The singing twang of metal rang out across the training grounds of Shiran City’s garrison drawing more than a few eyes towards the sand pits where three Dhaoine danced in mock-battle with each other, two against one.

The metal of an obsidian Sülknír blade sang out again, the humming twang of it ethereal as it made contact with the silver Sinner-crafted blade of one of the wielder’s mock foes.

“Rhyshladlyn! Straighten your form!” A sharp voice whip-cracked out and the garrison turned as one to see the Lord King leaning forward in his vaulted chair at the head of the training grounds, gold eyes hard and unforgiving as he snarled at his second born son. “You’re getting sloppy again!”

The Sülknír wielder, the second tallest of the three on the sand pits, inclined his head towards the Lord King, orange-amber eyes glittering with tiny indiscernible flecks of ice blue as Rhyshladlyn turned back to look at Anis, his elder blood brother, and Qityor, the head of the City’s garrison, who stood opposite him.  

“Listen not to him,” Qityor murmured, shifting slightly to favor his less than stable left leg, amethyst eyes twinkling with mirth. “He knows not what fighting in battle means: fighting dirtier than your opponents. And by dirtier than your opponents, I mean, the gods wince at the things you do.”

Rhyshladlyn’s chuckle was dark and deep, sounding like distant thunder otherwise Anislanzir would have heard it and punished them all.

“I’m not willing to risk the Lord King’s wrath in order to learn how to truly fight from you, Qityor. Though this one does greatly appreciate your wisdom,” he replies with an incline of his head, straightening his back as his father instructed, feet shifting in the sands so that his stance is closer to shoulder width apart rather than the deep crouch he had been in just moments before the Lord King of the Sinner Demon’s voice snapped out across the training grounds.

“‘Tis best to not encourage my brother’s rebellion, Qityor,” Anis spoke up, clear blue eyes dancing with mirth as well, tanned face twitching with the effort it took to keep his full lips from spreading with a grin. “He’s got that part handled in excess as it is.”

Rhyshladlyn frowned at Anis, orange-amber eyes so like their mother’s darkening slightly at the edges. “Fuck you, brother mine. You encourage my rebellious tendencies well enough.”

Anis inclined his head in agreement, unable to deny it. “Language, brother dearest. Don’t want to upset fahmen,” he said, the corner of his lips twitch-jerking upwards as his attempts to hide his mirth crumbled all the more.

“Oh no one wants to risk that, least of all me,” Rhyshladlyn retorted, darting forward, left hand holding tight to his black-bladed sword, arm swung back behind him as he pivoted at the last second on the sole of his right foot, blade whistling through the air with an eerie whine, pulled short at the last second to give Anis enough time to raise his own silvered blade in defense, parrying Rhyshladlyn’s swing off wide. Qityor let out a yip yip of excitement and lunged forward into the fray, making Rhyshladlyn swing his blade to and fro to block blows that came from opposite sides, twirling and ducking a body corded with muscle and glistening with sweat. It was about the point that Rhyshladlyn’s lips parted in a sadistic grin, fangs flashing in the noonday sunlight, that Anislanzir called a halt to the mock battle.

“That’s enough for now. Good job, Anis. Keep practicing properly, Rhyshladlyn, and perhaps you will one day match your elder,” the Lord King imparted before sweeping down from his chair and off the training grounds.

Rhyshladlyn hissed softly through his teeth, the sound barely above the subvocal range, sheathing his blade with a practiced, single move, orange-amber eyes glazed as anger bubbles just beneath the surface of his skin.

“Gods surrounding, is there just no pleasing that man?” Rhyshladlyn growled out, petulantly kicking at the sand with a bare foot, sword hand jerkily raking through his auburn locks, pushing the sweaty fringe out of his face.

“Come on, Rhys, you know he’s a hard ass, but he means well,” Anis said, stepping forward to clap a hand on his younger brother’s shoulder. “At least… I tell myself that so I don’t want to piss in his soup.”

“Fuck you both,” Qityor snapped as Rhyshladlyn barked out a laugh, unable to help it. “How is it we still have our heads?”

