13

Mallacht sang with a hissing twang as Rhyshladlyn swung it in a graceful arch from the left, fingers of his right hand curled tightly around the black-leather wrapped hilt as he bared his teeth in a snarl that rumbled along the ground like thunder, shaking the sands of the training pits until they undulated like the waters of the oceans in a hurricane. With a howl that sounded like wind racing through the streets at high speeds, Rhyshladlyn twisted as his target, a soldier who had attempted to assassinate Anislanzir, parried Mallacht away. But what everyone always forgot when it came to Rhyshladlyn was that he wasn’t a single-handed swordsman but a dual-handed and with that, the second heir to the throne let loose a war cry that made the foundations of the City quake and wheeze as he drew Beannacht from its scabbard and swung it left-handed in an arc through the air as it crested over his left shoulder, point aimed for the disgraced soldier’s throat. The soldier cried out in surprise, his own sword coming up with barely enough time to block Beannacht‘s descent but it left him open for Mallacht to cut through the thick magick-reinforced leather covering his thighs, severing the muscles and tendons and ligaments that connected his rectus femoris muscle to his knee cap, effectively dropping him with a yowl to his knees in the sands.

Lips twisted in a snarl, Rhyshladlyn sent the soldier’s sword flying across the sands with a vicious kick.

“Please,” the soldier begged around teeth clenched with the agony that danced across his nerves, his accent thick, no doubt because he hailed from one of the regions that didn’t speak the common tongue, but rather still taught only Tengú Elaèy, the old tongue, the language of the gods. “My name is Xhi Ahnkder. It t’was not my hand that sought to taketh the Lord King’s life! Please! You must hear me!”

“Oh, heard you this one has, aye, narry a doubt about that,” Rhyshladlyn said, voice a distorted rumble as he spoke, moving fluidly through the sands in a circle around Xhi Ahnkder, a soldier who despite having spent supposedly years in the Lord King’s army had barely enough ability and strength to hold Rhyshladlyn off for two handfuls of minutes.

*You do know you never passed this male, right?* Nhulynolyn murmured across their shared consciousness and Rhyshladlyn grimaced internally, careful to keep the action from reflecting on his physical face.

Aye, I’m aware, Nully, he replied as he sheathed his blades with a flick to remove the blood and other bits from the blades and a flourish up and over his shoulders into their crisscrossed sheathes. But I must do everything Anislanzir requests or demands of me. It is my only hope now. He took Azriel from me, he has all but sold Anis off in a betrothal to some female of Mother’s race and gods know what he’d do to Mother and Alaïs if provoked enough. Every lover, every confidante, every slave, every servant… if they proved at all loyal to me more so than they were to him, they have been outright murdered, disappeared, or forced to kneel afore me as this male does, nothing but blood and useless flesh cast across the sands. 

As he came to a stop behind the soldier, Rhyshladlyn let out a deep sigh, face dropping into an emotionless mask for half an eye-blink before his face was once again twisted into a snarl, orange-amber eyes blowing past their irises and bleeding into the white sclera beyond. Reaching out with his right hand, Rhyshladlyn curled his fingers in Xhi Ahnkder’s shaggy, blood and sweat-drenched curled locks, yanking his head back so his neck was bared to the crowd gathered at the entrance to the training pits and the dais that had been erected at the edge so that Anislanzir and the rest of the royal family could sit and watch as the youngest child of the rulers of the Sinner Demons viciously fought a traitor to the King.

“I hear you, Xhi Ahnkder, and mark my words, I will avenge you, but this moment… right now… your death is needed and for that, I am sorry. May the Nameless see you ferried safely into the After,” Rhyshladlyn murmured, lips never seeming to move, voice only loud enough to be heard by the soldier held firmly on his knees before him. Xhi Ahnkder gave a small nod of his head, just enough to pull at the grip Rhyshladlyn had on his hair to show he understood and the second in line spoke again, loud enough for all to hear, “Xhi Ahnkder, for the crime of attempted assassination of the crowned Lord King of the Sinner Demons, you have fought for your life and were found unworthy to live. Have anything you wish to say before I depart you from this World?”

While he couldn’t see the soldier’s face, Rhyshladlyn sensed he had opened his eyes and looked straight at Anislanzir as best he could and then the rippling tingle of magick crackled through the air and sent the tiny hairs on Rhyshladlyn’s arms standing straight up, his wings rustling against his back, feathers fluffing with agitation.

“Aye, I do,” Xhi Ahnkder said, voice a low resigned rumble and then he switched to Tengú Elaèy and the way he spoke it so easily and fluently gave credence to Rhyshladlyn’s thought earlier that Common was not his first language. “You shall get your comeuppance, Anislanzir, and mark this one’s words well: all those you think your ally now shall part afore you so that your Destroyer may walk unhindered to your throne and paint it red with the blood ey pulls from every pore on your body. So hath the Seers foretold it, so hath the Weavers made it, so hath the Walkers of the Grey Lands seen that it shall be done.” And with that Rhyshladlyn reached round with his left hand, dug his claws into the soldier’s throat, sent a quick prayer of forgiveness to the gods that were listening and pulled, eyes dropping shut with a shudder as he felt flesh, sinew, bone, tendon, and ligaments tear and break as Xhi Ahnkder’s throat gave way.

