Rhyshladlyn shifted anxiously from foot to foot, the movement subconscious, unaware that he was even doing it as he fiddled with making sure his jade vest sat just so over his long-sleeved black silk shirt. With deft, nimble fingers he made sure that said shirt was tightly tucked into his black leather breeches, the thick cloth belt secured in a complicated knot over his right hip dyed to match his orange-amber eyes, broken-in soft black leather boots laced with rich blue string on the left and violet string on the right. He felt rather ridiculous but it was traditional to wear such almost gaudy splashes of color on the Festival of Flesh and most especially for those watching the Taking Ritual.
“Stop your fidgeting, Rhys-prec’cin, you look fine,” Azriel said with a chuckle from his right, mismatched eyes glittering with a mirth that the Anglëtinean wouldn’t allow to show up in his voice, not here in the heart of the Palace, surrounded on all sides by Anislanzir’s trusted guards and servants and spies.
“I do not look fine, Azriel, I look as though some lil’it uhn randomly ambushed me with a paintbrush and I’ve had not enough time to change or Will the mess away,” Rhyshladlyn bit back, clearly upset about being covered in so much color all at once. While Alaïs and Anis were used to wearing gaudy colors in random patterns, even though Anis was also part of the warrior training just like Rhyshladlyn and nearly all warriors wore muted colors of grey, black, brown, dark green, or tan, Rhyshladlyn hated it. For whatever reason, he had fought his entire life to be put into bright colors or even colors period. It was a point of contention between him and Azhuri. Luckily, Anislanzir was only present for one of Rhyshladlyn’s fits about wearing color. With a frown, Rhyshladlyn bends his right arm at the elbow and extends it once, twice, and a third time before letting out a deep breath, eyes falling closed with the motion.
Azriel laid a gentle hand on Rhyshladlyn’s shoulder, knowing that the male was thinking of when his father had burned his arm from shoulder to hand. While the physical scars weren’t entirely noticeable anymore, after all sixty years of the best Healers working several hours a day in secret would do that, the mental scars were still there, the fear that he’d suddenly lose control of his arm sometimes keeping him up at night.
“Calm your mind, Rhys-prec’cin, now is not a time for such thoughts,” Azriel said softly, voice dropping low enough so that only Rhyshladlyn could hear him.
“Aye, Azriel. Aye,” he replied. With another deep breath he nodded and opened his eyes to meet the court herald’s eyes. “Announce us.”
With a curt nod the herald turned and with a wave of his hand swung open the ten foot high doors to the main Hall and in an echoing, thunderous rumble of a voice announced, “Second Heir to the Throne Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn GreySong Ka’ahne, blood born of Queen-heir of the Ancients and Esteemed Lady Queen of the Sinner Demons Azhuri Rinnae GreySong and second son born of Lord King of the Sinner Demons Anislanzir Faolan Ka’ahne escorted by Azriel Kasuske of the House of Veratone High Touched by Azriel Anafiel and Ckushayel.”
A sudden hush rushed across the main Hall as the herald’s voice faded off, thousands of pairs of eyes turning to take in Rhyshladlyn and Azriel standing framed by the open doors. With a glance at Azriel out the corner of his eyes, Rhyshladlyn stepped forward, wings extending from his back in a snapping motion that sent gold dust raining down to the floor, the rich red-black feathers fluffed and rustling as those wings arched straight up and flapped back down, the grey-tips of the feathers shining like sharpened steel in the thousands of floating lanterns and the ambient light created by the soft golden glow that emitted from the walls of all of Shiran City’s buildings. Halfway to the dais where Anislanzir and Azhuri sat with Alaïs and Anis one rung below them, Rhyshladlyn pulled the Sülknír blade from its place on his back and with a fluid motion pointed it tip-down at the mosaic floor as he sank to his left knee, right hand curled into a fist and pressed to his forehead with the line of his thumb resting between his eyebrows, head bowed, wings spread to their full span and angled so the backs were shown.
“Dearest Father, my Lord King, and dearest Mother, my Lady Queen, may the gods of old and new and future smile upon you this day as we rejoice in the bounty They have blessed us with and give manners so that They shall continue to do so,” he spoke reverently to the floor, voice taking on the tone clergies do when speaking prayers and sermons.
With a grace that spoke to the violence he was capable of, Anislanzir rose to his feet, his own wings folded against his back and extended his left hand as he walked down the dais stairs towards his second born who remained locked in his kneeling position with Azriel several paces behind him, hands clasped behind his back and head respectfully bowed until it was his turn to give respects.
“Rise, my second son, my precious Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn, as the gods of old and new and future See you and keep you close to Them,” his rumbling baritone echoed about the Hall. Rhyshladlyn raised his eyes to gauge how close the Lord King was but otherwise did not move until Anislanzir was within arm’s reach before reaching his right hand out to clasp his father’s wrist in his hand as the Lord King did the same with his. “Rise and join us for the celebrations.”
Rhyshladlyn did as he was bid, swinging his blade around behind him and sheathing it in one move, the click of the hilt hitting the sheath sounding far too loud in the still silent Hall. As Rhyshladlyn moved past his father to greet his mother and siblings as was customary, he vaguely heard Azriel giving his own respects to Anislanzir before the Anglëtinean came to stand behind Rhyshladlyn’s chair on the right hand side where it resided on the third rung of the dais center of his parents and his siblings. Once he was done with the greetings, Rhyshladlyn sank into the cushioned chair, a mini-throne if one wished to be technical about it, adorned with soft, plush cushions on seat and back and along the arms, the top bearing a row of emerald, sapphire, garnet, opal, and amethyst jewels.
