Azriel leaned against the railing of the porch that circled the cabin they had purchased one Province over from Dyae in what was indeed Majik World, forearms braced on the dark wood, eyes tracking Rhyshladlyn as he sparred with Shadiranamen and Nhulynolyn, body flowing between one form and the next with the all the ease of the wind blowing through the trees that surrounded them.
It had been three months since they had gotten the cabin off the tavern owner, bought in full and kept off any official record. It was perfectly located, sat center of three Lines that made a triangle, making it a dead zone and with the right amount of Shields and wards, they were utterly undetectable. Something that Rhyshladlyn had taken full advantage of by working on switching between his female, androgyne, and male forms as well as letting Shadiranamen and Nhulynolyn enjoy being corporeal and doing their own training.
Azriel suspected that the only reason the Others were able to stay corporeal and in what was no doubt their true bodies was because their kè was so powerful. Everything he had ever heard of Others said that if they became corporeal or traveled away from their kè it was for a very limited time and the distance was heavily restricted. Yet here Shadiranamen and Nhulynolyn were, as real as he and Relyt were, having spent the last three months corporeal as they trained and slept and ate with them and Azriel knew for a fact already that distance didn’t seem to hinder them much either. It was only by sheer luck that the cabin had five bedrooms otherwise sleeping arrangements would have been a bit awkward.
“How long has he been at it this time?” Relyt asked as the Soul Healer stepped up beside him, hands curled around a steaming mug of his favorite black tea. Azriel glanced at him in time to watch him take a slow, cautious sip and flinch. “Too soon,” he murmured mostly to himself, grey eyes staring down at the mug in his hands with a frown. “I never seem to time it right.”
Azriel laughed, reaching out to clap him on the shoulder. “You’ll get it eventually. Don’t give up.”
Relyt nodded before taking another sip and even though his eye twitched at the heat he didn’t show any other outward sign of discomfort. “So,” he inclined his head towards Rhyshladlyn and his Others, “how long has today’s match been going on?”
The Anglëtinean lifted one shoulder and dropped it as he looked back at his Qishir. “I’m not certain to be honest. I rose with the sun to do my dances and they were already sparring.”
The Soul Healer’s eyebrows rose towards his hairline and he sucked his lips between his teeth before his expression smoothed back out.
“It is a wonder that none of them are burnt out with the constant training. I certainly feel as though I am and I’m not sparring against any of them as often as they are against each other,” Relyt told him, resting his hip against the railing as he watched their Qishir and his Others move around each other with the grace and ease of a perfectly choreographed dance.
The Anglëtinean let out a breathless sound that was equal parts amusement and agreement. “I think Rhys fears that if the three of them aren’t able to know each other’s moves well enough that sparring no longer gives them any sort of challenge that when they do face off against Anislanzir that they will not walk away as the victors.”
Relyt’s stare was heavy when it landed back on him.
“Has he said as much?” Relyt inquired.
Azriel shook his head. “No,” he denied, “he hasn’t. But then again does he truly need to? Surely you can read his fear as well as I can. He is powerful, terrifyingly so, but that means nothing if he doesn’t know how to properly channel it and he was never taught how so now he must learn on the run, as it were.”
“And pray every step of the way that he doesn’t make a single misstep,” Relyt added and the Anglëtinean made a sound of confirmation.
For long minutes the two of them stood in comfortable silence and watched the sparring match in front of them, eyes tracking each twist and turn, duck and roll, wincing at particularly hard blows and fighting not to look away at near misses. It was their morning routine by now: Azriel would wake with the breaking of dawn to perform his fighting dances to find Rhyshladlyn and his Others already sweat-soaked and heavy of breath well into their sparring; after several hours Relyt would shuffle out of the cabin with his black tea that he always took a sip of before it had cooled enough to not scald his tongue and then he and Azriel would stand and watch as the other three of their party would fight against each other in battles that were mock but no less intense and real for their imagination.
