“Relyt Greymend of the Twilight Walkers Clan, Thirteenth Tier Healer, Thrice Touched, Contracted Healer to the Second Born of the Sinner Demon Royal Bloodline,” the herald’s voice rang out clear and deep, cutting through the din of the Hall and rendering it into absolute, echoing silence.

Her head jerked up from where she’d been looking down at her food as demurely as she could manage as the herald finished speaking, her shock plain on her face as she and every other member of the court turned their gaze to the doors of the Great Hall where none other than one of her little brother’s males stood. He looked like a gods-send in his loose grey pants, sleeveless tunic, and moccasins and she knew instantly that Rhyshladlyn had sent him; knew that Rhyshladlyn couldn’t make it himself so he had done the next best thing. She knew the second those stormy grey eyes that were nearly black with the emotions he wouldn’t show outwardly landed on her and softened that he was to be her savior. He would do what Rhyshladlyn and her twin had been doing for decades and centuries respectively: protect her at all costs.

Not that she was weak, per se, but there was only so much one could do to protect themselves from the Lord King by themselves, before even the most powerful of Dhaoine simply gave in, unable to defend themselves anymore because doing so was just so utterly exhausting. There was only so many times one could be hit in the face, insulted, raped, told they were worthless and unwanted, by someone who claimed simultaneously to love them before they began to break apart, began to believe every lie told to them, began to accept that they deserved every horrible act wrought upon them. After all, one only need look at Rhyshladlyn to confirm the validity of that statement, even though her brother had never gave in completely, even when he was dying, he still wavered, still lost his footing and struggled to rise again, but he didn’t give up. If anything, he’d simply taken a break, gathered himself and whatever meager strength he had still possessed, before lurching to his feet and taking off running again. And she knew why now all while wishing she didn’t and that she could go back in time and do so many things differently. Even though she knew realistically that that was impossible.

“What is the meaning of this?” Anislanzir snarled, hands slapping down on the table and she jumped, having completely forgotten her father was sat beside her as focused as she had become on Relyt and what his appearance back in Shiran City meant. “What do you here walking in as though there exists not a bounty upon your head.”

Relyt, in much the same manner as he had nearly a year ago when he’d bent knee to the Lord King to petition for a Healer’s Contract and won it, raised an eyebrow before executing the second most complicated bow she’d seen in her life (the first being the one Azriel had performed when first meeting her father), before he straightened, wings folded neatly against his back, hands resting calmly at his sides.

He looked like he was on a stroll through a nice garden, not facing down someone the Worlds had dubbed ‘the most psychotic thing with the ability to rule and reproduce’. Not that anyone was foolish enough to call Anislanzir that to his face — as doing so would amount to suicide —, but it didn’t make it any less accurate.

“I have come to fulfill the obligations of my Contract, your Excellency,” the Soul Healer replied in a tone that was smooth and even, as though he were not remotely bothered by the fact that he stood in the presence of the one Dhaoine who had every legal reason to see him dead and the manner in which to achieve it. “My sincerest apologies for the length of time it took me to return to Shiran City. I was indisposed elsewhere and only recently was able to make my escape from those indispositions and make my way back here posthaste.”

Sands and Skies, the balls on this male. 

“You mean you were with my anathematized son and are here to try and sweet talk your way into my court so you can keep an eye on me and report back to him,” Anislanzir drawled, arms crossing over his chest, expression clearly saying that he wasn’t buying a single bit of what Relyt was saying. “You do realize I have the ability, and the right, to kill you for the part you played in the murder of my beloved Queen?” Anislanzir added, his smile unkind, eyes even meaner.

To his credit, the Soul Healer just raised his other eyebrow to join the first, utterly unbothered by the threat. Though, after spending nearly a year constantly at Rhyshladlyn’s side, who was the only person capable of instilling more fear than the Lord King himself in any Dhaoine to cross his path, she wasn’t entirely surprised by how calm Relyt was.

“I was with your disowned son, aye,” Relyt granted. “However, I am not here to spy on you for him. I have no means of communicating with him. Upon leaving his side to return here, I have no idea where he is as his Warding prevents anyone besides himself from holding the knowledge needed to find their way back to his location once they’ve left.”

Anislanzir narrowed golden eyes at Relyt and the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees as the Lord King’s power swirled to the surface, making his rich brown skin glow a soft gold much like that given off the very walls of the Palace around them. Watching the expression shifting across the un-male’s face, she felt her stomach clench and bile rise in her throat. She’d become far too well acquainted with that look lately and had learned exactly why it was Rhyshladlyn always feared it as much as he did. So she tried to signal to Relyt without actually moving that he needed to leave it, to leave, while he still could, but the Soul Healer wasn’t looking at her. He had eyes only for the Lord King standing to her left and while his expression was blank, his posture full of nonchalance, and his eyes clear she could see the fury and hatred swirling behind the storm clouds in those grey eyes; she could read the barely restrained violence that loosened his muscles, sent every feather on his slate grey wings to twitching ever-so-slightly. And gods surrounding, but she didn’t know which worried and scared her more: her father and what she knew he was capable of or Relyt who was an unknown except that he was qahllyn to her brother and had received Acceptance even if he still remained unOathed.

