Rhyshladlyn lurched to his feet from the stool he’d been sitting on, hands pushing through his hair, raking it back from his face as he paced towards the front door of the cabin and stopped, back to the room. For all his wisdom, Xheshmaryú had overlooked that the Qishir was a Dhaoine that was far younger than anyone else in the cabin despite his power exceeding that of anyone else by leaps and bounds. No matter his strength, no matter the reach of his abilities, no matter the depth of his scars, no matter the battles he’d fought and won, he was still a child in comparison to both his males and his Others, all save Nhulynolyn, and it rankled a bit. The realization that he was being regarded as someone inferior, even if in age only, and thus not taken as seriously as he would have been had his age been a closer match to theirs, bit in a way he didn’t appreciate.
So fucking what that he was only 91 namedays old in comparison to thousands, hundreds? That shouldn’t mean shit. Age didn’t determine intelligence and experience, it merely determined how long one had walked the Worlds. The female who had birthed him had been several hundreds of years old and he had endured more in the first twenty of his namedays than she had in hers. Age meant nothing whereas experience meant everything. And since he spoke that Deathbed Prophecy and Azhuriel had come to him, since he met all of his Patrons, since he had died even if only briefly, Rhyshladlyn was far more experienced than anyone in the cabin combined and fuck him if it didn’t piss him off that he was treated like his age mattered more.
“I don’t get what is upsetting you now, Rhys,” Azriel was saying but he barely heard him. “We need to be Oathed to protect all of us and waiting risks the failure of that.”
The Qishir dropped his hands to his sides and let out a sound that was part sigh, part snort that slipped and slid along the walls and the floor, chittering among the shadows that shifted in places shadows shouldn’t be given the placement of the lanterns and the candles throughout the main area and the kitchen.
“What is upsetting me, Azriel,” he retorted, cutting in as the Anglëtinean began to speak further, “is that you are speaking to me as though I have no say in the when of you and Relyt being Oathed when in all actuality I do have a say. In fact, if I were to follow in the footsteps of every Qishir who have come before me, I would have sole say and what you and Relyt thought would mean as much as Anislanzir’s siring of me.”
He didn’t turn around to see the look on Azriel’s face but he didn’t need to. He could feel the look of shock as though it were on his own face, could feel the confusion and the soft hiss of hurt that flashed along the Anglëtinean’s nerves as though for a fraction of a second the male believed that Rhyshladlyn capable of treating anyone as though they were inferior solely because he was born to the Qishir caste and race where they were not before it was gone as quickly as it came. He could sense Relyt’s unease as the Soul Healer’s muscles tightened as though preparing for a fight only to relax seconds later. And on the tail end of all that the guilt rose up from the depths it had sunk to, making his chest tight and his lungs burn and his eyes feel too dry and far too wet all at once and he hated feeling like this. Hated that he was exhausted and that no amount of sleep would cure it, that he was snapping at those who loved him and wanted nothing more than to keep him safe. But as long as his males refused to grasp the enormity of what he had to accomplish with their Oathing, he would likely continue to snap at them because trying to converse like a civilized adult apparently was getting them absolutely nowhere.
“I’m sorry, Az,” he murmured into the silence with a sigh, eyes falling closed. “But you have to stop speaking to me as though I do not have knowledge that is superior to the research you and Rel have conducted on the Oathing Ceremony and what it means to be Blood Oathed to a Qishir to whom you are qahllyn. You have to start remembering that I am equal to you in experience both on the battle field and in the political workings of a Court. That while I may have been sheltered in the boundaries of Shiraniqi Desert until our escape from Shiran City, I am not ignorant of other races and their cultures. That just because I am the youngest here short of Nully I am not childish and acting irrationally regarding everything.”
“I know all of that, Rhys!” Azriel bit back at him sounding defensive and Rhyshladlyn gave a minute shake of his head, eyes still closed against the dull ache of a migraine that was beginning to throb behind his right eye, lips quirked in a mirthless half-smile.
“Yes, of course you do, Az. But as you once told me, ‘knowing it and hearing/doing it are two very different things,'” he told him before letting out a deep breath.
“Well, to be entirely fair you have not always acted like the matured Dhaoine you like to think yourself to be, my Qishir,” Azriel retorted and Rhyshladlyn stiffened.
