He felt something shift inside him and wondered if it was the last of his heartstrings severing, allowing him to exist without feeling anything ever again because in that moment he wished emphatically that he was emotionless. His anger dissipated with a snap, hand releasing Azhuri’s throat to send her sliding to the floor where she sat in a heap of rumpled skirts, gulping in lungfuls of air, one hand touching her throat where a bruise was already starting to show.
As the betrayal registered fully, he found himself shaking his head as he stumbled backwards away from her, as though being close enough to touch her was too much. When his back hit resistance he let out a choked wail of a sound, tears springing to his eyes as his arms wrapped around his middle and he bent over, slowly falling to his knees. He didn’t register that Azriel had wrapped his arms under where his own were in an effort to keep him from slamming his knees onto the floor, that voice that had not an hour ago moaned his name like a prayer now calling out his name with something akin to fear. He didn’t register the way Relyt’s power slipped and slid along his, singing softly, trying to soothe him. All he registered was the feeling that he was shaking apart at the very seams, that the World had been flipped irreversibly on its side, and that his chest ached with a pain unlike anything he had ever felt before.
Anislanzir had known the entire time that his twin was an Other, that he was a neodrach. Anislanzir knew that he was a Qishir and a neodrach from birth because Azhuri had told him; because she had said that if an Ancient of the royal line managed to get pregnant a second time and the child was the thirty-seventh generation since the last time an Ancient managed a second pregnancy, ey was guaranteed to be the next neodrach Qishir produced by the royal line.
When Rhyshladlyn’s wings had started coming in and the multi-tone of their coloring spoke to the strength of his power as a Sinner Demon, Anislanzir began to suspect that perhaps Azhuri was wrong, that she had counted incorrectly. That yes, his second born was indeed very strong but he wasn’t a Qishir. A neodrach perhaps, but not a Qishir. But then another set of wings budded and grew, and another, and another. While technically Anislanzir had four wings, they came from one bud, the second pair smaller than the main, which spread an impressive ten feet in in span, but to have eight wings, all of multiple colors and shifting tones, the largest being eight feet in span and the smallest no less than five feet in span and each a set all on their own? Well that was unheard of and even though Rhyshladlyn had never shown any signs of being a Qishir in his early childhood like Azhuri assured the Lord King he would if he was one, Anislanzir had to be sure.
When questioned on how he could test Rhyshladlyn, Azhuri had replied with, “Well you could try cutting out his wings? It will weaken him significantly provided he doesn’t die. And if he survives and retains his magickal levels despite the loss of a set of wings? Then he’s a Qishir and you can make preparations to counter him when he comes into that heritage.”
Of fucking course she didn’t know he would take three sets at once. After all who could have possibly foreseen that the sadistic shit that had coupled with her despite her protests that her race was cursed not to survive a second pregnancy would conclude he rather liked the way Rhyshladlyn had screamed and thrashed and tried to fight back when his first set of wings, the smallest of them and the weakest, were ripped from him and decide to go for the next pair? That the same male that had beaten Anis for knocking the Lord King’s feet out from under him during a swordsman lesson, something that was a sign he was learning, would laugh with glee as his youngest son sobbed and begged and tried to crawl, broken and bleeding, from the room, power ricocheting off the walls and ceiling, his screaming heard for leagues? It was such a stretch that Anislanzir figured, why stop at one set?, and removed the next and the next until Rhyshladlyn’s power flung to the twenty-three winds and knocked the Lord King away from him.
But Anislanzir knowing what he was from the very start made things make so much more sense. Everything that Anislanzir had ever done to him had been to try and shatter his mind, to rob him of the power that had been growing steadily since he was born. Anislanzir purposely committed atrocities to break him and thus remove the threat inherent in him being a Qishir, and a neodrach at that, and the only heir that the Lord King had should Anis perish. And each and every thing he had done had been known by his mother; every weakness exploited had been shared by her in exchange for her own abuse to be tampered and eventually ended. The spell he had used to force Rhyshladlyn’s female side to the surface had been given to him by Azhuri, had been crafted to counter the one she had placed on him at birth in an effort to keep him from shifting without warning and becoming a target. But it hadn’t mattered. She had caved and told Anislanzir what he was. She was the reason behind every single act of torture, every moment of fear, every flash of guilt when he failed to protect someone who got too close and befriended him.
