As his feet ate up the distance between the square and the Palace’s main doors, his heart thudded in his chest. The panic that blossomed in his stomach consumed his abdomen before bleeding into his limbs leaving a peculiar numbness in its wake.
It had been over a year since he had escaped Fènwa World, had escaped his father. It had been over a year since he was faced with potentially seeing the un-male who had tortured him, raped him, who had done everything in his power to break him. And he wasn’t ready.
Wasn’t ready for when he waved his hand and opened the doors before he, Adïmshyl, and Bayls were even close to them and the panic crawled up into his chest, thickening until he felt like he was choking the closer he came to those doors.
Wasn’t ready when he crossed the threshold and the Wards crackled to life and squeezed around him and the sensation of not being able to breathe increased ten-fold.
Wasn’t ready for the indignant growl that sounded behind him before magick that tasted like a late autumn breeze encased him and the Wards’ hold on him snapped away like brittle twigs underfoot.
Wasn’t ready for the way he nearly sagged with relief as air rushed into his lungs but he didn’t break stride, he couldn’t; he had to get to Azriel and Relyt, had to get them all out.
Wasn’t ready for the way it felt like coming home even if he knew his true home was with his males and his Others in their cabin several leagues north of the camp.
Wasn’t ready for how it even smelled like home.
Wasn’t ready for the echoes of fonder memories as he ran down hallways, ducked into rooms, startled palace staff as he came upon them and passed them by without a second glance.
Wasn’t ready for the ghostly memory of Anis’ laughter and smile and teasing jibes as it followed him while he ran.
Wasn’t ready for the feeling that it was too easy for Bayls to have snapped the Wards’ initial attack on him.
Wasn’t ready for the way the World tilted when he rounded a corner as he ran blindly through the palace like an idiot, merely going off the sense of his links with Azriel and Relyt to guide him rather than paying full attention to his surroundings.
Wasn’t ready for the sultry chuckle he’d know anywhere, the sound having haunted his nightmares since he was a child, as his back slammed hard against a wall, a hand on his throat.
Wasn’t ready for the onslaught of memories that action stirred to the surface, memories he fought to push back into their respective boxes.
But he should have been.
He should have been ready for the moment when he saw Anislanzir’s furious gold eyes inches from his, the sharp striking face that was a near mirror of his own were the un-male’s hair not black and face clean shaven and gaunt. He should have been ready for the knowledge that the Wards hadn’t attacked to kill him, but rather to place a tracker on him until the Lord King could catch up which showed clearly in the Lord King’s triumph smile. Should have been ready for the way his bristling rage banked and hid itself as soon as he recognized his father’s chuckle. Should have been ready for the way he immediately averted his gaze from Anislanzir’s, submitting on reflex alone in the face of his father. Should have been ready for the sudden realization that with them both sleep deprived, bereft of a proper meal in days or longer, stressed beyond comprehension, they looked far too similar for him to have gone so long without noticing.
The random thought of no wonder she hated me, I look so much like the male who abused her before raping her to beget me would have made him laugh had his father’s hand not been locked around his throat, squeezing slowly and steadily; had the knowledge that should he laugh in Anislanzir’s face he’d lose his tongue.
The sound of his name startled him slightly. He’d been so caught off guard by running into Anislanzir so soon after arriving at the Palace that he’d forgotten he wasn’t alone.
Bayls and Adïmshyl skidded to a stop several feet away, eyes wide. They didn’t know the Lord King on sight so naturally they drew their weapons, power sliding to the surface, ready to defend their Qishir without a second thought for the potential danger they were in. And he wished he could just move to warn them. But he found himself frozen, toes barely brushing the floor below him as Anislanzir held him up against the wall without even straining.
“Get your hands off him!” Adïmshyl ordered, green eyes beginning to glow as his berserker side rose closer to the surface, his words barely coherent around a growl.
“Let him go now,” Bayls hissed, her hazel blue wings flared straight upwards to make her appear larger. The light caught the flecks of gold, brown, and green in them, making them seem to shimmer and dance, as she advanced half a step, glancing at him once before she looked back at Anislanzir, expression darkening as she did so.
Seeing them so ready to wade into a fight for him, and against Anislanzir no less even if they didn’t recognize him, was enough for him to believe that he could trust them. It was enough for him to know that choosing them as members of his First Circle hadn’t been a knee-jerk reaction born of the scattered thoughts created by a war. And in that same moment, he knew that losing them would be nearly as devastating as losing Azriel or Relyt.
