“You were right,” Relyt stated from behind him making Azriel startle slightly and cast a glance over his shoulder at the Soul Healer where he stood leaning against the wall at the opening of the hallway that led to the bedrooms and bathrooms. His slate grey eyes looked glazed, like he was seeing things that weren’t actually in the room with them, face the expressionless mask that Azriel had thought was his norm until he saw how quick the Soul Healer was to smile, to frown, how his face would light up with laughter and darken with upset.
“About what?” he inquired as he turned back to the kitchen counter where he was busy brewing the black tea Relyt loved and the rich coffee Rhyshladlyn needed to function in the mornings.
“Well, you were partially right; he is afraid,” Relyt answered and Azriel closed his eyes as his voice dropped into a raw timbre that sounded like he’d swallowed gravel, it sounded almost like it hurt for the male to speak. The sound of footsteps heralded his approach long before that lean body thumped back against the counter, arms crossed over his chest, eyes looking out at the sitting room over the island counter that marked the boundary between it and the kitchen. He was shirtless, with a pair of loose grey pants slung low on his hips, the wounds he suffered in his own fight scabbed in places, the shiny pink of new skin in others. Guess Soul Healers naturally Heal themselves. He thought, filing the information away as Relyt spoke again, “But not of what you initially thought.”
“Could you maybe not talk cryptically right now?” Azriel asked, snapping a bit more than he intended and he grimaced at himself, letting out a sigh as he braced his hands on the counter and bowed forward. “My apologies, I did not mean to snap at you.”
Relyt just shrugged. “It’s no bother, we are all strung thinly of late,” was the easy reply as though Azriel had done nothing more than comment on the color of his eyes rather than snap at him. The Soul Healer was so damned confusing sometimes. “And I apologize for being cryptic, I’m not intending it. I just… I’ve never…” he trailed off, cursing quietly in Gretlök, the language of the Grey Soul Healers, the syllables harsher than Azriel was prepared for; mostly spoken on the back of the tongue whereas his native language was more at the middle and front of the mouth in rolling lilt that sounded like one was singing even if one wasn’t, the fact that Relyt had switched out of Common showed he was more rattled by what had happened in the forest earlier than he was letting on.
Silently Azriel held out a mug of black tea to him, raising an eyebrow when Relyt looked over at him with wide eyes as though taken aback that Azriel not only had one prepared for him but that he knew exactly what brand and what he put in it.
“I’ve spent over four months with you, Relyt, and you drink this tea every single morning. I’d be remiss if I didn’t notice that you like black tea imported from the Cold North, one sugar cube, and two splashes of milk,” Azriel said in response to the questioning look Relyt shot him as he accepted the mug.
Relyt smiled shakily, taking a sip of the tea and a low moan rumbled out. “The temperature is perfect, I never get it perfect.” He turned a squinted look at Azriel who held up his hands and laughed.
“Truthfully I had it waiting for about twenty minutes before you came out of your room. I figured you would need it.”
“I did… I do,” Relyt replied with a nod before taking another sip. “Thank you,” he added, that faraway look coming back over his face.
“Was that your first time fighting like that?” Azriel asked carefully after a few minutes had passed, resting his left hip against the counter as he took a sip of his sugar and a splash of black coffee.
Relyt nodded and Azriel felt his heart break a little at the way the strong male before him seemed so child like in that moment, as though he were lost and terrified and had no idea what to do to rectify the situation. Azriel reached out a hand and squeezed his shoulder, meeting the wide, scared eyes that snapped up and around to look at him with a gentle smile.
“It’s alright, Relyt. The Many will forgive you. Had you ignored your qahllyn demanding you protect Rhys, you could have died. It’s a powerful thing that even the gods will not mess with.”
The Soul Healer just hummed brokenly in response before looking back at his tea and Azriel pulled his hand back. For several minutes they just stood in companionable silence, taking occasional sips of their respective drinks, as they watched the sunlight creep further and further across the hardwood floors from where it came through the front wall of windows.
Relyt turned and set his empty mug on the counter and sighed, heavy and dark. “He’s afraid, I’m nearly certain, because he’s worried that his nightmares aren’t actually nightmares but rather Visions,” he whispered the words as though he didn’t want to speak them but couldn’t keep them contained any longer.
Azriel just stared at him, unable to process what he’d heard at first.
“What do you mean?” He finally managed to ask when his tongue unstuck from the roof of his mouth.
