Azriel’s head snapped up at the sound of Thae’a screaming something in a language that made his ears ache before she was on her feet and running towards the end of the hallway. Just as she reached it, Adïmshyl and Bayls came around the corner, the Lupherinre nearly knocking his mate over as he wrapped her up in his arms and lifted her off her feet. Bayls paused only long enough to find Nhulynolyn who was leaning against a wall, gingerly drinking from a flask as Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú spoke quietly with him. Soon as Bayls spotted him, she took off again, able to cover the distance with a speed that was impressive given that she was pigeon-toed. He tracked her movement with his ears, eyes locked on the end of the hallway, only half listening to her gasp the Other’s name as he did hers before the sound of them colliding could be heard.
An awful dread had begun creeping down his spine.
Where is Rhyshladlyn?
He carefully looked over Adïmshyl’s face, marking the terror and fury, his berserker buried again after he put hands upon his mate. Frowning, he looked back at Nhulynolyn and Bayls. He was unable to see the female’s expression but read the abject fear and guilt in her body language, read it in the way Nhulynolyn’s face shut down and went dark as he stood with his arms around her, mouth moving with words Azriel couldn’t catch over the sudden buzzing in his ears. Knew it by the way Relyt’s eyes widened and met his from where he was behind Nhulynolyn kneeling at Alaïs’ side, the Soul Healer clearly having heard what he did not. His confusion turned to worry and then the worry became fear.
“Where is he?” he asked, his voice far louder than he had meant for it to be, but his chest felt tight and his muscles twitched and he knew his own worry and fear must be showing on his face when Relyt rose to his feet. But he didn’t care. When neither of them answered, he snarled, shoulders rolling as his wings fought to extend, especially given that he knew they knew who he was talking about. “Where is my mate?” he demanded, realizing too late what he called the Qishir but he wouldn’t take it back. He tossed his senses out, trying to feel him but it was like something was blocking it. All he got was this odd static and an unnerving quiet.
It was too much like when his wife had died. That immediate severance of their connection, that pulsing thrum of a second heartbeat alongside his gone as quickly as a snap of one’s fingers.
And the similarity did nothing to assuage his fear.
“We…” Bayls started as she turned in Nhulynolyn’s arms, leaning heavily back against the Other as her hazel eyes met his, the burn on her left cheek red and angry. “We had just made it through the doors. I don’t know how far into the Palace we ran but… it was… out of nowhere–”
“–Anislanzir showed up,” Adïmshyl cut in and Azriel whirled on him, knowing his wings had flared to their full thirteen foot span, the very tips of the primary feathers brushing either wall. He couldn’t help the reflexive action. But the Lupherinre didn’t even blink, just pressed on with a calmness that was rather impressive. “It was like the fuck had tracked him somehow. He passed a corner where one hallway branched off the one we were in and then suddenly Ka’ahne was against the wall with the Lord King’s hand round his throat. If we hadn’t been nearly a hundred feet behind him — for such a wiry thing he runs incredibly fast — Qaeniri and I would’ve likely been struck down when they connected.”
“It happened faster than we could blink,” Bayls added. He turned his head to side eye her and felt a twinge of guilt when she flinched but it was there and gone again. He curled his hands into fists to keep from lunging at either of them because he knew doing so would not solve anything, it wouldn’t make him feel better in the long run, and it was above all incredibly unfair. But that didn’t stop the urge from existing, merely made it easier to control.
“We were prepared to fight, started to engage, but then his terror hit the Currents, and it all went to shit from there,” Adïmshyl continued but he cut him off.
“That does not explain why you both are here and he is not. Now I will ask one more time: where is my mate?”
The silence that followed was as telling as it was deafening and his rage overrode his fear and worry.
“You left him?” he roared, advancing a step, wings rustling as he did so, accent thick, wrapping around each word he spoke until they sounded more like the notes of a song than words. “Did you even try to help him? Or did you just run like fucking c–”
“He said anheil!” Bayls yelled, stopping him cold. He dropped his wings and turned to stare at her with one hand outstretched towards him, fingers splayed, the other digging her nails into the skin of Nhulynolyn’s forearm. “We were ready to fight the un-male bastard, Az, I swear it. Sure neither of us recognized the pig fucker, but we felt his terror, and nothing scares Rhys besides you dying but I’ve never tasted his terror like that except in his memories. He was so damned afraid and I knew it was that bastard father of his but… he spoke anheil and we ran.”
“Only because we made a promise to do so,” Adïmshyl added, sounding utterly unbothered by the fact that he had been about to get six plus feet of furious Anglëtinean barreling down upon him only a moment before, that he had nearly been called a coward, would have been had Bayls not interrupted him before he could get the word out. “Otherwise I would never have left him with that madman,” the Lupherinre sighed, reaching up to cup Thae’a’s cheek when she shivered hard against him but his iridescent green eyes never left him. “As it was, the un-male tried to follow us but Ka’ahne stopped him. If only barely. We were out of earshot pretty quickly after that.”
