It was like being possessed by a god. There was no other way to describe the way his body went numb in waves, starting at his fingers and toes and rolling inward, until he had no idea how he was still standing; how every sound faded away until all he could hear was the way his blood roared in his ears, the way his heart beat out a rapid staccato. He was probably staring, jaw endeavoring to become one with the cracking, groaning floor below him, but he didn’t care.
Because there was just no possible way that Azriel was standing not twenty feet from him, looking for all the Worlds like he had climbed every single one of the thirteen Cliffs of Oblivion, swam the entire length of the River, and punched the Nameless in the face as he passed it by on his way back to the lands of the living just for good measure. Deep shadows that weren’t from the play of the light across his body cut along muscles that twitched and shifted eerily under skin that had lost its sun-kissed glow, pale and stretched far too thin, face gaunt and sunken, made him look like a specter sent to haunt them. His mismatched red and silvered-gold eyes the most alive looking part of him.
But despite the way he looked like he had been left to rot, Azriel stood tall, his magick thrumming hot and strong as it reached across the space between them and Rhyshladlyn staggered where he stood when it made contact. The shelf below his hands giving a great whine of protest as he took out handfuls of the stone–when did I cross the pool?–in the effort it took to keep from falling forward, smacking his head against the stone, and drowning as his limp body slid under the surface of the water.
Which would be an ironic way to die: drowned in a Healing pool. Is that even possible?
With a shake of his head he opened eyes he didn’t remember closing and gracelessly crawled out of the pool, because fuck using the stairs let alone remembering where they were in relation to him, and stumbled a few steps towards the fondly smiling visage of his personal guard.
“Azriel?” The voice that danced around the room couldn’t belong to him, could it? It sounded wrecked and not in that post-orgasmic way; it was grief-stricken wrecked and hoarse and why is my face wet?
“Rhys-kyn,” was the response and he whimpered hearing it. “I am so sorry I was not able to get here sooner.”
“Fuck that,” Anis said, the shocked stupid tone of his voice taking the bite out of words, but only barely. “How are you free? Why are you free? How in the names of the gods did you get into the Palace?”
*There goes good ol’ Anny asking the important questions and shit while we just toddle along like misq’lip addicts,* Nhulynolyn said and Rhyshladlyn had to bite his tongue to keep the unrestrained giggle his Other’s words brought on from escaping. It wouldn’t do to suddenly make a very insane sounding giggle noise right now.
Or so Rhyshladlyn assumed. There was no way to be certain, not with how absolutely overwhelmed he was feeling and, of course, the fact that he’d never been in this particular situation before so he had nothing to go off of as far as what was and wasn’t appropriate.
Okay, seriously, why in the scarred back of the Faceless is my face wet?
*That would because you’re crying,* Shadiranamen replied, sounding pained. Not that Rhyshladlyn could blame her. He didn’t know whether to sob, break down into absolute hysterics, or start punching things. But the longer he went without a plausible answer to what in the potato-fuckery is going on the more he liked the idea of doing all three at the exact same time.
Well that’s delightfully unpleasant, he replied to Shadiranamen who hummed once in agreement before falling quiet again.
“There’s all manners of secret ways in and out of this Palace, Anis-prec’cin,” Azriel was saying and Rhyshladlyn blinked away the tears, still trying to get feeling back his extremities. “Never mind that Anislanzir for all that he is sadistically intelligent in torture methods and the like is absolutely imbecilic when it comes to the security of his Palace.”
Rhyshladlyn had to swallow hard against the urge to giggle, again.
“Fair enough,” Anis replied. “That’s one question answered.” Clear blue eyes narrowed at the Anglëtinean who simply stared right back at him, utterly unruffled. “How and why are you free?”
While Rhyshladlyn watched, Azriel seemed to grow smaller, to shrink in on himself even though he didn’t actually move. Rhyshladlyn had only seen him do that when he had rushed into the Healers wing of the Palace after Rhyshladlyn had woken to his father pouring boiling, spelled water over his right arm while Azriel had stepped out to relieve his bladder and grab something to eat. The Anglëtinean had been nearly inconsolable with guilt and it was only when Rhyshladlyn had shown him that despite the pain and damage to his arm, he was alive, he was safe, and that Azriel couldn’t have possibly have known what would happen the second he left Rhyshladlyn unguarded that the male had calmed down.
With a soft clicking purr low in his throat, Rhyshladlyn ducked his head until Azriel’s eyes rose and met his own and the pained grimace on the other male’s face relaxed slightly, the tension running out of him at the way Rhyshladlyn’s lips quirked in a small smile, one that whispered, I forgive you, Az, it’s okay.
