“Are we going to talk about it?” Relyt asked, breaking the easy silence that had fallen between the two of them while Rhyshladlyn was getting cleaned up in the room he had procured for them in some tavern on the edge of an ancient forest somewhere in the heart of the Dyae Province in Majik World. Or rather, he thought it was Majik World. There was no telling given how many times Rhyshladlyn had Line jumped once they cleared the boundaries of Fènwa World.
“Talk about what?” he countered, mismatched eyes looking at the Soul Healer over the rim of his glass as he took a sip of his ale, relishing in the soft burn of it along the back of his tongue.
Relyt gave him a flat look but Azriel just continued to look back at him in silence.
“Any number of things,” the Soul Healer hedged in deference to the fact that they were clearly not in an area conducive to discussing how their Qishir had just committed matricide and in doing so became the enemy of the entire Sinner Demon race, let alone lost his place among the line of heirs to the throne of the Sinner Demons and the Ancients in a single punch to the chest.
Azriel hummed his reply, taking a second, longer pull of his ale before he glanced around the main room of the tavern, careful not to linger overlong on one person lest they look too closely and make note of his eyes and potentially remember the sighting of them when word reached this World of Rhyshladlyn’s actions. All three of them were fugitives now. Though Azriel had no doubt that a kill order would primarily be put on his and Relyt’s heads because their deaths would help weaken Rhyshladlyn and increase the chance of him being captured. So they couldn’t be too careful now.
“But still,” Relyt said after taking a sip of his own ale, face contorting into a grimace at the taste which made Azriel chuckle; while Soul Healers weren’t abstinent on imbibing anything stronger than water, they were known for keeping those drinks far weaker than the rest of the races of the Worlds, “we should discuss how we will go forward from here given we are now likely hunted like wild game,” Relyt finished with a narrowed-eyed glance at his ale as though it had offended him somehow.
“Fair enough,” Azriel conceded, fingers idly drumming out a rhythm on the scarred tabletop between them, eyes staring unfocused at the dancing flames in the hearth across the room. “Well, we’re going to have find a place to hole up for awhile, somewhere off grid, but I don’t know anywhere that we can do that. My people won’t take me back, not when they learn I helped the Qishir that…” he trailed off as he shared a pointed look with Relyt who nodded his understanding before he continued, “and they won’t harbor someone like that. It would risk war. And we can’t go to your people–”
“–because they will only allow me home when I have come into my full powers,” Relyt interrupted and finished for the Anglëtinean in the same breath. “It would be best if we could alter or mask our signatures somehow, especially his Majesty’s as that’s the one most likely to be honed in on; to my knowledge Anislanzir doesn’t know ours well enough to set anything tracking after us,” Relyt continued before taking a pull from his cup, eye twitching at the unfamiliarly strong burn on his tongue. “This entire situation is so very difficult,” he said with a sigh, eyes glancing around the room before meeting Azriel’s.
“It’s fucked, you mean to say,” Azriel retorted with a snort, draining the last of his ale.
“That, too,” Relyt replied with an easy smirk.
They fell into companionable silence and Azriel marveled at how easy it was for him to feel comfortable around this male that he had barely known before being released. Wondered at how different things may have been had Relyt not managed to be in the Audience Hall when Azriel’s tribunal had been going on and he was begging to be let go, for someone to get to Rhyshladlyn and protect him. What would have become of the Qishir had Relyt not been there, had he and Azriel not recognized each other as qahllynshæ? Would Rhyshladlyn even have survived what had been done to him?
The answer to the last question was simple: no. Rhyshladlyn wouldn’t have survived his injuries had the Soul Healer not already been in the City and not been under his word to protect the Qishir and thus been tracking him. Because no one would have been able to answer Rhyshladlyn’s calls in time, his injuries had been too severe. Azriel may not have seen them with his own eyes but Rhyshladlyn hadn’t hid the scars left in the wake of the Healing Relyt and others had done and that scarring spoke volumes on just how close he had come to losing the Qishir. Never mind that he had felt him die, if only briefly, if only for what was technically a hairsbreadth of time, but it was long enough for Azriel to be knocked off a Line, for him to feel the total loss of him, but thankfully not sever the bond inherent in his still unanswered qahllyn. He shuddered to think what would have happened to him, and to Relyt, had Rhyshladlyn been gone long enough for that connection to be broken entirely.
“How long were you watching Rhys before you saved him?” Azriel asked, eyes focusing in on the Soul Healer who blinked almost owlishly at him, caught off guard by the sudden question.