He fought to take deep breaths, to breathe past his rising panic, his misplaced anger. He could practically hear Rhyshladlyn’s voice scolding him like he always used to.
“Come on, Azzy. You have to take deep, controlled breaths,” the second heir said with a tone of a sagely Elder, orange-amber eyes standing out vividly against his darkly tanned face, his smile showing he was internally making fun of him in a way that was only because the prince was so fond of him.
“How is breathing supposed to keep me calm around the Lord King, Rhys-prec’cin?” He asked, raising a dubious eyebrow. “He burned your arm from shoulder to wrist. You’re barely able to move it! And I’m supposed to act as though I do not want to rip the skin from his body and fashion it into armor?”
Rhyshladlyn’s face sobered, the smile dropping away as he methodically bent and extended his right arm over and over, an exercise ordered done by the Healers so that he wouldn’t lose movement in it, as the worst of the scarring and damage had been at the elbow joint.
“Yes,” the prince replied at length. “Yes, you are. Because if you don’t? We’ll all die. So deep breath in for the count of ten, out for the count of five. Trust me… the amount of times I’ve used that to keep from going nova, let alone Alaïs and Anis? I guarantee it will work.” And just like that, that mocking-but-was-really-fondness smile returned like it had never left.
And so he breathed that way now. In to the count of ten, out to the count of five. Repeated it until he no longer felt the knife-edge sharp need to destroy, to rip apart the Palace until he found his Qishir, until he could hold him to his chest like Adïmshyl held Thae’a, like Nhulynolyn held Bayls, like Relyt would hold Alaïs had she awoken already.
But it didn’t stop his fear, maybe his anger, but not his fear. Sure, he knew what they had all promised. He was there, he had made the same promise. And yes knowing they had kept to it absolved them of any wrong-doing, it didn’t make him feel better about Rhyshladlyn having been left alone with Anislanzir. Because he also knew what the Lord King had done to his son before, what the un-male was truly capable of, and that it meant there was a likelihood that Rhyshladlyn wouldn’t walk away from that encounter alive. That before it had even started, this entire thing was possibly over. And on top of all of that, he couldn’t sense Rhyshladlyn. At all. There was just dead space where their link should be and that did nothing to alleviate his fear.
If anything, coupled with the knowledge that it was so very similar to when he lost his wife? It made it all the worse.
“Azriel, peace, brother,” Relyt murmured soothingly, his power brushing over him, the Soul Healer’s hands coming up to grip his wrists and gently pull his hands from his face. When had the male even moved? Let alone when had he covered his own face? Fuck, pull yourself together, Azriel. You’re better than this. “Breathe, he is not dead. Shiran would have lost its shit if he were, never mind we would have felt his loss just as we did the first time.” Hearing the Soul Healer curse so flippantly when he normally didn’t was soothing, if only a little.
“But, Rel, the link is–”
“–I am aware of how the link feels, Az,” Relyt cut him off, smiling kindly to soften the sting of his rebuttal, one hand releasing his wrist to push his hair out of his face with a fondness he rarely showed so publicly. “But the link still exists, doesn’t it? Which means he lives.”
“How did you find us?” Shadiranamen piped up then, voice still sounding sibilant as she struggled to pronounce the words enough that they were understandable. Gods, I really need to pull myself together. I should have asked that question immediately after they arrived and I knew where Rhys was.
He glanced at her and she nodded, the movement barely noticeable, telling him silently that she had done it to help distract him from his worry. He gave her a shaky quirk of his lips in return as a silent thank you. She winked back at him and he snorted under his breath.
“I have a link with Tee that’s of a similarity to what the lot of you share with Ka’ahne,” Adïmshyl answered, pulling Thae’a closer to him, and he felt a stab of jealousy to see it, wishing that he could do the same with Rhyshladlyn. “Otherwise we likely would’ve been running in circles for a while longer looking for all of you. This place is worse than a maze.”
Relyt patted his cheek, murmuring that he needed to go back to Alaïs. Nodding, he stepped aside to let Relyt past him and ran a shaking hand through his hair before taking a deep breath and letting it out slow.
“Alright, well we need to get Alaïs and the rest out of the Palace, especially if Anislanzir is running rampant through the halls looking for Rhys, let alone fighting with him. Any fight between those two will cause more damage than the initial attacks that collapsed parts of the Palace in the first place,” he turned and looked behind him at Relyt, one eyebrow raising at the male, as his warrior calm slipped back over his mind. “Can she be moved?”
“Wait…what about Rhys?” Bayls asked. “Shouldn’t we at least wait for him?”
“No. If he got away alive, he’ll meet us outside the City. It was the backup plan we discussed should we somehow ever get separated once the war started,” he answered, rubbing at the flash of pain behind his sternum as he spoke.
“Discussed with who and when?” Thyl demanded and he narrowed his eyes at the Druid.
“Long before we moved our cabin the first time,” Relyt retorted before he could even open his mouth, tone hard and making it clear the subject was not up for discussion or further debate.
“Like I asked before,” he pulled his gaze from Thyl and looked back at Relyt, “can she be moved?” He gestured at Alaïs.