“All of H’jae felt it when the concussive wave of what I later learned to be Rhyshladlyn’s distress signal first scattered along the Currents. Half the Observatory collapsed under that first wave. Then the ground shook as though the High Ones walked among us again and were righteous in Their fury. Then the second wave hit and another and another and another,” Azriel replied, voice measured and almost flat, eyes never leaving Rhyshladlyn who had no desire to let him look away; too afraid that if he did then Azriel would simply blink back out of existence again, that he’d wake up from some weird as fuck dream. “And then the screaming started. Gods surrounding… the screaming,” those mismatched eyes glazed over and the look that passed across the Anglëtinean’s face was haunted and full of remembered terror.
It was several minutes before Azriel was able to continue speaking but no one rushed him; each one of them had memories that brought that same look to their own faces and that was more than enough to curb their need to demand he get to the point.
“No one could find where it was coming from. From what I was able to hear from the guards as they ran down the hall outside my cell was that there were words to those horrible sounds but none could understand them. And it wasn’t because they were said in a language none spoke but rather because it wasn’t words. It was just mindless, unintelligible pleas for mercy and help in the form of emotions and visions and bodily responses. They thought it was coming from inside the city itself but when no one in that level of distress was found, they widened it to the whole of Anglë World only to get the same lack of information.
“It went on for days. Each new concussive wave bringing some new almost randomized destruction even though no lives were lost and no injuries were reported, just structure damage. After two straight weeks of this, one of the Elders, Hylæl, who had fought beside me in the Garrisons, came with an offer. Ey said that the Elders knew because of the gifts inherent in the High Ones that touched me at my birth that I was perhaps the only person in the Race capable of figuring out who was doing this. Qishir Axhamdiel had spoken with Qishir Lulphé and learned that Anglë was not the only World dealing with the absolute, unadulterated agony and desperation that not even the strongest of Shields and Barriers could keep out,” Azriel ran a shaking hand over his face and looked off into the middle distance, that haunted look intensifying as he resumed speaking, his hand still hovering near his mouth as his body began to shake almost imperceptibly.
“The offer was that they would end my sentence early, several moon cycles early, so long as I either found the cause of the absolute pandemonium affecting Anglë World at minimum and solved the problem directly or found a way to keep Anglë World from feeling the effects anymore. Of course, I agreed immediately. After all, it was my chance to finally get out and get back to Rhyshladlyn, to get back here and punch that no good sack of feather-rot of a Lord King in his throat and put Anis on the throne and get Rhyshladlyn the fuck out of this place. But while I had been able to hear what everyone else did, I couldn’t feel it. The power that was causing all the mayhem didn’t penetrate the walls of my cell; it was specifically designed to block all magick both inside and out. Within those walls I was barely stronger than a Laeden so when Elder Hylæl opened the door and broke the seal it hit me and I…” He trailed off, swallowing thickly, voice wavering before he took a deep breath and pressed on, “They said I tried to tear off my own wings in an attempt to end my own life as quickly as possible. I just kept begging to die, over and over.
“The only thing that pulled me out of it was them shoving me back into the cell and closing the door and blocking my ability to sense anything magick related. It took several tries before I could make anything out past the pain and the horror and absolutely debilitating desire to die and then several more past that for me to be able to think clearly enough to understand why I was the only one in the H’jae so grossly affected.”
Azriel fell silent abruptly and those mismatched eyes refocused, looking back at the Qishir who was now on his knees, fingers sunk deep into the stone of the floor between his knees, head bowed so his hair fell forward to hide his face, wings trembling with the sobs he was trying to hold back.
Rhyshladlyn knew exactly the moment that his power shattered outward, broke past his control and touched those who were able to feel his frantic calls for help and mercy; he knew it the moment Azriel said he tried to tear out his own wings in order to end his own life sooner. The memory attached to that why slammed up out of the dark recesses of his mind like a sea serpent rising from the ocean’s depths and breaking apart a ship and try as he might, Rhyshladlyn couldn’t keep from succumbing to it.
“Please, Father, don’t… don’t do this!” Rhyshladlyn blubbered, face a mess of snot and tears and blood and Anislanzir’s recent release where it had spattered all over his face. He thrashed against the steel-wrapped rope that bound him half leaning over a roughly carved wooden table, magick held in check by the old runes carved into the steel, effectively making him weak and powerless. “Please… I didn’t… I don’t know what you want from me!”
Anislanzir’s laughter was as biting as the blades he had taken to Rhyshladlyn’s face and chest not moments before as he circled behind him and out of sight.
“What I want, my beloved ‘Adlyn,” the Lord King cooed, “is for you to stop lying to me!” And with that the man who called himself his father gripped handfuls of his wings and pushed, forcing them to fold half into his back before those wicked fingers twisted, the sounds of hundreds of tiny bones breaking sickening and far too loud.
And then the pain registered.
Rhyshladlyn threw back his head and screamed until he felt the skin of his throat tear and cough-choked on the blood that welled up but still he kept screaming as Anislanzir laughed and moaned interchangeably, fingers methodically breaking every single tiny bone in his wings while forcing them in and out of his body while telling Rhyshladlyn that it looked almost like his wings were fucking him.
“Your Majesty?” Relyt said from right in front of him and Rhyshladlyn jumped violently, right hand flying up and gripping the Soul Healer around the throat with his other hand cocked back in a fist wreathed in coldfire, eyes white with the terror that stole his breath, made him bare his teeth in a snarl that hurt his throat to make, wings arched high behind him and shivering as Rhyshladlyn fought every single instinct telling him to kill the threat. Because the Soul Healer wasn’t a threat. He wasn’t a threat. Rhyshladlyn closed his eyes, chest heaving as he struggled to calm his racing heart and beat back the memories that were now banging at the door of their cages demanding to be let out.
*Easy, my twin,* Nhulynolyn murmured across their shared consciousness but Rhyshladlyn felt his hand touch his forearm, sliding down over the wrist before gently moving to cover his fingers, that hand sliding into him and slowly, carefully, uncurling Rhyshladlyn’s fingers from around Relyt’s throat. *Easy…that’s it. Just keep breathing.*
“My apologies, Relyt,” Rhyshladlyn said as he let Nhulynolyn guide his hand back to his side, moving next to his left hand where he dispelled the coldfire and coaxed his fingers to uncurl from the fist they’d made as he brought it back down to Rhyshladlyn’s side as well. Task done, his Other went incorporeal once again. Relyt, to his immense credit, didn’t blink at the sudden appearance of an Other nor even that Rhyshladlyn had very nearly murdered him on reflex alone.
“No reason for such, your Majesty. One would think I would have learned by now not to startle you whilst within reaching distance,” Relyt replied not unkindly, mirth coloring his words, the kind that only follows when one nearly died.
Azriel snorted, effectively breaking the tension even further. “I could have easily warned you of that much, Relyt. In fact, I believe I did before the guards dragged me out of the Audience Hall at the Eighth Palace.”
Relyt merely gave the Anglëtinean a blasé shrug. “I am not well known for my listening skills.”
Rhyshladlyn giggled, unable to stop the sound as he scrubbed at his face with his hands before slapping them down on his thighs and looking up and around at all of them. He opened his mouth to tell Azriel to continue but found himself unable to say the words. Anis noticed and stepped around Relyt to sit behind Rhyshladlyn and begin gently rubbing at the muscles of his back between his wings; it was something he hadn’t done since Rhyshladlyn was a fledgling and just learning to control four sets of what had to be the most unruly and difficult wings ever to exist.
“Azriel, please continue,” Anis said at length, clear blue eyes glancing at the Anglëtinean who nodded and gracefully sank into a cross-legged position on the floor a few feet away. He was close enough to reach Rhyshladlyn if need be but far enough out of reach that should the Qishir get set off with him like he had been with Relyt, Azriel had enough time to get up and out of the way of those lightning quick reflexes. But then again, Azriel knew more about the Qishir who sat naked with his legs tucked beneath him, god-Marks glowing a soft silvery hue–when did he get the third?–and his scars, old and new, on full display than perhaps even his brother so he knew what would light off a brutally fast, violent reaction and what would drop the male into a puddle of shaking limbs on the floor.
“It was a Call sent out to anyone who could help him, but because he was begging to die, it registered on a level beyond that of a Dhaoine in dire need of aid; it registered as a Qishir looking for those who were compelled to bend knee and offer their wrist,” Azriel sighed deeply, looking profoundly guilty for a few seconds before his face was once more a mask of remembered fear and pain with the barest shadow of guilt lurking behind it. “It took me weeks to finally be able to decipher what it meant, what it was. And once I did it just…ended. Abruptly, no warning. Went absolutely silent. A week passed before the Worlds were rocked again, but this time it was joined by another, one that both answered that Call but added another layer and I knew. I knew exactly where I needed to go,” he trailed off, taking a shuddering breath, those mismatched eyes falling closed as he composed himself before looking directly at Rhyshladlyn who couldn’t look away no matter how much it hurt to look into those eyes that held echoes of a pain no one deserved to feel.
“I had just caught a Line and was moving as fast as I could when I lost all connection to you, to that Call, to Relyt’s Answer. It was so sudden that I was knocked off the Line and sent tumbling somewhere near Zhalharaq, roaring your name as I fell. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t respond to the passersby on the ground that had rushed over when I landed or those who were on the Line with me when I fell,” Azriel took another unsteady breath, head bowing as tears escaped to run down his cheeks.