“I have the original Contract as it was written here in this very Hall, your Excellency. Shall I have the herald read it aloud so that you and all gathered know the Truth contained therein?” Relyt offered.

Clearly trying to call his bluff, Anislanzir inclined his head and it took all she had not to drop her face into her hands and groan long and loud. Because she could not see an outcome where this went well. Especially considering that Relyt was toeing the line of what her father would consider disrespectful and the second the Soul Healer slipped off that line? He wouldn’t be alive much longer, more than likely, and anyone who was too slow to get out of the way would become collateral damage.

Relyt gave a short whistle and when the herald pressed open the Hall doors the Soul Healer gestured for him to come forward and handed him a rolled piece of parchment that he had pulled from the travel satchel strung across his chest.

“Please, good sir, read this aloud for all in company,” Relyt instructed the herald when he gave the Soul Healer a muted look of confusion.

“Hereby these words contain a Healer’s Contract stating that Relyt Greymend of the Twilight Walkers Clan, Thirteenth Tier, Thrice Touched, is to be the Healer of the second born of the Royal Bloodline of the Sinner Demon race until such a time as his passing from the Worlds and into the After. His duties are to be all those required of a Healer in any and all capacities as required by the Second Born holder of this Contract. Furthermore, those duties are to be determined solely by the Second Born and Relyt Greymend himself….” The herald trailed off, glancing up at the Lord King before looking back down at the parchment, “it gives the date and has both your signature and his, my Lord King. Magickal and inked,” he added the last with a shift of his gaze between the Sinner Demon and the Soul Healer handing the parchment back to Relyt and slowly backing out of the Hall to return to his post.

“My second born is denounced,” Anislanzir began, clearly intending to argue, but Relyt cut him off.

“No, your born by date second born is denounced. But the Contract does not make that distinction. Therefore, as things fall now, your second born is Lady Alaïs as Lord Anis was birthed first of their mother, may the Many See them both always,” his kissed the palm of his left hand and extended his arm up above his head, palm facing skyward before he dropped it back to his side and continued, “and so that means she is your second born and thus I am Contracted to be at her side always, acting in any and all capacities as a Healer.”

Silence, stunned and loaded, spread around the Hall and she looked around at the faces of the court gathered at the long tables and found every single one of them looking back at her as though seeking guidance. Each expression was nearly identical to the others around it. They all wanted to know what to do, who to side with, what was the safest option. She could give a simple signal and they’d all likely take up arms and tear the Lord King into literal pieces at her command. But she didn’t give that command, wouldn’t, not yet. Instead she minutely shook her head, the movement barely even considerable as such, more akin to a twitch than anything else, but it was enough to convey the message of wait, let us see how things go. It was enough to pull all of those eyes away from her and back to the drama unfolding in their midst.

She hadn’t even begun to fully implement the plans for her revolt and escape and already the entirety of her father’s court was on her side. The knowledge of that was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking.

For long minutes, Anislanzir just stood staring at Relyt and she felt her skin prickle as her instincts began to scream for her to run, to get far far away. But she couldn’t move, was rooted fast to her chair and found herself wondering how Rhyshladlyn had managed to come off as utterly unaffected for all those years he was suffering under their father’s perversions. It was so much easier to hold her mask that showed she was the perfect daughter, Azhuri’s well trained Lady Queen in the making, when she was still living in a bubble of ignorance. And yet Rhyshladlyn had made it look effortless.

Gods, how could I have been so blind to what he lived with for all those years? 

Just as the silence thickened and began to crackle with Anislanzir’s ever-growing anger, Relyt spoke again, shattering it with a simple sentence and she felt her blood go cold as she heard it.

“Also I feel it is important to mention that there is an army of at least two hundred thousand warriors camped not five leagues from the City walls. It is likely they are marching upon your beloved City with the intent to lay siege upon and claim to this City before they mount your severed head upon a pike at the gates.”

What?” Anislanzir barked, arms uncrossing in his shock, his anger dispelling like blood in water.

She would have laughed at the Lord King’s uncharacteristic display of emotion if Relyt hadn’t kept speaking and stolen the air in the room when he did so.

“Oh and Rhyshladlyn sends an answer to your proposition of him,” the Soul Healer’s grin then was one she had only ever seen on her little brother’s face and it was uncanny seeing it twist the lips of another, slow and dark and full of the promise of sweet, deliciously pleasurable violence. “He bid me to tell you, over your dead body.

Dearest gods have mercy upon us all. 

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