“If we’re really careful? Perhaps. But there’s major internal damage that will take several hours to Heal completely. Nully managed to save her but it didn’t bring her completely back to full health. Even with myself, Chebnir, and Jylen working together it will take some time.”
“We cannot stay here, not if the Lord King is out of his rooms and knows Rhys is here,” Jaro commented.
“Never mind that he’s already found Rhyshladlyn the once,” Thyl said.
“And is probably still having a knock down drag out fight with him,” Jylen added.
“I know,” he rubbed at his temples, trying to think of what to do while the only thought he had was running to find Rhyshladlyn. Even though he knew the Qishir would want him to get everyone out of the Palace and to safety, his nature as a Companion and mate-bonded male demanded he do otherwise. His warrior calm made it easier to think logically, to fight against his instincts, but it didn’t shut them up. He can take care of himself, but by the High Ones, do I want to be at his side just in case. But he couldn’t leave their Court, and if he did leave the Court, if he broke his promise? Rhyshladlyn would be furious. Few things truly scared him, but a furious Rhyshladlyn was definitely at the top of his list.
But with Rhyshladlyn missing in action for the moment, it fell to him as Companion to lead in his place. And he felt vastly unprepared for the task.
“I can carry the Lady if need be,” Adïmshyl was saying and he focused back in on the conversation.
“We will have to strap her down to you tightly enough that she does not jostle while we run,” Relyt mused, looking the Lupherinre over critically as he spoke, the index finger of one hand tapping against his lips as he thought. “But it would be exceptionally risky. We’re rather far from the nearest City wall.”
“And that’s not accounting for how we’ll cross the Field to get her back to the camp,” he observed and Relyt hissed, clearly having not taken that into account. If the situation weren’t so serious, he would have chuckled to hear it. The Soul Healer dropping his stoic mask like that had always been entertaining to him. Like a puzzle he had to solve.
“Would taking a Line be easier?” Xheshmaryú offered.
“No,” Nhulynolyn denied. “Only cuz we’d need a Line Carriage an’ there ain’t any-a-those nearby. Cuz the only Dhaoine I know of our number here, let’lone in the Worlds, that could carry another person with them without usin’ a Line Carriage is my twin. An’ as he ain’t here…” he trailed off with a shrug, chin dropping to Bayls’ shoulder, arms tightening around her waist. “We’re left t’either goin’ by foot or hunkerin’ down an’ waitin’ till Rhys gets here an’ defendin’ what we can till reinforcements arrive.”
“What about that thing you and Rhys can do?” Bayls turned her head so she could look at the Other when she spoke. “What is it… blinking or some shit? Could you do that and get at least Alaïs out?”
He watched as Nhulynolyn thought it over, knowing it was possible as nearly every ability their kè had, the Others themselves also had, but it could be very disorientating for those not used to it or expecting it. And if they weren’t able to jostle her? It stood to damned good reason that they couldn’t risk transporting her that way.
Nhulynolyn seemed to come to the same conclusion he did at the exact same time.
“No… too risky as well, if only cuz shit shifts when I do that an’ I ain’t riskin’ that whatever is misplaced now gets made worse and she dies,” he said at length. “And I sure as fuck ain’t gonna be the one to tell my twin why his sister died. Especially if it was cuz’a me.”
There were murmurs of agreement around the hallway.
“Don’t forget,” Thae’a piped up, voice holding the echoes of the language she’d spoken before in the accent that curled around her words, “we are not getting reinforcements. Thayne will only breach the walls once all innocents are evacuated and Rhys is able to lead the army in.”
His cursing was nearly drowned out by everyone else’s, the mishmash of different languages oddly melodic.
“So we’re strapping her to the Lupherinre then,” he said it like a statement but Relyt answered it like it was a question.
“Seems like it is the only option we have. Come and help me, Azriel,” the Soul Healer beckoned to him.
As he walked over to help lift Alaïs, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, every instinct coming alive and screaming. Looking around carefully, senses going where his eyes couldn’t see, he frowned when he found no immediate danger.
Just as he opened his mouth to mention it, the air displaced with a loud pop and Shiran sang a single note of worried pain along his spine before the telltale thud of a body hitting the floor made silence fall. He turned around at the choked gasp Bayls made and saw Rhyshladlyn laying in a bloodied heap several feet away. His heart rose into his throat as his stomach sank to play between his knees at the sight.
“Rhys!” he yelled as he and Relyt moved in sync and ran towards their Qishir.
That note of worried pain slipped down his spine again and Azriel shuddered as he came to his knees beside Rhyshladlyn. Orange-amber eyes fluttered open and met his, a pained smile twisting his lips. “Leiphkin,” he whispered, voice hoarse, and then his eyes closed, body going limp and his outstretched hand unclenched, a silver coin falling from his hand to the floor with a soft chime that echoed loudly in the heavy silence that filled the hallway.
As his eyes tracked the movement of that coin, he realized that the floor around where Rhyshladlyn lay was no longer golden but grey.
And if he had been afraid before, it was nothing compared to how he felt seeing that.