The Storms were rolling in, the horizon uncharacteristically dark for two tick marks past midday, and by the Nameless, it was difficult to determine whether it was a good or bad omen that the Storms were arriving earlier this year than the ones before. But given everything that had happened, given what the Soullessly Heartfelt had shown him in the that dream before Relyt had left, it couldn’t be anything but problematic, if not outright bad. After all, so much had happened in the last year alone that was enough to tip the not-so-proverbial scales so it wasn’t entirely a surprise that the Worlds were losing their collective magickal minds.
If anything? It was more of a surprise that it had taken this long for the magickal mind-losing to occur.
“‘When a father begets a son off his blood daughter, the Way of Things shall be disturbed beyond recognition until something resets the Balance back to proper alignment,'” the tutor recited from the tome ey held in eir hand while ey paced at the front of the sitting room that had been converted into a classroom of sorts for the heirs to the kingdom.
“Okay,” Anis piped up, face twisted with a frown, “but why is that even important to tell us?”
“I wonder as much, too,” Alaïs added. “If it is already against the Laws and Etiquette of the Worlds, why is it even a prophetic teaching?”
“Because, this came down from the ones who originally inhabited this City, younglings,” the tutor replied patiently. “And they had a great many things to teach us, things thankfully not destroyed when they were lost to us forever when they were exiled.”
“It’s not a teaching,” he corrected his sister, utterly ignoring the drivel the tutor had spouted in response to his older siblings, staring at the tome the tutor held with a sinking feeling. “It’s a warning.”
It had been literal decades since that lesson and the more time he spent matching the jagged puzzle pieces of his childhood memory to current events, the more he realized just how much of his life had been filled with small warnings. Warnings that had meant nothing to him at the time but in the grander scheme of things? Had he been aware of them, things could have gone so much differently for him and his family. Anis could still be alive. Alaïs wouldn’t have been subjected to their father’s perversions, wouldn’t be carrying the bastard child of that despicable creature that called itself their sire. She wouldn’t have gone as long as she had as the traitorous bitch that fed Anislanzir the necessary information to come so incredibly close to breaking him. Azriel wouldn’t have spent nearly 40 moon cycles locked in solitary, bereft of touch and companionship. He himself wouldn’t have experienced the true touch of death after weeks under the Lord King’s hands, he may have retained all of his wings rather than one set only for some unknown source to return his second set to him.
So much would have gone differently had I been aware of just how many tiny warnings had been placed at key moments throughout my life.
But hindsight was always perfect.
“Who would’ve guessed we’d be here now, staring from the outside in, knowin’ that that warnin’ applied to us,” Nhulynolyn said from beside him, materializing seemingly out of nowhere. But he didn’t jump despite having not even sensed his Other’s approach. After years of his Other-twin doing that, he was immune to it by that point.
He didn’t ask how Nhulynolyn had known what he was thinking about, after all he may be fighting day and night to keep the memory of his conversation with his Patrons in Shiran City hidden from his Others, but that didn’t mean the door was closed completely. And the one that opened onto their personal link was never even halfway closed, they were far too close for that, having shared a womb let alone sharing identical genetics with only their starkly different personalities and eye color to tell them apart. He didn’t ask how Nhulynolyn had known he needed him because his twin just knew, just like he always did, without being called upon, without being told. And so he came, as he always had, answering a silent call.
And with his appearance, Rhyshladlyn stopped fighting to keep his turmoil internalized.
“I wish I had never left, Nully,” he whispered, allowing his careful mask to drop, allowing his turmoil to skitter across their connection and he felt more than heard Nhulynolyn’s sharp breath of surprise as the intensity of it. “I shouldn’t have left her. I should have taken them both with me. Gods surrounding, why didn’t I take them both with me?” With a shuddering breath that was not in anyway a sob, he wrapped his arms around his middle and bowed his head, hair falling forward to shadow his eyes while he tried valiantly to calm the hurricane that had formed in his chest. “I was supposed to protect them, that was my job. But instead I killed their mother and ran. I abandoned them and now Anny is dead and Alaïs isn’t far behind. And oh by the Scales and Feather, Relyt is now that bastard in-male’s victim, too. Some Qishir I am, I can’t even properly protect those in my charge.”
With a concerted effort he cut off his rambling. He couldn’t afford to break down again. He couldn’t afford to lose control when he was so close to victory. But gods was it difficult to hold it together when he knew that his sister was carrying their father’s child, oh by the Scythe, Al, I’m so, so sorry this happened to you. I would go back and do it differently if I could, I swear. I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.
“Hey, now, twin o’ mine, deep breaths, c’mon now,” he heard Nhulynolyn saying, vaguely aware the Other was standing behind him, shielding his body from the view of the camp, arms wrapped just tightly enough around his waist under his own arms to show he was there but not holding him up. The Other knew just how much it meant to him to be able to rely on his own strength, however meager it had been lately. “Deep breaths, that’s it. Slow breath in, deep breath out. There ya go,” Nhulynolyn rested his chin on Rhyshladlyn’s left shoulder, cheek pressed against the side of his face. “It’s gonna be alright. We’ll get that bastard, rid the Worlds of his spawn, and right the Way of Things. I promise you.”