It took everything Rhyshladlyn had to remain where he was. There was nothing he could do to ease the ache of the remained pain and fear that wracked his personal guard at that moment and saying, but I’m alive, see? seemed uncouth. Because if it had been harrowing for Rhyshladlyn to live it in real time, he could only imagine what it was like for Azriel to be just two Worlds away and feel him slowly slip towards death and be unable to do anything but roar his name and hope it was enough even as he knew it wasn’t.
It didn’t take long for Azriel to compose himself, one hand wiping away his tears under the guise of running it over his face–none of them were fooled–before picking up where he’d left off as though the break had never happened.
“The only thing that kept me from shattering completely was that I still felt some connection to Relyt only because once established that we were both qahllynshæ to the same Qishir it was easy enough to find his Question, and the only way that it was possible to still feel his Question as strong as my own was if you weren’t dead. And it was enough to give me hope.”
Those mismatched eyes lifted to stare at him and Rhyshladlyn found himself getting lost in the unbridled emotion that shifted behind them. “I still had the memory of the way our magick entwined after the Taking Ceremony and I did my best to find the flicker of your signature, to convince it to flare up, to burn bright again. I felt Relyt doing something similar but on a different level.
“Then I felt you… there isn’t a word for the sound that made me feel like every bone in my body had been turned to dust and reformed in a matter of seconds. I don’t remember what happened after that until I woke up in my old rooms at the Eighth Palace–I had apparently landed only two handfuls and three blocks from it in Zhalharaq. It took me a few days to be stable enough to even stand; I was so drained of energy that my magick had started to consume my muscles and skin in an effort to keep me alive. That’s the only reason I was not here within hours after you came back; I had to recover just enough to move and once I had I came straight here, following the shifting ebb and call of your signature and Relyt’s qahllyn.”
Rhyshladlyn had heard many silences throughout his life and nearly all of them were, in their own ways, intense in a way that he could happily live out the rest of his days without the echoes of. But the silence that followed Azriel’s story, the silence that emanated from Relyt, adding to the Truth that had come from his personal guard, the silence that had made his older brother go as still as a statue behind him, hands frozen mid-motion, the silence that came from his Others as they regarded him with a patience that was unlike them? That silence was one he recognized and could no longer deny.
It was Fate asking whether he would take on the mantle it had woven specifically to fit his shoulders. And as that silence stretched, Rhyshladlyn realized he never had a choice in what his answer to Fate was going to be.
It had been decided the first time he ever laid eyes on Azriel when the male had strode into the training pits with all the bravado and confidence of a warrior who had never been knocked on his ass in less than five seconds. When he had announced that he was Rhyshladlyn’s appointed personal guard, assigned by Azhuri herself.
It had been decided the day that Rhyshladlyn wiped Alaïs’ memory of their father forcing himself upon her and Rhyshladlyn gave himself over to the Lord King in her stead.
It had been decided the day Rhyshladlyn learned that his brother could only show his wings in a shadow behind him unless he was in danger of dying because what Anislanzir had succeeded in doing to Rhyshladlyn when he took his wings he had attempted but failed to do to Anis. The result of that failure was permanent, irreversible damage to the muscles and tendons that connected Anis’ wings to his back, that allowed them to slip in and out of visibility. Any attempt to have his wings show outside of when he was in mortal peril risked literally tearing Anis apart.
It had been decided the day he watched Azriel get into that Line Carriage without a backwards glance, knowing that without the comforting touches of another Dhaoine, of sunlight, of the freedom of flight that his confinement for 40 moon cycles very well could kill him. But he had gone because it was the only way the stubborn fucker could see to protect him.
It had been decided when Relyt answered his desperate calls for salvation making Rhyshladlyn owe him a life debt that he had no doubt the Soul Healer would never try to collect on.
So even if it meant all but guaranteeing their deaths and those of Anis and Alaïs and anyone else who ever came into contact with him, Rhyshladlyn couldn’t not answer anymore. Fate wasn’t going to wait because it had never waited; it had set everything in motion so that when the time came for Rhyshladlyn to Know everything he wouldn’t be able to refuse Fate’s call. And while part of him was so incredibly furious with the gods and Fate, he was also so very exhausted.
“The mantle placed upon your shoulders is a heavy one but it is not one you must accept and deal with. You may remove it, refuse it, and allow Fate to move on, to find another to replace you, to return balance to the Worlds, to right the wrongs of Qishir who had no business ruling let alone ruling unchecked. It is not your sole responsibility. Know that as you Know that I have Marked you, that My Brother, the Faceless, My Beloved, the Soullessly Heartfelt, have Marked you.
I will answer what questions I am allowed, but I must ask before I do…
How shall you answer the calls of Fate?”
Eyes falling closed, he spoke softly but with an air of finality and a sense of peace that comes only when things finally, finally, are righted after being wrong for far too long: