Bayls and Nhulynolyn burst into the General’s tent just as the sun was cresting the tops of the sand dunes, looking sleep-disheveled and wild eyed. Before anyone could comment that they had arrived together, Bayls dropped an explosive: “I think a god of Justice is going to kill Azriel while wearing Rhyshladlyn’s likeness.” Chaos erupted in the tent in the wake of those fifteen words.
“What?” Azriel had demanded in tandem with Thayne.
Thyl spit out the sip he had just taken of his coffee and Thae’a and Adïmshyl shared a knowing look that made him uneasy to see.
But Rhyshladlyn kept quiet because all he thought was: this cannot be happening.
It took everything Rhyshladlyn had to keep his face straight, to keep the fear crawling up his legs and over his hips from making it to his spine, to keep a particular box in his mind from shaking loose its chains and unleashing a secret even he wasn’t supposed to know. And it only got harder for him to succeed with each minute that passed.
It had been only half an hour since the Sinner and his Other had blown into the tent but that was thirty minutes too long. Because as Bayls Qaeniri tried her best to finish recounting what she insisted was a Dream and everyone else argued was nothing more than a nightmare of a newly minted warrior fearful of the fighting to come, with each new detail, Rhyshladlyn felt his stomach drop out to knock about between his knees. Because he knew better than to think what the female had seen was anything but a Dream, knew it deep in his bones. Because it sounded like a Dream, one not meant for the Sinner female certainly, but still a Dream nonetheless. And that terrified him.
The only one quiet out of the lot, Rhyshladlyn sat watching as Thayne rolled her eyes and argued back with Bayls. Watched while Azriel paced and frowned darkly and occasionally offered his own pithy responses and Nhulynolyn stared at no one else but the Qishir himself. Watched while Thyl’s kept trying to ask what was going on only to be talked over and Thae’a stood almost demurely opposite him at the map table murmuring to herself as she awaited the best time to offer her own opinion to the group at large. Watched while Adïmshyl leaned against a support pole behind his mate, green eyes intense and his arms crossed over his chest.
He watched as his Court basically bickered and argued rather than take a moment to see what was actually happening, what the Dream was actually signifying. And what was more? They were discounting Bayls not just because of her age as they often did with him, but because she was the weakest power-wise of the entirety of them. That alone was enough to allow his anger to rise and burn away his fear, if only for the moment.
This is not happening.
“Silence,” he commanded, not quite making it an Attend order, but close enough that immediately all talking ceased. “Enough of this bickering bullshit. It’s far too early in the morning and I have yet to sleep or imbibe anything stronger than water in hours. If the kid says she had a Dream? Then she did. While I don’t agree that it is depicting what she thinks it is, it is still a warning and we should pay close attention to it,” he paused, eyes looking at each one of them in turn before he continued. “Yes, out of everyone in this tent she is the weakest on the power scale, but that does not mean she should be discredited immediately as the majority of you have done to her. And I find myself rather disappointed in all of you.”
Murmurs of apologies and embarrassment filled the air.
With a heavy sigh, Rhyshladlyn pinched the bridge of his nose to try and stave off the headache that was quickly becoming a migraine that he did not need right now.
“Tell me again, Bayls, in detail and slowly like I’m a fledgling who can’t grasp simple concepts, what you saw in exact order and with as much detail as you can recall. And start from when Azriel showed up and tore the Sinner Demon in half as that was were you were so rudely cut off,” Rhyshladlyn muttered around his hand, dropping it to look at Thayne and Azriel pointedly before he turned his attention to the female who was staring at him with wide eyes as though she hadn’t expected him to defend her like he had.
Oh, dearie, you don’t realize that I was — and am — treated the same way you were just now far more constantly? It just isn’t as obvious because everyone knows I won’t fuckin’ stand for it.
He snapped his fingers impatiently when Bayls just continued to stare at him, making the female jump. “Today, Bayls.” I’ll defend you but that doesn’t mean I’ll treat you any differently than the rest of them.
And as Bayls spluttered in discomfiture and began to recount everything without interruption, Rhyshladlyn felt his heart sink, felt that fear reach his spine, felt his stomach do somersaults while it danced between his knees, and he slowly closed his eyes. Because the face that the god wore at the end was Relyt’s. Because when that god broke whatever Oath had been made to Dream-Rhyshladlyn, it had done so wearing Relyt’s face. And while it wasn’t exactly what he feared the Dream had shown the Sinner, it was still ominous and he clicked every compartmentalization tactic he had into high gear to keep the what ifs from making him blind to the real message.
Whatever in the goat-fuckin’ milk bottles that is.
