Everything was chaos but it was a curious form of it where things were actually far calmer than they probably should be. Or maybe it just felt calm because he was in shock and detached with it. Regardless, the Healers were scrambling to help Rhyshladlyn and the warriors were making sure that he hadn’t been followed. But not him.
No, he just stayed on his knees, the coin that Rhyshladlyn had dropped resting on his palm as his thumb brushed over one side, eyes reading the words engraved there over and over; the words that had helped him recognize the coin soon as he had picked it up. He was barely conscious of the fact that Relyt, Chebnir, and Jylen were once again seeing what damage was done to the Qishir, once more scrambling to keep him alive. He caught snippets of their conversation, but was too focused on the coin in his hand to participate, to do anything more than sit there dumbly, staring at it.
“–a rib punctured a lung I think but I can’t find where it–”
“–fuck, his kneecap is shattered–”
“–if even possible–”
“–his cheekbone is fractured–”
“–there’s a piece of his left tibia missing…?”
“–how did he even get here? His magick is all but drained entirely. At this rate he’d need to sleep for a week just to replenish it naturally–”
“–not when he’s tapped into a City that’s likely feeding him magick–”
Because he recognized the coin with its embossed five pointed star on one side and engraved words of to yield is to show strength on the other. It was such a peculiar thing for a Soul Healer, especially a Grey one, to have, never mind something to give to a fledgling who had barely received his gretluos at the time, if he remembered the story behind when Relyt had received it correctly. And because of the peculiarity of it, because he knew that to yield is to show strength was so odd of a statement to be held by a member of a race renowned for its stoicism, for its near emotionlessness, he had never forgotten what it looked like, what it said. Had never forgotten how Relyt had played with it, flicking it over his knuckles one direction and then back again. For the longest time it was the only tell that he’d had that he wasn’t okay. And depending on how he was playing with the coin determined what was wrong. He had always wanted to ask why Relyt’s mother had even had it to begin with, but he doubted Relyt himself knew and then it was just never a good time to ask.
The question now though was why did Rhyshladlyn have it when Relyt had been known to never part with it?
He looked up just as Relyt looked at him and the expression on his face made the Soul Healer pause mid-sentence, a small frown twisting his features, making the gretkewq on his forehead shift and catch the light. His hands were aglow with his power, the tendrils of the intricate knotwork he used for his Healing disappearing into Rhyshladlyn’s body and he didn’t doubt that if he looked beneath he could see those tendrils Healing what they could and marking what they couldn’t. He knew the male hadn’t seen the coin, didn’t notice it resting cupped in his palm, and part of him wondered if that was a good thing.
“I am still not convinced that this is not a mere nightmare,” Thayne said, sounding almost flippant.
Rhyshladlyn growled, the sound low and fierce, shaking the tent around them.
“She described my Steward to perfect detail, down to his voice,” the Qishir countered, glaring hard at the General.
“Azriel?” Relyt queried, jerking him out of his head, his Healer’s composure cracking slightly. It was only the third time he’d seen that composure crack in the time they’d known each other and it made another part of him start screaming, but he kicked it in the throat, shoved it in a hole, and slammed a locked door over the opening.
As much as he wanted to ask about the coin and why Rhyshladlyn had it, to bring it to Relyt’s attention, he knew now wasn’t the time. As much as he wanted to analyze why Relyt’s composure was cracking, he wouldn’t. Because they needed to get out now. Before the un-male used that tracker again to find them all. And with his Qishir out of commission, it fell to him still to get everyone to safety. Not that he felt anymore prepared for it now than he had before Rhyshladlyn had showed up.
He was a solo warrior capable of fighting alongside scores of others, but he had never led anyone. Not like his niece had, not like his sister, not like Rhyshladlyn or Anis. He was in way over his head and he had no idea how to keep himself from drowning and dragging everyone else under the waves with him.
But he said none of that, didn’t let on to any of it. Instead, he shook his head, vanished the coin, and rose to his feet. The shock snapped like a ship line in a storm, the detachment shifting to a battle calm he knew all too well as crisis containment became his primary focus, seconded only to making sure his Qishir and the soon to be Queen of the Sinner Demons were alive and safe.
He may have never led any army or a unit of warriors, but he had spent nearly a millennia preparing for, fighting off, and cleaning up after crises. Next to assassinations and search and recovery operations, crisis response was his speciality. And he tapped into it now.
Everything else could wait. It has to. At least for now.
“Nothing, Rel, I am fine. I’ll get Alaïs strapped to Adïmshyl and everyone else prepped to go. Focus on Rhys. Soon as he’s stable enough to be moved let me know,” he turned on his heel and made for where Adïmshyl was standing next to Alaïs and conversing with Shadiranamen and Nhulynolyn.
“Azriel,” he stopped walking and looked over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised. “Whatever that expression was about just now? You will explain it later.”
