He sank slowly down onto one of the large rocks that dotted the edge of the lake behind the cabin every hundred feet or so, right leg bent, bare foot propped on the rock beneath him, arm curled around it as he rested his chin on his knee. He twitched the toes of his left foot, leg extended straight out in front of him, to a beat only he could hear, the fingers of his left hand tapping out a counter-beat on his thigh while he stared out at the water, eyes lazy and unfocused. The moonlight shimmered on the mirror-flat surface of the water as the forest that surrounded their hidden home sighed in the late summer breeze that carried just the barest bite of autumn. It was far colder at night in Yltae Province, Majik World, than it was in the Shiraniqi Desert and he was still having trouble adjusting to no longer being in a warm climate, realizing too late when his body shivered hard that he was not dressed for the coolness of the dead of night. But he couldn’t go back to the cabin just yet so he would just deal with it.
“You really need to start wearing a jacket or at the very least a thicker tunic. Even one with sleeves would be better than what you have on presently,” Relyt commented from where the Soul Healer stood to his left facing the lake, hands in his pockets, looking remarkably wide awake for someone who was normally sleeping at that time of night, his attention solely on the Qishir beside him even if those grey eyes weren’t actually looking at him.
The sudden appearance of the Soul Healer didn’t startle him like it used to. After three months of living in close quarters, he was able to sense Azriel and Relyt wherever they were as though they were an extension of him. The qahllyn that connected the two of them to him growing more powerful the longer it went unanswered, making him keenly aware of where the two were at all times, his teeth aching with the strength of it.
He didn’t doubt that it would grow truly painful if he ignored it much longer, but he also knew that the second he gave his Answer and cemented the bond that things would drastically change. He wasn’t ready for the level of responsibility that came with being a Qishir with a Court. It was difficult enough accepting that they followed him of their own will, that they had willingly become enemies of two of the most formidable races in the Worlds. Granting Acceptance to them as qahllynshæ to him, Oathing them in blood, making them part of his Court, it would be too much. Regardless of the fact that it would render them all more powerful for the bond–because he knew that they would make his Triad, the first line of defense of a Qishir’s Court–he just couldn’t risk them like that. They were in enough danger as unOathed males. He refused to paint blatant targets on them.
“Well, I don’t make it a habit of being outside of the cabin during the night,” he lied with a wry smirk to cover the untruth of those words, “never mind that Shiraniqi Desert is far warmer, even in the winter months, than most places within the Worlds and this is the first time I’ve traveled outside of Fènwa.”
Relyt shook his head in a motion that spoke to his surprise at hearing that, grey eyes widened slightly as he looked over at him. “You have never left Fènwa World before we came here? Not even to visit Ansyen Lontän World?”
“No,” he denied. “Well, that is inaccurate,” he amended, letting out a soft sigh. “I had gone to the Eighth Palace several times in the last few years but I only ever went in the Palace. I didn’t travel elsewhere in Bondye World, I had no reason to. And before I was old enough that I was allowed to come and go as I pleased, I was never allowed to leave the confines of the City; Father refused to allow it, though Anis and Alaïs traveled to her homeland fairly often when I was growing up.” He wouldn’t say the name of the one he had killed before they left Shiran City, he wouldn’t acknowledge that she had even existed except in the most abstract, vague usage of pronouns.
The Soul Healer turned his attention back to the water, body relaxed as he stood comfortable in the silence that followed his statement. He looked as though he weren’t remotely affected by the chill in the air despite wearing his usual grey sleeveless tunic that bared the knot work on his right bicep and matching loose grey pants, feet bare and toes curled in the dirt that made up the beach of the lake, his wings folded against his back.
“Are you unable to sleep, your Majesty?” Relyt inquired apropos of nothing, dropping the previous topic as though it had never even been mentioned. “Is that why you are out here in the cold?”
“It isn’t that cold,” he hedged, shrugging one shoulder. “And how is it that you are bare foot and in thinner clothing than me and yet seem utterly comfortable?” He deflected, not wanting to answer that he indeed couldn’t sleep because then he would be asked why and that was not a conversation he wanted to have. It was bad enough he had to fight off the nightmares and keep from waking Azriel who lay curled beside him let alone the rest of the cabin with his screams and sobs and pleas.