He knew the second that Azriel caught on to the fact that it was Relyt’s face worn when Oathbreaker had been roared when their link pulsed with sheer disbelief; knew the second Nhulynolyn caught on as well when a blast of furious betrayal rocketed across their connection. He even heard Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú hiss in tandem down their respective lines — he hadn’t known they were within range again — and he flinched imperceptibly.
*Does this mean that Soul Healer is actually a traitor?* the Nhulynolyn questioned.
I do not think so, but one cannot be sure. Not with a Dream that detailed, even if it was a nightmare, she has never seen Relyt nor heard him described. And yet she described him perfectly? That is no coincidence.
*We are still close enough to Shiran that we could turn around, get in, take him, transport him out of the City, interrogate him and drop him back off without anyone being the wiser,* Shadiranamen offered, her accent thick meaning she wasn’t being mindful of her mouthful of fangs, each ‘s’ and ‘c’ spoken with a sibilant hiss.
*Or,* Xheshmaryú interjected and Rhyshladlyn could just make out him squinting at Shadiranamen reproachfully, *we could simply follow him and report back. Especially since he cannot be away from Lady Alaïs’ side for too long elsewise that ratfucker of a “Lord King”,* Rhyshladlyn could actually hear the quotation marks around his father’s title even if he couldn’t see the Nochresi make the motions with his fingers, *will get braver than he already has been. And we can’t risk that, even if the Soul Healer is a traitor.*
He let loose a gusty mental sigh. Follow him. If you find evidence of betrayal, irrefutable evidence — Shadi, I’m talking to you specifically, woman — then detain him and await my instructions. I will handle him personally if he is what this Dream is insinuating him to be.
*I pray this Dream is saying somewhat different than what we are interpreting, kè,* Xheshmaryú murmured before Rhyshladlyn no longer felt him and Shadiranamen, assuming they had turned around and headed back towards the City.
“I am still not convinced that this is not a mere nightmare,” Thayne was saying.
Rhyshladlyn growled as he focused back in on the conversation, the sound low and fierce, shaking the tent around them.
“She described my Steward to perfect detail, down to his voice,” he countered.
Thayne waved a hand flippantly. “She could have learned what he looked and sounded like when you showed her your memories.”
He felt the left side of his nose twitch in response. “Yes, I did show her the memories of my past, the Truth of it from my perspective, but what I did not show her was Relyt. That was not a memory set she needed. She got only the information she would need in order to combat any naysayers in the Worlds. Yes, she knew of him saving me, knew of his Healer’s Contract, but that was the extent. She has never seen his face nor had it described to her. Otherwise,” he added, voice biting, tired and scared and ready for the entire shit with the war and Anislanzir and his destiny to be over with like ten decades ago, “she would have said, ‘the god took on Relyt’s likeness after it wore your own.’ But she didn’t. Why? Oh that’s right! Because she didn’t know what he fuckin’ looked like,” he smacked a hand against his forehead. “Weird how that works, huh?”
The silence that fell was thick and cloying, worse than the humidity that made the air outside the tent wet and difficult to breathe.
“So by virtue of that alone this was no ordinary nightmare or dream,” Azriel broke the silence after several heartbeats, mismatched eyes meeting his own almost hesitantly. Rhyshladlyn felt like he’d been punched in the gut to see the look of shock, confusion, and a tiny hint of betrayal that flitted faster than a lightning strike across those eyes before it was hidden away. “Which means it was a Dream, one sent to a Dhaoine who has no history in her own life let alone her bloodlines of Visions or Seers. Question now is why did it go to her and not Rhyshladlyn, myself, or Thayne instead of Bayls?”
“If I may?” Adïmshyl spoke up and all eyes turned to him, making the Lupherinre blush and gulp at the sudden attention but he calmed when Thae’a reached behind her and took his hand, pulling him up to stand beside her.
Rhyshladlyn smiled, hoping it looked far more encouraging than he felt right now especially with Thayne bristling in his direction in the wake of his rebuke of her. She can go deep throat a mace, he thought petulantly.
“Go ahead, Adïmshyl, I value your input,” he tried to make his tone far more inviting than his smile.
The Lupherinre frowned slightly, clearly not believing that statement, but Rhyshladlyn let it go for now. He’d argue that point later when he didn’t have more pressing issues to argue over.
“Perhaps we are all so guarded that the gods could not get the warning to one of us who does have a history of receiving Dreams and the like, so the only person not shielded as we are to prevent personal attacks was Qaeniri here,” he began, and Rhyshladlyn found it interesting that he used the Sinner’s family name not her given one; he had thought that part of the teachings on Lupherinre culture was a myth. “Therefore, the gods reached out to her. It would explain the Dream being about you and your qahllynshæ,” he continued, his accent off on the Tengú word as he stumbled around the unfamiliar syllables but he managed it, “and being so gruesome due to the battle that is approaching. It was meant for you, but couldn’t get to you so it went to the next available.”
