She hissed, teeth bared as she ducked the whistling blade aiming for her throat, hearing the growl of her husband somewhere behind her but she elected to ignore it. This was not her fault, furthermore it was necessary, so Adïmshyl could just get over it. Plus getting to see what all the hype was about the Grey Qishir and his fighting abilities and style up close and personal? Oh, well that was far too juicy to pass up on.
“You cannot do this, Tee,” Adïmshyl murmured, his large, thick hands curled around her upper arms. Despite them both being rather large despite being farm owners, his hands were still easily large enough to encircle the thickest part of her arm. She tried not to focus on how hot that still made her, all these centuries later.
“I can and I will, ‘Dïm,” she countered. “This is the perfect opportunity for me to study him. I pledged my service, true, but I cannot know him in all forms if the part of him that is so essential to his being, his warrior capabilities, remain a mystery to me.”
“And you naturally can’t discern his abilities by watching him beat up on anyone besides you?” the Lupherinre grumbled, eyes looking far greener than usual.
She chuckled, reaching up to cup his face and pull him down to kiss him sweetly. “I could but I wouldn’t learn nearly as much and you know that.”
And that was exactly what landed her in the predicament she was in now. After hours of arguing with Thayne and the rest that she should be allowed to carry a weapon and wade into the fray, she was told, “Hold your own against Rhyshladlyn for two handfuls of minutes and we’ll give you steel,” by Azriel who had this wicked grin on his face that she didn’t understand nor really appreciate all that much. But it was a challenge and Dreamweavers were not known for backing down from those; their stubbornness alone made it just this side of impossible.
So there she was, dodging and parrying blow after blow while trying not to be knocked out of the circle drawn in the sands never mind to land at least one blow on the blur of movement that was the Grey Qishir. All while her poor husband was snarling at the idea that she could be hurt well before any battle even took place. Because Rhyshladlyn had said there was no such thing as padding steel in the camp.
“You fight as though each battle is real, even sparring,” his voice was rich, rumbling around like the thunder that had shaken the earth the night before.
“For one never knows which battle will be life or death and an enemy won’t be kind enough to make the distinction for you,” she added, raising an eyebrow.
Rhyshladlyn’s responding grin had been breathtaking despite it not having reached his eyes. “Exactly, Thae’a. Exactly.”
“You fight like a blind garden shrubbery!” She snarked as she knocked one of those whistling-fast blades out of the way and swung out a punch at Rhyshladlyn’s face. Or rather attempted to swing a punch out at his face. All she hit was air where the male used to be. “Also will you hold still so I can punch you? You’re worse than farm rabbits.”
Laughter shot out, low and thick, like it had been punched unsuspectingly from Rhyshladlyn’s chest and Thae’a couldn’t help the smile it brought to her face in response. Hearing that laugh always seemed to have that effect on anyone in earshot of it. Perhaps because the one who made it seldom let it out so when it was heard it was like a cool sip of water for the first time on a hot day; refreshing and cleansing.
“When you say that shit on the fields, Thae’a, please make sure I’m nearby so I can see the reactions of my father’s warriors,” came the retort from just behind her on the left. When did he get there? “Because I’ve no doubt their reactions will be fantastic.”
“I’ll be certain to do that, your Majesty. Just as soon as you fight fair and let me land a punch on you,” she countered, trying to keep her own laughter in. It was the most fun she had had in ages. There was only so much entertainment available while tending to a farm in the vast wasteland of farm fields in northeastern Txiwteb World besides having sex, raising children, tending and planting the crops, and occasionally pranking the nosy neighbors.
That laughter ricocheted around the field again, this time several of those watching the match joining in, and Thae’a whipped around to the left just in time to catch Rhyshladlyn’s down-swinging blade with her own, to come face-to-face with Rhyshladlyn’s grinning, battle-flushed face and bright orange-amber eyes that looked like captured suns.
She hissed again, baring her fangs at the male before parrying his blade up and away, swinging her own back down, reversing her grip mid-swing to catch his second blade, the silver of it sending flashes of sunlight into her eyes. But Rhyshladlyn merely yipped at her efforts, swinging his black blade around and down, nicking her where neck met shoulder before she could disengage fully.
“I’ll give it to you, Thae’a,” Rhyshladlyn mused at her almost sounding impressed as she stood a few feet away trying to catch her breath, “you fight better than I expected of an isolated farmer.”
“It’s because I’m plump, isn’t it?” she quipped, smirking to take the sting out of the words.
