Anis had seen many expressions on his little brother’s face over the last nearly ninety years ranging among anger, fury, dejection, hopelessness, agony, heartache, hatred, love, hope, happiness, elation, and a thousand and one others for which no words existed to properly describe them. But the look that crossed Rhyshladlyn’s face now, that twisted features that were always striking to behold, full of a potential not many had to switch between open and laughing one second and closed and war-howling the next…? That look was new and one Anis had no words in the five languages he spoke along with Common and Tengú Elaèy with which to describe it. But if he had to hazard an attempt it would be a mixture of contempt and betrayal and the look one gets that’s like disappointment the second they realize that what they had hoped for would never come to pass.
And the idea that their mother had put that look on his face, that Anis and Alaïs by proxy of following Azhuri’s directive to keep the few secrets they knew from Rhyshladlyn had helped her put that look on his face, made his throat dry and so very difficult to breathe.
Glancing around the circle of them, Anis noted that Ero was looking at Azhuri with what could only be classified as disgust and it was a look that Anis had only ever seen the Soulless give perhaps four other Dhaoine throughout the some twenty years the warrior had been his personal guard. Alaïs looked much like he felt, like someone had punched her in the gut just hard enough to make her stomach roil unpleasantly but not enough to make her vomit or fully steal her ability to draw a deep enough breath to keep from passing out. Azhuri looked, to her little credit, as though guilt wasn’t a strong enough word for how she felt at that precise moment. But what shocked him the most, was perhaps how the Nameless looked upon Rhyshladlyn, for those kaleidoscope eyes had not strayed from its Scion since Rhyshladlyn had re-entered the god’s Shadow Chamber what felt like days ago but was probably no more than a few hours. The look the Nameless gave his little brother was almost piteous but not all at once; as though it understood keenly what the male was feeling but how could a god possibly understand what it was like to feel betrayed by the people who were supposed to be completely and utterly on your side.
Gods have mercy upon me, Anis thought as he realized just how horrendously this must look to Rhyshladlyn. They’d both grown up under Anislanzir’s thumb, but his little brother took the greater damage for it; he had butted heads with their father for as long as Anis could remember. Nothing ever managed to get the two to cease fighting, to get Rhyshladlyn to back off his stance that the Lord King was unfair and thus a ‘raging ass-chewer who needs to stop trying to demean those around him so he feels less shitty about himself’. But despite Anis and Alaïs’ attempts to get their younger brother to let it go, to leave their father alone, they still had his side in everything. Always they took Rhyshladlyn’s side, defended him against and to Anislanzir as much as they could, even if the act itself was destined for failure from its conception. Out of everyone, the ones that Rhyshladlyn could always rely on was them, his beloved older siblings who saw more of the truth of him than anyone else ever had, and when Anislanzir wasn’t within earshot, their mother. Only now…?
Now he had just learned that the three people he had trusted explicitly had been keeping things from him. Things that, had he known about them, could have been used to get the Eighth Qishir to get off her ass and deal with their bastard father and perhaps have saved Rhyshladlyn some of the pain and torment and scars he would now bear the memories of and proof of for the rest of his life.
As Anis watched, Rhyshladlyn’s face slowly lost all trace of emotion and expression until he resembled a statue and only his eyes remained untouched by that unnatural stillness, glowing faintly as the sapphire flecks and ice blue lightning of his Others swirled across those tumultuous irises as he stared unblinking at Azhuri, body slowly becoming less animated until he eventually was as statue-still as his face.
It was unnerving to see him so motionless and stoic given how animated and emotionally-driven Rhyshladlyn normally was.
The silence stretched as Rhyshladlyn continued to stare at Azhuri who looked back with apprehension and regret that was nearly palpable.
“Rhyshladlyn, you cannot remain silent forever,” Azhuri said after the silence stretched until it was ringing in all their ears.
All his little brother did was raise his eyebrow at her. Beyond that he didn’t move, hardly even seemed to breathe, as he sat cross-legged with his hands resting on his crossed calves, even his wings were still and that was impressive more than it was disconcerting given that even when he was calm, Rhyshladlyn’s wings were always moving in some form so that the golden dust they gave off was like a never-ending mist that fell around him.
“My son, be reasonable,” Azhuri said, one hand coming up to pinch the bridge of her nose as she spoke. “I did what I had to do. You must understand that, surely.”
“Be reasonable?” Ero snapped, making the lot of them save Rhyshladlyn and the Nameless jump and look at him. “You just admitted to withholding that you knew he was a neodrach, that he was supposed to be a twin. That Anislanzir took it personally that the two sons he was supposed to have birthed from you that night was instead only one; that when he asked what could have happened you said that the stronger one may have overtaken the weaker one, as is most often the case with twins when one is more magickally powerful than the other. But you did not mention that that meant that the son that lived as flesh and blood was strong enough that should Anis perish, Rhyshladlyn would make a worthy heir, a strong heir. Perhaps the strongest in generations. You set your second born up for failure from the beginning, not just in reference to defending himself but also when pitted against his siblings and their father. You did all that despite knowing that you were speaking to a male who hails from a race that values having many boys over anything else; especially the ruler of said race. And what did you do? You told him that the twin that had survived birth basically murdered his brother. Did you even stop to even think for half a second how that would come across to one such as the Lord King?” The Soulless’s chartreuse eyes blazed when Azhuri merely looked at him with a slightly opened mouth and wide eyes, struck dumb by his sudden outburst. He scoffed at her. “You didn’t even consider that, did you? Of course not. Because that would make you responsible for at least a sliver of what this male has had to endure. All for a few moments of carelessness on your part. And you call yourself a mother?” Ero snorted derisively. “You disgust me.”
Anis just gaped at his personal guard, completely taken aback by his vehemence. Across from them Azhuri bristled, having finally gotten over the initial shock that had left her mute.
“You dare speak to me like that! I am your Queen whilst you live in this World and you will show me the respect due me!” Azhuri snarled, voice barely raised but it may as well have been a shout.
“You may be Queen, Lady Azhuri, but you are not my Qishir,” Ero replied smoothly, looking somehow smug and furious all at the same time as he crossed his arms over his chest, leaning forward where he sat on his pillow, lips quirking into a grin that was feral and full of amusement at her expense. “So your regency here in this World means as much to me as your husband’s purported love of his children.”
Azhuri rose to her feet as her power slammed outward with the force of a slap to the face, taking a step toward the Soulless as he, too, rose to his feet, eyes blazing with his own power. Anis just stared at the two facing off against each other, only looking away when beside him Rhyshladlyn sighed, eyes falling closed with the sound before he did what none of them had ever expected.
“Attend,” his voice rumbled along their bones, carrying the triple dissonance that was only possible when his Others spoke alongside him, the subvocal hum of his command sending Ero and Azhuri to their knees with soft cries of surprise.
“Rhyshladlyn…” Azhuri sounded almost wounded and for a brief moment Anis thought, good, it’s the least she deserves, but then remembered that he had helped her mistreat his younger brother and guilt anew lanced hot and thick along his nerves.
“No, Mother,” Rhyshladlyn said and it was not his brother who spoke, it was not the second in line to the throne who spoke, it wasn’t the strongest warrior in the garrison who spoke, it wasn’t the broken child that came stumbling into his rooms when he was only 10 namedays old, bleeding and shivering and crying nearly hysterically saying their father had done unspeakable things to him. No, the one who spoke now was the Qishir who had finally had enough of their mother’s bullshit. “You both will be silent. I have had enough of others meddling in my affairs and saying they do it for my benefit, with my safety and health in mind.” Orange-amber eyes opened and alighted directly on Azhuri who flinched visibly under his gaze. “Do you have any idea what he did to me, Mother?”
“I… no, not everything,” she said haltingly. “Only that he burned your right arm nearly beyond usability, ripped your wings from your back, and whipped you. That is it.”
Rhyshladlyn smiled then and it was a frightening thing to behold, full of predatory glee that never touched the stoic mask of his face and body. “He did so much more than that, Mother.” And something about the way his voice shivered around those words brought a sickening and frightening memory back to the surface.
“Ol’tir bròtr?” Rhyshladlyn said wetly around tears and blood and spit that slipped past lips that were red and swollen. Anis jumped off his bed, the book he had been reading dropping to the floor with a muted thud on the carpet as he swiftly crossed the space between them and came to kneel before his little brother, hands raising to touch his face or perhaps his shoulders so he could get a good look at the younger male. But Rhyshladlyn flinched, hard, when he caught sight of Anis’ hands raising towards him and so the heir to the throne stopped, slowly dropping them to his lap.
“Lil’it bròtr, whatever happened to you?” Anis asked, careful to keep his voice even and calm as panic began to boil his blood as he carefully looked his younger brother over from head to toe. His right eye was a mess of blood and burnt flesh — Anis could still smell it for the gods’ sakes! — and there was a bruise blackening the skin along his left jaw, his lips were swollen and red, there were bites on his neck and what he could see of his shoulders through his torn tunic… Anis frowned. “Rhys… did someone attack you?” He asked before the younger male could speak.
“Y-yeah… it was, it was pahmpa,” Rhyshladlyn said, hiccuping around the last word as he shuddered violently and fresh tears mixed with the blood and other unknown fluids on his face. “He… I was playing with Kyri and I guess we were being too loud? Suddenly pahmpa was there and Kyri was running out of the room as he came in and started yelling at me. I… he hurt me, Anny. I don’t know what I did wrong? We were only playing.”