Thae’a smiled up at her mate, squeezing the hand she still held and the male smiled down at her, fleeting and barely a quirk of the lips but it was there, his gratitude at her support clear.
“I believe ‘Dïm may have a point,” the Dreamweaver agreed, turning her attention back to the group at large. “I have heard of Dreams hitting a Qishir’s Court members when the Qishir could not be reached. It would go in order from Steward to Companion to Warrior and if those were unable to be reached, it would go in order of Acceptance into the ranks of the Court. Which, in this case, would be Bayls.”
“Wait,” Thayne interjected, “if the order is Qishir to Steward and this is about Relyt’s potential betrayal, then does that mean this Dream attempted to deliver its warning to said Steward?”
“No,” Nhulynolyn replied, speaking for the first time since he and Bayls had arrived. “It would have skipped him and gone to Azriel, there is no Warrior, so it would have then gone to Bayls.”
“How can you be so sure it would have skipped the Steward? Never mind how would the Dream-gifter know Bayls is Court when there has been no official naming of her as such?” Thyl questioned.
Rhyshladlyn met the ancient eyes of his twin and felt a shiver go down his spine at the look those eyes held. It was a look that promised retribution, it was a look that promised hatred ever-lasting, it was a look that he had only ever seen on his own face reflected in her eyes seconds before he snuffed the life out of her. And to see it on his happy-go-lucky twin’s face? It was disconcerting.
“Because Relyt would have abandoned his post in Shiran City and already arrived at the camp if he had any inclination that we knew there was a potential betrayal from him. Because if that Dream had managed to get to him, if it had gone to him? He would have assumed that it would be blanketed to all of us, and he would have done his damnedest to get ahead of that,” the Other replied, all trace of drawling accent gone. If it weren’t for his shorter hair, clean shaven face, and electric blue eyes, he looked and sounded exactly like Rhyshladlyn in that moment. And it was clear just how caught off guard everyone in the tent was by it. “Relyt Greymend is a strategist, even if he plays it off that he isn’t. So he would realize that the best strategy he had would be to beat the Dream’s arrival here while the element of surprise was still on his side.”
“And as for Bayls’ listing as Court to me,” Rhyshladlyn looked at Thyl briefly before sliding his gaze to Bayls who had both her eyebrows raised, “official Acceptance does not require a verbal acknowledgement or formal ceremony.”
“So what do we do?” Adïmshyl asked, seemingly less bothered with speaking up after how well his previous attempt had gone.
Rhyshladlyn ran a shaking hand through his hair and shrugged one shoulder, taking a moment to think it over before he looked back at Bayls who was blinking owlishly at him.
“You said that the battle took place on the sands of the Desert, correct?” When the Sinner just kept blinking, looking shell shocked, lips moving silently around the words I’m part of your Court?
Rhyshladlyn pushed off his chair with a bemused huff and approached her, reaching out to grip her shoulders and give her a gentle shake. When those eyes met his and her expression cleared he asked again, “The battle took place on the sands of the Desert, correct?”
Bayls nodded, “Y-yes, your Majesty.”
“Then I shall bring us to him in the City. He won’t have the chance to meet us on the battlefield,” Rhyshladlyn turned and walked over to the map table, looking down at the markers and figurines that denoted troop locations and strategies and plans, mind already reworking their current plan of attack to fit the change of location for himself and his personal unit of warriors.
“Is that such a good idea?” Thae’a countered. “If he is planning a betrayal, won’t he have contingency plans?”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less of him, but it is unlikely for him to be prepared for me to–”
“–You cannot seriously be thinking Relyt would betray you in any way?” Azriel demanded with a sudden vehemency that Rhyshladlyn and several others jumped. “By Ckushayel’s blades, Rhys, his race is incapable of offensive magick unless their lives are directly in danger! And even then they struggle to be anything beyond conscientious objectors.”
“No, I don’t think he’s capable of doing anything like this, let alone kill you, you’re too fuckin’ powerful for that let alone–”
“–then why are you acting as though you–”
“Would you stop interrupting me?” He yelled, slamming his hands down on the table with enough force that it whined in protest, Rhyshladlyn shot back, “I’m not taking chances, that‘s why! If that Dream says a god wearing my likeness takes your heart and that Relyt is the Oathbreaker who helped it get there while we’re fighting here in the Desert? Then I will take us to the City where the streets shift to meet my feet, where the walls pulse and hum in time to my heartbeat, where the great Obelisk sings to me. Even if it gives me only a sliver of a chance of changing that Dream’s outcome I will still do it. Why? Because I cannot lose you, Azriel Kasuske.”
