He stood on the riverbank with one hip pressed against a large boulder that was half on the bank half in the water, eyes staring down at the river as it flowed past just fast enough to create music as it moved over and around the rocks that dotted its expanse. The sound was soothing in a way that he hadn’t been entirely prepared for when they had chosen this spot but then again he’d grown up in a desert and the only area of moving water was the Sparkling River that encircled the City but it wasn’t naturally made. It functioned more as a moving moat that discouraged anyone trying to lay siege to the City from attempting to scale the glowing, golden walls so it wasn’t meant to be soothing and calm and beautiful like this natural river that cut a path across the Province and bisected their clearing.
Heaving a sigh, he turned his head and looked over his shoulder at the cabin where it sat surrounded by trees on either side, the soft glow of lanterns and candles filling the windows with a gentle golden hue that reminded him of Shiran City with a pang of homesickness that shocked him to the core. That wasn’t his home, had never truly been his home. Not like the cabin was. He had simply been conceived, birthed, and raised in Shiran City; molded to be a scapegoat and a plaything, expendable and once used, tossed aside like trash. Swallowing hard against the feeling of bile rising in his throat, he pulled his gaze from the cabin and back to the river.
He was supposed to Oath Azriel and Relyt within twenty-four hours’ time but he felt nothing but a sinking feeling in his stomach at the thought. It was no longer the right time. There was too much going on now with the reappearance of his secondary wings, Xheshmaryú, and his plan for creating a blight of this place once the Ceremony was completed wasn’t finalized. There were too many variables and it worried him on a level he couldn’t get past. Plus he was still wobbly, still recovering first from his coma of sorts and now his wings’ reemergence and there was just no way he was ready to perform the magick to Oath his males to him and then perform a Major Working immediately after. Not if he had any hope, or want for that matter, to survive it.
Rolling his shoulders he extended only his secondary set of wings, flapping them once with a shuddering breath before letting them settle against his back. He’d had them back for less than a day and it felt as though he’d had them his entire life and it concerned him. He didn’t know what to do with them besides work at controlling them like he could his primary set, extending them and stretching them, trying to build up to sparring level within a matter of hours because there was no way he would be able to keep his wings contained while fighting off the hordes Anislanzir had no doubt amassed to throw at him the second his location was made known.
“There’s just no way this can be done,” he muttered to the singing river in front of him, slipping his hands into the pockets of his breeches, shoulders hunched as he shifted those shadow-colored wings so they wrapped around him, the tips pointing at the river, the moonlight and glow from the lights in the cabin highlighting the blacks, deep blues, rich purples, greys, and crimson shades that combined made his feathers look like twilight made flesh. He admired them with a sharp-edged sort of wistfulness. They had always been his favorite, even though they were not the primary set he wondered often if they should have been, if they would have been had Nhulynolyn not been absorbed as an Other and taken the sets that would have belonged to him. Though part of him knew that that was ridiculous. Nhulynolyn still had his wings even if he did his best to keep them contained and that none of the eight he had originally had were anyone else’s but his. “Not so soon, not right now. None of us will come out of it alive,” he whispered as he ran his fingertips over the feathers, chest tight with memories and what ifs and a thousand things not fully formed enough to give names to.
“You know you should really work at not talking to yourself.”
Rhyshladlyn’s wings flared out wide with a snap that sent a gust of wind swirling out around him, kicking up dust and dirt as he twisted around to see Xheshmaryú standing with his hands held up to show he was unarmed and meant only peace, violet eyes filled with a dancing mirth that reminded the Qishir of Azriel when the Anglëtinean was afforded the ability to actually relax and laugh. He looked remarkably unruffled for someone who startled a Qishir enough for his power to blast out in a warning like that. It was uncanny and made Rhyshladlyn wonder what would get a reaction besides mirth and mischievous grins out of the Other.
“And you should really work at not sneaking up on someone having a private moment,” he hissed, eyes narrowed before he looked back at the river, gaze sliding beyond it to the tree line several yards away.
“Forgive me, kè,” the Other murmured and he didn’t have to look to know the Nochresi had included a respectful bow of his head with the words. “This one was not aware that you were wishing to be left alone.”
He huffed a breath that displaced his fringe and set the auburn locks tumbling into his eyes where he brushed them briskly away.
“I apologize for my snappishness, Xhesh, I am tired and trying to figure a way to explain to my males that the Oathing Ceremony cannot go on tomorrow night as previously planned.” It wasn’t the whole of what he was actually pondering but it was close enough. The rest of it could remain between himself and his Patrons.
“Ahh,” was the reply as Xheshmaryú came to stand beside him, hair glowing like spun moonlight. “They will be displeased by the news, I take it.”
It wasn’t a question but Rhyshladlyn replied as though it were.
“Aye, mostly because they believe that I will be stronger for having them Oathed. And to a degree they are correct in that, but at the same time I will also be weakened.” He shook his head, a fond yet exasperated smile tugging at his lips. “They do not possess the knowledge I do, so they only have the lore and the information they can find in tomes and research libraries and nothing else to go on regarding being Accepted and Oathed with it. And the truth of what a Blood Oath between a qahllynshæ and their Qishir actually is isn’t written down anywhere. It is only known by Qishir, and instinctively at that.”