“He hasn’t said as much directly, but Soul Healers… we have the ability to read the Self that powers each of us and with that comes the ability to Know what one feels and sometimes, if the emotion is powerful enough, we can catch glimpses of why the Dhaoine feels that way,” Relyt dragged a shaking hand through his hair. “Well, two weeks ago I woke up several hours before dawn to the sounds of muffled screams and crying. I knew it was Rhyshladlyn but before I could even get out of bed the sounds were cut off and I heard him moving around before leaving the cabin. I don’t think he realized that he needed to bubble my room as well, probably thought the risk of me hearing him was low given that my room is at the end of the hall from yours. Whichever the reason, I awoke to it and just stepping into the hall in his wake was like being punched in the gut. I found I had trouble breathing. His pain was so intense, to say nothing of his fear.”
Relyt trailed off into silence and Azriel turned his shocked gaze to the hallway and the direction of his and Rhyshladlyn’s shared bedroom where the Qishir was still soaking in the bath he’d drawn after their shower, lightly dozing in the steaming water. How had he missed that he was having nightmares and waking up what was probably every night since they’d gotten here to spend the rest of the dark hours sleepless and alone? Even if Rhyshladlyn had bubbled him, their connection was strong enough that the emotions triggered by the nightmares would have made the bubble moot. But then again, this was Rhyshladlyn, and if anyone could get around how something would magickally react it would be him.
“Fuck,” Azriel hissed, setting his empty coffee mug on the counter with a heavier thud than he intended, reaching up to scrub at his face with his hands.
“I found him sitting on one of the larger boulders next to the lake,” Relyt continued as though he’d never stopped speaking, as though Azriel hadn’t spoken, something the Anglëtinean was secretly thankful for. “I talked about my homeland, why I have the tattoos I do, why I have this jewel on my forehead, why I left. And… I called him out on not referring to himself in his own head by his name since we left Fènwa.”
Azriel dropped his hands and leveled a sharp look at the Soul Healer who, to his credit, didn’t even seem phased by it.
“He was shocked that I knew something not even his Others were aware of, but it’s part of my heritage. I can read the Self, I know what ails it, I have to so I can Heal it. But he hasn’t been sleeping, Azriel, and it shows. Not on his body or in his movements or his speech, but in his Self. It darkens the edges like shadows lengthening in a room as the sun sets, only these shadows are darker than they should be,” he let out a mirthless chuckle. “I may have called him out on the fact that his “reasons”,” Azriel snorted when the Soul Healer actually lifted his fingers to make the air quotes Azriel could easily hear, “for not Oathing us were a farce, something for him to hide behind rather than admit to his fear, that we were targeted from the moment we defended him, us being qahllynshæ to him be damned. I told him we’re not weak, we don’t need protecting anymore than he does–”
“–bet he just loved that,” Azriel cut in with a grin.
Relyt snorted, hard. “Not remotely. But I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now, whether he liked it or not. He’s limiting us because he’s allowing his fear to guide his actions and that has a higher chance of killing us all than him Oathing us does,” Relyt shook his head, a bemused smile tilting one corner of his mouth, fingers curling over the edge of the counter as he leaned back against it. “What seemed to trouble him the most was that by not acknowledging that he’s my Key and working with that bond, I’m limited in my abilities because without my Key, my full potential remains locked. He cares more for our well being and safety than his own and while that is admirable in some aspects, in this, it’s a murder-suicide situation.”
Azriel nodded, slow and shocked, eyes staring past Relyt at the dark wood of the cabinets without really seeing them. “Because if he falls, we fall, and vice versa.”
“Exactly!” Relyt agreed. “I was so afraid when I heard his war cries, felt his power scatter the Currents, earlier,” his voice subdued with the recalled worry and fear he’d felt. “He was at the lake again and I had taken a walk through the woods, thinking to check the perimeter because something was tickling the back of my neck like we were being watched. I came across one of the smaller camps before he was set upon. I didn’t even have a chance to warn him and it wouldn’t have mattered if I had, my voice wouldn’t have carried that far. I was ten miles into the forest proper, after all. Had we been Oathed?” Relyt shook his head, voice failing him.
“We all could have communicated silently without needing to use our voices or sign like he and I did on the beach. We’d have known exactly where each other was, what we needed, and been able to set up an energy loop to keep up our endurance as long as needed,” Azriel answered the rhetorical question, letting out a shaky breath as he ran a hand through his hair and shook his head before turning so he stood with his back to the counter, arms crossed over his chest.
Relyt made a noise of agreement before they lapsed off into silence again.
