Azriel stared down at the small mirror in his hand as it vibrated strongly enough that the sound could almost be heard over the conversation in the kitchen where Relyt was instructing Nhulynolyn how to make gheczyk, a traditional meal of meat and vegetables cooked at times of mourning loved ones who had crossed through the Veil. Fear knotted hard and thick in his stomach as he continued to stare down at that mirror. It hadn’t gone off in decades, not since the night Rhyshladlyn’s right arm had been burned. He didn’t want to answer it, wondered how he had even managed to hold on to it, why he had. Ever since —
“Hey, feather duster!” Nhulynolyn called and Azriel jumped like a guilty child caught grabbing treats before dinner as the mirror buzzed louder, making his hands tingle with the force of it. Sending a prayer up for strength, Azriel clamped both hands around it in an effort to drown out the sound.
It worked, but only marginally.
“Aye, Nully,” he replied, pitching his voice to reach out past the bedroom without needing to shout.
“You got anythin’ in mind to prep for when Rhys comes home?” the Other asked.
Yes, but I cannot ignore this call for much longer so what I want to make will have to wait.
“How long until he’s home?”
There was a pause and when Nhulynolyn replied Azriel smiled fondly at the shrug he could hear in the Other’s voice, “Two hours, tops? I dunno. Last I heard he was done with his chat with his Patrons but he’s been kinda silent on the convo front since then and that was a good while back now.”
“No worries, I have some things to take care of in here first but I’ll be done round when Rel has finished making his pieces,” Azriel responded.
Nhulynolyn made rude sexual noises while Relyt’s affronted tone rang out though he couldn’t make out the words and Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú’s laughter joined the mix. Azriel just rolled his eyes and shook his head, that fond smile still in place. This was his family, the ones who chose him to be a part of their lives, not the blood that had denounced him when they saw his eyes and the wings that matched. And with that thought and the increased intensity of the mirror’s shaking in his hands, Azriel’s smile slipped off his face and he glanced at the bedroom door. There was no way he could throw up a privacy ward and not have everyone else feel it and squint suspiciously before coming to investigate. And he could not walk out the front door for a stroll by himself with the damned mirror thrumming away like a trapped and angry bird in his hand because there was also no way he could vanish the thing and not have it scream at him. He’d learned that the hard way once and only once; he’d barely called it back in time to keep the death wail it had given off from alerting anyone else around him to its existence. With another glance around the room as his hands went numb entirely, he spotted the window and sighed with annoyance. Guess I have no other choice. Damn it all.
Crossing the room as silently as possible while carrying an angry, shuddering two-way mirror, Azriel opened the window and looked out. Flying up wasn’t possible as he needed to take off straight up from the ground and the amount of power put behind the downward wing thrust would buffet the cabin and send everyone else outside to investigate. And he didn’t have Rhyshladlyn’s ability to blink from one location to another. So, climbing it was.
I swear, this is the last time I’m answering this mirror. I’m breaking it soon as this call is done. He thought petulantly as he carefully levered himself up and out of the window, mirror carefully held to his chest and away from the side of the cabin as he set his feet and free hand, pushed off with his feet, grabbed for the next log and his hand slipped, missing the mark and he began to fall. Swallowing a curse he put the mirror between his teeth, closing his eyes tightly against the pain the vibrations sent skittering along his teeth and jaw and threw out his left hand, grabbing onto the log at just the last second so he didn’t fall and hit the ground. It was only by sheer luck that he didn’t bodily slam back against the side and alert everyone to his clandestine excursion to the roof. Growling low at the inconvenience of it all, Azriel kept the mirror between his teeth and climbed with the use of both hands, making it to the roof in under a minute.
Once at the roof he swung up and over the edge and landed silently on the shingles. With the balance indicative of his race, he walked easily to the peak where he crouched down on his haunches, pulled the mirror from his teeth, swiped his left thumb across the small reflective surface and barked, “What could you possible want now of all times?” as soon as the caller’s face showed up clearly as the connection solidified.
A huff sounded and he kept the snarl from making it out of his throat but didn’t keep his lips from curling back off his teeth. “Is that any way to speak to your Qishir?” a sweet, high feminine voice said across the line.
Azriel rolled his eyes skyward and stared at the darkening skies. It was almost sunset, the clouds painted in reds, oranges, yellows, and rich deep purples as the sun began to set beyond the tall sand dunes. It was a beautiful sight and he made a mental note to come up here and see it with Rhyshladlyn when he got home before he dropped his gaze back to the sharp faced female staring back at him through the mirror.
“You are not, and never have been, my Qishir, Lulphé,” he bit back, exhausted on a level that he didn’t have words for and they’d barely spoken five sentences to each other.
