The initial shock may have stolen his ability to breathe but it didn’t take long for Rhyshladlyn to regain it and once he did anger burned swift and hot through his veins. He knew the second Relyt realized that he was now faced with a furious Qishir when the Soul Healer’s face drained of color, slate eyes widening almost imperceptibly. Rhyshladlyn stood to his full height in the water, wings rustling with the movement as the feathers fluffed and shifted, the appendages themselves slowly spreading out to their full span, the golden dust that fell from them covering the top of the water in a thick foam. It was a display of aggression and dominance, one that Rhyshladlyn had very rarely ever done in his life, that among the winged races was as terrifying as it was beautiful and often was a precursor to fights to the death, defense of one’s Honor, or to establish respect between two individuals.
Relyt opened his mouth as he scrambled to his feet, hands held up so the palms showed, wings shifting so they drooped behind him, not quite a submissive reaction but one that showed he was cowed and regretful not that it mattered, the damage had already been done. Rhyshladlyn didn’t give him the chance to speak as he snarled; the sound effectively silencing the Soul Healer. Feet finding the stairs that led out of the pool, the orange-amber of his eyes bursting past the confines of his irises, the glow of his power behind them throwing shadows along his cheekbones, Rhyshladlyn rose out of the water utterly heedless of his nakedness. He didn’t spare a glance at Anis who was also on his feet now, face contorted with confusion and something not unlike fear.
“Anis, leave us,” Rhyshladlyn said, voice an even and toneless subvocal hum that made the floor beneath their feet vibrate, the stone creaking as if under tremendous strain and threatening to break with it.
“Rhys, what is… what is going on? Why are you so angry?” Anis stammered out, his confusion increasing as Relyt took a stumbling step back from the approaching Qishir.
“Leave us,” he said repeated this time the order coloring his tone, eyes not once leaving the Soul Healer in front of him who wisely realized that retreating was only making it worse; his fear was heady, thick and sweet, enough so that it was no longer a mere scent but a taste that sat heavy on Rhyshladlyn’s tongue. Subconsciously he licked his lips before they twisted into a snarl that was barely audible as it thrummed in his chest when Anis still refused to move.
“I’m not leaving you to maul the male! He feels compelled to bend knee and offer his wrist to you, sure, but that does not mean he’s an agent of Father’s or someone else who means to do you harm!” Anis retorted, voice dropping low and deep, his own power rising to the surface, the shadows of his four wings shimmering behind him in the dancing light of the glow of the water of the pools and the walls.
Rhyshladlyn hissed, yanking his eyes off Relyt to look at his brother, feeling Nhulynolyn and Shadiranamen materialize behind him on the other side of the pool, their attention split equally between his brother and his Healer.
“You are not a Qishir, you do not understand the enormity of what he has done,” he bit out before his attention rounded back on Relyt who swallowed hard under the weight of that gaze. Before the Soul Healer could move, Rhyshladlyn’s right hand shot out, fingers closing around the other male’s throat, the glamour that hid his scars and his god-Marks fizzling out between one blink and the next. Hauling the other closer until their faces were mere inches apart, Rhyshladlyn growled, “Are you trying to get the lot of us killed?”
Relyt’s hands came up to claw at the hand Rhyshladlyn had on his throat, mouth opening and closing as he fought to draw breath around the vice grip on his windpipe. Rhyshladlyn shook him slightly, effectively dislodging those clawing hands from his own but not before they had torn long gashes from elbow to fingers, blood dripping slowly down to the floor; they were superficial and Rhyshladlyn was able to Heal them with a thought, never losing focus on the male in his grasp. Despite that, Relyt continued to thrash in his hold, those grey wings beating at the air in an effort to break Rhyshladlyn’s hold much as one would by dead weighting their body. But for all Relyt’s struggling, the Qishir’s hold didn’t waver, as solid as a mountain under the onslaught of howling winds.
“Do you know what Anislanzir would do if he knew exactly what you are to me?” Rhyshladlyn’s voice had dropped so deep that it was barely in the vocal register anymore, distorted around the edges as he shook Relyt again, teeth bared as he dragged the still flailing Soul Healer closer, utterly unmoved by the way the other kicked and clawed at him; unperturbed by the way the magick that was usually so calming railed against his own, smacking out against it in an attempt to persuade its possessor to spare the one in his grip. “He would destroy us all! Everyone I have ever held dear, everyone you have ever held dear, would be collateral. I barely escaped with my life this last time and I still do not know whether I escaped or he let me go. Then you go and drop something like this at my feet? Who else have you told of your compulsion?”
“Rhys! Let him go! He cannot breathe!” Anis yelled and Rhyshladlyn hissed, letting go of Relyt, watching as the male fell to the floor in a heap, bent over as he drew in deep, rattling breaths, one hand pressed to his bruised throat.
