It was just another morning, like any they had had before: Azriel was going through his dances with Rhyshladlyn, now practicing in earnest given how swiftly the Qishir had recovered from his brief coma while Relyt sat on the porch in what was by now his usual rocking chair sipping at his black tea as he watched them. The wards were quiet, the Shields were humming as softly as always, and the Barriers were a shimmer that he only ever caught out of the corner of his eye when he wasn’t trying to find it. But despite everything appearing normal, Relyt couldn’t shake this sense of foreboding as his anxiety spiked and got his blood pumping faster in his veins, set his wings to itching with the need for him to spread them and take flight which should not be necessary as he had flown just last night and shouldn’t need to for several days yet. He hadn’t missed his needing time, he had made proper manners at the new moon which had passed not three days ago. So what was causing his gut to flip and churn unpleasantly and his muscles to tense and relax at the oddest of intervals?
Sure it was just two days from the Harvest, from when Rhyshladlyn had planned to Oath him and Azriel properly, and while he was nervous about that it wasn’t enough to cause this edgy feeling to have crept into his jaw and make him grind his teeth to try and alleviate it.
“Something is wrong,” he called out to Azriel and Rhyshladlyn who promptly stopped moving and looked at him with identical expression of confusion. “Something is wrong,” he repeated, opening the door between the three of them so they could feel what he was and he watched as Azriel’s face clouded over with further confusion but Rhyshladlyn’s face did something all together different. It went flat and expressionless, as though he were carved of stone. It was something the Soul Healer had seen Azriel, something that those who had lived over a millennia were capable of. But Rhyshladlyn had not even reached a century and shouldn’t have had that ability, at least not perfected to such a degree.
“Qishir?” He inquired, standing up from his chair just as Nhulynolyn and Shadiranamen appeared at the edge of the clearing just outside the tree line. Rhyshladlyn stiffened before he slowly turned to face his Others before taking even, measured steps towards them. Azriel remained where he was, knowing that following Rhyshladlyn would only result in him sending the Anglëtinean right back to where he’d been. If the Qishir didn’t instruct one to follow him when conversing with his Others, one did not take it upon themselves to do so. Relyt shared a look with Azriel, raising one eyebrow in question to which the Anglëtinean shrugged by way of reply.
Well at least they were both clueless.
“What?” Rhyshladlyn’s voice whip-cracked across the clearing and Relyt flinched, unable to help it. Nhulynolyn was saying something and Rhyshladlyn’s back rippled just before his wings exploded out from between his shoulder blades, sending a shower of golden dust in every direction. Those great appendages flapped once then settled partially extended, feathers bristling, the light of the early morning sun glinting off the grey tips, the red far more noticeable in the light of day than it was in any other light, the black looking more of a backdrop than the predominant color. “What in the fuck do you mean my siblings are here?”
By the Many…
Azriel cursed low and rumbling in Anglë’lylel, something that always caught Relyt off guard as the language of the Anglë race was usually so melodious and beautiful that it was often hard to believe that they had curses and slurs just like any of the other races did. Most of the time it was comical to hear Azriel curse in his native tongue, but now wasn’t one of those times.
Shadiranamen gestured at the cabin in a way that made Relyt think she was indicating they should be inside or at least on the porch rather than shouting so close to the trees. Rhyshladlyn’s wings flared out to their full span and Relyt marveled at how well they had healed since he had encountered him nearly half a year ago in a dirty back alley in Shiran City, one foot in the River and desperately staring at the After with the other mangled beyond usability kicking at the dirty cobblestones beneath his broken, dying body. Had it been anyone but Rhyshladlyn, Relyt would have pronounced the wings unsalvageable and done his best to Heal them enough to keep the owner alive but would have worked no further; as it was, even having heard the stories of how powerful the Qishir was, Relyt had almost not bothered to try and save his wings yet he had and thank the gods he did.
But now, after so long since that fateful day? Had he not been present to see the damage first hand, felt it himself as he Healed it, Relyt would not believe it possible that every bone in those great wings had been broken, the ligaments torn, and muscles detached from the broken bones. Because they were gorgeous and strong and spoke of the nearly immeasurable strength of their owner.
He often felt jealous of the Qishir’s, and to a degree Azriel’s, bold multi-colored and -toned wings but he understood that even though his were merely one color they were not just grey. They were every shade of grey: from the deepest metal grey that looked black to the lightest mist grey that looked white and everything in between. They didn’t reflect those shifting shades like his eyes did, but they moved in a color wash pattern with the darkest grey being the downy feathers at the base of his wings and the lightest grey being at the very tips of every feather, as though the further from his body his feathers grew, the more they became bleached of color.
It was something that had fascinated Rhyshladlyn to no end when he’d finally gotten the opportunity to inspect the Soul Healer’s wings as thoroughly as Relyt had inspected the Qishir’s. He had been so fascinated that Relyt had found a feather that had each shade on it in order from dark to light and handed it to the Qishir who promptly tried to hand it back.
“No, my Qishir, keep it. It is a gift and one I do not give lightly nor without knowing its significance and its meaning,” his voice was soft, barely above a whisper, but he knew the Qishir heard him regardless.
“Where would I even put it?” Rhyshladlyn asked, long thin fingers playing over the feather in his hand, fingertips tracing where each shade of grey bled into the next while those expressive orange-amber eyes stared down at the feather in his hands with a look of awe and shock.
“That is something I cannot answer, Rhyshladlyn,” Relyt replied.