“Fine,” the Eighth Qishir retorted, “I’m not your Qishir, not like Rhyshladlyn is, but you still owe me respect, Azriel Veratone.”
This time he did let the snarl ring out into the humid, cloying air around him, catching sight of a dust devil as it crested over one of the dunes to the south before it collapsed back into the desert floor.
“I owe you nothing but scars equal to what you dealt upon me, Lulphé,” he snapped, voice low and dark. “So tell me why you deemed now to be the perfect time to contact me when you have been silent for decades?”
Lulphé stared at him with cat-like eyes not unlike his gold one but hers were red, hair just as black as his was only where his was curly hers was straight and fell down her back in artful layers to her waist with a few beads the color of her eyes woven into the strands. Behind her her crimson colored wings arched before flexing once, the feathers fluffed and shaking as those great wings folded against her back. The golden torque that denoted her status in the Worlds circled the top of her forehead, the teardrop garnet jewel she had been gifted upon being named the Eighth Qishir hanging from the point made over her forehead to rest between her eyebrows. She was every bit the epitome of beauty for the Race but gods have mercy did he fucking hate her.
“Because something big is coming, Ri,” she murmured, voice subdued and soft, something it hadn’t been since they were kids and he squinted at her. There was no trusting her or her motives, not after everything she’d done to him.
When she offered nothing else he raised an eyebrow and fought to keep some of his annoyance out of his voice but was sure he failed miserably. “I don’t have much time so if you could just cut the theatrics that would be great. And don’t fuckin’ call me that anymore. You lost that right centuries ago.”
He may have imagined it, but it almost looked like she was hurt by his words. Not that he gave even a sliver of a shit whether she was or not. Gods, I’m starting to sound more and more like Rhys.
“As you wish, Azriel,” she amended with a gracious nod of her head that he knew was all for show. Everything she did was. She didn’t care, she only pretended to and if it was genuine it was only when it suited her best. “But there has been chatter amongst the oracles that something cataclysmic is going to happen and that while it has somewhat to do with the war brewing between the Ancients and the Sinner Demons, it will not be solely a result of that war should it manage to break out.” She trailed off, eyes darting off to the side but it wasn’t an act of being distracted by something off to the side but rather avoidance because for a rare moment she was unable to hide the pure emotion that flashed across her eyes.
He may have only caught a brief glance of it but it was long enough to know she was terrified and that shocked him almost as much as the fact that she had called him at all, especially after that nonsense of his tribunal, of the betrayal of allowing him to be taken away, of ignoring every single report he sent her of what Anislanzir was doing to his children and his people. He had not expected to hear from her ever again. But then again, she always did manage to surprise him.
“Lulphé, what in the names of the High Ones is going on?” he queried, sounding sincere even though he wanted to just hang up on her. He knew the war was going to happen, he knew it was going to involve every last race of the Seven Worlds, and he knew it would last for years if not decades, but he also knew he couldn’t impart that information on her. No one knew just how powerful Rhyshladlyn was let alone how connected he was to the gods or the magickal side of things and he didn’t want to give that away. Not when it could be kept secret long enough to be of some tactical use to them.
When she looked back at him he was almost, almost, homesick. Almost felt a pang of loss for the home he had never actually had, the family by blood he had never gotten live with, grow with, because he had been born with mismatched eyes and wings and even though he was touched by two High Ones the honor of that was not enough to remove the taint of his imperfection. She smiled and it softened her eyes and dulled the sharper edges of her regal face and he knew she had seen his thoughts play out on his face and he scowled, looking away and off into the distance, wondering if he could see Shiran City from here. Where is Rhyshladlyn?
“The Watchtowers have awoken, Azriel,” she whispered and he hissed, gaze jerking back to hers as his hand tightened around the mirror hard enough that he heard the casing whine in protest. “Yes, they are awake and singing, softly, but still loud enough to be heard.”
He cursed long and low, free hand lifting up to wipe the sweat off his face.
“Okay,” he said, dropping his hand to his thigh. “Is that the only reason you called me? Because if so, I’d like to end this conversation and get back to my life. I have better shit to do than talk to you.”
“I know, Azriel,” she replied serenely, seemingly unaffected by his ire and harsh words, but he saw the way the skin at the corner of her eyes twitched that gave away that she wasn’t as unaffected as she attempted so valiantly to appear to be. “I just wanted to warn you that something is coming, I don’t know what, but I want you to be careful, to keep an open eye.”
“Well thank you for that. May I go now?”