Swallowing a roar, Rhyshladlyn covered his face with his hands, fighting the urge to pummel the still coughing and gasping Soul Healer at his feet until the male’s face was unrecognizable. But he couldn’t. Not when the bastard was under a Healer’s Contract. It was a near sacred thing, almost as much as the bond made between a Qishir and their qahllynshæ, and there was simply no reason he could concoct that would explain why his newly made Healer suddenly no longer possessed a face. Not that would be believed when tested.
“I do not understand why you are so incensed, brother. Sure Father will be angry and try to kill you but he does that already,” Anis said as he walked over to kneel beside Relyt who was having significantly less trouble breathing now. Behind him Nhulynolyn and Shadiranamen growled their displeasure with that but he ignored them, lifting a hand in a short wave for them to return to their normal incorporeal forms, dropping it back to his side when he felt them shift out of the visible spectrum. “Is it not a good thing, a blessing even, that both Relyt and Azriel are qahllyns–”
“Don’t you dare speak that term aloud, Anisfajir,” Rhyshladlyn hissed viciously, using Anis’ given name, the one that would be used when he was made Lord King following their father’s passing. Anis didn’t even flinch even though Relyt recoiled beside him as though burned.
“What is the big deal?” He pressed, clear blue eyes curious, both eyebrows raised as he gently tilted Relyt’s head back to inspect the bruising that circled the male’s throat. “So Relyt and Azriel are… that… surely that is a good thing? If they were to Oath to you you would be far more secure in your power, if I am remembering the literature correctly.”
Rhyshladlyn growled, raking his hands through his hair, curling his fingers into fists around the strands and tugging once before dropping his hands back to his sides and turning his back on the two of them.
“It is not that simple, Anis,” he replied at length, head bowing, wings once more folded against his back.
“Why?” his brother shot back.
Rhyshladlyn whirled around on the spot until he met his brother’s unimpressed stare. “Because I cannot answer them! If I did… there would be no hiding that I’m a Qishir anymore, you idiot! There’s no hiding that bond, it leaves a mark, one that alters the very magickal signature of the Dhaoine that it connects, and then Father would win.”
For a few minutes no one spoke, the only sound was Relyt’s breathing returning to normal, sounding less and less painful with each moment that passed and the still subvocal growling hum that emanated from Rhyshladlyn himself interspersed with the groaning of the stone floor beneath his feet.
“Do you care to elaborate on how you answering with Acceptance would enable Father to win this war between you two?” Anis asked when it was clear Rhyshladlyn wasn’t going to say anything else, rolling his eyes as though Rhyshladlyn were a fledgling again and being melodramatic.
Rhyshladlyn just bared his teeth at his brother, eyes flashing sapphire blue briefly as Shadiranamen made her displeasure at Anis speaking to someone who was technically his superior in that manner known before Rhyshladlyn took full control back. To his credit, Anis looked taken aback at the display but otherwise remained unmoved.
“No Qishir has been known to survive the death of any who are Oathed to them,” Relyt murmured, slate eyes full of the apology he would not speak aloud, not while Anis was still around them. Rhyshladlyn just regarded him coolly, unrepentant of the bruising that discolored the other male’s throat and the way Relyt’s voice cracked around the edges as he forced air in a wheeze past his abused vocal chords. “They either die themselves or their minds shatter.”
Understanding lit Anis’ face at the Soul Healer’s explanation, horror darkening his eyes as they looked at Rhyshladlyn who simply gave him a look that clearly said, now do you see why I got upset?
“So if you… all Father would need to do would be to kill Relyt and Azriel and…” he trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
But Rhyshladlyn wasn’t going to let either of them off that easily.
“And I would more than likely die right along with them. They would become the perfect tool to use against me because I could not risk any harm coming to them,” he finished for him, orange-amber eyes glazed, expression blank. “Right now all Father has to use against me is you and Alaïs. While the torture or death of one or both of you would leave me grief stricken and fighting not to go nova thanks to Azhuri’s blood in my veins, it would not mean my immediate demise. Were I to answer Azriel and Relyt? I’d be guaranteeing my own death whilst Anislanzir still lives.”
In an act of dismissal aimed towards his brother Rhyshladlyn looked back at Relyt and crouched down so he was eye level with him, hands pressed to his legs just above his knees, wings flared to help him balance. “So I ask you again, Soul Healer, who else have you told of your compulsion? And it would behoove you to answer me this time.”
Relyt looked at him with wide eyes that showed a hint of the fear that still sat heavy and delicious on Rhyshladlyn’s tongue, those grey-feathered wings shifting and twitching restlessly. Besides his wide eyes and twitching wings, Relyt showed no outward physical signs he was afraid and Rhyshladlyn begrudgingly admitted it impressed him.
*You did say he had balls,* Nhulynolyn quipped helpfully.
“Azriel knew but only by virtue of one who is compelled recognizing another, even if both are un-Oathed,” he replied, coughing hard enough that Rhyshladlyn’s throat ached in sympathy. “But neither of us spoke of it aloud to each other or to any others. If Azriel spoke of it to anyone outside of our brief conversation following his tribunal, that is knowledge I do not possess. I personally have said nothing of it to anyone besides yourself and Lord Anis. No one else knows.”