“And naturally that information is never passed beyond those individuals involved because it is like a guarded secret, one that is known but not known,” the Other observed, voice lilting at the end as though he was asking a question but it wasn’t fully formed.
Rhyshladlyn nodded as one hand cut through the air in a frustrated arc. “Yes! Exactly!” He chuckled, low and soft. “They mean well, I know this, but Nameless prevail me, they are so frustrating.”
Xheshmaryú hummed. “So, why would they be so upset if you told them the Oathing is to be postponed? Is it not to be done at your discretion and leisure and not theirs?”
The Qishir lifted his hands and rubbed at his eyes before sucking his bottom lip between his teeth before he dropped his hands and stared off into the middle distance while he replied, wondering why he was confiding all this to an Other he had only met a handful and some hours ago and not to his males or his would-be-twin or Shadiranamen.
“They think I am not treating them as the equals they are, that I am trying to shoulder the responsibility of defeating my father all on my own, that I am risking my own life in a foolish endeavor to keep them alive and safe,” he rolled his eyes, “there’s more but it’s circular arguments and don’t need repeating.” He trailed off, twitching his wings before letting them settle against his back, the feathers cooling him even as they left heat in the wake of where they brushed the bare skin of his back. “And while I understand some of where they are coming from, I think they are being just as foolish and stubborn as I am, only I have reasons to be that are backed by proof whereas they are just seemingly throwing tantrums.”
Xheshmaryú’s eyebrows climbed towards his hairline. “But qahllynshæ are not equals to the Qishir to whom they bend knee and offer their wrist. If they were, there would be no need for a qahllyn and the Oaths to begin with,” the Other told him with a frown that made his rugged features twist in a way that did nothing for aiding in their handsomeness.
Rhyshladlyn shook his head. “That is archaic, Xhesh, and I do not operate that way.”
“I will overlook the fact that you just politely implied that I am old,” Xheshmaryú joked with a self-satisfied grin like he had just made the best joke in the Worlds.
“My point remains, however,” Rhyshladlyn continued with a roll of his eyes at the Other’s attempted joke. “The idea that I am better than them by virtue of me being a Qishir and they qahllynshæ is asinine and unfair and I cannot stomach the thought of treating anyone that way. I grew up that way, I was raised that way. Even as a male in a patriarchal race, I was treated as lesser because I was second born, because I took after my non-Sinner birther in appearance more than my esteemed pureblood Sinner father, because I was not as smart or as fast as my older brother. I was constantly judged and found wanting and it was a nightmare on top of everything else I was forced to deal with. But you know that, you share my memories,” Xheshmaryú waved his hand flippantly and Rhyshladlyn snorted before speaking again, voice softer, eyes once more locked on the cabin behind him, head turned so he could look over his shoulder at where he could see Azriel and Relyt moving about the main area, trying to clean up the mess left in the wake of Rhyshladlyn’s wings reemerging. “I cannot, I shall not, treat anyone like I was treated. I am not above anyone, ever, no matter how much more powerful I am than they, no matter how greatly I surpass them in skill and knowledge. I am equal especially to those who would willingly bend knee and offer their wrist and take from mine.”
Xheshmaryú was silent for several minutes while he watched Rhyshladlyn observe his males moving about in the cabin, chatting with Nhulynolyn who was still finishing up making food and Shadiranamen who had moved on to helping with the rest of the cleanup now that the window glass had been picked up.
“Kè?” the Other inquired eventually and Rhyshladlyn turned to look at him, head tilted to the side. “May I suggest then that if you feel that way about your connection to them, about the hierarchy of qahllyn to Qishir, if you love them as much as I can feel that you do, perhaps simply sit down and explain exactly that to them? Do not make decisions for them, make decisions with them. Say why you do not feel Oathing them tomorrow night is doable and why and go from there. Communication does wonders, even if it can be difficult to accomplish at times.”
Rhyshladlyn smiled. “You are very wise, Xhesh. Thank you.”
The Other inclined his head with a smile of his own, violet eyes twinkling with an emotion Rhyshladlyn couldn’t name exactly. “I would not go so far as to say that, my kè, but my gratitude at your kind words nonetheless. And I am happy to aid you in any way I may.”
“Well,” Rhyshladlyn said, rubbing his hands together as he stowed his wings and turned to face the cabin fully, “care to join me while I go break the news to them?”
“Gladly. Especially since we need to also discuss what is to be done about your wings,” Xheshmaryú replied, falling into step beside the Qishir as he started walking back towards the cabin.
Rhyshladlyn groaned. “Fuck, why did you have to remind me?”
“Because I am asshole. You’ll catch on to that eventually,” was the easy response and the Qishir threw back his head and laughed.
“Delightful, just what I needed, another asshole Other. Nully will be so thrilled to have a partner in crime.”
Xheshmaryú’s laughter joined his as they climbed the stairs to the cabin and Rhyshladlyn felt far less apprehensive about the conversation to come.
If only that was applicable to everything else. But that would make things too easy and gods only knew that his life was never going to be easy.