*So perhaps you will not be disowned?* Nhulynolyn’s voice whispered across Rhyshladlyn’s consciousness and he fought not to jerk in shock. While they’d spent the last seven and a half years learning to speak with one another, to switch control entirely and in parts, it was still something that caught him off guard each time that voice that was deep enough it was barely in the vocal range, a rumble that one felt in one’s chest versus heard in one’s ears, spoke across their shared consciousness.
*That or he wishes to not do it as today is a holy day and happens to also be my nameday. Even Anislanzir has some class, even if he is a psychopath.* Rhyshladlyn replied, watching with a flat, almost bored expression as the male in question called for the Taking Ritual to begin by ushering in the Qishir who would take the maequïn/lae before all gathered.
*No matter how many times I see this shit happen, I will probably never get passed the idea that it’s not as rape-like as the name would imply,* Nhulynolyn muttered absently and Rhyshladlyn could see him perched on the left arm of the chair he sat in, specter-like in that he didn’t look remotely solid like the rest of those gathered in the Hall, but still striking with his high cheekbones, crystal blue eyes that sparked with an ancient intelligence that belied the only 88 namedays he and Rhyshladlyn had been breathing in this lifetime, vibrant red hair cut close to his scalp, just barely long enough that when he raked his fingers through it in a somewhat absentminded habitual movement it stuck up in all directions, body a tightly coiled mass of muscle and barely restrained aggressive violence that was often forgotten about when he smiled in a way that split his face and set his eyes to dancing.
*In the days of old, it was exactly as its name implies, kè-Oktür bròtr,* Rhyshladlyn replied, relaxing back against the chair, letting his muscles release some of the tension that had built up on the walk down from the tower where Azriel had found him. *In those days, it was believed that the Old Ones would not give us the gift of food to last the dark time of the year until the sun was reborn with renewed strength if we did not give something that was Taken by force much as it was believed we took crops and meat of Their earth by force.*
Those unnervingly ancient eyes turn to look at him, one vibrant red eyebrow raised. *And now?*
Rhyshladlyn shrugged one shoulder mentally, eyes not leaving the center of the Hall where the Qishir, a neodrach who had shifted from eir predominantly female form to eir male one was pinning the maequïn face down by the back of her neck, hips raised in the air as ey stroked eir phallus between the maequïn’s quivering buttocks but not penetrating, not yet. The energy of the Hall wasn’t nearly charged enough for the Joining just yet but it wasn’t far off from that point either.
*Now it is merely a tradition we adhere to but with willing parties that play as though they are not willing, at least on the part of the Taken. We do it because too many fear that while the Old Ones aren’t nearly as revered and prevalent as They once were, They still watch us, and if we do not keep to some of the old ways, They will teach us why They are still to be feared and respected,* he replied, shifting slightly in his chair as his body responded of its own accord to the sexual energy being raised by the two on the floor. As was customary and traditional, only the Qishir and maequïn/lae were allowed to sexually touch themselves or each other during the Taking Ritual itself. Afterwards, whilst the two were recovering, those in the Hall were allowed to break off and take care of themselves solo or with a partner or group. Until then, the frustration of wishing for release only aided in building the energy up and thickening the air until it was almost impossible to draw breath. It was often used to test a Dhaoine’s control over him/her/emself to sit in on a Taking Ritual and not have to leave before it was concluded; because while leaving before it concluded was not uncommon or disrespectful, it was still liable to make those watching you for any sign of weakness frown with great displeasure and mockery.
Nhulynolyn hummed noncommittally across their connection before disappearing from sight with a sigh and a promise that if Rhyshladlyn needed him, he would return but otherwise he wished to wander. It was the norm for the two of them, one wandering unencumbered while the other was in control of the body they both shared. Focusing back in on the ritual before him, Rhyshladlyn watched as the Qishir sank into the maequïn with a hiss and snarl that sent shivers skittering down his spine as the maequïn howled, the sound intended to be one of pain and humiliation but containing just a shred too much pleasure for it to be entirely convincing. Letting out a deep, shaky sigh, Rhyshladlyn leaned his head back against the chair and caught Azriel watching him with intense, mismatched eyes that didn’t waver in their regarding of him even as the sounds from the center of the Hall grew in volume, even as the slap of skin on skin made Rhyshladlyn’s own skin tighten, muscles flexing with the need to release his own hardness from his all-too-tight breaches and chase his release until starbursts shone across his vision.
As Azriel continued to stare at him Rhyshladlyn raised an eyebrow at the clear invitation that rested in that gaze, in the face that was at once sharp and deadly and breathtakingly handsome and kind. An invitation that Rhyshladlyn had been dodging for many years now, ever since Azhuri had assigned Azriel to be his personal guard, his confidante, after a servant had gotten it in his head that the coupling they shared on Midsummer during the Great Rite meant they would be joined forever and when told otherwise attempted to kill Rhyshladlyn. As he kept staring at Azriel, his mind trying to conjure up fantasies of him on his stomach as Azriel slid to the hilt inside him, hands fisted in his wings for purchase as the Anglëtinean’s hips met his thrust for thrust, he gave the barest shake of his head but it wasn’t an outright refusal, just one that stated not this night, not until I know what my father will do with me. Azriel’s eyes closed as a barely noticeable shudder wracked his body from head to toe at a particularly loud groan from the couple not a hundred feet away before he nodded his understanding and turned his gaze back to the ritual at hand, fists clenched over each other in front of him.
Closing his eyes tightly so he didn’t focus on the obvious bulge in the other male’s breaches, Rhyshladlyn turned his own gaze back to the ritual wondering if this would be just like any year before it or if it would bring a different end to the night. But it was as the Qishir finished inside the maequïn with a cry that shook the very walls around them, making the ceiling groan and the ground quake, Rhyshladlyn knew in his gut as his instincts began to hum with adrenaline that tonight would not be like every year before.
The only question that remained now was: how would it be different?