“I have never seen someone willingly fight bare handed against naked steel. He is truly a sight to behold, is he not?” Relyt looked at him with a grin pulling at one corner of his mouth before he looked back out at trio, a look of muted awe lighting up his features. It had been only a few months but the stoic mask that Soul Healers were known for was beginning to break away as Relyt slowly learned that showing emotion wasn’t a sign of weakness but rather one of strength. One of the emotions the Soul Healer was most comfortable showing was how impressed he was with Rhyshladlyn’s fighting prowess, as though the idea of someone being so skilled with a sword and their fists was foreign to him. Maybe it is, his race isn’t known for their fighters after all.
Azriel hummed his agreement as he watched Rhyshladlyn backhand Nhulynolyn’s blade away from his face with enough force that the resounding twang of the blade sounded like the metal was crying. That same hand, his right one, continued in its arc as he spun on the sole of his right foot, left leg dragging behind him as he knocked his twin out at the knees, hand connecting open and powerful with it against Shadiranamen’s face, sending the female sprawling in the dirt. Nhulynolyn gained his feet the quickest, spinning his sword over his hand once before he settled his grip around the hilt, ice blue eyes filled with flashes of lightning a clear sign that he wasn’t as controlled as he appeared to be.
“That was dirty, Rhys,” Nhulynolyn grumbled, advancing as he sidestepped away from where Shadiranamen was still laid out in the dirt, sapphire eyes dazed as she pressed a hand to her bleeding cheek. “You cheated just now.”
Rhyshladlyn’s responding laughter made Azriel shiver and Relyt suck in a harsh breath as the sound of that laughter slipped up along their spines like the barest hint of a lover’s touch.
“There is no such thing as fairness in a fight, Nully,” Rhyshladlyn mirrored his twin’s movements, lips tilted in a grin that showed more teeth than a grin should, his eyes dancing with a sadistic mirth that Azriel wasn’t sure he should be as turned on by as he was. “One should be willing and able to do whatever necessary to walk off the Fields alive.”
Shadiranamen spat out blood, face a grimace of pain as she slowly sat up, working her jaw as it clicked back into place, the cut on her cheek healing smoothly, albeit sluggishly. “Even so, we are sparring. This is not a battle for life and death,” she said, eyes narrowed upon her kè as though she weren’t sure whether she could trust him or not.
Rhyshladlyn shrugged, hands held wide at his sides as he did so. “True enough, but if you do not treat each fight, whether practice or otherwise, as though your life depends upon your victory, when the time comes that it does you may not be as prepared for it as you should be.”
“Have to admit, he’s got a bit of a point,” Relyt muttered into his mug as he took another, longer sip of it, humming happily as it seemed the temperature was finally perfect.
It took him biting the inside of his cheek for Azriel to keep from snickering at the comment. He watched as Rhyshladlyn glanced up at the sun, noting it was a quarter of the way across the sky and sighed, his energy settling out as he grounded the excess back into the earth below his bare feet.
“We’re done for the day,” his voice was softer than before, the dark delight that often overtook him when he was in some type of battle falling away now that he was no longer in that position. “Thank you both for sparring with me. Some people,” those orange-amber eyes swiveled to look at Azriel and Relyt who tensed and stared back at him with wide eyes, trying to affect looks of innocence, “are too afraid to spar with me.”
Azriel huffed, affronted. “It is not that I am afraid to spar with you, Rhys-kyn,” he retorted, smiling crookedly at him, “it is that you cheat and there is only so long a male may be hard in his breeches before he needs relief.”
Relyt coughed hard next to him, having choked on the sip of tea he had taken just as the Anglëtinean had spoken, Nhulynolyn letting out a bark of shocked laughter, Shadiranamen snorting twice in quick succession. Pounding the Soul Healer on the back, Azriel delighted in the uproarious laughter that came from Rhyshladlyn as the Qishir threw his head back, arms wrapped around his torso, eyes squeezed shut. He looked so young and carefree in the rare moments where he laughed like the Worlds weren’t endeavoring to destroy him. Once Relyt was able to breathe again without hacking up one of his lungs, Azriel turned to find Rhyshladlyn staring at them both with an unreadable expression on his face.
“Let us go inside and make something to eat,” the Qishir spoke up, dusting off his breeches as he held out a hand to Shadiranamen who accepted it and allowed her kè to help her to her feet. “As well as take a relaxing soak in the springs,” he added, watching the way his Others moved stiffly towards the cabin.
“That sounds delightful. I feel as though every inch of me is made of stone rather than flesh and muscle and sinew,” Shadiranamen called over her shoulder as she ascended the steps onto the porch and made for the front door. Nhulynolyn made an inarticulate noise as he stumbled after her.
“Perhaps I am too hard on them,” the statement was more like a question as he climbed the stairs and watched his Others as they moved through the sitting room and into the expansive kitchen, pulling out pots and various other items necessary to begin making food.
Azriel stepped around Relyt and put a hand on his shoulder. “It can be considered that way, you do train with them for hours at a brutal pace, but I don’t doubt they understand the reason behind it even if it’s grueling. Plus what was it you said to me the first day I met you on the training fields?”
Rhyshladlyn smiled. “You must fight dirtier than your opponents, and by dirtier than your opponents I mean that the gods flinch at the things you do.”
“Exactly. And while you’ve had nine decades of that drilled into your head, they have not. Even if Nully technically has experienced all that you have.”
“I agree with him, your Majesty,” Relyt said with what was by now his almost trademark soft smile. “They may be cross about it now but later, if they ever need to utilize it, they will thank you for their lives.”
Rhyshladlyn shook his head at the both of them with a chuckle before going into the cabin, calling out to his Others, asking what they wanted for the midday meal.
While Azriel and Relyt watched, an egg sailed across the kitchen and smacked Rhyshladlyn square in the chest. Both males stared with wide eyes as the Qishir just looked down at the splattered egg as it dripped slowly down his tunic towards the floor before his gaze lifted to the Others who stood sporting identical mischievous, gives-no-shits grins. Rhyshladlyn looked absolutely flabbergasted for all of an eye-blink before his lips twitched.
“Oh, so we will be doing this then?” Rhyshladlyn returned their grins with one of his own, lifting his hand and twitching his fingers. The egg splattered on his chest pulled off and reformed as though time were rewinding only for the egg itself, an act that left Azriel and Relyt breathless to see it; reminded yet again with something so simple as that just how powerful their Qishir was.
Once it was whole again Rhyshladlyn’s grin morphed into a sickly sweet smile as he tossed it easily up and down, deft fingers catching it with ease each time. “Let us go then,” he said, pivoted, and tossed the egg towards Azriel and Relyt who cried out and darted out of the way at the last second to the sound of laughter. Laughter which devolved into mock-war cries and epithets as the thumping of food and other things being flung around the inside of the cabin echoed out through the open door.
Azriel raised an eyebrow at Relyt from where he was crouched to the right of the doorway. Relyt blinked back at him, glancing forlornly at his shattered mug of tea where it had fallen when he’d ducked out of the way of the weaponized egg before his face hardened with determination and he nodded at Azriel’s questioning look.
“For my tea!” Relyt hollered as he lurched to his feet and darted through the doorway.
“For my tea…” Azriel mouthed to himself with a shocked snort before he, too, was on his feet and ducking into the cabin.
They may have been on the run from Rhyshladlyn’s verifiably insane sire, enemies of the Sinner Demon and Ancients races, and no doubt had a sizable bounty on all their heads, but Azriel would be damned it he wouldn’t enjoy the small things like a food fight with the ones that had become his Family. Because when the Worlds finally brought reality crashing down around them, it would be those moments that he would fight for, it would be those moments that would keep them alive.