“I met him before the night I saved his life in that alleyway, Azriel,” Relyt replied smoothly. “First time he officially caught my name was when he killed a shopkeeper for beating his son to death in front of a crowded street. But he saw me in passing several times before that. I made it to Shiran City within days of giving you my word that I would look after him and happened upon him while he was leaving the Great Temple. It was like seeing one of the hurricanes that ravage the Eastern Seas made humanoid; the second I landed in Fènwa I knew why I felt drawn to you, because I felt the same qahllyn in you that exists in me, just the wording was different. But nothing prepared me for the first moment I ever laid eyes on him,” Relyt released a soft laugh, lips quirking up at one corner as he took a sip of his ale, not grimacing as much as the previous times. “Naturally, he didn’t notice me and I was struck far too dumb to be able to coherently speak to him if he had, so perhaps it was luck that he passed right by me. But I was in Shiran City looking after him as much as I could given I wasn’t able to find a plausible way into the Palace for the vast majority of the time since you and I first encountered each other.”
Azriel blinked slowly before he laughed, barely keeping it from dancing around the room and shook his head as he signaled for the bartender to come refill his cup. They stayed silent as the barkeep refilled Azriel’s cup and topped off Relyt’s, Azriel trying to contain his chuckling, until ey had walked off to tend to other patrons.
“He can be a lot to take in if you aren’t prepared for it,” Azriel responded once they were alone again, his earlier laughter still coloring his words.
Relyt hummed, his own lips twitching in amusement as he nodded.
“I’ll never forget watching him take apart that storekeeper though,” Relyt said at length, once Azriel’s laughter had faded off and the mirth had become muted. “It was… I do not know a word accurate enough to describe it any of the languages I speak.”
Azriel nodded his understanding as he took a drag from his cup.
“First time I ever laid eyes upon him was on the training grounds of the Palace. He was testing out some of the new recruits, determining if they would be getting their swords or not. Despite what Anislanzir may have said, Rhys was–is–a phenomenal swordsman and no one in that garrison was given their sword without Rhys’ approval of them. They had to be able to hold their own for a certain amount of time against him. If they couldn’t? They wouldn’t be moved from recruit to an actual soldier,” he stared down at the table as he remembered watching Rhyshladlyn move like water given a body, death made flesh, as he parried and dodged and dropped no less than ten recruits at one time as though it weren’t even a challenge to him. And it probably hadn’t been. “It was as though every story any soldier is ever told about when the gods walked the Worlds among us, when They fought wars beside us, of the great warriors of that time, was true and Rhys was living proof of it. The way he moves with his swords? It’s insane. He could probably take on an army of thousands and not struggle.”
Relyt chuckled, the sound that of agreement more than amusement. “I can see that. He certainly is powerful enough to fell an entire army without ever bloodying his swords.”
They fell silent again and Azriel looked at the stairs that lead up to the rooms for rent, only just realizing how long it had been since he and Relyt were told to go downstairs and find a table, that the Qishir would join them soon. At least an hour had passed and while nothing felt wrong, Azriel still worried.
“He should have been down by now,” Relyt commented, his own eyes turned towards the stairs. So Azriel wasn’t the only one thinking it, apparently.
Azriel nodded before he drained his ale and made to stand up but stopped when movement on the stairs caught his attention, frowning when he recognized the magickal signature as belonging to Rhyshladlyn but it was off. As though it was him but not.
“Holy shit,” Relyt breathed from across the table and Azriel dropped heavily back into his seat, mouth open at the sight before him.
Because where he had expected the tall, masculine form of his Qishir there was a tall, lithely toned female instead. Had he not known in his bones that it was Rhyshladlyn, had he not remembered that he was a neodrach and thus had three physical forms he could take on, Azriel would never have recognized him.
“Well, guess we no longer have to worry about how we’re going to keep him from being recognized,” Relyt said, sounding awestruck.
Azriel couldn’t help but agree, trying desperately to close his mouth as Rhyshladlyn sauntered across the tavern’s main room and took up one of the two empty seats at their table, drawing more than one set of eyes as he did so.
“It’s almost as though you two forgot I’m not a male,” he said, voice a lilting alto and Azriel closed his eyes as though he was pained, the sound of that voice coming out of a face he both recognized but didn’t far too much to take in. He knew Rhyshladlyn as male, the hint of danger in every movement, the potential for deadly violence promised with every twitch of muscle, quirk of his lips, and sweep of his gaze. But this form? He wasn’t prepared for it. Wasn’t sure what to make of the firm breasts that pressed at the tunic he wore or the hips that curved from a slender waist and down into shapely legs. Never mind the striking face with its high cheekbones and sloping nose that were now delicate and soft.
“Not so much forgot, your Majesty, as were not prepared to see you change so soon after the spell placed upon you was broken,” Relyt replied easily, sounding far less caught off guard than Azriel thought he should.