Rhyshladlyn tipped his head in acknowledgment, hands idly twirling his swords. It took her a moment to realize he didn’t do so to intimidate her with his skill or even to show off. No, he’s doing it because he’s fidgeting. By the Webs…
“It does help lend aid to the persona of the able-bodied but defenseless farm wife,” he acknowledged, “probably what helps that Lupherinre mate of yours from going berserk.”
“It helps also that I’m a damned good fighter,” she retorted.
Rhyshladlyn hummed. “Until you got here and took up arms against me.”
Thae’a snorted. “Aye, until that. Still believe I’m not too bad of a fighter. But what would I know? I’m just a simple farm wife.”
“You’re more than that, Thae’a Xh’taphïrd. But there is something you forgot about,” the Qishir chuckled at her and she frowned, yelping involuntarily when he darted forward, crossing both blades against her own which she’d scarcely gotten up quickly enough to keep him from cleaving her head from her shoulders.
“Oh? And what might that be?” she queried, trying to sound bored even as the muscles in her back and shoulders protested the strain of keeping those sword tips away from her throat.
“I have wings,” he answered, voice barely above a whisper, a dark mirth swirling in those eyes before the air shimmered and shifted, a gust of wind buffeting them as those great wings spread from his back, showering them with golden dust.
Shit. She didn’t have enough time to backpedal out of the sword-lock before one of those eight foot beauties smacked her several feet to the right, sending her tumbling and twisting over the sands.
The roar of Adïmshyl was drowned out by her own cries of shock and pain as her shoulder smacked hard against the packed sands before she slid to a stop, remaining within the drawn sparring circle by a stroke of luck that Rhyshladlyn hadn’t hit her harder. Groaning, she looked up to see Rhyshladlyn approaching at a leisurely pace, as though he had all the time in the Worlds to dispatch her if he wanted and given his incredible speed she didn’t doubt that fact for a second, especially given that she’d been looking right at him and hadn’t seen him move. The red-black feathers of his wings seemed to send a halo around him, the grey tips glinting like steel in the sunlight that beat down on them mercilessly. He didn’t even look winded, the bastard, despite dripping sweat, his tunic long discarded to show the rippling muscles of his chest and torso and arms, skin tanned even darker than his natural tone from literal months spent in the sun training.
Throwing a swift glance over at where Adïmshyl was being held back by Azriel and Thyl, his green eyes swirling with flecks of red, face beginning to contort as his berserker side rose to the surface in response to her cries and the violence against her. She slowly, deliberately shook her head at him, waving her hand to signal she was fine, that he needed to breathe. Instantly at seeing her signals, he quieted, going still, no longer trying to fight to get out of the hold of the two warriors that had barely held him to begin with. Once she saw green eyes with no hint of red, she looked back at Rhyshladlyn who, while he hadn’t necessarily stopped walking, had slowed enough to give her time to calm her mate before disaster struck. Because both she and the Qishir knew that if Adïmshyl hit the sands in a berserker rage that Rhyshladlyn wouldn’t give him or Thae’a any time to try and calm him. A berserker Lupherinre Demon was a danger to everyone, including the mate they went into the rage to protect.
But Rhyshladlyn knew this wasn’t the war fields, this was training, and so he had allowed her time to wrestle control of her mate, the only one who could do so successfully before he picked his pace back up to what it was, his eyes having flicked to his Companion just long enough for Azriel to nod that all was under control before his entire focus zeroed back in on her. Their ability to communicate nonverbally with just looks alone is astounding.
Pushing herself up to her feet with another groan she fell into a fighting stance, sword held at the ready, breathing hard, sweat pouring into her eyes, hair plastered to her forehead and neck in places and frizzed into an angry headdress of brown curls in others. But she ignored it all because the Dhaoine walking so sedately towards her had moved at speeds that no Dhaoine should be capable of travelling at and had she not witnessed them firsthand, she wouldn’t have believed any could move that fast. So she ignored the irritation of her hair and the sweat and the stinging on her arm from the small nick caused by those razor-tipped feathers when the one wing flung her clear across the sands, the smarting burn on her shoulder from when his blade had nicked her, and the throbbing in her right shoulder joint, knowing that the second she moved to correct any of it, Rhyshladlyn would be on her, seizing the opportunity as only a true warrior would.
“Let that be a lesson, Thae’a. One that I’ll give you for free,” the Qishir began, eyes softer than the tone of his voice as it danced around them, commanding the attention of all gathered. “Do not underestimate your opponent. Assume they are capable of great feats, even if they aren’t. For if you make that assumption and are proven right? You’re prepared for anything. If you make that assumption and are proven wrong? Well, no matter. You’re still prepared.”