She sighed softly and he felt a sharp, quick pang of guilt. It had been over eight hundred years but the pain of the scars that spider-webbed across the leather skin of his lower wings still twinged with the memories of the painful act that brought them into existence and it was something he would never forgive her for, among her other transgressions.. Even if he regretted losing the person he thought she had been, the person she had made everyone think she was, he was better off with things as they were now. Because if they were anything remotely like they used to be, he wouldn’t have lived this long.
“Yes, you may. Please, extend my warning to your Qishir and the rest of your group,” Lulphé said, the barest whisper of pleading woven among the syllables.
“You know very well that I will not do that never mind that I can’t,” he replied and snorted at her look of confusion. “You made it impossible for me to tell them about you. I was sent to Shiran City to investigate Anislanzir, which I did, and I found proof — irrefutable proof — of the atrocities he was committing. I had sworn testimonies, I had hundreds of victims willing to stand before a full tribunal of all the Qishir in the Worlds, never mind that I had the proof in the scars carved into Rhyshladlyn’s back when that fuckin’,” the word he spoke was vicious and guttural, like a discordant note played on an instrument and Lulphé blanched at the epithet, “cut out his wings when he was eight, and you did nothing. Then you ignored every report, every attempt I made to contact you, and when I was made to stand before you as an accused rapist you refused to allow Rhyshladlyn to stand and defend me. So why in the fuck all would I ever pass along anything you say to me to my family?”
Silence spread between them and Azriel realized he was out of breath and that he had probably been shouting and hoped to the gods that it hadn’t been loud enough to draw the attention of Relyt and the rest. It took long moments for Lulphé to close her mouth and the shock to leave her face but guilt, true and pure, replaced it but it wasn’t nearly enough to make him consider forgiving her.
“Azriel, I am… I am so sorry for all of that, for everything, but I couldn’t risk a war and acting on any of your reports, allowing Rhyshladlyn to stand up at your tribunal, would have brought that about.”
“Sorry isn’t fuckin’ good enough,” he thundered, voice low enough that when it rumbled out the glass in the mirror hummed and whined, the register of his voice deep enough that it was a threat to the mirror’s ability to remain unbroken.
“I know,” she murmured, those crimson eyes dropping to look at her lap before she closed them and took a deep breath. “But it is all I have to give. I cannot rewind time and go back and undo what has been done though gods alone know the truth of it when I say I wish I could.”
Azriel shook his head. “I don’t believe you, Lulphé,” he laughed, the sound mirthless and sharp. “You honestly think that this is about you and how you feel? How is it that you were even qualified to be the Eighth Qishir?” He pretended to think for a moment. “Oh that’s right, you worked with the last one to take out those she deemed unworthy.”
“You will not speak to me like that! You have no right!” She snarled at him, all guilt and remorse gone from her face, voice sharp edged as it lashed out across the connection with enough force that he felt the air slip across his face and didn’t doubt for a second that had they been physically face-to-face she would have cut him with her voice alone.
He laughed again, wings flaring out from his back, his mask falling away to show his true face as he replied coldly, “I was given the right the day you shredded my wings because our father told you he would finally love you if you did and you believed him. I was given the right the day you murdered my wife and child and said it was because they were part of a plot to overthrow the Qishir of Anglë World even though they were innocent, even though you knew it was me that was involved and not them. I was given the right the day you looked me in the face and said you agreed that the chance of Anislanzir’s accusation being truthful was too great to risk and sentenced me to rot with the only reason that I didn’t being because the Elders thought your sentencing was too harsh.” He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and felt the stirrings of his bond with Rhyshladlyn flip and begin to dance which signaled that the Qishir was close. With obvious effort, he swallowed his anger, hid his true face, and pulled his wings back in before he leveled a tired look at the female who had once been his sister as she stared at him with a look he had no name for. “Goodbye, Lulphé. May the High Ones forever be blind to you.”
And with that he clenched his hand around the mirror, shattering it before he called his power to the surface of his skin and watched as the glass and casing disintegrated into dust and blew away on the wind. As he healed the cuts on his hand from where the glass had cut him he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders only for a new one to come crashing down in its place as a voice spoke from behind him.
“When did you plan on telling me that you were in contact with Lulphé and that she is blood to you?”
Azriel jumped to his feet and whirled around to face Rhyshladlyn who stood on the other side of the roof’s peek, orange-amber eyes glazed and vacant, expression one of resignation. As though Rhyshladlyn wasn’t all that surprised that Azriel had held secrets, that he had betrayed him in some small form just like so many before him had; even if the Qishir had hoped he was everything but like everyone else.
There wasn’t a curse in any language he spoke strong enough to convey what he felt in that moment and even if there was, he doubt he could speak it. Because this was one of those moments when even the most genuine and heartfelt of apologies just simply wasn’t good enough.
High Ones, what have I done?