Rhyshladlyn shrugged one shoulder up and dropped it. “Your guess is as good as ours, Qityor, though to be fair, I probably only keep mine because if Anis here ever perishes, I’m expected to take his place. Not that this one would be overmuch better at that duty than I am at fighting,” the last part is said almost as a second thought, absently whisked out past lips that are full and normally quick to smile or smirk, to let laughter bubble out, drawn tight with self deprecation and something far darker.

“Rhys,” Anis says, stepping forward, hand reaching out to lay upon his brother’s bare shoulder, fingers tensing to grip tightly on the skin there. “You are fantastic at whatever you put your mind to and you always will be. Let not the sire of us both squash that in you as he did in our esteemed mother, yes? The gods will see you through anything, you just needs must have faith in Them.”

Orange-amber eyes swing round to meet clear blue, eyes of the elder brother that had kept him safe for the last 80 namedays of his life. “I just do not understand why he hates me so much, Anis. Whatever did I do to him?”

For several breaths, Anis was silent, eyes tumultuous as he regarded his younger sibling who was nearly equal to him in height now which in and of itself was terrifying given Rhyshladlyn still had two decades to grow before reaching maturity for their race. He had no idea how to respond to that question, whether he was even allowed to in any manner that spoke truth given that for 80 years he had been sworn to secrecy on his gods and his–

“It is because you were supposed to be a twin,” comes a soft, sweet voice. All three men snap their attention to the side of the sand pits where a tall, slender woman with orange-amber eyes stands with her hands folded regally in front of her and resting against the top layer of her three layered skirts, the bodice of her dress cinched tight not that it mattered given how thin she already was, and cupping full, pert breasts covered by the same soft green cloth as the rest of the dress. The tattoos that marked her as the Queen-heir to the Ancients race stood out in vivid orange that seemed to glow against the backdrop of her darkly tanned skin, the leafy vines curling down from behind her neck and over her collar bones, down the swell of her breasts where sight of them was lost to the cloth of her dress, and swept across and down her shoulders and upper arms, stopping just below the bend of her elbows. A single leaf shaped at the tip to look like seeds dispelling in the wind sat at the center of her forehead just below the widow’s peak of her pitch black hair that was riddled with blessed silver charms.

“Lady Queen Azhuri!” Qityor barks out, dropping to one knee, sword tip sunk into the sands before him, head bowed so his forehead touched the hilt. “It has been many many moons since you graced us with your beloved presence on our fields of training!”

Azhuri chuckled, the sound a balm to the nerves like a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day. “Rise, Qityor-agbar, you needn’t bow so formally to me. I merely came to seek my sons out so I may speak with them, to see how Rhys’ training is going. That is all. You may return to your men, Qityor-agbar.” The Lady Queen said, voice just as soft and soothing as her laughter, one long-fingered hand waving in the direction of the rest of the training fields as though Qityor needed more directions.

“As thee wishes, my Lady,” the head of the garrison murmured before standing, executing a swift salute to Anis and Rhyshladlyn before stepping off the sands and striding off towards his men, already barking orders.

As soon as he was out of earshot Rhyshladlyn spoke up, “I was supposed to be born a twin?”

Azhuri’s face grew sad and out of his periphery Rhyshladlyn can see Anis’ face shut down like someone snuffing out a candle. “Walk with me, my children. This is not the place for a conversation such as this.”

Not that any place is good for this conversation, Azhuri thought as she allowed her sons to each take an arm as they walked off the sand pits and then off the training fields entirely, heading towards the City proper, leaving the Palace and the buildings at its base behind them. It was a clear, crisp late autumn day, only a couple moon cycles away from the Festival of the Flesh and Rhyshladlyn’s 81st nameday.

“Mother, please,” Rhyshladlyn said after several minutes walking the streets of Shiran City in silence.

“Hush, my child, I will speak in my time,” Azhuri responded, voice easy and calm despite the admonishment. “Let us make to the Great Temple, shall we? It seems a good day to make an Offering.”

“Yes, Mother,” Rhyshladlyn and Anis intoned together.

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