The Qishir hummed his response, lost in thought. Relyt didn’t know where he had placed it until the following morning when Azriel had told Rhyshladlyn to bring out his swords, that they were going to move on to learning the fighting dances with weapons. And when Rhyshladlyn had pulled Mallacht from its scabbard that’s when Relyt had noticed the feather hanging from the obsidian blade’s hilt and his breath had caught. When he’d asked why the Qishir had chosen that location for his feather Rhyshladlyn had just smiled in a way that Relyt had never had directed at him before, only ever seen directed at Azriel.
“To remind me that even curses can be blessings.”
He shook himself from the memory to find Rhyshladlyn motioning for Nhulynolyn and Shadiranamen to lead the way towards the cabin, the action clipped and full of upset. Relyt opened the door and moved towards the kitchen, setting a kettle to boil for more tea and a separate pot for coffee. He also pulled the ale from the cabinet because he had no doubt that Rhyshladlyn would need it if his words were anything to go by. While he was pulling down mugs Azriel stepped up beside him, hand coming to rest at his lower back in a move that Relyt had come to learn was akin to any other race putting their hand on one’s shoulder; it didn’t mean anything nearly as romantic to the Anglëtinean as it would to the Soul Healer.
“Oh good, you already grabbed the ale out. Do we have any mead, though? I think this conversation may require something stronger than ale,” Azriel commented, opening cabinets as he spoke to pull down plates for food while Rhyshladlyn continued conversing with his Others while they sat in the sitting area. Relyt couldn’t catch more than two words out of ten and he didn’t bother trying to catch any more. The last thing he needed was Rhyshladlyn to turn whatever ire was awoken by learning his siblings had somehow gotten at the very least to Shaozae Province directed at Relyt instead. Then they would both feel bad and that would solve nothing.
“No,” he denied. “I think the strongest thing we have is Ysborogh but that will not sit well in coffee, or tea for that matter, and we don’t wish to drink it by itself.”
“You’re right because then we’d all be drunk far quicker than is smart right now. Especially if the twins truly are here because they betrayed Rhys and are working for that ball gurgler of a “king” or because they found us somehow on their own and are trying to help Rhys rather than their father,” Azriel added with a heavy sigh, pushing a hand through his hair in a clear sign of agitation that he didn’t often show.
Relyt snorted in a manner he was certain was undignified at the ‘ball gurgler’ description of the Lord King but he found he didn’t really care.
“Fair enough. I’ll add two fingers of ale to all glasses to make up for the lack of anything stronger,” Relyt told him while Azriel busied himself making sandwiches. Relyt moved around him to grab up some sliced apples and purple grapes to add to the plates while he waited for the tea and coffee to finish brewing. “Do you think they betrayed him like Azhuri did?” he asked, unable to hold the question in any longer.
Azriel let out a low snarling breath of a sound.
“For everyone’s sake I hope they didn’t betray him and that they never do. Azhuri was bad enough, she was never truly all that close to him. But Anis and Alaïs? He willingly allowed that bastard of a male to rape him to spare his sister and he would goad Anislanzir into a fight with him, into beating him whenever that,” he made a hand gesture too fast for Relyt to catch while his voice made a sound like what Relyt would imagine a singing bowl would as it shattered against a stone wall, “would get it in his head that he wanted to go after his true heir like he did his back up.” Azriel paused making sandwiches and gripped the edge of the counter with enough force that Relyt could hear the marble and the wood that supported it groan in emphatic protest. “I fear what would become of the Worlds if that kind of betrayal were ever to happen to him. Because if what he did to Azhuri is any indication, our Qishir holds a power that I believe would give even the gods a difficult time trying to control.”
And with that Azriel grabbed up two plates and floated the other three at his sides and walked back to the sitting area, setting the plates down on the low table just as the kettle whistled sharply and the timer for the coffee dinged like it was pleased to have served a purpose. Letting out a long, heavy breath, Relyt turned and busied himself shutting off the burners and removing the kettle and pot before waving his hand absently at the timer to shut it off. He moved on auto pilot while he filled the mugs with tea and coffee and mixed two fingers of ale into each, adding a third for his Qishir just for good measure, before setting them all on a tray along with extra sugar cubes, salt, lemons, and milk before hefting it onto a shoulder, one hand pressed flat to the underside to balance it and walked over to join his family where they sat on the various couches and chairs around the low table.
Once everyone had their drinks and were digging into their sandwiches and fruit, Relyt turned his gaze to Rhyshladlyn. Orange-amber eyes were hard and unforgiving but he could see past the mask that he wore like a second skin, perfected over nine decades until it was a struggle even for those who knew him well to be able to tell it wasn’t the whole truth, and what he saw there was a fear that made his heart ache. It was the fear of a child that grew up too fast, that never knew what it was like to run and laugh and cry and grow at the pace every child should. A fear that, while not all consuming, was no less powerful. Killing Azhuri was one thing; it was a necessary act to protect not just the Qishir himself, but the two males qahllynshæ to him as well as his siblings.
But to kill his siblings, the ones that he had sacrificed himself for? The ones for whom he had willingly, time and time again, allowed himself to be brutalized and tortured and brought to the edge of the River only to be yanked back over and over? That was something all together different and Relyt found he agreed with Azriel on the matter. If the Qishir ever suffered that kind of betrayal? Relyt honestly wondered if the Worlds would survive the resulting fallout. Because the only thing worse than being faced with the potential need to commit fratricide would be to lose those qahllynshæ to him, Oathed or not. And gods willing neither ever happened.
Many, please, never let that ever happen.