All because she had needed a scapegoat, something far juicier to entice the Lord King’s attentions away from her and Rhyshladlyn was the perfect target. Because Anis was safe solely because he couldn’t be harmed permanently if he was expected to rule once Anislanzir abdicated or died, whichever happened first, and Alaïs was protected as the first born daughter, to be used to produce a continuation of the line if Anis was unable to produce heirs on his betrothed.
But Rhyshladlyn? Well, he was fair game. He was only alive on the off chance that Anislanzir needed a son to take the throne should Anis perish but since Rhyshladlyn wasn’t a “real male” like his brother and father, well what good did he serve? And to be a Qishir born to the Sinner Demon royal line, no less? The sin of that was worse than incestuous rape that begot a child in the eyes of the Lord King and so Rhyshladlyn was to be continuously punished for it, to be pushed over and over until his breaking point was found. Pushed until that moment was reached when his mind literally shattered and Anislanzir no longer had to worry about him being stronger, about him upsetting the delicate balance of patriarchal power in the only race that wasn’t headed by a neodrach or a female, that didn’t revere Qishir as the other races did. Only nothing Anislanzir ever did had produced the result he was desperate for.
“Did you tell him when I came into my heritage as a Qishir?”
“Yes. Why do you think he claimed Azriel forced you that night? He knew you had fallen in love with the Anglëtinean and figured that his death would be the thing that finally broke you.”
“Only he wasn’t killed.”
“Only he wasn’t killed, yes.”
“What else does he know, Azhuri? What else did you tell him?”
“He knows everything. All of it.”
“That I’m a Greywalker?”
“I had not confirmed it yet though he suspected it. I was to see him after I returned from Atlanshïr confirming Anis’ betrothal and the ceremony to celebrate it. Upon returning I heard you had been kidnapped, tortured, and dumped in a back alleyway of the City. That a Soul Healer now Contracted to look after you had heard your distress calls. I had to see for myself that you were still alive.”
“You didn’t expect me to be?”
“Anislanzir made it rather clear that I would be bereft of my second born when I returned. And when the Worlds broke apart around your screams and begs and calls for aid, I assumed he was succeeding, just taking his time with it.”
“And it never once occurred to you to come stop him?”
“Why would it? It was you or me. I barely got the chance to leave for Atlanshïr relatively unscathed. Had I stayed and tried to fight on your behalf? We both would have died. At least this way I could protect your siblings.”
His own mother had betrayed him; the one who had always seemed to be on his side, to be just as afraid of the Lord King as he was, who had comforted him when he cried, who had run her fingers through his hair when he woke screaming from nightmares, who had helped him preen his wings for the first time, who had laughed when he tried to fly and ended up face first in the dirt because his wings had beat entirely out of sync with each other, who had smiled at him when he finally managed it, who had applauded him when he performed his first successful bit of magick. She had seen an opportunity and had jumped upon it, manipulated him and his father and his siblings. She had made him not into her son but into a flesh shield to use to protect herself from Anislanzir. If she hadn’t spoken Truth to him, if he hadn’t known she was finally no longer lying to him, it would have seemed impossible, unbelievable.
But as it was, everything made sense and he had no idea how to handle any of it.
There was a horrible sound echoing around the room and it took a few minutes for Rhyshladlyn to realize it was coming from him as he rocked back and forth while he knelt on the floor, arms hugging his torso, tears scorching his cheeks as his mouth hung open and he wailed. Azriel was behind him, arms wrapped under his, chin hooked over his shoulder, tenor voice whisper-singing in Anglë’lylel in an effort to soothe him. Relyt knelt in front of him, hands pressed to either side of his face, rocking in time with him, that breeze-like power slipping along his own like a cat trying to comfort its owner, those large, slate grey wings spread wide to block Azhuri from the sight of him or from his sight, Rhyshladlyn wasn’t entirely sure.
