He grunted as the air was pushed roughly from his lungs as his back met the stone wall of the hallway, a strong forearm pressed against the base of his throat, cutting off his air supply just enough to let him know that the owner meant business but not enough that his ability to speak was impaired. Carefully making his facial expression blank he met the narrowed gold eyes of the Lord King as he bared his impressive fangs at him.
“My Lord, how may I be of assistance?” Relyt drawled, purposefully lilting his voice to mimic the flowing speech of the Sinner race, so much smoother than his own guttural, rough speech patterns and language. The differences had always interested him and since he was a kid he’d wanted to travel to one of the larger cities of the Sinner race to study those differences. He had even begged his parents several times to fund his travels but was told no. But now? Now he would give his gretluos to be anywhere but here. For while the language of the Sinner Demons was beautiful, while their culture was rich and intricate, while their speech patterns were an enigma that caught his attention just a sliver more intensely than that of the Anglë race, he found it wasn’t enough to warrant facing down the Lord King of the Sinner Demons what felt like every single waking moment.
“I don’t know what you’re playing at, Soul Healer,” Anislanzir began but Relyt cut him off because by the Many this argument was old and then some by now and he was awfully exhausted of hearing it.
“I am playing at nothing, your Excellency. I am merely following the guidelines set forth in the Contract we mutually agreed upon and wrote together. As I have stated numerous times unto your person.”
The growl that rumbled out around them reminded Relyt so much of Rhyshladlyn’s own growl that he had a moment where his careful stoic mask almost slipped as a pang of longing lanced hard and fast across his heart. But he shoved it aside. Any sign of weakness could get him killed. And that particular sign? It wouldn’t be just he that died and that was unacceptable.
“I may not be able to do harm to you myself per that Contract, Soul Healer, but make no mistake I can find other ways,” Anislanzir commented, tone sounding nonchalant and purely conversational, despite the way his body curled and tightened in front of Relyt, ready and willing to impart violence.
He wanted to see Relyt afraid, needed to know that he terrified the Soul Healer, but he wouldn’t get what he wanted. Relyt refused to give it to him. Yes, he was afraid — after all Anislanzir hadn’t ruled the Sinner Demons for nearly a thousand years before his first children were born to guarantee the continuation of the Ka’ahne Dynasty line uncontested by being sweet. He had ruled for that long by being abjectly terrifying and by backing up every threat with concrete action. He did not care who he cut down; if they were in his way, he dispatched them if they refused to move out of his way of their own volition.
But Anislanzir had not seen what Rhyshladlyn was capable of. Had only heard rumors, rumors he didn’t believe. But Relyt had seen what the Qishir could do, had been by his side when he wiped his mother off the face of existence, from the Cycle of Life entirely, with one move, with just his power being flung into her chest. Rhyshladlyn had incinerated her Self without even getting winded and all because she had betrayed him to the monster currently pinning him by his throat to a wall. He had seen beyond the first few layers of the mask that hid Rhyshladlyn’s true face from the Worlds and what he saw there had frightened him on a level he had no words for. He had seen the aftermath of the raid enacted on their cabin’s original location, had heard from Azriel how the majority of those slain were brought down by the Qishir alone. Not even the Many had instilled the respectful fear in him that Rhyshladlyn had.
So the Lord King and his grandstanding? It was just that: grandstanding. Relyt didn’t fear him anymore than he feared rain.
“I am aware of the things you are capable of, your Excellency, just as I am aware of the scars you are fond of leaving and playing with again and again and again on those you are most enamored of,” Relyt replied, picking his words carefully. This was still a deadly game he played. For while he and his charge were protected by his Healer’s Contract, the rest of the City’s inhabitants were not and he had no doubt Anislanzir would torture every last one of them to see how long it took to break the only two he could not touch. And that was something Rhyshladlyn would never forgive him for. “But the fact remains that I am not playing at anything. I am merely doing as bid by our Contract. Nothing more or less.”
He didn’t know it was possible for those gold eyes to narrow any further without being closed but somehow the Lord King managed it, his free hand flying up to slam into the wall to the right of Relyt’s head and it took everything he had not to flinch as he felt those clawed fingers barely brush the top ridge of his wing before the stone cried out and gave way beneath the press of the Lord King’s hand.
“If I find out you are betraying me to that ill-gotten spawn of mine, I will make you eat the flesh from your bones,” the Lord King imparted before pushing off and away from him.
“That would be quite the feat as you cannot touch me,” Relyt felt compelled to quip, unable to hold the words back even though he knew he should have. He was just so enervated of this cat-and-mouse game with the un-male.
But Anislanzir just smiled crookedly at him over his shoulder, the action again so like what his youngest would do that Relyt had to clench his jaw to keep his expression from betraying him.
“I would not be touching you, Relyt Greymend,” he said, voice smooth and sickly sweet as he made his way back the way he had come.