“Why don’t we all take a breath,” Relyt interrupted them before Rhyshladlyn could respond with something they’d all regret, voice even as the calm spring breeze of the Soul Healer’s power gently touched against his own, soothing the edges of hurt and annoyance that had fluffed every one of his feathers even if his wings were hidden from view. Taking in a deep breath, Rhyshladlyn let it out and heard Azriel do the same behind him. “There, that’s better. Now, Rhys says he cannot do the Oathing tomorrow night as we had originally planned because he is weakened by the emergence of his secondary wings so soon after recovering from his severe exhaustion. Plus, he refuses to perform the Ceremony without being able to pull his trap immediately afterwards which at present he cannot do. Am I correct in all this, my Qishir?”
“And Azriel makes the point that we do not need to spring the trap now, but can rather wait until later, perhaps set up a mirror so that while we perform the ceremony here it projects that it is being done elsewhere. He also says that regardless of how we respond to the Lord King’s onslaught following the Ceremony that said Ceremony needs must happen in order to keep the three of us safe to the utmost of possibility. Correct?”
“Aye,” Azriel answered.
“So, where is the middle ground?” Relyt inquired, voice holding the tone Rhyshladlyn had often heard from his tutors growing up; one that said they were missing a crucial point and it was so incredibly obvious that when they did figure it out they were going to be rather upset with themselves for missing it.
It was a tone just this side of patronizing and Rhyshladlyn wanted to growl at it but he couldn’t because it wasn’t as though the Soul Healer were wrong.
“I have a suggestion,” Nhulynolyn said and Rhyshladlyn turned around to look at his twin who looked the most serious he’d seen him aside from the night his powers as a Qishir had awoken so violently. “I suggest that we wait until the Festival of the Flesh. That day holds several levels of importance to it: that’s the day Rhys and I were born, it is the day that Rhys came into his powers as a Qishir, it is also the day Azriel realized he was qahllyn to my twin and they first coupled. If any day should be used for this Ceremony it should be that one. Also, that gives us all at least three more months to plan and train and prepare. Anislanzir ain’t goin’ anywhere and he sure as fuck doesn’t know we’re here. Anny and Al, while still gallivantin’ around in town, haven’t caught on to who I am anymore’n they have to who/what Shadi is, so we’re good on that front. We’ve got the time, may as well not rush shit.”
“Especially since when anything is rushed where Rhyshladlyn is concerned things tend to get rather… screwy,” Shadiranamen added from where she leaned against the counter by the coldbox, arms crossed under her breasts, careful to keep her teeth from showing while she spoke.
“Fair enough,” he acknowledged before looking at Azriel who was looking at the floor, eyebrows pulled down as he frowned without actually doing it. A clear sign he was upset. It took everything in him not to roll his eyes. “What is it, Az?” he asked, proud of himself for how steady his voice sounded.
Relyt shot him a narrowed eyed look that spoke to the contrary of that and he shrugged one shoulder, at least I tried, and the Soul Healer rolled his eyes at him hard enough that Rhyshladlyn’s own ached in sympathy.
“We keep putting this off…” he started and stopped, sucking his lower lip between his teeth, one fang hooking on it before he blew out a breath and raised his mismatched eyes to Rhyshladlyn who raised an eyebrow. Because clearly he was clueless right now as to where exactly the Anglëtinean was going with his initial attempt at an answer. “Do you truly want to Oath us?”
Well fuck. I wasn’t expecting that.
*By the Shadows, I need to take some of my intelligence points back,* Xheshmaryú remarked across their link and Rhyshladlyn had to fight to keep from snickering in response.
*Right?* Nhulynolyn was busy giving Azriel a look of pure disbelief, open and mocking with it even, not that Azriel was readily aware of it given his back was to the Other. *I figured he was far smarter than that. Shit.*
Hush, all of you. I’m too tired to control my expressions right now. “Yes. I wouldn’t have bothered granting Acceptance if my logical conclusion wasn’t to Oath you two as well. Why?” Rhyshladlyn managed to keep from adding, obviously, but it was difficult.
