Tiala and Airenn, so long ago.”
“She killed you.”
“I let her. But it was after I killed you, cousin. Do you remember that?”
Nisar found him sharpening a knife outside his tent. His hair was unbound, and the breeze caught it; he still looked noble.
Then he looked up at him, and the cruelty in his eyes made Nisar wonder how any of them could ever have thought him so.
He did not speak, but waited for Nisar to do so, and he obliged him. “It was you.”
He gave a mocking smile. “What was, cousin? I do many things.”
“No games now, Tal. You killed Airenn; you hurt Tiala.”
He spread his hands and gave a slight bow. “Has she awakened? Or did you piece this together on your own?”
“She has awakened, cousin. This is not a matter of suspicion. I have – I have seen in her mind what you did to her. You do not deny it.”
“How can I?”
“How could you do it?”
He grinned again. “To Airenn? A large rock and a strong arm.”
“Gods, cousin, stop. I do not want this.”
“Are you come to kill me, Nisar?” he said softly.
Nisar rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, unwillingly but firmly. “I think that I must.”
“What you’ve done is wrong.”
“Killing Airenn is wrong, so you must kill me? And killing me will be right?”
“It’s not –“
“What is it?”
“I love her.” It startled Nisar to hear it come out of his mouth; he was not expecting it. So plain. But true.
He nodded. “That, I can accept.”
“How could you do that to her? Take that from her?” Nisar half-whispered, seeing Tiala in the glade again in my mind’s eye, bloodied and broken.
He shook his head, smiling again. “I loved her,” he echoed. “And I was sick of all of you filth having her.”
Nisar drew his sword. “Do you know what you’ve done to her? You’ve broken her, half-killed her. Wounded her mind, her heart, so deeply…”
And Tal laughed as he drew his own sword. “And so you, the lot of you, will never have her again.”
Aran stumbled back. “What have you done?” he whispered.
Tal walked forward, hands spread in mock-surrender. ”Only helped you remember, cousin.”
“That was - before the Fall. Before the veil. We are not supposed to remember that. And you - you are no telepath, arei Tal, and I am the strongest telepath of the Dasaroi. How did you put that in my head?”
“It was already there. I only revealed it.” He laughed. “Do you know what amuses me, Aran? In your grand shunning of my House… you have forgotten what my gift is. You have forgotten what I can do to you.”
Aran drew his sword. “Not entirely.”
Tal made a derisive sound. “What, you’re going to kill me? So I can bedevil you in the next generation, and the next?”
“No,” Aran said quietly. He placed his hand over the hilt, drawing out power - all of his, all of his Lishaya’s, carefully crafted spells to entrap and destroy a soul. “We have found a way to stop you, Tal. To stop you utterly. Sever your line and cauterize it. You go no further.”
Tal smiled, drawing his own sword. “And she sends you to murder me. You, who I have killed before.”
“I was Nisar then. It was my first life, and I had barely learned to fight. You do not face Nisar now, arei Tal. I have spent the last several lifetimes learning this weapon, in preparation for this fight. I am my Lishaya’s right hand. I am her weapon.”
Tal’s smile widened. “A fair fight. That’s new for me.”
Aran shook his head. ”Not as fair as all of that.” He let the spell flare out around him; he knew from experience, from endless trials, that it looked almost like wings. Wings of fire, her green and his purple, lightning flashes of Zirothi black forming the lattice of this work - a trap for the architect of their collapse. “It is over, Tal.”
His Lishaya’s power ran through him, her strength next only to the gods, and the combat was a dance of energy, swords clashing faster and him near-blind with power, striking the fatal blow - running Tal clear through with his sword, their sword, and watching the trap activate - all of what was Tal pulled into the net, seared, destroyed.
Aran fell to his knees, head thrown back, absorbing what energy he could and ground the rest, panting for breath, head thrown back. “Your sword, my lady,” he whispered. "I am your sword."