He hadn’t been entirely truthful with Azriel when the Anglëtinean had asked how much he’d heard of the conversation between them. Not because of something as profound as not sparking a fight but mainly because it didn’t truly matter what all he’d heard. He’d heard what he needed to hear and that was more than enough. The rest would be discussed when they had the time.
“Sorry isn’t fuckin’ good enough,” Azriel 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.
Hearing the same words almost verbatim spoken by his Companion mere hours after he himself had spoken them to his Patrons had shaken him to the core. It had been a clear sign that what he had been warned of was destined to come to pass even if he prayed and hoped that it wouldn’t. Even if he wished more than words could express that he could prevent it, even though he knew he couldn’t.
But he had been so taken aback by that singular moment of clarity that he had masked his presence and just stood there, waiting and listening, just outside of the range of the mirror’s sight. Hearing everything that Azriel revealed, hearing what he had gone through, had made his heart clench and the bottom of his stomach drop out, taking his ability to draw adequate breath with it. There was so much that he hadn’t been told, things that changed everything about the last nearly seventy years, but try as he might to be upset, to be pissed, to feel betrayed and like his trust was tarnished, he just…couldn’t. Azriel hadn’t withheld the information purposefully, well not with malicious intent. After all, there is never really a good time to just blurt so my wife and son were murdered by the Eighth Qishir because I was plotting to overthrow the Qishir of my home World or even also my blood sister is the Eighth Qishir, yes, the one that murdered my family, the very same one. So Rhyshladlyn couldn’t bring himself to feel angry.
If anything he just felt resigned. Resigned and exhausted. Because when shit went sideways, it nearly always had to set itself aflame at the same time if for no other reason than to create as much havoc as possible.
Nameless prevail me, my face hurts. He thought as he smiled and laughed with Azriel and the rest at his side, as he answered his twin’s questions best he could while keeping the memory of his talk with his Patrons securely locked away and hidden. He ate the gheczyk that Relyt had prepared with Nhulynolyn, he partook of the mourning songs led by Azriel in Anglëtinean Tengú, had spoken memories of his older brother around the fire as they all passed a bottle of ale amongst themselves.
But he felt so removed from it all, like he was a spectator watching a replay of events from his spot in the future; as though every smile, every laugh, was faked even when it wasn’t, not really. And it bothered him. Moments like this spent with his ragtag, broken, chipped, with pieces missing and mismatched replacement pieces family were important, he knew that. He knew he needed to cherish them, commit every infinitesimal detail to memory because there may come a time in the future when it was all he had left of them, but he just… he couldn’t.
He was present but he wasn’t there. Not really.
He was just a body occupying space; his mind, his heart, his Self, elsewhere. Lost but not, wandering without a destination in mind or a starting point for that matter, all at the same time.
With a soft sigh, he pushed to his feet from the log that had been used to make one of the seven benches that circled the fire and walked towards the oasis, waving off inquiries about his health and if he needed or wanted company. He felt Nhulynolyn’s awareness brush across his mind and he let his would-be-twin get enough of what he was feeling to say to the rest, “He needs a moment alone. It all just hit him, y’know?”
Not that they had any idea what that really meant but no one questioned it. Well Azriel would. He had lost family, had watched them die just as Rhyshladlyn had. So he knew. But the rest were probably clueless and he didn’t know how to even start trying to explain how he felt.
Though as he walked, hands pressed into the pockets of his leather breeches, the magick inherent in the armor-that-wasn’t-armor tingling up along his arms in a soft purr of solidarity, Rhyshladlyn felt Azriel and Relyt’s eyes on him, intent and full of concern he couldn’t acknowledge or process just yet.
There was just too much to consider, too much going on, too much that had gone on and gods surrounding if he didn’t have a single fucking clue how to handle any of it. Sure, he knew he could rely on his Others, his males. But if Anis’ sudden loss had taught him anything, it was that he needed to be careful how much he relied on others. Because one never knew when their support system would suddenly be gone. Tilting his head back as he came to the edge of the lake, he stared up at the stars that spread across the night sky like teardrops against the inky darkness, the moon nothing more than a sliver of white hidden amongst them.