“I just… this keeps being put off and put off and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just coincidence–”
“–of which you believe there is no such thing–”
“–that bothers you as much as it does us or if you are grateful you don’t have to make excuses because you cannot tell us, ‘no,'” Azriel finished as though Rhyshladlyn hadn’t interrupted him.
Rhyshladlyn pressed the heel of his left hand against his sternum, wondering at the peculiar twinge that had pinged against his chest at the Anglëtinean’s words.
“Azriel…” he sucked at his top teeth with the tip of his tongue before he shook his head and averted his eyes from the male. “I don’t think you quite understand the predicament I am in. There is no possible way that I can Oath either you or Relyt and not have every single Dhaoine in the Worlds know the second the Ceremony is completed. Normally Qishir Oath Court members one at a time. As in, one person per Ceremony. On the occasion, they will Oath individual members back to back during the same Ceremony provided the qahllyn agree to share the Ceremony and even then the Qishir often won’t do it. As it is, I am hunted by two different races, shunned by two other races, and am in hiding so when I do Oath you both, and I will Oath you, I must have you take from my wrist at the same time. Because the second the Bond is set, there is a chance we will be engaged in battle. I must be able to blink you both out of the immediate area, fighting off I cannot say how many combatants, while prepping a Major Working, set it off, survive it, and all while solidifying the Oath between the three of us so that you both do not die.”
“Wait — die? How could we possibly… I am confused,” Relyt interjected.
Rhyshladlyn leveled a look he knew had to be as exasperated as he felt because this was one of the key moments when lore and the research libraries and the secrets passed between Qishir and qahllyn branched away from each other and its what he’d been trying to get his stubborn males to realize the entire time if only they were capable of listening.
“If the Bond is not completed, if you both are not kept calm and focused on your Oaths until your signatures have been fully altered, until the tethers between us are solid and unshakable even by Death, then you will both die and will likely take me with you,” he said slowly as though speaking to a fledgling too intent on the I get to fly part of having wings and not the you need to build up the strength first part of having wings. “It’s why I said I cannot do it while on the run, or weakened in any way. It’s also why I need to perform the Major Working of a trap that makes a blight of the land around me; to send a message that while the Eighth Qishir may grant allowances to Anislanzir as he blatantly attacks a Qishir, I will not. That any attack on me and mine will be seen for what it is — an act of war, one that I will meet head on and win. And to do that, I cannot be weakened because my focus has to be split between several different fronts.”
“Will you be vulnerable during the completion process?” Xheshmaryú asked, violet eyes holding a spark of understanding that Rhyshladlyn was happy to see if only because it meant one of them had started to grasp the enormity of what he was going to have to accomplish.
“Yes. Extremely so.”
“And not just because your focus will be split in the ways you mentioned,” the Other observed.
“In what other ways would you be vulnerable?” Azriel asked.
He shrugged, “In any manner of ways, Az. I will be gathering energy for a Major Working, finalizing two Blood Oaths, fighting off hundreds of assailants, and making sure that you and Relyt are kept safe in a location that cannot be found until I can get to you both again. All Anislanzir would need to do would be to kill one of you, at any point during or after the Ceremony and the finalization of the Oath, in order to fell me.”
“But having us Oathed is supposed to make you stronger,” Relyt countered.
“And it will, but it also makes you both into a liability, into the perfect weapons to be used against me. I would survive your deaths now with you as nothing more than Accepted, but once Oathed?” he chuckled, the sound dark and as boundless as the sea as it strengthened the shadows that had begun to gather around his feet. “There would be no chance I would recover. I would follow you both into the After. If I am lucky, I may be able to drag whatever, whoever, killed you along with me.”
“One last question: why would every single Dhaoine in the Worlds know when the Oathing is completed? I have never been privy to the moments when any Qishir have Oathed their qahllyn before,” Azriel asked.
Rhyshladlyn lifted his hand and casually pointed at the chair closest to him and the front of the cabin, the one now brown-red with his dried blood. With a twitch of his fingers it was clean and untouched just as it had been before his wings had been gifted back to him. At their startled looks his lips lifted in an unhurried, feral smile.