“Yes, yes, I knew you are a Sinner and have wings but I didn’t bother concerning myself with them for most warriors that are of the winged races have their wings out upon commencing battle,” she cut in flippantly, a bit irritated at being scolded, in a way, by one so much younger than she. Which was petty and childish of her, but it had been literal millennia since she had had anyone best her in a battle, mock or real. “Only you just piss on all the rules of battle and make your own up as you go. Not a bad tactic, even if it’s annoying as fuck.”
Rhyshladlyn inclined his head as acknowledgement of her assessment, chuckling as he did so.
“While that is true, most adept warriors will hold all their cards close to the vest, hidden until the right time when playing them can be of the greatest use to them. Never mind that some winged Dhaoine are not actually capable of extending their wings and using them in battle. Anis–” he stopped abruptly, eyes falling shut hard as he swallowed. But as quickly as the look of grief and remembered horrors showed up, it was gone and he continued speaking as though he hadn’t stopped but Thae’a knew better and her heart ached for him, “–my brother was one such who had wings but was unable to extend them save in moments when his life was in great peril and his magick would act on its own to save him best it could. Otherwise, any attempt made to manifest his wings would likely have ripped him apart.”
“Fair enough,” she replied.
“And yes, I make up my own rules. One cannot outsmart you if you’re unpredictable,” he added.
“And never fight clean,” Thae’a remarked with a sly grin.
The Qishir’s face split into a wide, slow grin then and Thae’a felt fear skitter up her spine and risked a glance at Adïmshyl who was staring intently at her, teeth bared, jaw clenched, his copper hair falling out of his carefully done braid, beard bristling with his barely restrained anger. He was fighting diligently not to go into a full rage, especially after having come so close before. But he was holding it back because she had chosen this. She had requested it. But that smile Rhyshladlyn was sporting? She didn’t think she quite signed up for whatever it meant but even so, she wasn’t going to back down from the challenge it held.
“Now, Thae’a,” Rhyshladlyn began, tone far too conversational for her tastes, “let’s see how well you fare against me with the odds stacked more in your favor.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, fear momentarily forgotten. “And how would you possibly stack them in my favor, Qishir? You’re stronger, have a longer reach both in arm and leg than I do, you have had constant training over decades, and have the mind of a genius when it comes to seeing every possibility in a fight all in the span of an eye-blink. You’d have to break your mind to stack the odds even somewhat in favor of any opponent ever to face you, and even then I’ve no doubt you’d still take them down without any real effort on your part.”
Rhyshladlyn blinked once, slowly, at her before his flushed face darkened all the further across his cheeks and she bit back the smile that threatened to lift her lips at the knowledge she’d made the Grey Qishir blush. It felt like an accomplishment few could boast about.
“Well, I’ll make it a little easier on you,” Rhyshladlyn corrected, that grin still firmly in place as he sheathed his blades with a practiced flourish and vanished them out before pulling his wings back and hiding them away. Holding his hands out to his sides he turned slowly in a circle before facing her again. “I am weaponless, armor- and shield-less. I will not use magick nor my wings. I will solely use hand-to-hand against your magick and your naked steal.”
Thae’a raised her eyebrows, shocked. There’s no way…
“What’s the trick?” she asked, having discovered rather quickly not to entirely trust Rhyshladlyn when he stood as an opponent.
“No trick,” was the easy reply, no hint of deception in his tone or face. “If you hold your own against me like this for five minutes more you’ll have earned a right seldom have.”
“The right to fight at his side personally,” Azriel spoke up, rich tenor voice rumbling along the sands, calling the attention of every warrior within earshot for the Anglëtinean rarely spoke to anyone who wasn’t Rhyshladlyn.
Thae’a turned to look at the Anglëtinean and frowned.
“Won’t everyone?” she asked, confused.
“No,” Rhyshladlyn answered.
“Only those of us in his inner circle, who have proven we can hold our own against him, are allowed to fight within arm’s reach of him. We are his eyes and ears and shields just as he is ours,” Azriel said and Thae’a had to admit she felt just as shocked as Adïmshyl looked from where her mate stood beside the Anglëtinean. But she really shouldn’t be, not after everything she’d heard about the Qishir and those who had sworn fealty, those who were qahllynshæ to him.
Looking back at Rhyshladlyn she raised both her eyebrows at him in a clear, unspoken question. When he nodded in confirmation she let out a deep breath.
“As you wish, your Majesty,” she replied with a short bow. “Shall we begin?”
“At your mark, Thae’a.”
As she darted forward across the distance between them, all sounds fading away as she focused solely on the Qishir in front of her, she had but one thought:
Finally, a Qishir worthy of following; I am so going to enjoy every moment spent in his service.