He glared at the other male, upper lip curling up off his teeth in a snarl, “Of every single warrior and soldier and Court member I have mired cocks deep in the loose ass that is this entire shit with Anislanzir, you are the one person whose loss would devastate me. I thought you knew that,” he threw the last sentence out like a blow to the face and hissed a breath out past his teeth, trying to regain control of his emotions as his chest burned and his vision began to blur. “I’m trying, Az, please, I’m trying. There is only so much I can do,” he whispered, looking down at the table, watching as his hands slowly clenched into fists. “And I will take every chance, break every Law, commit every cruelty both known and unknown, make every sacrifice I can think of to see every last one of you alive on the other side of this war. It’s the least I can do given that this war wouldn’t be happening had I been strong enough to murder my father decades ago when I had the chance. So by the Hourglass, Scythe, and Scales work with me. Just this once, don’t fight me. Please.”
“None of this is your fault, your Majesty,” Thae’a spoke into the thunderous quiet that followed his speech. “A child is not supposed to be burdened with keeping their parents in line. And that the gods asked that of you is despicable.”
Rhyshladlyn snorted. “The gods care naught for the suffering of Their pawns.” Especially when They know that that suffering will lose Them one of the few followers They have left. He thought harshly, locking down the memory of his talk with his Patrons months ago more fiercely than before so it wouldn’t surface and damn them all.
Azriel cursed softly in Anglë’lylel, moving to walk around the table and Rhyshladlyn let out a long, shaky breath when he felt those strong arms wrap around him from behind. His head shot up when he felt a hand touch the back of his right one. Looking over he saw Nhulynolyn leaning down into his field of view.
“Whatever y’decide, twin o’mine, I’ll support. Even if I think it’s stupid as fuck, I’ll support it.”
“Thank you,” Rhyshladlyn whispered and Nhulynolyn just smiled at him, the action touching his eyes but not lighting them up as brightly as it normally would have.
For a few moments there was silence and just as Rhyshladlyn got a measure of control over himself and was leaning up and away from the table, Thae’a clapped her hands with a wicked grin.
“So…” the Dreamweaver began, “who approached who?”
There were murmurs of confusion throughout the tent but Rhyshladlyn was already grinning, knowing exactly where this was going but he remained silent, wanting to see how Thae’a was going to broach it.
“Who approached who?” Thae’a repeated, slower this time, as she gestured at Nhulynolyn and Bayls, both of whom looked at each other, frowned, and turned identical looks of confusion back to Thae’a. “Which one of you invited the other over to fuck first?”
Rhyshladlyn guffawed as Nhulynolyn snorted hard enough that his hands flew up to his nose as he groaned in pain and Bayls turned bright red while she stuttered out incoherent replies.
“It was her,” Nhulynolyn said around his own laughter and yelped when Bayls darted forward and smacked his arm. “What!” he whined, “it’s not like it ain’t the truth! No need to hit me for it.”
“You weren’t complaining about me hitting you earlier,” the Sinner retorted with a lewd smile and a wink, making Nhulynolyn splutter indignantly as he tried to keep down a blush.
Rhyshladlyn laughed all the harder, doubled over with it while Azriel made “Ooooh! She told you!” sounds from beside him, the Anglëtinean holding onto the table beside Rhyshladlyn to try and remain standing as he shook with his own laughter.
“Oi! Shuddup, the lot of you! Gods, like you all ain’t ever enjoyed a little slap’n’tickle,” Nhulynolyn pouted, crossing his arms over his chest. He even stomped his foot.
Thyl rapped his knuckles on the table before gesturing with his fingers at Thayne and Adïmshyl. “Pay up, yes? You each owe me twenty silvers.”
“You bet on us?” Bayls demanded shrilly.
“Yes, what other entertainment do we have here?” Thae’a replied, smiling serenely as Adïmshyl handed her two golds and tossed a bag of twenty silvers to Thyl who caught the clinking bag with ease. “It surely isn’t watching Rhys over there make the entire camp uncomfortably aroused when he fights on the training fields.”
“Not that we don’t mind watching you,” Thayne smirked as she tossed her own bag of silvers to her lieutenant, her irritation with him from earlier gone.
As laughter filled the General’s tent and money continued to exchange hands as bets were cashed in on, Rhyshladlyn found himself grateful for the distraction, even if in the distance he heard the City’s bells peal out the first notes of the war song that signaled that Anislanzir was tired of waiting.
At least he had one last good laugh in with his family before everything fell apart.
Oh well, it was good while it lasted.