It wasn’t a question and he chuckled to hear it, a throwback to when things were simpler and they were still planning to fight this war by themselves; just him, Relyt, Rhyshladlyn, and his Others against the Worlds. To when Relyt had had difficulty adjusting to him and the facial expressions he would make that were very different from Rhyshladlyn’s and the rest, as though his were a language all their own. To when he and Relyt were still learning each other and their places in Rhyshladlyn’s Court. To when making Relyt’s perfect composure break as he laughed until he cried, or yelled shit like, “For the tea!” was his main concern throughout the day. To when hearing Rhyshladlyn giggle was the only job that topped getting under Relyt’s skin and trying not to get aroused watching the Qishir train.
It made a pang of homesickness hit him behind his breastbone hard enough to steal his breath but he ignored it.
“Aye, Relyt,” he promised, the same one he had always made back in their cabin. But he’d only followed through on it half the time, if even that. It was alright though because he knew where he didn’t follow up on explaining his expressions and their meanings, Rhyshladlyn would, just like he always had.
He spared one last worried glance at Rhyshladlyn’s prone, beaten, and bloody form, rolled his shoulders and popped his neck before resuming his walk. Time to get to work.
He directed Nhulynolyn and Shadiranamen to help him weave magickal ropes to use to strap Alaïs to Adïmshyl while the Lupherinre made sure all his weapons were relocated or vanished out. While they did that, he began going down the list of things that needed handled before they could get the entire party moving when a thought struck him.
“Thae’a,” he called and she stepped away from where she had been speaking with Xheshmaryú, Thyl, and Bayls about their exit strategy.
“Yes?” Her accent was far less noticeable now but hearing it once was all it took to ensure he would never not hear it. At least it no longer hurt his ears as much.
“Can you see if Alaïs’ mind is still intact and if it is determine if she is in any mental distress?”
“Do you want me to make a Weave for her?” Thae’a asked by way of answering, immediately on the same page as him and he grinned at her, wide and full of teeth, unable to help it. She smiled back at him.
“Aye. A lot of what allows Sinner Demons to work their magick is the stability and strength of their minds. If their mind is weakened, shattered, or otherwise incapacitated, it will cause their natural magick to fight against even Healing magicks used on them, even if they have given their consent,” he gestured at where the heir was laying, the unblemished side of her face twitching occasionally but otherwise showing no other sign she was trapped in a dream that may or may not be unpleasant. “I think that may be part of the reason why her own magick hasn’t engaged, as well as why what Nully did only managed to stabilize her and keep her from being so close to the brink of crossing the River rather than Heal her fully like it was intended.”
“I’ll do my best but I make no promises,” Thae’a replied, sitting down at Alaïs’ head, gently lifting Alaïs’ shoulders up and laying her in her lap, hands moving to cup either side of the Sinner’s face as she bowed forward to look down at her.
“All I ever ask of any of you is that you try,” he replied and turned to Yrei who had remained quietly off to the side once Nhulynolyn had resurfaced from whatever it was he had been doing to save the heir to the throne. “Yrei, are you able to do something for me?”
Violet eyes turned to him expectantly as she clasped her hands in front of her and bowed low enough to show the back of her head to him. “Whatever you need, Azriel-prec’cin,” she replied with a crooked smile as she straightened. “I am happy to oblige.”
He rolled his eyes at her and grinned when she snorted. At least he read correctly in her body language that she had only bowed and given him that honorific title because she assumed, and rightly so, that it bugged him profusely. Such formality was not necessary in their Court outside of rituals or ceremonies. And sometimes not even then.
“I need you to go around to everyone who is able-bodied and make sure that they have no Healing needs that require attention. I do not care if all they have are sore muscles or a minor bruise, Heal it. I want everyone that does not need extensive Healing like Al and Rhys to be at peek health because when we start moving we’re going to be one giant moving target and one of our most powerful is down for an unknown time frame,” he paused and looked around, beckoning to Jaro who stood loitering behind Relyt’s right shoulder, standing much like a personal guard would and he added it to the list of things he had to ask about. “Jaro, I want you to move with Yrei. As she is Healing, I want you to catalog the weapons that everyone has as well as their strongest abilities.”
They both nodded and walked off to take care of their individual tasks. Running both hands through his hair and absently thinking he needed a shower and soon, he stared down at Thae’a and Alaïs, wondering not for the first time when things had gotten so out of control.
“You make a very good leader,” Xheshmaryú spoke up from his left and he jumped having not even sensed the Other’s approach. “It takes you a moment to get going, but once you do, it’s flawless. You’re a natural. It’s very impressive.”
“I… thank you?” he shook his head. “I really don’t know what to say to that besides I don’t see how I am a good leader, I lack experience in it. I’ve never led anyone before now.”