He could remember the first time he and Anis had climbed to the top of the tallest tower of the Palace and the older Dhaoine had pointed out the various constellations, had told him that their ancestors watched them from the skies. That the stars were like two-way communication mirrors from the After. He smiled sadly at the memory of him asking if Anis would watch over him from the stars like their ancestors.
“Of course, lil’it bròtr. I will always watch over you.”
“Are you still watching over me, Anny?” he whispered, voice hushed in the silence of the desert night with only the sound of the wind shush-shushing across the sands, making halos at the top of the sand dunes that surrounded their little valley, to be heard besides his voice. He was far enough away from the cabin and the fire where the others still sat that he couldn’t hear them if they had picked back up singing or talking and it made him feel secluded enough that he felt safe talking freely. “Are you still proud of me? Did you consider me an enemy for murdering our mother? Were you in league with her? I… fuck, Anny, why did you even follow me to Majik? You should have stayed home! You’d still be alive if you’d just… just stayed home.” He sniffled hard, trying to swallow back the tears that had begun streaming down his face as his eyes picked out the constellations, wondering which one Anis had chosen to watch him through. “You weren’t supposed to leave me like this, you know that? You promised you’d help me kill Father! That we’d unseat him together and place you on his throne! There’s no one to lead the Sinner Demons now once I’ve severed his head from his shoulders and presented it to you in the After.”
He was talking to nothing, to no one. Anis couldn’t hear him, he knew that; he knew that the story of being watched over from the stars was just that, a story told to a fledgling to help him feel less alone at night. His brother was comfortably resting on the other side of the River in the After, the Nameless had guaranteed that. But he couldn’t keep quiet. The longer he tried to contain the words he had been meaning to speak to his brother for years, the worse the pins and needles feeling in his legs became, the worse this detached present-but-not feeling became. So he slowly sat down on the edge of the lake, legs drawn up to his chest, chin resting on his knees as he stared out over the gently rippling surface, watching as the stars and crescent moon became clear and then distorted at random intervals as the lake surface was caressed by the desert breeze.
“I hated you for a long time, and I still do to a degree,” his voice broke around the words, throat working around the lump that had formed in it. But the second he said the words he felt better, not entirely and not even enough to make it truly worthy of notation, but it was just enough to make him keep talking. “I hated that you were allowed to leave Fènwa, that you weren’t subjected to Father’s perversions like I was, that you never had to fight the urge to vomit every time you looked at our sister because you had stopped her from being raped by offering yourself up in her stead and knew she would never know because you’d wiped her memory of it. I hated that the only scars you had from Anislanzir were those that made it a death sentence for you to release your wings short of your life being in mortal peril. I hated that you were free where I was enslaved and all because I wasn’t supposed to be born, all because I was an anomaly and Anislanzir loathed me and my gender and my caste; hated that I didn’t look like him like you and Alaïs did and do, that I didn’t look like our mother either, because maybe if I had he wouldn’t have wanted to destroy me so badly. Because maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be this way… this broken, untrusting, terrified, twitchy husk of a person who is supposed to somehow Balance the Worlds and guide two qahllynshæ. Maybe then I wouldn’t want to not exist anymore.
“But despite all that? And this is what gets me the most, I loved you. I forgave you for every time you let him carry me away, knowing I may not survive the encounter. I forgave you because you taught me how to fight, how to detach, how to compartmentalize. You taught me that knowing when to yield and when to fight spoke volumes more on my strength than my ability to kill him with a thought ever could. I forgave you because you were just as scared as me, you were just a child like I was playing at being an adult because we never were allowed to grow up like normal children. And I revered you. Gods, I wanted to be just like you when I got older. I wanted to look like you. Wanted to fight like you, walk and talk like you. Because Father loved you and maybe, just maybe, if I could be like you he would love me, too. And I had believed, hoped, that if he loved me he wouldn’t hurt me anymore.”