Fuck, you both need to run.
His body jerked with an aborted movement, instinct winning over his conditioning for half a second. He had intended to reach out a hand to motion for them to leave him, to distract his father, something. What exactly he would have done he wasn’t sure because before he could even attempt the move his conditioning overrode instinct and stopped him.
But that jerk was enough to catch Adïmshyl’s eye and the Lupherinre looked at him, eyes narrowed. His nose twitched and the growl that shook the air made the tiny hairs on his body stand up.
“I tkyelk you again, jhetsuq,” Adïmshyl hissed out, the words a garbled mix of Pherinet and Common, the ground around the male’s feet beginning to tremble as his berserker hit the surface and met resistance. A resistance that wouldn’t last long without Thae’a there to calm him. Fuck. This is bad. I need to do something. Come on, Rhys! Move! Speak! Something! Before they get themselves killed!
Usually his Others were the ones urging him to fight back, to get up, to fight. They were usually the ones motivating him but his head was so quiet, their absence all the more noticeable for it. And he hated it.
He realized then that his absolute terror had cascaded over the hallway, blanketing it in the thick cloying scent of it and that was why Bayls and Adïmshyl were reacting the way they were. That it was the scent of his terror that had Adïmshyl’s berserker fighting to take over and destroy any and all threats to him. That it was the scent of his terror that had Bayls’ wings out and fluffed and beginning to shake with a war display.
Even if they didn’t recognize the Lord King, they recognized his reaction to him. But they couldn’t engage with him in a fight. They wouldn’t win. He was clearly more powerful than his sire, but even then he would struggle to beat Anislanzir if for no other reason than because the un-male had conditioned him to respond to him submissively and with crippling fear his entire life. And even now, after a year of being free, after a year of knowing what it felt like living in freedom and without fear of misspeaking or doing the wrong thing resulting in the maiming or death of those close to him, he found himself falling back into those same habits as though he’d never even left.
Nameless prevail me, I haven’t even lifted my hands to try and get his hand off my throat. Adïm, Bay, run! Please, please, run!
“These belong to you?” Anislanzir asked, voice like rotten syrup as he loosened his grip just enough and Rhyshladlyn fought the urge to shudder. The Lord King sounded conversational, as though he were asking about a pair of breeches or boots rather than living, autonomous Dhaoine.
That flippancy had fury burning up through the terror and he looked away from Bayls and Adïmshyl to Anislanzir who raised an eyebrow at him, head tilted towards his Court, his family. Both he and Anislanzir ignored that they had begun to slowly approach, weapons at the ready. The Lord King had insulted his people on a ruler to ruler level and he wouldn’t stand for it.
His chest heaved as he gulped in as much air as he could while afforded the ability before he rasped out, “Anheil,” and prayed Adïmshyl and Bayls remembered why he would say it now.
Because he couldn’t fight the Lord King if they didn’t remember and remained nearby.
“What will we do if you’re not with Azriel or Relyt, with someone who recognizes Anislanzir, and we run into that bastard?” Thae’a asked as they all ate dinner in the mess tent.
“We’ll need to come up with a code word, something that lets whoever is with you know that they need to run, that you’ve found him. We can’t fight him without all of us and you,” Azriel mused, absently stirring his soup with his spoon as he stared into the middle distance.
“And you certainly can’t fight him with any-a-us nearby unless it’s all of us,” Adïmshyl added from his seat across from Thae’a.
“What word would encompass all of that, though?” Bayls piped up and Nhulynolyn who sat beside her snickered.
“Potato fuckery,” he answered and the table erupted into giggles. The Other yelped when Bayls smacked his shoulder.
“That’s two words, you dolt.”
“Well, d’y’got a better idea, then?” Nhulynolyn retorted, rubbing at his shoulder with a mock-frown at the Sinner female.
“Anheil,” he whispered, and fought to keep bile from rising in his throat at speaking the word again after so long. The table went silent around him as everyone turned and looked at him but he didn’t take his eyes off his own bowl of soup. “It means ‘blessed one,’ or ‘angel’, in Sinxhët.”
“Why would you use a word that means that?” Thayne queried, tone gentle, voice soft, as though she knew the answer would be a painful one for him to give.
She wasn’t wrong.
He didn’t lift his head as he replied, “It’s what my father told me to say if whatever he did to me became too much for me to handle. Said if I ever used that word he would stop what he was doing. Only he never listened. It was the only word I was ever able to say in his presence when he was hurting me that wouldn’t incense him further.” He let out a shaky breath as he felt Azriel’s fingers curl around his hand under the table where it rested on his right thigh.