“Nul’, you can’t make that promise,” he choked out, tilting his head back to rest on the shoulder of the taller male, eyes falling closed as he did so, one hand shifting to idly pet along one of Nhulynolyn’s forearms. “There’s no way you can know for certain that everything will work out. There’s too many variables.”
“Fuck the variables, Rhy!” Nhulynolyn hissed but it lacked the full bite it normally would. “For once, an’ trust me I know how difficult this is gonna be for you but humor me at leas’, try an’ have some hope? We have literally the three strongest gods, the three strongest of the Old Ones for fuck’s sake, on our side. And that ain’t counting Azriel, Relyt, Thayne and this six hundred thousand strong army, let alone that ‘Weaver you brought home the other day or that fiery sword of a short Sinner you had tagging along with you either; all of whom are on our side, not his. Fate itself chose you. Sure it’s gonna be hard, but what isn’t? The end result can’t be as bad as the journey to get there if the journey itself has been so atrocious. Fate wouldn’t have chosen you if it thought you didn’t stand a’least a sliver of’a chance at succedin’.”
He laughed, the sound not as derisive as it would have been had he not been so exhausted, but it was still scathing. It still made them both flinch as it smacked across their faces. In the distance, lightning flashed bright enough to mimic the sun, the thunder that boomed seconds later strong enough to shake the ground even though the Storms were still several leagues away from hitting Shiran City.
“Your words are very wise, Nully, but I cannot bring myself to believe in the validity of them,” he sighed, swallowing thickly around the tears that had choked up his throat. He had cried enough in the last several months, he was done. Enough was enough. “You forget, though, that Fate chose so many others before me and all of them failed, every last one of them. So there is no guarantee that Fate chose me with any idea in mind that I would be any different than my predecessors. And sure, I have a literal army at my back and family that are collectively more powerful than all the armies in the Worlds, but that is not always enough,” he let out a deep, shaking breath. “But I’ll try to be have more hope… I just cannot guarantee I’ll succeed because it seems like such a waste of what precious little energy and strength I have left.”
“All I ever ask is that you try, you stubborn git,” Nhulynolyn replied with a chuckle, purposefully dropping the rest of the conversation for a later time.
As lightning flashed again, the ground-trembling thunder stronger than before, Rhyshladlyn didn’t have to see his face to know the Other frowned at the rapidly worsening weather. “We should probably get things prepped for when those Storms hit,” he murmured almost absently, like he didn’t give two shits either way and he probably didn’t save for the potential danger Rhyshladlyn and the rest of their family faced if the camp wasn’t properly prepared. “They look particularly nasty this year.”
“Probably,” he agreed but didn’t move to disengage from his twin’s hold.
Nhulynolyn and the rest hadn’t been spending as much time in corporeal form since he and Azriel had all but moved into the war camp and he had found himself missing the constant presence they had been back at the cabin. He didn’t have the nights curled with them on the couch while Azriel and Relyt argued over whatever latest game of cards they were playing. He didn’t have early mornings spent laughing with abandon as they fought to outdo each other in sparring matches. He didn’t have midday food fights while Nhulynolyn cooked alongside Azriel in the kitchen. And he missed it.
But since the Worlds only knew rumors of him having Others, knowing of Nhulynolyn for certain and not the other two, that made them his trump cards of a sort. Something none of them wanted but they couldn’t overlook the strategic potential inherent in it. So Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú had taken to staying incorporeal and travelling to and from the City, had followed Bayls Qaeniri to make sure she went about her travels without major issues. They gathered information on the warriors within the camp, making note of any who seemed to be wavering in their commitment to the cause. But they weren’t corporeal.
And with his fellows regulated to remaining hidden to anyone but their kè, Nhulynolyn had refused to stay corporeal as much as he had been solely because it wasn’t fair to his fellow Others. If they couldn’t risk it without showing their hand too soon, he wouldn’t throw it in their faces by doing the one thing they couldn’t. So he only went physical when Rhyshladlyn absolutely needed him. And ever since he had gotten that letter from Relyt, that was often bordering on constantly. Not that Azriel wasn’t sufficient but he hadn’t been there from the beginning, he didn’t share the memories of all the Qishir had suffered, of all the things that made Relyt’s letter hit buttons that Rhyshladlyn had believed long buried or ruthlessly dispatched out of existence. So there was only so much the Anglëtinean could do with regards to consoling him when night fell, training ended, and the camp settled in to get what sleep was available to those who had seen as much as they had. Because the silence was deafening and he had never handled it well.
Nameless, when will this shit end?