He felt silent, burying his face in his knees, arms tightening where they were wrapped around his legs, body wracked with sobs he desperately tried to swallow down because if he let them out, he would start screaming and not stop until his voice gave out and still he would keep going. It took several minutes for him to calm enough that he could keep speaking but he didn’t rush it. He had all the time he needed, the Worlds and their insanity could wait, and his family would give him space until he was better suited to rejoin their company.
“Only I realized how futile my attempts had been when she told me that Father had known all along what I was. Had known because she had told him, and I just… fuck, Anny, I cannot even describe how it felt in that moment to feel all the hope I’d had, that I still have even now that I know the truth, shatter like that. To know that the one person I had figured on my side besides you and Al had been just as much my enemy as Father had/has been. And she had to die. She was a liability, she was a traitor, and I hated her, I hated that I still loved her, that I forgave her even as I took her life as retribution for her bargaining with mine to save herself,” he laughed, the sound sharp and bitter and mirthless. “I fuckin’ forgave her, can you believe that shit? And what’s more? I wondered if I could trust you and Al as well or if you both had been just as guilty of allowing me to be the scapegoat for your own guaranteed safeties as she was. Hells, I squinted at Azriel. Though… after today, I realize that I had probably sensed that he had things he hadn’t told me that he should have and just waited to have it confirmed. But I’m not even angry at him. I understand his silence, his withholding of such important information but like… gods, Anny — why did you follow me?”
With a growl, he jerked to his feet and kicked viciously at the sand before throwing his left hand out and sending a column of coldfire at the nearest palm tree, feeling marginally better when it shattered into millions of tiny pieces of flaming shrapnel.
“You weren’t supposed to die yet, godsdamn you!” He screamed out as he fell to his knees, hands sinking deep into the sand below him, back hunched as he began to shake with the force of the sobs he could no longer completely swallow back. “You weren’t… you were supposed to be there when I killed Father, when I confronted Lulphé and unseated her for all the Laws she has broken over my lifetime and the lifetimes of countless other Dhaoine who have come before me, before us! And instead you decided to come looking for me, knowing you wouldn’t find me, and set yourself up to be confronted by Amèl. And fuck if you didn’t know better than to speak back to an Ancient who speaks the Chosen’s Blessing! Azhuri taught us never to speak to Ancients ever for that very reason. And you went and… Fuck, you were so damn stupid, big brother!”
He stared down at where his tears had soaked through the sand between where his hands lay buried beneath it, knowing he was making gut-wrenching sounds but couldn’t bring himself to care, couldn’t bring himself to stop.
“You were supposed to stay with me, Anny! You promised… you promised never to leave me, remember? Promised that you would always watch over me, always be there right beside me. Why did… why did-did you–” As his voice failed him entirely, he threw back his head, back arched, and howled at the stars that wheeled by above him, feeling the ground shake beneath him as he sent his misery and his grief rocketing outwards. Let the Worlds feel his grief, let them be brought to knee by the weight of it.
Because if he had to suffer through the loss of his brother, he would be damned if he suffered it alone.
Alaïs, I hope you can forgive me. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I swear, he wasn’t supposed to die. I didn’t want this.
He wasn’t sure how long he sat in the sand at the lake’s edge, howling and screaming you weren’t supposed to die and crying, but it couldn’t have been very long before he felt a pair of strong arms wrap around his waist as an equally strong chest pressed against his back. A second pair of hands cupped his cheeks and pulled his head down so his forehead pressed against that of the owner of those hands. And then his males’ magick brushed against his own, singing and cooing softly, soothing him, offering their unspoken condolences in the way Azriel began to sing softly in Anglë’lylel and Relyt’s power hummed a counter melody against Rhyshladlyn’s skin. He felt Nhulynolyn, Shadiranamen, and Xheshmaryú offer their own quiet support through their link, their gentle condolences and freely given strength whispering across their shared consciousness.
Please, no more. I’ve lost enough. He prayed, wrapped up in the arms and presence of his family. Even though he had a sneaking suspicion that his losses were only just beginning.