Anislanzir roared at him but he didn’t care, just smiled with a serenity he didn’t remotely feel as Adïmshyl and Bayls went flying past them, aiming for away, just away. They didn’t stop to argue and for that he was grateful. They remembered the word and what it meant, remembered the promise they had all made at the table that day.
“If I say that word, regardless of who is with me, you run. Don’t argue, don’t try to play the hero and help me. Like Adïm said, staying with me will only distract me because my attention will be divided. You will become targets that will be used against me.”
No one spoke just continued to stare at him and he sighed.
“Promise me. All of you.”
It was silent for a few heartbeats more.
“Please,” he pressed, lifting his head and looking at each of them in turn.
Murmurs of acquiescence rose up then and he relaxed to hear them.
They didn’t know where Relyt was, didn’t know where Azriel and the rest were either. He hadn’t had the chance to tell them that his Companion and Steward were together, that they’d found each other. Hadn’t had the chance to tell them where they were. But hopefully the Sinner and Lupherinre would be able to find them. Anywhere was better than in that hallway with him. He could keep Anislanzir occupied easily if he didn’t have to worry about collateral damage. His family had suffered enough because of him.
What he hadn’t expected was for Anislanzir to drop him and take off after them. But he probably should have given his father was nothing if not insanely unpredictable.
Letting out a roar of his own, he ran after the Lord King, grabbing him by the hair just as Bayls and Adïmshyl disappeared around the corner and threw him against the wall before following after him, landing rapid fire punches to his gut and a knee to his groin. But they were superficial hits, not doing much damage but by the Nameless does it feel good to finally hit the fucking bastard. While the un-male was dressed as though he’d just been going about his usual duties in a black tunic and breeches and boots, Rhyshladlyn could feel the lightweight armor that lay under his clothing. The bastard had worn it for as long as he could remember. It was why he’d never tried to fight back while the fucker was clothed. His only chance of getting a decent hit on him was when Anislanzir was naked or if he aimed at his face. Everywhere else was too well protected.
But by the time his father was naked? He was in no position to do more than pray that his latest torture would be over swiftly.
“How dare you!” Anislanzir snarled, and Rhyshladlyn flinched giving him enough of an opening for the un-male to kick him in the chest just below his sternum, sending him stumbling back far enough for the Lord King to plant his feet, swing back his arm, and then punch him in the chest. With a grunt, Rhyshladlyn went sailing across the hallway and crashed into the opposite wall with a choked off cry. “How could you do this to me! I gave you life! I protected you! I gave you everything. How dare you teach them our word!”
Before he could even catch his breath, the Lord King was on him, golden eyes glowing fiercely, spitting epithets at him as he grabbed him by the front of his shirt and held him up straight against the wall and went to town on him.
But he didn’t fight back. Didn’t try and defend himself. He knew better. Defending himself would prolong his suffering. He just had to wait him out, he’d grow tired eventually.
So he didn’t fight him as blow after blow rained down on his head, torso, legs, and groin.
“You are worthless!”
Didn’t fight back when he felt two ribs break.
Didn’t fight back when a particularly nasty slap tore open the scarring on both sides of his face and the scent of his blood filled the air and stung his eyes.
“I should have killed you when I had the chance.”
Didn’t fight back when he heard and felt his left kneecap shatter under a hard kick.
“You would have been the perfect son if you–” punch “–had only–” slap, slap “–learned to listen!”
Didn’t fight back when Anislanzir’s hand curled around his throat again, lifted him off the floor he didn’t remember falling to, and slammed him hard against the wall.
Didn’t fight back when his father pulled him closer and shook him before pushing him back against the wall which groaned and cracked under the force of his body hitting it repeatedly.
“You’re just as weak as your mother always said you were,” Anislanzir snarled.
Something in his snapped and he looked up, meeting gold eyes that held a riot of emotions from fury to disgust to what might have been love to desire and many more he couldn’t name and didn’t want to try to name.
“Wha–t… d’you… jus’say?” he gasped out around the grip compressing his windpipe and larynx.
“Oh look at you, getting all feisty. Finally. I was wondering when that would happen, ‘Adlyn. I had feared you had gone soft in your time away.”
He growled, the sound barely in the vocal range but he knew Anislanzir felt it rumble under his hand regardless. “What… d’you… just say,” he bit out with more force.