Rhyshladlyn narrowed his eyes as he leaned forward, seeming to loom without ever straightening out of his crouch.
“So you are saying, Soul Healer, that if I were to wipe yours and Anis’ memory of this conversation, the only other individual breathing in the Worlds at present who would have knowledge of the issue at hand is my former personal guard?”
Anis choked where he knelt beside Relyt while the Soul Healer himself finally showed an outward sign of fear when his jaw dropped and he bodily leaned back away from him.
“That is not possible!” Anis said, eyes wide as he stared in open shock at him. “Only Dreamweavers can alter memories!”
Rhyshladlyn only just managed to keep from rolling his eyes.
“Relyt, which of us should correct him?” He asked conversationally, rising out of his crouch and heading back towards the Healing pool. When no response came, Rhyshladlyn sighed, looking skyward with a silent prayer for patience and slipped back into the water. Crossing to the other side of the pool, he pulled himself onto the shelf and reclined back against the edge, elbows braced on the stone that surrounded the pool, head tilted to the side as he regarded the other two males. “Come now, someone must correct him and as you started this mess, you get to decide who does it.”
For a moment Relyt just blinked at him owlishly before he shook his head to clear it and stood so he could walk back to his previous position at the edge of the pool. Once he was seated he glanced over his shoulder at Anis who rolled his eyes, head tilted so he did it more at the ceiling far above them, before he copied Relyt and sat in his previous location.
“Dreamweavers don’t alter memories, they merely alter the reality that exists in the aftermath of a memory that has formed. The only beings ever known to take memories once formed are Greywalkers,” Relyt’s voice had regained its soft, calm aspect, expression once more stoic. The only sign that attested to just how much Rhyshladlyn had rattled him was the way his wings still shivered and twitched at random, though the movements came farther and farther apart.
Rhyshladlyn raised an eyebrow at him but Relyt merely looked back at him, serene and calm.
“Greywalkers did not possess that ability either, no more than Dreamweavers do now,” Anis retorted and Rhyshladlyn chuckled.
“He’s got you there, Relyt.”
The Soul Healer’s eyes went lackluster, his version of a flat expression and Rhyshladlyn chuckled harder.
“Perhaps, but they could do what Dreamweavers could not and cannot; Greywalkers were able to eat the memory or memories of another Dhaoine thereby making the memory cease to exist in the other’s mind. However, by eating the memory, the Greywalker took on that memory as though it were their own,” Relyt said, eyes flickering up and to the side as though he were reading from an invisible tome. “Though it was only ever recorded that those of the Warrior Clergy caste among the Greywalker race, those who were given the titles of Maestrer, Maestra, or Maestrx, were capable of eating memories.”
“Wait… how do you know so damn much about a dead race that is barely even mentioned in the Scrolls at the libraries here in what was once one of their Cities, let alone in the Records Hall of the Eighth Palace,” Anis asked, glancing at Rhyshladlyn as he mentioned the last part. For the two had spoken at length of the scrolls Rhyshladlyn had copied before everything went to absolute shit following the meeting where Rhyshladlyn denounced Azhuri. Rhyshladlyn gave a small nod of his head, speak as freely as you feel comfortable doing on that subject, brother mine. I trust you.
“I know so much because Grey Soul Healers are cousins of the Greywalker race; enough so that while we are not exactly like them and obviously didn’t possess enough of the same abilities and power types that made them a target for genocide, what they Knew we Know and vice versa,” Relyt replied with an air of exasperation as though the answer itself was obvious enough that Anis should have figured it out for himself.
As Anis opened his mouth to ask further pointless questions, Rhyshladlyn interrupted, “I feel it necessary to point out that I said wipe your memories, not alter or eat them, wipe them.”
If the situation weren’t already so fucked and sideways with it, Rhyshladlyn would have laughed at the looks that were directed at him in response.
“That being said who is able to wipe memories, hmm?” He asked, one hand idly tracing odd, pointless patterns in the air as he spoke.
Anis and Relyt shared a look and Rhyshladlyn watched in barely restrained amusement as understanding slowly dawned on them before they looked back at Rhyshladlyn as though they suddenly could not draw enough air to breathe.
Serves them right.
Relyt opened his mouth to respond but it clicked shut when the sound of the doors to the pools thumping closed had all three of them looking up and around at the entrance as fear spiked and made the air smell sickly sweet. Before any of them could react beyond that a voice spoke from the shifting shadows, shattering that too thick silence like a knife through glass, its soft tenor so heart-achingly familiar even though Rhyshladlyn couldn’t immediately place it.
“Qishir born of the race and the caste are the only Dhaoine recorded in all of history to be able to wipe the memories belonging to another out of existence.”
As the owner of that voice stepped forward out of the shadows, mismatched eyes glinting in the light that came off the walls and the water, lips lifted in a smile that was at once fond and so very tired, Rhyshladlyn felt something indescribable shift in his chest and lifted a hand to rub at his sternum as recognition hit him hard, his breath whooshing out of him around one word spoken like a prayer: