The City cooed as Rhyshladlyn dropped down from the Lines in the main square four blocks south of the Great Temple, startling several people that were milling around in the early evening, the moons a few hours out yet from rising over the eastern horizon, the grey of twilight having settled fully over the City and its inhabitants, the golden glow of the outer wall that protected the City and the walls of the Great Temple brighter for the falling darkness of night. Without sparing a glance for those around him, Rhyshladlyn rolled his shoulders to dispel some of the tension that had built up and set off for the Great Temple.
Whispers erupted in his wake as the Dhaoine within the main square recognized him as the second heir to the throne and Rhyshladlyn caught snippets of gossip as he walked, head held high, eyes focused only on the Temple ahead, mind a fortress against the still churning waters of memory that threatened to drown him. Apparently it had gotten out from the Palace library that the City’s defenses had gone off and the City come alive in a way it had not in several thousand years after he had gone into a trance-like state and screamed; that there were reports from the other twenty-two Cities throughout the Worlds that the same had happened there. It was as though each of the Sacred Sanctuary Cities had taken up song together, marking a moment in time. Though none that Rhyshladlyn passed seemed to have figured that the moment the Cities marked was in fact the Awakening of the first Greywalker in ten millennia.
Which was just as well because if Anislanzir ever got wind of that… well Rhyshladlyn would rather not cogitate on what exactly the Lord King would do in response.
Two blocks away from the Temple, movement caught Rhyshladlyn’s eye as he passed a store front, a shout splitting the whispers-laden air as a young boy of what could be no more than 40 namedays dropped a clay-spun pot, which shattered upon impact, when he tripped over an uneven patch of the cobblestone street. The shout came from an older male who was probably his father striking him with what looked like a belt. The boy yelped and raised his arms to protect his face and head, seeming to care less about leaving the rest of his body open. As Rhyshladlyn narrowed his eyes, a growl rising unbidden in his throat, altering his course for the two, the older male snarled out, “Worthless piece a’shit spawn! Can you do nothin’ right?” Crack! as the belt landed another blow and the boy screamed and Rhyshladlyn flinched involuntarily, lengthening his stride to reach them as the storekeeper spoke again, “Can’ believe you are even my son! You are a disappoi–”
“–ntment!” His voice shattered like glass flung violently at a wall as the whip struck out and caught across his upper thighs just over where his phallus hung flaccidly between them, and wrapped round to his left buttock. For a moment the pain didn’t register, not until with a vicious tug Father called the whip home and with it went chunks of his buttock, the tearing of his flesh an audible squelch as blood and muscle dropped to the floor in a gut-roiling line, his groin on fire, blood dripping down the front of his thighs and back of his left. With a roar of agony as the pain registered a split second before his brain short circuited and shut down for a brief few breaths, he fought against the magick-birthed straps that held him fast to the rafter above his head, ankles shackled to the floor below him so that his naked body was angled just far enough backwards that it left him stretched tight and open like a canvas ripe for painting. And painting was just what Father had in mind as that whip slithered out in a whining cry through the air, flechettes catching over the wing scars on the right side of his spine and scraping across his back from right to left as Father pulled his arm back, taking the whip with it. His scream made the walls shake dangerously, a warning that they would not hold much longer as his magick slammed out of him in an attempt to protect the body that housed it. But the agony was too much, the reopening of his old wing scars the line that, once crossed, his mind simply could not stomach and began to shut down; flickering in and out of awareness like a desert mirage in the distance. And so he sagged in his bindings, sobbing grossly, blood dripping down his body towards the floor, strings of muscle and sinew and flesh brushing almost teasingly against unblemished skin as his body was wracked with shudders as the shock began to set in and from the sobs that ripped past his throat despite all his efforts to swallow them. “See,” that glass breaking voice bit out, the disgust evident in it as it sliced at things that whip could never touch, “you can’t even take a whipping like a man. Pathetic.”
With a stifled cry Rhyshladlyn came back to the present, right hand pressed hard to a nearby wall that he had stumbled against as the memory slammed into him from nowhere, the store boy now sobbing openly as his presumed father continued to strike at him with the belt and scream obscenities and curses. With a deep, gulping breath, Rhyshladlyn looked around to see if anyone was as disgusted by the display as he was. It was not uncommon for the poorer Dhaoine of the City to have such reactions to the misbehavior of their children, after all the Lord King himself all but encouraged it outright given his own proclivities with regards to the disciplining of his own children, but still this level of violence was frowned upon by many within the Worlds. One strike was usually sufficient, no strikes at all in the case of an accident which is what had happened was more acceptable. The boy had tripped, the breaking of the pottery was utterly coincidence and no fault of his own.
“Please, pahmpa,” the boy crowed. “M’sorry! It was an ac’dent, I’m sorry!”
“It was no an accident, shët,” the male snapped, belt flying out once more, this time catching the boy round the back of the neck, the tip slapping against the right side of his throat and he fell bonelessly to the ground, no doubt knocked out and nothing any more major than that but Rhyshladlyn had seen enough and pushed off the wall as the male rose his arm back and up to keep raining down blows despite the boy clearly being unconscious, if not worse at this point.
“You will cease this atrocious behavior at once,” Rhyshladlyn said, voice discordant as Shadiranamen and Nhulynolyn added their own voices in tandem to his own as he caught the male’s arm by the wrist as it swung down, the end of the belt continuing to fly through the arm and slapping across Rhyshladlyn’s own back as he stood between the fallen boy and his father. The sting of that blow nearly sent him spiraling into another memory but he fought it back, baring his teeth in a ferocious snarl.
“Who the fuck are you to be tellin’ me what I can and canno’ be doin’ to my own flesh an’ blood?” The male snapped in return, trying to jerk his arm out of Rhyshladlyn’s hold but to no avail. The second heir was far stronger than the storekeeper.
“I am Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn Ka’ahne,” he replied, voice dropping dangerously close to the subvocal register as he hauled the storekeeper closer by the grip he had on his wrist. “And I order you to cease this beating of an innocent child who is clearly unable to defend himself even remotely from your belt.”
The storekeeper gaped at him and if he were not so furious with the waste of flesh Rhyshladlyn would probably have found some amusement in the reaction.
“But I broke no Laws! An’ he ain’t as inn’cent as he’d ‘ave you believe,” the storekeeper retorted, more false bravado now than the genuine indignation he had from seconds before. While those in the crowd that had begun to gather to watch this spectacle may not be able to smell it, Rhyshladlyn could feel and smell his fear and it was like tasting a fine wine and gods but he wanted more of it.
“You broke an Etiquette, however, storekeeper,” Rhyshladlyn replied smoothly. “Discipline is allowed of any being, no matter the age, so long as that being is able to perform some type of defense of themselves. Given that you were attacking the boy to the point that he could not defend himself and had continued to do so after dropping him to the ground unmoving, you broke that Etiquette.” At this Rhyshladlyn’s snarl morphed into a slow, easy, and downright fearsome smile that made the fear wafting off the storekeeper double in strength. “And do you know what makes this Etiquette so unique, storekeeper?”
“N-no, my Lord,” the male stammered, renewing his efforts to pull his hand from Rhyshladlyn’s grip but remaining unsuccessful, suddenly being as respectful as he was disrespectful at their initial acquaintance. Not that it would save him, but it was still admirable that he tried.
Looking round at those gathered, Rhyshladlyn posed the question to the crowd, “Does anyone here know what makes this Etiquette I’ve spoken of unique?”
For a moment there was silence as answer before a male that appeared to be roughly Rhyshladlyn’s age and height, eyes the color of slate, the wings that were folded against his back and the round jewel of the same hue as his eyes affixed between his eyebrows marking him as a Soul Healer and a Grey one at that, stepped forward and spoke, voice like a soft, cooling summer breeze brushing against one’s sweat-drenched skin, “It is the only one written first with its corresponding Law written second.”
Rhyshladlyn nodded, “What is your name, Soul Healer?”
“Relyt Greymend, your majesty,” the Soul Healer replied with a bow, arms extended out to his sides, palms facing Rhyshladlyn, wings extended as well with the topside visible as a sign of respect.
“Well met, Relyt Greymend,” Rhyshladlyn said by way of acknowledging the other male’s bow that he could not adequately return. “Can you tell me what the Law says?”
The Soul Healer grinned and it was wicked and filled with a sweet promise of violence and Rhyshladlyn decided immediately upon seeing it that he liked the male. “Aye, your majesty, the Law states that anyone who breaks the Etiquette with which it is partnered shall suffer the same discipline done to their victim.”
“And if the victim has perished as a result of that discipline?” Rhyshladlyn asked conversationally, turning glowing orange-amber eyes back to the now petrified and trembling with it storekeeper.
“The perpetrator shall be likewise put to death in the same manner by which their victim died,” Relyt Greymend said just as conversationally, tone light as though he were commenting on the weather not speaking of a Law that would allow for Rhyshladlyn to kill the storekeeper now struggling more vehemently in his grasp to get away.
The crowd gasped at Relyt Greymend’s words, taking several steps back away from the three of them as though to distance themselves from the storekeeper and the sin he had committed. Without prompting, as though he knew exactly what Rhyshladlyn would next ask, the Soul Healer moved forward and knelt beside the fallen boy, reaching out to check his vitals, the grey of his magick hovering like a fog above the boy’s prone form. Rhyshladlyn knew the second he felt the shift in the air behind him what Relyt Greymend’s prognosis would be before he spoke and already he was releasing the controls of his power so that his skin began to glow, his wings began to extend from his back feathers already fluffed and quivering with his righteous anger, the orange-amber of his eyes having broken past the confines of his irises to take over the white sclera beyond, shifting flecks of sapphire-blue and white-blue lightning dancing in those tumultuous depths.
“The boy no longer lives,” the Soul Healer’s voice held the booming echo of finality and the storekeeper cried out. Whether it be in fear, denial, or regret, Rhyshladlyn could not tell but neither did he care.
Any male who fashioned himself to be a father should not do such harm to his son and live. Laws and Etiquette be damned.
“Have you any other blood to take over your store?” Rhyshladlyn asked, reaching up with his right hand to remove the belt from the storekeeper’s hands.
“I-I… y-yes, my Lord…but please… I didn’t mean t’hurt him so ba’ly. Pl-please, sp-spare me. I will be more careful in t’future, I swear it,” came the stammered response.
Rhyshladlyn’s eyes narrowed further. “You mean to say you have more than one son?”
The storekeeper nodded hurriedly, eyes going wide as hope filled his face. “Yes, my Lord. I ‘ave seven sons an’ three daughters tha’ live an’ breathe as you an’ I do.”
“And do you beat them with this belt as badly as you beat this son who now lies dead in the street?” Rhyshladlyn asked, voice strangely flat as he absently made the belt dance in his grip, like a dancer moves a silk streamer as ey moves along to the music.
“I… I do not…”
“Now, you see, storekeeper, I do not believe you,” Rhyshladlyn replied, leaning forward so that when he spoke next it was inches from the other male’s face, voice low and still flat, but in the sudden silence of the street despite the size of the crowd that surrounded them, his voice rang loud and clear, “I can smell the lie on you and the fear. But what gets me the most? You do not smell of regret. You do not care for the life you took before so many witnesses. And for that? I curse you to drown forever, over and over, in the River, never knowing the peace of the After.”
“What?! N-no! You canno’ do that!” The storekeeper bellowed and Rhyshladlyn laughed uproariously but utterly devoid of mirth in response, releasing him with a flick of his wrist so the male stumbled back several steps, back slamming into the closed door of his shop.
“Oh, but you see, I can and I have,” was the retort and with that smile still firmly in place, Rhyshladlyn cocked back his arm, fingers curled tightly about one end of that bloodied belt until his knuckles were white, and with a subvocal growl brought his hand down.
The storekeeper’s screams could be heard for several blocks until they ended abruptly with one final, high pitched wail that sent a flock of birds flapping from the rooftops for the skies. Looking down at the ruined body of storekeeper whose name he still didn’t know, Rhyshladlyn dropped the bloodied, ruined belt onto the ground beside the body and turned to face the crowd who looked at him with a mixture of shock, awe, and something nearly worshipful. But not a single one looked afraid or disgusted by his actions; in fact they all looked as though they agreed and were happy that someone finally gave the storekeeper what he had coming to him.
“Let it be known that any disobedience of the Etiquette of Fair Punishment shall be met with the enacting of its partner Law of Retribution for the Disciplined,” Rhyshladlyn spoke to the crowd which murmured its acknowledgement. Turning to the Soul Healer, he said, “Make sure that this un-male’s body is disposed of in accordance with what he deserves.”
“And for the boy?” Relyt Greymend inquired.
Looking at the boy, Rhyshladlyn closed his eyes as the echo of his father’s voice rose up from the box he was fighting to put it back in. With a slow, deep breath in and out, he replied, “I shall ferry him to the Temple myself as that was my original destination. The Green Soul Healers there will know what to do with his body. I will see to the arrangements myself.”
“You have my respect, Rhyshladlyn-prec’cin,” Relyt Greymend said, holding out his left hand. Without pausing Rhyshladlyn did the same, clasping the other male’s forearm for a heartbeat before releasing it.
“May the Many See you and smile always,” Rhyshladlyn intoned.
“May the Many See you and smile always,” Relyt Greymend replied, clearly surprised that the second heir knew the traditional Soul Healer farewell.
With that Rhyshladlyn Called a black sheet and wrapped the store boy up in it, lifting him carefully in his arms before setting off once again for the Temple. He was late for his meeting with Azhuri by at least an hour but given what had just happened, he was more than certain that she would forgive him.
Never mind that considering what they had to discuss and that she had made him wait ten year shy of a century to be told vital information about himself and his ancestry, she deserved to wait around for him to arrive at his leisure.
When did my life become so godsdamn complicated? He wondered absently as he came upon the Temple, the guard that stood sentinel at the doors spotting him and the body he carried wrapped in mourning cloth and crying out for the clergy, a set of bells chiming from deep within the Temple, loud and clear and peeling.
*Probably about the time that Azriel was assigned as your personal guard,* Nhulynolyn supplied by way of answer.
*Or when you fucked him,* Shadiranamen added.
Both of you, shut up. They just laughed at him.