“Does your little winged rapist know you’re so weak, ‘Adlyn? That you actually love when you and I play together?” The Lord King queried, expression smug, lips parted to show his tongue curling around the point of one fang.
There was a beat of silence and Rhyshladlyn felt his rage return and it was cold, knew that his face became devoid of any expression by the way Anislanzir frowned at him. He’d expected to get a rise out of him, no doubt, and he did. Just not in the way the Lord King was expecting.
With gritted teeth he tightened his abdominal muscles, lifted his legs up and pressed his feet against the wall behind him and pushed until he was off it enough for his wings to explode out of his back, showering them both with golden dust and blue-white sparks. Anislanzir did a double take, hand going almost completely slack against his throat as he stared at his wings. Rhyshladlyn grinned viciously then and in a breath dislodged the hold on his throat and broke Anislanzir’s arm at the elbow joint, spun him around while still gripping his arm and pulled the limb out of the socket at the shoulder joint before kicking him away as he screamed.
As he watched the Lord King struggle to get up, to see past the pain that was no doubt clouding his vision with flecks of black, he fought to breathe past the bruising in his throat and the pain of his broken bones. His left knee was slowly repairing itself but it would take some time. He was barely able to stand on it as it was and fighting on it wasn’t doable at all, not with the sheer agony it pulsed at him. If anything that would only risk worsening what damage had been done and he needed a Healer as soon as possible to set it properly and Heal it correctly.
Which means I’m going to have to run. Fuck.
“I am not weak, you worthless un-male. I was never weak,” he snarled out, shuffling down the hallway far enough that the un-male couldn’t easily reach him but not so far that he couldn’t attack him again if the bastard showed a sign of being able to come after him. When gold eyes turned to him he flared his wings in a clear show of dominance and aggression, mouth twisted in a snarling smile that promised that one day he would deal a death blow. “It is you who was weak.”
Anislanzir’s wings snapped out, catching him at the knees and knocking his legs out from under him, fuck how did I forget how large his wings are. He hit the floor with a hard thud and a crack as more bones shifted and broke. Cursing, he scrambled to get his hands under him to push up and away. But he didn’t move fast enough before his father was on him and flipping him over onto his back before he straddled his waist. The un-male hissed, fangs fully bared, true face leaking out around his glamour, hands coming up to encircle his throat and squeeze, before he pulled him up and slammed him back down over and over and over until his vision swam and darkness circled the edges.
Unlike before, this time he struggled, clawing at any piece of skin he could reach until the tangy coppery scent of blood that wasn’t his own thickened the air. He thrashed and flailed even though he knew he was doing more damage. But it didn’t matter because Anislanzir had murder written across his expression. And he’d already died once because of the un-male, he flat out refused to do it again.
“When you pass out, little ‘Adlyn, I’m going to wake you up by taking that second set of pretty wings from you again,” he was ranting, tone calm in contrast to his crazed expression and threatening words. “And when I’m done with that? I am going to hunt down that filthy Anglëtinean of yours and make you watch as I do the same to him. Before I’m done I’ll make you beg for de–”
Rhyshladlyn felt Shiran pulse-pulse around him seconds before a surge of power hit him. With a roar that shook the Palace around them, pieces of the ceiling and walls raining down around them, he bucked one last time and dislodged Anislanzir, flipping him up and over his head, following after him until he was on his feet, his father landing in a heap a couple yards away.
“If you do harm to Azriel in any way, I will bury you and this City beneath the earth,” he hissed, tone holding a discordant resonance that it normally only had when his Others spoke along side him but they weren’t there.
But he didn’t have time to think on that. He had to get the fuck out of there, had to find his Court and get them all out of the City.
Before Anislanzir could say or do anything else, he blinked away, moving as fast as he could with his dwindling energy, following the pulsing call of his males. He hated that he had to leave the bastard behind alive but he knew he wouldn’t be able to kill him without risking dying himself. And it wasn’t his time to die yet. Plus he still had to get everyone else to safety. Had to try and evacuate as many people as possible.
Anislanzir’s war cry rattled the walls around him but he ignored it and blinked faster, his only way to move because running wasn’t doable with his broken knee and the hallways weren’t wide enough for him to take flight and stay up.
I’ll come back for the bastard later.
And if he distinctly ignored the way the golden hue of the walls and floor around him had dimmed never mind the way the floor and walls near where Anislanzir had pinned him down had gone completely grey, he didn’t think anyone would blame him.