“Where my people come from is far colder than this, your Majesty,” Relyt replied with a pointed look that said the Soul Healer wasn’t remotely fooled by his deflection but wouldn’t press it.
“And where is that, exactly?” He asked, turning his head so his cheek rested on his knee, gaze fixed on the Soul Healer with obvious interest. “You don’t talk much about your home. Did something happen that made you leave?”
“Our lands are located in the northernmost part of Txiwteb World, in Ikunae Province. We harvest our gretkewq from the ice shelfs,” Relyt replied, lifting a hand to tap the grey jewel on his forehead with the tip of his forefinger before he returned his hand to his pocket, head tilting back so the moon caught on it and the light refracted off the facets. “I left after I was given my gretluos,” he shifted his right arm to show he meant the tattoos that spread from shoulder to just below his elbow. “I’m powerful enough that I could be the ruler of my people, it was a gift, or so I was told. All I could see it as was another chain that could be used to hold me back. I was not yet ready to rule an entire race. I was barely of age and I hadn’t even found my Key yet but the Ildir,” he shook his head with a sharp sigh, “they didn’t care. They said I would make a great leader, that I was destined for great things. And I believed them, mistake me not on that, but I did not believe I was destined for great things as a ruler of my people. My purpose lay elsewhere…” Relyt trailed off, a far away look on his face.
“And so you left,” he pressed and the Soul Healer nodded.
“And so I left,” he affirmed, jolting out of whatever memory had pulled at him. “I had this itch under my skin that urged me to leave and the longer I remained with my people the worse it became. Finally, I was unable to ignore it any longer, packed what I would need, sold what I wouldn’t, and left in search of what would cure that itch.”
“What did the Ildir say about you leaving? Surely they couldn’t have been too thrilled,” he asked, sounding enthralled, eyes riveted on the Soul Healer as he spoke of his home and what brought him to where he was now. He was always keen to learn more about Relyt and Azriel, but especially the former, as the Soul Healer had this air of stoicism that surrounded him; as though he were mystery made flesh with the sole purpose of capturing the Qishir’s attention and refusing obdurately to let it go.
Relyt idly scratched at the underside of his chin before shrugging. “I do not know if they were thrilled, as you say, nor do I overmuch care. The story I’m sure they spun was that I was allowed to leave, not that they could have stopped me even if they wanted to,” he shot a sly grin at him that the Qishir couldn’t help but return, “that I was to be an envoy for my people to the rest of the Worlds.”
“So how long were you wandering? Did you find your Key or what was causing the itch?” He asked near rapid fire, a blush coloring his cheeks when Relyt laughed, holding up his hands to quiet him.
“Easy, your Majesty. I can only answer one question at a time, keep them simple for me,” the Soul Healer laughed, smiling at him, noticing his blush but not commenting on it. “I was wandering for roughly a century before I stumbled into the Eighth Palace during Azriel’s tribunal. Yes, I found my Key as well as the cause for the itch; coincidentally, they were one in the same.”
He sat up, head tilted to the side as he frowned with confusion. “Wait, a Soul Healer’s Key is what unlocks their full magickal potential, correct?” Relyt nodded. “So… you’ve found your Key but you haven’t had your powers unlocked yet.”
Relyt’s eyebrows climbed towards his hairline. “How do you know they haven’t been?”
“There’s a sort of emptiness to your powers, like an after image that is slower than it should be to catch up to you each time you move,” he said as though it were obvious. “So why have you not had your Key unlock your powers yet? Surely you’re not as strong as you would be with them still locked.”
“Because my Key is refusing to acknowledge the bond between us,” Relyt answered, grey eyes glinting in the moonlight that bathed the World around them, curly black hair shifting and swaying in the wind as it picked up before calming again.
He narrowed his eyes, still not understanding. “Why?”
Relyt’s responding smile was sad in that muted way that happens when one understands that while they are being hurt, it isn’t being done maliciously and that they understand the reasons behind it. “To acknowledge it would increase the risk that we would both die,” the Soul Healer told him, that sadness darkening his eyes until they were nearly black as they watched patiently as he stared back in frowned confusion.