Anis shuddered violently as he came back to the present, remembering how he had called hurriedly for a Healer and for Mother. He later learned that his little brother had been beaten and burned. Azhuri had swept out of the room, the walls of the Palace rumbling like they were made of thunder and earthquakes as she left and in the far distance one could hear her screaming at Anislanzir. Once Rhyshladlyn had been laid down after being tended to and given a tea to help him relax and sleep the Healer had pulled Anis aside and told him what ey had no doubt told his mother that sent her into such a state.
“There’s evidence he’s been beaten and mistreated for far longer than just this one instance, my Prince,” ey had said and Anis had swayed on his feet, having to accept the Healer’s helping hands as they reached out to grip his upper arms and keep him steady and standing. “I believe he is being abused but he will not speak on the marks I’ve seen when asked.”
“You knew, you knew about it all along and you did nothing and you sit here and expect me to be reasonable about my distaste of you? Surely you must jest with me,” Rhyshladlyn continued and Anis blinked rapidly to clear away the fog of memories, refocusing in on the present.
“Rhyshladlyn, what was I supposed to do? He would have killed you if I’d tried to stop him!” Azhuri snapped, eyes blazing with anger and hurt and confusion and pleas for a forgiveness Anis doubted she would ever receive.
“I died the day he took my wings from me!” Rhyshladlyn screamed in response, face still that emotionless mask, body unmoving even as his words whip-cracked outward, echoing off the stone walls that surrounded them and leaving a cold in their wake so intense it burned. “I died the day he took my innocence from me! I died the day I begged you to help me as he dragged me from the audience chamber of your suite of rooms and you sat there and did nothing!”
Azhuri’s face contorted into sorrow so profound it thickened the air around them as she looked away guiltily. There was nothing she could say to that in defense of herself, that much Anis knew because he had been there that day. Had been there hours later when Rhyshladlyn had been found laying in the middle of the floor down one of the hallways to the older part of the Palace that had been abandoned when the Greywalkers had been killed off. He had been there when the Healer told Rhyshladlyn that if he regained the ability to walk again it would be a miracle; when he had been found both hips were dislocated and one knee cap was pulverized. Yet somehow, with the aid of some of the most powerful Healers available and his own fierce determination, Rhyshladlyn recovered and unless one was close enough to spot the mass of scars that ran down the back of his knee from mid-thigh to mid-calf on his left leg, one wouldn’t know he’d nearly been crippled. Rhyshladlyn had only been 20 namedays old, barely able to function yet even with twelve years of intensive yet secretive Healing after his wings had been ripped out, when their father had attempted to cripple him forever.
“You say you love me as your child, you say you love us three and have done everything you have in the name of protecting us, but you lie, Azhuri,” Rhyshladlyn continued, unperturbed by the Lady Queen’s reaction to his previous exclamations. “From the first time that Anislanzir turned his perversions to me you have done everything possible to keep his attention as far away from you and Anis and Alaïs as was achievable. And what’s worse? You got them to help you in doing so without them being any the wiser.” Orange-amber eyes blazed and his face flashed with the loathing he held for the woman who birthed him before it was once again a blank mask. “You are a snake and I denounce you.”
The silence that greeted that statement was deafening.
“You…what?” Azhuri asked.
“Rhys, hold on, you cannot mean that,” Alaïs added.
Anis himself was far too gobsmacked to do anything but stare open-mouthed at Rhyshladlyn. A glance at Ero told him that the Soulless felt much the same as he did. The Nameless, however, seemed incredibly amused by it all.
“I mean every word, Alaïs,” Rhyshladlyn said before speaking directly to Azhuri again, “I denounce you, Azhuri Rinnae GreySong. As of this moment, this day, I have no mother. You are anathema to me. Now get out.” With those words the absolute control of the attend settled over them and Azhuri rose to her feet whether she wanted to or not, compelled by the command that only another Qishir was capable of fighting against.
“Please, I’m sorry… don’t do this,” Azhuri said even as she was forced by the attend to walk toward the doors, doing her best to look over her shoulder and keep eye contact with Rhyshladlyn who was no longer looking at her, his attention riveted upon the pillow she had just been sitting on.
“Funny,” Rhyshladlyn said as she opened the doors and stepped through them, his voice flat, “that’s exactly what I said to Anislanzir the first time he fucked me.”
The anguished cry that sounded beyond those thick doors as they slammed closed behind the Lady Queen was nothing compared to the unnatural quiet that had taken over the Shadow Chamber in the wake of that statement.