Letting the body fall forward into the sands, Rhyshladlyn dropped the handful of bone and such beside it and cracked his neck, shoulders rolling to settle the muscles there. Without a second thought, he stepped forward to leave the pits, walking disgracefully over the body as was expected of him, and headed towards the entrance of the sand pits, eyes glazed and glowing, power thrumming softly around him.

*He spoke a Prophecy before he died, Rhys,* Nhulynolyn sounded scared and that was rare for him; few things scared an Other besides the death of their . Deathbed Prophecies were terrifying, strong things. Nearly as terrifying and as strong as the Cities built by the Greywalker race before they were all killed off in raids on their Sanctuary Cities over ten thousand years ago.

I know. What I’m wondering is if the Walkers of the Grey Lands means Greywalkers or something else. Rhyshladlyn replied, stopping before the dais to bow low at the waist, wings once more hidden away. “My Lord King, was the death to your satisfaction?”

Anislanzir made a dismissive sound as Rhyshladlyn straightened. “It could have been bloodier but he was weak and thus not a good enough sport for you, my beloved second son.”

“I could not agree more, fahmen,” Rhyshladlyn replied. “Is there aught else for which you have need of me or may this one be permitted to get cleaned up?”

“You may go, Rhyshladlyn. You did well today, I am proud of you,” Anislanzir replied and with another bow, Rhyshladlyn side stepped around the dais and headed towards the entrance but not before locking eyes with his siblings who nodded almost imperceptibly at him. Their father may not know the old tongue, but their mother had made sure they did and they had some research to do. *Are we going to discuss that every time he has said he was proud of you never ended well for anyone involved?* Rhyshladlyn ground his teeth, fighting against the onslaught of memories that threatened to crest over his hard won control of them and overwhelm him; right hand unconsciously closing and opening as he bent the arm at the elbow and stretched it out, still all-too-aware of the scars that marred the skin there, even if they were not nearly as noticeable as they had been several decades ago. No, he replied to Nhulynolyn at length, having long since exited the training pits and heading towards the path back to the Palace, we won’t because there’s nothing to discuss when we have no idea whatsoever what he’s going to do next. 

*Fair enough.* With that the two of them lapsed into silence.

As Rhyshladlyn ascended the cobbled path towards the main entrance to the Palace, he looked to the west where the sun was just beginning its downward treks towards the horizon. *How long has it been now?* Nhulynolyn asked, knowing he was thinking on Azriel.

28 moon cycles. He replied, pushing open the doors to the entrance foyer of the Palace, watching as servants and visitors caught sight of him and scattered out of his way with a small, barely there smirk. Ever since Azriel had left for the Eighth Palace nearing on three years ago, the servants here did everything possible to avoid Rhyshladlyn. It was nearly as though they feared being in any contact with him, as though doing so was a death sentence. Which in a roundabout way, it was; any perceived favoritism given to him versus Anislanzir was not well received.

*So one year and one month down….* 

Six more months to go. Rhyshladlyn replied, walking through the Palace on auto-pilot towards his own suit of rooms, gait sure and full of barely controlled rage and power and purpose, just enough to ensure that no one got in his way and slowed him down.

*And once Azriel is free?* 

I honestly have no idea… hopefully I’ll still be alive in six months. Rhyshladlyn replied, trying to ignore the soft burning along his old wing scars as he pushed open the doors to his rooms, stripping as he headed towards the shower, thinking only of the hot soothing water soaking through his feathers and loosening the tightness of his muscles as it sent poor Xhi Ahnkder’s blood and skin sluicing down the drain.

Since receiving that missive from Qishir Lulphé, Rhyshladlyn had been carefully watched by Anislanzir, as though the Lord King knew somehow that his second born had plans to usurp him at best, murder him viciously at worst (at least in the eyes of the Lord King). And with that scrutiny came a responsibility that Rhyshladlyn never wanted: now the lives of his siblings and his mother rested solely on his shoulders and as the days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and the months slowly bled over into years, he found that his shoulders weren’t nearly as strong as he had originally thought them to be.

Stepping into the shower, ducking his head below the hot stream of water, Rhyshladlyn heaved a heavy sigh, hands braced on the wall the faucet protruded from, head bowed so that rivulets of water cascaded down along his cheeks like tears and dripped towards the drain in the floor. He was in the last decade before he reached maturity for his mother and his father’s races respectively and it was getting harder with each passing day to hide his Qishir nature, to swallow the blows to his pride that came with bowing to a male not of the Qishir caste let alone one who was so starkly unworthy of any fealty whatsoever. Gods only knew what would happen when he reached his 100th nameday. It was not a day that Rhyshladlyn looked forward to, not that he honestly thought each night as he collapsed into fitful, nightmare-ridden sleep that he would see the next day alive and well.

Anis and Alaïs kept up with their now only weekly meetups in the library to research ways to combat the latest bullshit their father had concocted to make their respective lives, and the lives of every Sinner Demon inside and outside of Shiran City, as miserable as possible but Rhyshladlyn found himself hard pressed to see the point anymore. How could one hope to defend himself against a tyrant when not even the Qishir of the Seven Worlds, the ruler of everyone, would step in and grant them aid despite clear violations of the Laws?

*Things will work out, Rhys…* Nhulynolyn whispered and Rhyshladlyn looked up and over his left arm to where his Other stood with his back resting against the black tile of the bathroom wall just beyond the reach of the shower’s spray, crystal clear blue eyes dancing with some emotion that Rhyshladlyn was too exhausted to place at the moment.

I wish I could believe that, Nully. I’m trying, I swear that I am. But I just killed a man who was never a soldier in the army…and if he were, Qityor hadn’t come close to passing him because every soldier stands before me and must hold their own without struggling against me for five handfuls of minutes otherwise they don’t get their sword. I killed an innocent, a true innocent…one who barely knew enough Common to communicate and had no idea I spoke Tengú. He died in vain and branded a traitor. And fuck, I’m a Qishir, Nully, and I allowed for that atrocity to occur! Not just that, I condoned it merely by participating and willingly at that. I’m as much a disgrace as the un-male who sired me. 

When Nhulynolyn didn’t reply, merely stood there staring at him with wide eyes, Rhyshladlyn looked back down at the shower floor, watching as the water circling the drain slowly cleared, wingtips brushing against his ankles as his wings became soaked through from the water. He should have three other sets, but now they are nothing more than scars on his back; ones that burn still on the occasion with the sheer agony created in their removal. The fact he survived the removal of three sets of wings at once speaks volumes to how powerful he truly is for strong winged-Dhaoine have been known to die without immediate aid from Healers upon the removal of their wings. It is a death sentence for a reason.

*You acted willingly only because to gainsay the fucker would see that you died a death more unbecoming than that ‘soldier’ did,* spoke a soft, lilting voice that was far too feminine to be Nhulynolyn’s. Head snapping up as he straightened and whirled to face the bathroom properly, hands raised as coldfire licked its way up his forearms from his fists, Rhyshladlyn and Nhulynolyn both looked towards the doorway where a female who was clearly a warrior given how she stood and the muscles that rippled with each tiny movement she made, black hair riddled with silver charms falling down around her shoulders, sapphire-blue eyes dancing with mirth at their shock, expressive mouth twisted up into a smile that was equal parts mischievously playful and devilish.

“Who in the fuck are you?” Rhyshladlyn hissed, brain still not having realized that this newcomer had spoken to him as Nhulynolyn did across a shared consciousness that only Others and their  had.

*My name is Shadiranamen, you may call me Shadi for short, and I’m one of your Others,* the female warrior replied, chuckling as she did so.

“I… what?” Rhyshladlyn replied, blinking owlishly.

*You mean…I’m not his only one?* Nhulynolyn spoke up, head tilted to the side.

Shadiranamen laughed, head thrown back as the sound bounced off the walls, the charms in her hair chiming as they fell over and against one another. *Not even close, darlin’. Gods, not even close,* she said as her laughter subsided.

“How long have I had you with me?” Rhyshladlyn asked, eyes narrowing as the coldfire he’d called faded away now that the potential threat was determined to not be such.

That smile widened to show that each of Shadiranamen’s teeth were sharpened fangs as she said, *Since birth, my kè. Since birth.* 

Faceless and Nameless prevail me,” Rhyshladlyn murmured in Tengú Elaèy, voice dancing across the air currents like silk against skin.

*Finish your shower, Rhys, we have a lot to discuss,* Shadiranamen said before turning on her heel and striding out of the bathroom.

*Well, either the gods have a mighty sick sense of humor or They wish for you to survive whatever bullshit Anislanzir has planned for you and whatever that bullshit is, it’s gotta be pretty major. Because I’m pretty sure she just hinted that you have more Others besides me and her,* Nhulynolyn said, voice subdued in the way that only true shock can cause.

Rhyshladlyn could only nod in agreement as he returned to his shower, washing and rinsing himself as swiftly as possible without missing anything and without tripping as preoccupied as he was.

Gods surrounding… two others and maybe more than that, I’m a male Qishir, someone I murdered today spoke a Deathbed Prophecy in the old tongue, and my father and I are locked in some battle to the death that has no rules and no set field on which we are to do battle like proper men. How is this even my life? Rhyshladlyn thought as he grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist as he strode out of the bathroom to meet with his newest Other, his would-be-twin following close behind him.

*Anis and Alaïs are gonna flip,* Nhulynolyn said by way of reply and Rhyshladlyn just groaned. One thing at time.

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