He offered no other explanation before disappearing from sight around the corner at the end of the hall but that didn’t stop Relyt’s mind from conjuring up several ideas on its own as he hurried along down the hallway, resolutely ignoring the dent in the wall as he passed it. He was already late for meeting up with Alaïs but that was normal now. It had been two months since he’d arrived and nearly every day Anislanzir appeared much like he had to try and catch the Soul Healer off guard, to try and wring something out of him about his mission within the City. Two months of that un-male grilling him for information on the hundreds thousands strong army camped a handful and some leagues away; information he didn’t have…at least not the information Anislanzir sought to acquire from him. Two months spent carefully choosing his words in private and public, of constantly being on edge, of never knowing who was listening, of never knowing whether friend or enemy lurked around the next corner.
How did Rhyshladlyn ever survive this?
Two months since he left the cabin and walked into a nightmare he couldn’t escape whether sleeping or awake. Two months since he made a decision that was nearly as hard as the one he made that saw him turning his back on his race and his home. Two months of silence save the handful of Thayne Firesbane’s warriors making it into the City and finding him, confirming that Rhyshladlyn was working as best he could to ensure they came out on top of the War. But beyond that, he had not had any contact with Rhyshladlyn, hadn’t even felt his power thrum down their connection. And it felt like he was an addict craving his next fix and he had no idea when he would have it.
But he knew what he was doing here was just as important, but by the Many, he felt bereft, felt lost without Rhyshladlyn nearby. As though the Qishir’s presence alone had served as a balm to burned skin he hadn’t known was singed until the Qishir had touched it. He occasionally entertained the thought of sending a letter out to the Qishir with Thayne’s warriors when they would sneak out of the City to contact the General but every time he picked up quill and ink to scribe it down, he froze. He had nothing to write. Nothing that would require Thayne to go out of her way to contact Rhyshladlyn and deliver it to him. There was no news that wasn’t already making it out of the City via the merchants that traveled the streets, bringing gossip and truth in and out. There was nothing to report that Rhyshladlyn would need to read in his own writing that Thayne would not pass along from her meetings with those warriors that he met with as often as he was willing to risk.
Yet it felt wrong to have been so silent with his Qishir for so long. He didn’t know why or how, just that it did. And by the Many, he had no idea what to do about it.
He jerked, startled, and stopped walking, turning back to face the voice that had called his name, finding Alaïs leaning against the door jam to her personal rooms, clear crystal blue eyes full of amusement at his expense, slender mouth curled in a knowing smile. It wasn’t the first time he’d been lost in thought so deeply that he’d walked right by her rooms and he doubted highly that it would be the last. Fighting against the blush that threatened to rise up his neck towards his face he inclined his head and walked back towards her.
“My Lady, how fare you?” he inquired as she ducked back through the open door and he followed her.
“I am exhausted, starving but cannot bring myself to eat, and worried about Rhys. So the usual, as it were,” she replied as she sank heavily down onto one of the overstuffed leather chairs that faced a small round table before the hearth. Despite it still being relatively warm both outside and inside regardless of the approaching winter months — the wonders of being in a desert — his charge was nearly always fighting off a chill and it worried him. She wouldn’t let him lay hands upon her to discern the nature of the ailment, she said she knew what it was and that no Healing would solve the issue. He argued, but without her permission to touch her for that purpose, he couldn’t do more than argue and be told to drop the discussion. Which he did, time and time again even though he knew the effort to be futile.
“Is there aught I can aide you with?” He sat down opposite her, taking in the sweat that marked her brow, the way her skin looked flushed, the way her chest rose and aborted the action halfway through a breath, how she shivered despite the cloying heat of the room. He frowned. “Alaïs, please, either tell me what ails you truly or allow me to lay hands so I may tell for myself. You are unwell and its beginning to be made obvious.”
As he watched she lifted a shaky hand and pushed her fringe back from her face and sighed deeply before relaxing nearly bonelessly against the back of the chair. With a wave of her fingers she gave him the permission he needed.
Rising from his chair, he rounded the table and knelt slowly and carefully before her, knowing that she hated being loomed over by males that were taller than her. With him kneeling they were almost of a height and she smiled knowingly and gratefully at him. He lifted a hand towards her face but halted, eyes searching hers, searching her face, for any sign she revoked her permission. When she nodded once, he smiled softly and pressed his palm to her face, the fingers of his large hand spreading out from her cheekbone down to the mid-point of her slender throat. She felt so delicate and fragile beneath his touch and he wondered how she didn’t break when she moved. Though he did not doubt it was by sheer stubbornness that she remained upright and mobile despite her seeming fragility.
Closing his eyes, he gently guided her head down so her forehead pressed against his gretkewq and once contact was made, he probed gently past the visible spectrum down into the lower, down to where her body was thrashing and crying in pain and denial. What he found there made bile rise swiftly up his throat and he disconnected from her, eyes wide as he met her own tired ones, her smile just as tired. She’d lost hope and he felt so stupid for only just now having seen it, for only just now realizing the why.