All he was sure of was that he now fully understood the appeal of matricide. The thought didn’t discomfort him as much as it probably should have. Instead it helped give him something to focus on, an anchor out of the crushing betrayal and pain that had swallowed him whole and left him shaking apart on the floor. Lifting his head he opened his eyes, mouth closing on the sound falling out of him that continued to echo near-ceaselessly off the walls around them even after the source was silenced.
He straightened, eyes locked on where Azhuri was still in a crumpled heap on the floor, hair in disarray, skirts wrinkled, face a riot of emotions that moved too fast for comprehension. Relyt stood and moved out of his way, wings once more folded against his back. Azriel released him and stood as well, moving off to the side, mismatched eyes watching him closely for long minutes before beginning a measured back and forth circuit between him and Azhuri.
Slowly, Rhyshladlyn rose to his feet, not bothering to wipe his face, not bothering to clear his throat so when he spoke his voice sounded as wretched as he looked. He didn’t bother to try and get a hold on his power as it galloped around the room, stole the warmth from the air, made the pools’ water boil and froth and slosh, set the shadows to curling around his legs like cats seeking attention, shook the floor and the walls, and rattled their bones with the force of it each time it brushed past them.
“Beg me to let your worthless ass walk out of this room alive,” he said, voice breaking apart around the syllables and consonants and vowels like glass shattering as he advanced half a step, gait unsteady, wings twitching as they shifted just so to keep him balanced before taking another step and then another. When he was within reach, he leaned down, took hold of her throat again and lifted her effortlessly off the ground and pressed her back against the wall. “Beg me for the forgiveness you don’t deserve. Tell me you regret any of it, that you would take it back if you could.” He shook her a little, the glow of his eyes throwing shadows along his face and his upper body, ones that weren’t as sentient as those twining about his legs but no less terrifying for it. “Tell me you weren’t running to tell Anislanzir that Azriel had returned, that he had another opportunity, a perfect one, to finally break me. Tell me that if I hadn’t survived birth that you would not have sent Father after Anis and Alaïs. Tell me what I did to make you hate me enough to condemn me to this.”
For what felt like hours Azhuri didn’t speak, just hung there in his grip and stared at him, face still a riot of emotions before it settled and Rhyshladlyn realized that at some point Azhuri had learned to mimic being whole but she wasn’t. That the smooth, serene expression not unlike that of religious rapture on the face of a radical believer was the Truth that had always been there, just barely under the surface. That the female he had believed to be his doting, loving, terrified, strong, Nameless-Touched mother was nothing more than a broken, shattered, insane husk and his birth coupled with what Anislanzir had been doing to her before that fateful day had been what had broken her.
“I could never hate you and I don’t regret anything, my son. I did all of it to protect us. You were the strongest; if anyone could survive what Anislanzir did, it would be you,” she said finally, smiling sweetly at him, orange-amber eyes full of what he thought might be forgiveness as though he were the one that needed to apologize.
Rhyshladlyn blinked at her before letting out a choked sob, tears once more scorching his cheeks.
“Wrong answer,” he replied, dropping the Shields and wards that surrounded them, pulling his power back into him in a rush before he closed his eyes and leaned forward to press his forehead against hers. “May the gods grant you the mercy that I cannot.”
And with his forehead pressed to hers, with his hand still wrapped around her throat to hold her against the wall, he plunged his free hand into her chest just below her sternum and slammed the full force of his power down his arm and into her before she even had a chance to scream or fight back.
As the life blew out from her eyes, Rhyshladlyn extracted his arm and released her to fall boneless and void of even a hint of a spark of Self in the husk that was once her body. He stood there breathing heavily, that horrible wailing keen from before whispering out past his lips on every exhale but he refused to let it gain volume. He wouldn’t give her the further satisfaction of knowing how deeply her actions, or lack thereof as it were, had scored him, even if she were no longer alive to see it.
“Goodbye, Mother,” he said.
Turned out matricide wasn’t nearly as satisfying as he had thought it would be, no matter how appealing the thought had been.