“Because I am the most powerful Qishir to walk the Worlds since my ancestors built their Cities by hand. My Companion and my Steward are an Anglë touched by two of the most powerful and rare High Ones of his people and a Grey Soul Healer strong enough to Heal death if he truly desired never mind lead a people not often willing to bend knee to any singular individual, preferring instead their council of Elders. There is no possible way that I could keep the Oathing between the three of us private and unknown to the Worlds. Even if any of those things were not the case, I am still mantled by Fate, I am still Marked by the Nameless, the Faceless, and the Soullessly Heartfelt: anything I do will be felt across the Worlds, any act of Will, Intent, or Working will be known for the Currents will carry it and the Lines will thrum with the echoes.”
“But you are also young and one of the few neodrachs born to the Qishir caste that favors his male side. So even if the Oathing was merely felt once completed and anyone encountered you or your males, you would be judged based on your age and gender and likely challenged. Thus you must do something unequivocally terrifying to prevent anyone from issuing you such a challenge,” Xheshmaryú supplied, violet eyes dark in a way that made Rhyshladlyn narrow his own eyes at the Other, wondering what memory made those usually bright eyes so dark.
He didn’t say anything however, merely nodded his head and extended a brush of comfort across their link, his only acknowledgement of the shadow of ill-begotten memories that had slipped across his Other’s face. Xheshmaryú smiled shakily at him in thanks.
For long minutes no one else spoke as everyone processed what he had said and Rhyshladlyn found himself taking everything and everyone in with a sense that he may not get another opportunity to watch them in such relative peace again. And the thought unnerved him, this sense that something big was coming but he didn’t know if it was the final battle between him and his father, Anis and Alaïs finding their cabin and it turning out that they weren’t on his side, or something else entirely. He didn’t like that he had this general feeling of foreboding but could not for the life of him pinpoint where it was coming from or what it heralded.
So while he could, he memorized the way his males looked, sounded; little things like how Azriel breathed by expanding his lungs and Relyt by expanding his chest. He took in how Nhulynolyn regarded the World around him with eyes that were far older than he actually was; the way Shadiranamen looked bored and battle ready simultaneously; the way Xheshmaryú took in everything around him without actually looking around. This was the group that would change the Worlds, this was the start of his Court, those that would help him restore Balance as Fate had intended.
Provided he lived long enough.
“We will be Oathed though?” Azriel inquired eventually and Rhyshladlyn jerked out of his rather morbid thoughts and nodded.
“Yes,” he paused before adding carefully, “but I cannot put a precise date on it.”
“We will be Oathed when it is safest to do so,” Relyt clarified helpfully.
Rhyshladlyn smiled at him and nodded. “Yes, when it is safest to do so.”
“Fine by me,” the Soul Healer turned to Azriel. “What say you?”
“I don’t like waiting for an unknown amount of time,” Azriel sighed. “But I will no longer press the issue. When it happens, it happens.”
“Thank you,” Rhyshladlyn said with a yawn that made his jaw crack and Azriel chuckled.
“We should get you back to bed, Rhys-kyn.”
And just like that, it was decided and the argument over it all ended. Though Rhyshladlyn didn’t doubt he wouldn’t be questioned further in some capacity about the Oathing and why he needed to do the Major Working following it and so forth, but that was preferable to being told that the Oathing would happen as soon as possible, regardless of whether he was physically and metaphysically capable of handling it.
I really need to make a shrine and make manners to my Patrons. We need to have a talk about this bullshit if for no other reason than that Fate needs to calm itself already.
He laid down next to Azriel in their bed to the sound of his Others snickering and Relyt asking in the main room what was so funny all the sudden. Just as he was about to fall asleep Azriel sat up suddenly and blurted, “Relyt is to be Oathed as your Steward?”
The snickering from the main area became boisterous laughter and he snorted hard, opening one eye to stare tiredly at the Anglëtinean. Before he could speak, however, Nhulynolyn took corporeal form just inside the bedroom door.
“For someone as old, wise, and smart as you are, you can be really fuckin’ slow on the uptake sometimes,” and then he was gone again and Rhyshladlyn giggled.
“Fuck you, Nully!” Azriel hollered and Rhyshladlyn closed his eye, curling in against the Anglëtinean’s side as his body shook with laughter.
“Only if y’ask nicely, ya old feather duster!” Nhulynolyn hollered back and Rhyshladlyn’s laughter, genuine and from deep in his chest, rolled out around the room.
Some things never changed.