“I’m sorry I was born an Other,” Nhulynolyn’s voice was the softest he’d ever heard it, subdued, dejection lacing every word.
Rhyshladlyn’s heart skipped several beats as his thoughts stuttered to a halt before kicking back up and settling on one word: What?
“What?” he spluttered out loud, pulling away so he could turn and stare at the eyes that were so like Anis and Alaïs’, just more white blue than crystal blue in spots, but otherwise the face was a mirrored image of his own. “Why would you ever apologize for that?”
“Because, brother, if I had been born properly, I could have done more to help you sooner,” Nhulynolyn retorted as though the answer were obvious.
Which, sure, now that he’d said it, it kind of was but that didn’t change the absolute absurdity of it.
“Nul’, don’t you dare apologize for something you had no control over,” the Other raised both his eyebrows at him but he pressed on. “It was Fate and its stupid meddling that saw you born as my Other versus my flesh-and-blood twin; nothing you did or didn’t do made that happen, it was completely out of your hands. And honestly? I’m glad Fate meddled. Because I was ten times stronger once we learned to communicate, once the spell that kept us from each other was removed. And I know that had you been flesh-and-blood? Things wouldn’t have been better, they’d have been worse. Because I’d still have been a neodrach, I’d still have been a Qishir, and Anislanzir would have still known because she was a traitorous whore, and he would have pitted you and I against each other. The prodigal heir to the first born and the worthless thing born with him. I’d have resented you just like I did Anny for being the perfect son, for being loved by Father where I was despised,” his voice cracked around the edges and he swallowed thickly, turning to look at the Storms again, voice softer but no less vehement for it. “As it was, I had exactly what I needed. Of all the upsets that Fate and the gods have thrown my way to trip me up, to test my “worth”, you were the one that ended up working for me rather than against me.”
“Rhys…” Nhulynolyn began, tone full of shock, voice shaking, but he cut him off.
“Nully, you are one of the best things to happen to me in this clusterfuck, so don’t apologize for being what I needed, for not being the very thing that probably would have sealed my ultimate fate long before its due date arrived.”
After several moments of silence, moments he knew were so they could both regain their composure, just as Rhyshladlyn was about to say something to break the tension, Nhulynolyn spoke.
“So, the new female in the camp,” he started and Rhyshladlyn was already squinting as he turned around to stare at his twin, not trusting where this new conversation was going. “She’s kinda hot ain’t she?”
“Oh my gods, Nhulynolyn! She’s married to that Lupherinre Demon, Adïmshyl!” Rhyshladlyn snorted.
“What? No! I didn’t mean the ‘Weaver!” he retorted indignantly. “I’m talkin’ about that Sinner, Bayls!”
“Oh leave her be! You don’t need to corrupt any other females,” Rhyshladlyn scolded.
“Oi! I don’t corrupt them!” Nhulynolyn argued, crossing his arms over his chest. “And it’s not my fault that I am a healthy male with needs and they are females who ain’t ever been satisfied correctly before.”
Rhyshladlyn shook his head, clapping Nhulynolyn on the shoulder as he walked past him back towards camp with the intention of getting Thayne to muster all her best Shield casters to protect the camp from the approaching Storms.
“Of course, that must be it,” he laughed, rolling his eyes. “Now come on, we have work to do.”
“Alright,” Nhulynolyn easily agreed, falling into step beside him. Rhyshladlyn narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “So long as this work involves helping me woo that fine female,” the Other continued with a wink.
Rhyshladlyn guffawed, the laughter pulled from deep in his chest, the sound echoing out around them and startling several nearby warriors and soldiers but he couldn’t bring himself to care. While he stood doubled over, hands on his knees, as he desperately tried to convince his lungs to stop convulsing, Nhulynolyn was pouting beside him.
“Rhys!” he whined. “I’m being serious! Help me woo her!”
He only laughed harder, gaining enough composure to keep walking, leaving Nhulynolyn shouting behind him, “Don’t be like that!” before running to catch up with him.
“Nully, never change,” he said, looping his arm around his twin’s waist, mouth open wide with a grin that hurt his face to maintain but he couldn’t drop it no matter how hard he tried.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” the Other promised with a sly grin. “But truly, I really like that female, my twin. And I don’t think it’s just for a one time romp.”
“Noted. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you,” Nhulynolyn gushed at him, sly grin widening until he showed his teeth and his eyes lit up with it.
At least I know Nhulynolyn will always be here to make me laugh. Even if he is a shit in the process.
But when the Other looked away, Rhyshladlyn’s smile dropped away and he felt a his chest constrict. But I cannot bring myself to have hope when I know what’s coming, Nul’. He thought, careful to shield it and the corresponding emotion from their link before looking over his shoulder at the clouds that had now reached halfway past the City and were swiftly approaching the camp.
Especially if the Storms’ early arrival isn’t so much an omen as a taste of what is coming.