“That only serves to make it more impressive,” Xheshmaryú replied, smiling in a way that made his violet eyes light up, hair shifting as he inclined his head to show the scarring over his left eye twisting and bunching, something one rarely saw as he took great pains to hide it.
“Thankin’ him is good ‘nough,” Nhulynolyn quipped with his trademark smirk as the Other dropped a hand onto his right shoulder. “‘Specially as Xheshy here doesn’t give out compliments a’that caliber often, if ever. Ain’t that right, Xheshy?”
He mouthed ‘Xheshy?’ before looking at the Nochresi who was baring a fang at Nhulynolyn, his hair falling back over his left eye like normal. “I have told you time and again not to call me that, Nully. I hate that nickname,” he sighed, rolling his eyes when Nhulynolyn stuck his tongue out at him. “But despite that horrible nickname usage, my fellow is not wrong.”
“I use it because it riles ya up, an’ you’re so cute when you’re all flustered an’ shit,” Nhulynolyn retorted with a sultry wink and Azriel snorted hard enough that he bowed forward with it, one hand flying up to cover his mouth.
“I hate you, Nully,” Xheshmaryú snickered, tone full of laughter that took the bite out of the words.
Before any of them could say anything else, Thae’a lifted her head and smiled. “She’s as good as she’s going to be until we get her out of here.”
Azriel nodded, patted Xheshmaryú and Nhulynolyn on their shoulders and stepped forward to gently lift the heir to the Sinner Demon throne as Adïmshyl presented his back while Xheshmaryú offered Thae’a his hand to help her get to her feet.
“Oi!” Nhulynolyn shouted, making half of them jump. “Bay, getcha glorious bum over here an’ help us, yeah?”
The Sinner came trotting over with a fond roll of her eyes. “Did you have to announce how awesome my ass is to everyone?”
Nhulynolyn just looked at her like she had asked why someone needed to eat food to live.
With Nhulynolyn’s and Bayls’ help, they got Alaïs draped over the Lupherinre’s back, tied the rope around her wrists then tied that to a length wrapped around the male’s waist. Her ankles were tied to Adïmshyl’s own. More were added around her legs and fed to the rope around his waist. When Azriel declared them finished, the Lupherinre took a step and she moved with him but didn’t jostle. Adïmshyl took another step, and another, picking up speed as he went until eventually he had trotted to the end of the hallway with very little movement from Alaïs that wasn’t in perfect sync with his own. So he ran back at full speed and had her checked over by Yrei, Nhulynolyn, and Thae’a.
“No worsenin’,” Nhulynolyn reported.
“If anything it seems as though she instinctively knows she’s about to escape and it’s fueling the magick working to Heal her,” Yrei added, pulling her glowing hands away from Alaïs’ back.
“And my Weave is just as strong,” Thae’a noted.
“Good. So that’s one down, now to take care of–”
He cut off with a groan, sinking to one knee with a hand pressed against the side of his head as Shiran thundered against his mind in much the way a fledgling would bang on something with both fists. But this wasn’t done with the unwarranted, and often misplaced, urgency of a child. This was something different if for no other reason than when it thundered against his mind, his Shields collapsed under the onslaught and his mind was once again filled with a consciousness that was at once ancient and different.
Easy, Shiran, easy. I need you to calm down. You’re hurting m–
DANGER. MUST MOVE HEART. URGENCY. DANGER URGENCY DANGER URGENCY DANGERURGENCYDANGERURGENCYDANGER.
What is the danger, Shiran? Give me a direction. We cannot get out of the Palace yet. We need to get Rhys up and moving.
DEAD HEART. RUNNING. FURY. DANGER URGENCY. MUST MOVE HEART. MOVE HEART MOVE HEART MOVE HEART. FOLLOW SIGNS. WALLS LEAD WAY. GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT. DANGER.
With a whimper as his head throbbed, he forcibly threw his mental Shields back up to block out the incessant screaming of Shiran City but it did nothing to block out that note of worried pain from before as it slithered down his spine, followed by absolute terror, and something else he couldn’t really name and he was more than a little apprehensive to try.
“Jaro, Yrei, change of plans,” he gasped, voice raspy, breathing unsteady as he fought to think past the continuous pounding against his mental Shields. “Shiran says we have to leave now,” he added without looking up, hand still pressed against his temple, interrupting the barrage of questions being thrown his way without hearing a single one of them. “Can Rhyshladlyn move on his own, is he awake?”
“Move on his own, no,” came Relyt’s voice, further quieting the din of questions. “He is coming in and out of consciousness but I cannot guarantee that he is aware of his surroundings when he does so.”