The second it clicked, he was up off the rock and striding towards him, eyes wide. “I’m your Key?”
“Obviously,” was the response and he growled at it, but Relyt seemed unperturbed by his ire and continued on, “I told you as much in the Healing pools after we got you back to the Palace. I told you I was qahllyn to you, that it was rare for me to find my Key outside of the race, let alone in the same individual to whom I am qahllynshæ.”
He blinked owlishly at Relyt before turning away from him, hands covering his face as he turned towards the lake, feeling like his lungs were no longer working properly. He remembered the conversation, but had been far too focused on the fact that Azriel was qahllyn to him and had said nothing, that the Anglëtinean had begged a promise of a random male–who had also happened to be qahllyn to him–to travel to a World said male had never been to and watch over a Qishir who didn’t deserve either of them.
“Rhyshladlyn,” Relyt murmured, moving to stand in front of him, hands curling around his upper arms gently and he dropped his hands, startled by the Soul Healer’s use of his name, “you are under no obligation to do anything, whatsoever. Would it help if I was able to use the full extent of my powers? Perhaps, but as I do not know what they are I am not missing much.”
“But, fuck, Relyt, I am limiting you!” he snapped, cursing colorfully in Tengú Elaèy, making the Soul Healer in front of him snicker.
“I am already limited, Rhyshladlyn. I was limited before I even knew you existed, before you were even born, no doubt,” was the easy reply and Relyt looked remarkably unruffled by the fact that he was remaining weakened, incomplete because he couldn’t get his shit together like a proper Qishir. “You aren’t doing anything to me that was not already being done before I encountered you in Shiran City,” he added, hands falling back to his sides.
“Why are you using my name, Relyt?” he inquired, jumping focus fast enough that had the Soul Healer not gotten used to it fairly early on it would have given him a headache from the whiplash it caused. “I do not think you’ve used it in the entire time I have known you.”
“Because, Rhyshladlyn, you have not referred to yourself by it since Azhuri’s death,” Relyt told him as though he were remarking on the color of the Qishir’s hair and not stating something he shouldn’t have any knowledge of because he had told no one, not even his Others, that he hadn’t been using his own name. He hadn’t told anyone that he didn’t want it anymore, that he wanted to distance himself as much as possible from the female who gave it to him and the murderous act he had committed upon her.
“I… how the… you shouldn’t know that,” he stuttered, stumbling back half a step, face pale and eyes wide, looking vulnerable and afraid even if he would never admit to it.
“Peace, Rhyshladlyn,” Relyt implored, voice soft and careful, hands held up to show the palms. “I am a Grey Soul Healer, one who is qahllyn to you, one to whom you are the Key. My heritage alone enables me to read the pain of your Self, our shared ancestry allows me to see you are not as balanced as you should be. But the fact that you are both my Key and I am qahllynshæ as well? It means that I feel your fear and your pain as though they were my own, amplified by the need that every Soul Healer has to soothe the Selves of the Dhaoine they encounter.”
He just cursed, walking away a few feet before pacing back, hands raking through his auburn hair, mussing it further than it already was.
“What you did was not wrong,” Relyt spoke as he watched the Qishir pace back and forth. “You did what was necessary for your own protection as well as that of your siblings. The gods only know what else that un-female had done or would do just to save her own worthless skin.”
“Stop, Relyt. Please,” he begged, turning to face him with eyes shining with barely held back tears, hands shaking where they were still tangled in his hair, face open and full of a vulnerability that made Relyt’s heart ache to see it. “I am… I’m not… I can’t use… fuck.” He looked away, body beginning to shake like his hands. “I don’t know who to trust. I don’t… she betrayed me–how can I trust any of–” he devolved into muttered cursing that Relyt could feel whoosh around them, making the Currents whimper under the strength of them.
“Rhyshladlyn, look at me,” Relyt said, his footsteps clear as he shuffled across the beach towards him. “Look at me,” the Soul Healer insisted and he found himself doing so, despite desperately not wanting to see the look of disgust he believed should be there. But it wasn’t. Just that same sadness from before and a righteous anger that he knew wasn’t directed at him but it still shook him to see it.