“Alaïs…” he choked out, swallowing convulsively in an attempt to keep his last meal where it rightfully belonged.
“Yes, Relyt,” she answered when his voice trailed off after whispering her name, something akin to disgust roiling in his gut. “My father did with me what he couldn’t with Rhyshladlyn.”
He shook his head, trying to convey that she shouldn’t speak the words aloud, shouldn’t make it any more real than the evidence that sat so plainly before his eyes before he even touched her had he been of the mind to look close enough. But she didn’t heed his request for keeping it unspoken. She’d remained silent long enough.
“He begot a child.”
Relyt gagged hard and flew to his feet to make for the attached bath and the toilet, barely making it there in time before his midday meal came roaring back up out of his throat. By the time he was finished and washed away the evidence he was shaking as he stood over the sink, hands gripping the edge of the edge of it tightly enough for his knuckles to have gone white, tears staining his cheeks that weren’t just from the burn of vomiting. The child growing in his charge’s body was killing her and it couldn’t be allowed to thrive any longer than it had. He was no mid-wife, he had no training formal or otherwise to ease the child’s suffering that was draining its mother of her own life slowly and painfully, if that were even possible this late into her pregnancy. His nature wouldn’t allow for him to terminate the life she held, even if it was a direct threat to her well-being, so he was doomed to watch her suffer until the child died and passed through her or she fell beneath the onslaught of its life upon her body.
“When…” he croaked, coughing hard before he tried again, “when is it due?” he asked, voice carrying easily across the distance in the silence even though he remained in the bathroom, head bowed over the sink, eyes staring unseeing at the black marbled counter.
“My brother’s birthday.”
He choked anew at the terrible irony of that before he stepped out of the bathroom and stared at her in shock. She had hid the pregnancy for…
“That’s in two months,” he didn’t bother trying to hide his incredulity. She had hid the pregnancy almost to term? How? How had she gone thirteen months without a godsdamn — wait. “Hold on.”
The guilty look that crossed her face then made his heart clench but it didn’t keep him from speaking. “The timeline is wrong. If Anislanzir only attacked you once Rhyshladlyn went on the run, that child is not at full term on the Festival of the Flesh. Not unless you took after the Sinner Demon’s gestation period and are adhering closer to their nine month gestation versus the thirteen month of your mother’s people, but I’m assuming you’re not,” his eyes narrowed at her as he leaned heavily against the door frame. “So either the Lord King attacked you before my Qishir escaped or there is something else. Speak plainly, my Lady, please. I cannot help if I am left in the dark.”
Alaïs let out a shaky, slow breath, her hands coming up to cradle her abdomen, the bulge caused by the child growing beneath her hands barely visible, even now that he knew to look for it. It was long minutes before she spoke but when she did, he wondered if Jiklyt’s parents had felt that way when they spoke of their son. If they had felt the pain that colored every word she spoke, if they had been wracked by the guilt that oozed out from her every pore. He wondered if that was how he sounded on the rare occasions when he spoke of his own children, may the Many See them always, if his own guilt was felt and heard the same as Alaïs’.
“He wanted a child to replace his ill-gotten second born son that wasn’t truly a son as the only option left to secure the family line with my twin having been murdered, so he took me. It is the right of him as our race’s laws dictate, but per the Laws and Etiquette of the Worlds themselves, he wasn’t allowed to do the deed himself, merely use a Healer to impregnate me with his own seed collected separately,” her voice was soft, subdued. But she didn’t falter in her words. “He requires a son to carry on the line, but he has no Queen and no secondary wives to beget one on, so I was his only option. And gods surrounding help us if he ever does things the proper way.” Her voice hardened as she met Relyt’s eyes and he saw the resemblance to her younger brother then and it made the longing for home and for the Qishir increase ten fold. “So, at the Festival of the Flesh, I’ve planned it out so that the sacrifice for the Old Ones is not the seed of the Qishir planted in the maequïn/lae, but rather the rape-made spawn of my father’s own loins.”
By the Many. “What do you need from me?” He asked, resolved that whatever it took, no matter the stigma that would attach to him for aiding in the murder of a child, he would help her. Even if his Contract didn’t require him to do so anyway, he would. Even if it meant fighting against his very nature, he would.
Because he knew far too keenly what it was like to lose a child he had desperately wanted as well as to lose one he never knew he had. So for her to do this, for her to make the decision that this child was better off used as a sacrifice, he would not let her do it alone. But not just because of his own past speaking to him from graves he had thought long disappeared beneath the growth of the Wilds, left unmarked as they were. No, he would help her because she had no one else to do so and this was not something one should endeavor to achieve alone.
“Just don’t leave me,” was all she said in response and he nodded as he came to kneel before her again, taking her shaking smaller hands in his larger ones.
“As you will, my Lady, as you will.”
Looks like I finally have news to put in a letter. I just wish it were not this.
Anything but this.