Rhyshladlyn’s stare was heavy on the side of his face and Azriel opened his eyes to look over at him and was surprised by the look of apprehension that flashed across those orange-amber eyes, ones that were identical to the pair he had stared into as they had tumbled over the edge into release wrapped up in each other. The face they looked out from may be different but that didn’t change who it was behind them. He’s worried that I will not want him while he wears this face, that I love only the male in him. His heart hurt at the realization and he slowly reached out a hand and cupped Rhyshladlyn’s cheek.
“I love you regardless of the face you wear, my Qishir,” he whispered, careful to pitch his voice so only Rhyshladlyn could hear. Well, him and Relyt, but the Soul Healer was resolutely more interested in a particularly dark swirl in the wood of the tabletop by his cup.
The Qishir nodded and smiled, the action exactly the same even if the face it was done with was different.
“It took me several tries to get it right, Relyt,” Rhyshladlyn said in response to the Soul Healer’s statement, those eyes leaving Azriel to look at the other male as one hand reached up to take Azriel’s hand from his cheek and move it to rest on his thigh, their fingers entwined as he slid his palm against Azriel’s. “It is why I was upstairs for so long. I did not wish to be downstairs and revert to my chosen form by accident. Wouldn’t do to give myself away in such a manner. The element of surprise is everything in situations like this.”
Relyt hummed, taking a sip of his ale before he flinched and slid the cup towards Rhyshladlyn with a raised eyebrow. The Qishir nodded his thanks and accepted it.
“So you prefer your male form, your Majesty?” Relyt asked, head tilted to the side as he took in the differences between Rhyshladlyn’s male form and his female one.
Rhyshladlyn nodded, “Yes. This one feels…unnatural, wrong. I can stomach it if need be but I do not like it.”
“Are we to change pronouns for you while you wear this face?” Azriel inquired, fingers squeezing gently in a silent reassurance. “And are we to use a different name?”
The Qishir frowned slightly, looking down into the cup before him, long fingers of his free hand tapping against it as he considered the questions.
“I am not certain. I will honestly only wear this form when we are out among those we do not know and trust. Otherwise I will use my truer form,” he said at length, speaking slowly as though he were voicing each thought as it came to him. “I’ll admit, I had not thought too much on it. I merely wanted to see if I could pull off the shift and whether it would alter my magickal signature enough to make it worth holding it in public.”
“It alters it enough, but I still know it is you,” Relyt offered, lips curving in a soft, encouraging smile. “Though that may because I am qahllyn so regardless of what form you have, regardless of what changes are done to your signature or glamours used upon your form, I will know it is you.”
Azriel nodded when Rhyshladlyn turned to him to confirm Relyt’s assessment. “The same is said for me. I knew it was you but your signature still felt off. It wasn’t until I saw you like this that I knew why but I knew it was you regardless.”
Rhyshladlyn hummed, lifting his cup to take a long few pulls of the ale inside it before setting the cup back down and sighing. “So, it is perhaps not worth wearing this form in public for the alteration it does to my magickal signature but rather to confuse those looking for my male form. They’ll sense the signature but when the face doesn’t match they will perhaps think I performed some type of magick upon this form and move on.”
“Perhaps, but honestly, we should just hole up somewhere rather remote, throw up as many wards and Shields as we can and wait it out for a few weeks. Being out in public so soon after is inviting trouble to find us,” Azriel said.
The Qishir shook his head in concurrence. “Relyt, I’m sure that there are cabins in the forest beyond the borders of this town. See if you can confirm that and if there are any prices placed upon them for ownership or rent. Barter for services versus setting a price with coin. If only coin is available, haggle the price as low as possible because we do not have an unlimited supply anymore.”
“As you will, your Majesty,” Relyt replied, inclining his head in as close to a bow as he could get away with in the tavern before he rose to his feet and went to the bar and speak with the tavern owner.
“I suppose I should go back upstairs then,” Rhyshladlyn said, attention trained on Relyt as he leaned against the bar casually and spoke with the owner, a female who came to Rhyshladlyn’s shoulders, hair a rich, deep blue with eyes to match, skin as pale as moonlight. “Best to minimize my exposure for the time being.”
“Shall I accompany you?” Azriel asked, voice dipping low, a rumbling purr edging out around the words.
Rhyshladlyn looked at him with a raised eyebrow before letting out a quiet giggle at the proposition in his teasing yet serious question before he nodded. “Of course, Azriel. Always.”
Azriel purred his pleasure at that and rose to his feet, pulling Rhyshladlyn up by their still joined hands before leading him towards the stairs and up to the second floor, casting one glance at Relyt who watched them go with a knowing smirk.
Come whatever may, Azriel thought when Rhyshladlyn pressed him against the closed door of their room, the female body he had worn fading away to be replaced by the male one the Anglëtinean was used to, it will be these moments that will make it all worth it.