Soul Healers were known for being peacekeepers, conscientious objectors when they simply couldn’t avoid being drawn into conflict, so to see such intense emotion on Relyt’s face was unexpected. He didn’t doubt for a second that if afforded the opportunity, that the Soul Healer would rip apart anyone who ever so much as thought to betray him.
Gods surrounding, I don’t deserve that kind of devotion. He doesn’t even really know me.
“You are worthy of your name, do you understand me?” Relyt kept speaking as he closed the distance between them, his raised hands running up his forearms from his elbows to his wrists. “You are worthy of being a Qishir, of me and Azriel being qahllynshæ to you, of Shadi and Nully, of the god-Marks of the Nameless, Faceless, and Soullessly Heartfelt glowing beneath your skin. You are worthy. So use your name. It doesn’t matter that Azhuri gave it to you and she turned out to be a cunt,” he barked an unexpected laugh at the epithet, unable to stop himself and Relyt just grinned back at him, “what matters is what you make of yourself, of your name, of the circumstances in which you were put.”
Rhyshladlyn sighed, fingers releasing his hair as he turned his hands under Relyt’s and wrapped them around his, dropping their joined hands to hang between them.
“And furthermore,” Relyt continued, easily twisting his larger, longer fingers around the Qishir’s smaller ones, “trust me and Azriel and your Others. Azriel’s heritage makes it impossible for him to lie, let alone the fact that he is qahllynshæ to you. That bond will physically pain us to put you in harm’s way, to betray you in any form and given how powerful you are? That pain would more than likely mean our deaths,” he gave their joined hands a gentle shake, “so we have no reason to lie to you, not when the consequences are too great. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, I understand, Relyt,” he spoke, voice hushed as he looked down at their hands, seeing the god-Marks that glowed white and innocent-looking on his wrists, noticing that while his own skin was a rich brown, it was still several shades lighter than Relyt’s. “But… gods, I don’t know what to do with all of this. Where am I supposed to go from here?”
Relyt shrugged. “I don’t have the answer to that, your Majesty,” he squeezed the Qishir’s hands, ducking his head to catch Rhyshladlyn’s gaze. “Though I suggest that you stop fighting your instincts and work from there.”
“But if I do that, I’m painting you and Azriel with a target. I’m condemning you both to die,” he shook his head, dropping the Soul Healer’s hands and stepping away before turning so his back was facing the Soul Healer.
“We already have targets on us,” Relyt countered. “We had them the second we defended you in any fashion. But we are not weak, we do not need protecting any more than you do, Rhyshladlyn.” He huffed a laugh, shrugging one shoulder, completely unperturbed when Rhyshladlyn turned to him sharply with narrowed eyes. “Quit making excuses and admit you’re as scared as we are and then accept that it doesn’t matter that you’re afraid. What matters is us being as strong as we can be when it comes time to face whatever Anislanzir has planned, whatever the Ancients have decided is a fitting response to the death of their Queen-Heir.”
Rhyshladlyn shook his head, starting to walk back towards the cabin, effectively ending the conversation. He would rather fight against the nightmares that made sleeping nearly impossible than stand there any longer and have Relyt lecture him on how he was feeling and what he needed to do.
“My Qishir,” the Soul Healer called when Rhyshladlyn was nearly to the cabin, one foot on the first step leading up to the porch, hand resting on the handrail. He stopped but didn’t look at him, head tilted to the side to show he was listening. “I apologize if I made you uncomfortable but I will not apologize for the content of which I spoke. Azriel and I are strong enough to defend ourselves, we are of age, and we willingly bend knee to you and offer our wrists. We are not here at your side because of a compulsion to do so. Yes, we may feel a qahllyn to you, but that does not force us to be here, it does not make us want to be Oathed to you. That is a choice and one we have made of our own free will. All we ask is that you honor that and at least think upon it.”
Rhyshladlyn sighed heavily, casting his eyes skyward before closing them and sending a prayer to his Patrons for strength and guidance. He didn’t respond before continuing up the stairs and into the cabin, but he didn’t doubt that Relyt knew that he would take to heart everything the Soul Healer had said.
Because as much as Rhyshladlyn was loathe to admit it, Relyt was right on every single point, and it was high time he started treating the two males like the equals they were rather than the children in need of coddling that they most certainly were not.