Rhyshladlyn had his reasons for not wanting to Oath them and Azriel couldn’t really fault him for them, but had he not been around, they wouldn’t have been able to find Relyt because while Rhyshladlyn was able to sense where they were he couldn’t throw his awareness out and find them like Azriel could with Relyt. The Anglëtinean was only able to do that solely because they were both qahllyn and it created a bond that was nearly as strong as the one made by the Blood Oath between a Qishir and their qahllynshæ. Granted, Rhyshladlyn could find Azriel if he were close enough, but he would only get a general idea, not an exact location like Azriel could with him. So they were at a greater risk unOathed than they were Oathed and Rhyshladlyn had to realize that he couldn’t leave their qahllyn unAnswered much longer. No doubt the pain of ignoring it for as long as he had since becoming fully aware of it was distracting at the very least; before long it would be agonizing then debilitating. And if it reached that point? Giving themselves up to Anislanzir would be far less painful of an end than what would greet them if Rhyshladlyn became debilitated by the pain of ignoring a qahllyn for too long.
“What are we going to do now?” Azriel asked for no other reason than to distract himself from his thoughts.
“We run and pray that we find somewhere safe to hole up until his Majesty can get himself together. And we can keep preparing for the war that is no doubt breaking out around us,” Relyt answered.
“Would it not be better to simply dig in deeper here? To dispose of the tavern keeper and then fortify this cabin rather than to run?” Azriel gestured around them to indicate everything. “After all, if we remove from the equation anyone who has knowledge of this cabin’s location we are undetected again.”
“That is a valid point, but if Anislanzir sent those Dhaoine to attack us, then he knows the location of this cabin and will send more here, if he hasn’t already.”
“We could always just move the cabin,” Nhulynolyn said, popping up in the center of the sitting room making Azriel and Relyt both jump and materialize their weapons before they realized who it was. “Whoa!” Nhulynolyn held up his hands, stumbling back a step. “Peace, you two.”
“There’s a fucking door you could have used,” Azriel grumbled, stowing his sword, Relyt doing the same beside him. He turned to pour himself another cup of coffee, dumping a finger of ale into it just for good measure. Something told him he would need it later.
Nhulynolyn made a noncommittal sound as he moved around the island counter and into the kitchen, grabbing up some bread and jam and other items to make a sandwich. “I’m sorry. I threw my intentions out to you both but it would seem that my twin has locked down the cabin so that nothing magickal gets in so you didn’t get my warning.”
“Did you and Shadi find the tavern owner?” Relyt asked, watching as Nhulynolyn took a hearty bite of his sandwich and put the items he’d used back one handed.
The Other nodded. “Aye, Shadi is currently doing clean up. I came back to let Rhys know what was doing before I headed back out. We ended up with a situation we weren’t prepared for, but we took care of it without a problem.”
Azriel narrowed his eyes, taking a large swallow of his ale-spiked coffee. “Situation?” He prompted when the Other wasn’t any more forthcoming with information which wasn’t too uncommon. Rhyshladlyn’s Others were obligated to share information with their kè and only him. Azriel and Relyt often had to poke for answers to questions or ask Rhyshladlyn himself. It wasn’t that the Others were being purposefully obtuse or withholding out of rudeness or anything of the like, more that they just didn’t consider sharing with anyone but Rhyshladlyn.
Finishing the last of his sandwich, his Qishir’s twin nodded. “Yup,” he made the “p” pop, “we had to burn down the entire town,” he concluded before turning and heading towards the bathroom where Azriel felt Rhyshladlyn waking up, having sensed Nhulynolyn’s return. He threw a wave over his shoulder, “I’ll catch you two later, gotta give my report quick like before Shadi comes hunting for me.” And with that he was gone down the hallway.
“They burned down the…” Azriel blinked rapidly. “Of course they burned down the town. That is the most obvious response to anything. Gods have mercy,” Azriel muttered, downing the rest of his spiked coffee before he thunked the mug back onto the counter. “What has my life become?”
“I wish I had the answer,” Relyt concurred, sounding just as gobsmacked as Azriel.
At least it’s never boring, Azriel thought sardonically before pushing off the counter and heading towards the bedroom to pitch the cabin moving idea to Rhyshladlyn if Nhulynolyn hadn’t already. Because if Nhulynolyn and Shadiranamen had burned the entire town to the ground, they now had an added dollop of shit to deal with on top of the potential continued influx of enemies sent by the Lord King and probably the Queen of the Ancients. So the faster they got moving, the safer they would be.
Or so Azriel hoped.