“Fuck,” he hissed and rose to his feet and swayed violently, catching hold of Nhulynolyn’s arm before he could fall back to the floor, the Other suddenly just there. Is this how Rhys feels where you’re concerned, Nully? You’re just always right there whenever he needs, without him even asking for you? Mumbling his gratitude, he took a deep breath and stood on his own. “Finish the current knotwork, Rel, we’ve got to go now. Shiran just lost its shit on me. Said, ‘Dead Heart is is coming, run, and southeast.’ And the anger The un-male’s pumping out as he runs is insane,” he didn’t argue when Nhulynolyn walked beside him over to Relyt and Rhyshladlyn. He was able to stand on his own but the ground undulated strongly enough that he knew he wouldn’t have been able to walk without aid.
“Dead Heart?” Thae’a asked, her confusion evident in her tone even though he didn’t look at her to see it on her face.
“Anislanzir,” Shadiranamen answered for him.
He knelt beside Rhyshladlyn with Nhulynolyn’s help as Relyt signaled the last knotwork was done. He gently tapped the Qishir’s cheek, mindful of the barely closed gashes that marred both sides of his face, old scars opened and new ones made. Oh, Rhys, my dearest heart, I will see he is hurt in all the ways he hurt you before he is sent to meet the gods at the River crossing. I swear it.
“Rhys-kyn?” he murmured and watched those eyes flutter open, hold for a moment, close, then open again and hold for longer. “There you are, handsome. I have move you and it’s going to hurt and I’m sorry but you cannot run and we have to go. I’m going to carry you okay?”
“Nyehs,” Rhyshladlyn whispered, voice rough like he was trying to speak around a handful of rocks in his throat. He frowned down at him, realizing at the same time Rhyshladlyn did that he had spoken in Sinxhët. “No,” he tried again, struggling to speak Common, his native accent thick and lilting around the words when usually he spoke without any discernible accent, “Relyt carries me. Knotwork will be easier to maintain then. You’re second strongest. They need your hands cleared to fight.”
“–no, Azriel,” he cut him off. His hand flapped at his side and automatically he reached down and picked it up, bringing it to his cheek, eyes closing as he leaned into the touch when Rhyshladlyn splayed his fingers the action grounding in its familiarity. “I know you want to take care of me yourself, and I want that, too, but it is not logical or safe. Please, don’t argue. Just this once listen to me without arguing.”
“Aye, my Qishir. As you wish,” he replied, turning his head to kiss Rhyshladlyn’s palm, tongue darting out to lick it just to hear him giggle. “I will be right behind you.”
Rhyshladlyn nodded and drifted out of consciousness again. Leaning down he pressed a kiss to his forehead and let out a deep breath, swallowing the lump in his throat and trying to ignore the sense of foreboding that twisted his stomach into knots.
Standing up in one fluid motion, he called out to them all, “Alright, here’s how we’re getting out of here,” he pointed at the hallway that branched to the left off the one they stood in, further down the hallway from where Adïmshyl and Bayls had come running earlier. “Thyl will take the lead. Adïmshyl and Alaïs right behind him, then Nully and Yrei and Thae’a behind them. Relyt will carry Rhys with Jaro at his side following Nully and his party. Shadi and Xhesh will be behind them, then Bayls, Jylen, and Chebnir. I will be last. Shiran has marked the path to safety on the walls. You’ll know them when you see them. Everyone keep your Shields up and at least one weapon free. Key targets we’re protecting are Al and Rhys. They are the first ones you defend, period. No matter the cost, we get them to safety. If we get attacked, form a protective circle around each of them. Those capable of casting stronger defensive magick then offensive will focus on laying Shields over Al and Rhys if we’re attacked, the rest will focus on offensive magick and attacks. If we’re separated, Shiran will lead all of us to the rendezvous point. Any questions?”
Everyone shook their heads.
“Good, get everything together that you need, vanish what you don’t and get in formation. We leave in five minutes,” as everyone began forming up he gripped Relyt by the back of his neck and pulled his forehead against his. “Listen to me carefully, Rel. No matter what happens, you get Rhys out and to safety. Do you hear me? I don’t care what it takes, how much he argues, what happens, you get Rhys to safety, you get him back to Thayne’s camp and you make sure he lives to take that bastard un-male sire of his down.”
“Azriel, what are you–”
“–promise me, Relyt Greymend.”
“I promise, Azriel Veratone,” the Soul Healer answered, clearly distressed and confused, grey eyes dark and filled with swirls of winter-sky grey.
“Thank you, my brother, may the Many always See you,” he straightened and turned to address everyone else before Relyt could say anything else, “Everyone good?” Murmurs of assent echoed back at him. “Then let’s go.”
As they formed up and took off, he glanced back at the circle of grey stone where Rhyshladlyn had been laying and felt his stomach flip at the sight of it having spread to the walls and further down the hallway towards them.
Turning to face the group again as he ran after them, he wondered if one of the other Sacred Cities in the Worlds had started to glow.
And he prayed fervently that they hadn’t.