He heard the hiss-crackle of offensive magick with just enough time to dodge it so it hit the wall several feet ahead of him on his right, the heat of it burning across his shoulder. Staring at the damage with wide eyes, he sidestepped to the left and kept running. Rhyshladlyn hissed as the move jostled him where he had the Qishir draped over his left shoulder, facing back the way they had come.
“Sorry, my Qishir, but I do not believe it is going to be a smooth ride anymore,” he told the Qishir who merely grunted in answer.
“It’s the Lord King! Shields up!” Azriel’s voice sliced through the clamor of screams of Palace staff as they got caught up in the crossfire, of defensive magick shifting and closing around their party, of various party members calling out to each other as they shifted positions just so.
He had never noticed before how clear and crisp the Anglëtinean’s voice was, how it could be heard across great distances with the same clarity as if the male spike right next to him, and he felt stupid for not catching on that Azriel could throw his voice like that. It only made sense that a race whose language was basically singing could do that. He also realized then why they were so sought after for warriors to supplement armies: one didn’t need magick to enhance their voice when there was an Anglëtinean nearby. And this realization only made him feel all the stupider for having not figured it out sooner.
He shook his head to clear it and focused on what was going on around them.
Another stream of magick came whistling up behind him with a shout of warning from Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú. Glancing over his free shoulder he saw it was aimed right at the center of his back and hissed, “Hold on!” before he dropped into a backwards leaning squat as he side stepped further to the left, wings flaring out to keep him balanced. With a peculiar form of detached indifference, he watched the attack go sailing over them to where Jaro snarled and deflected it into the wall to Relyt’s left where it exploded on impact and sent brick pieces splintering in every direction as he straightened back up, wings tucked into his back once more. The Soulless moved to run slightly behind them, his magick shimmering behind him as he threw up a Shield to cover the three of them as they kept running.
“Don’t you know how to throw up Shields?” Jaro questioned as they moved, jerking every time an attack slipped past the defenses of the six between them and the Lord King and thwacked loudly against his Shield.
“He does,” Rhyshladlyn replied, voice strained as the air kept getting pushed out of him while Relyt ran. “But what magick he has to spare is focused on the knotwork that’s been continuously Healing me this entire time.”
“Fair enough,” Jaro looked over his shoulder and nearly fell when an attack hit his Shield right in front of his face. “Fuck!” He snapped, flinging his own attack up and over his Shield before looking back at them as he added, “How’s that coming, by the way, the Healing thing?”
He couldn’t see the sickly sweet smile that was anything but sweet that twisted the Qishir’s lips, but he could hear it in his voice when he answered, “Well enough that if Relyt would place me on the floor so I could make direct contact with Shiran, I’d able-bodied enough once more to fight. Then I could show my father a good time like a proper son should.”
“No,” he denied immediately. “I’m not putting you down and you are not fighting.”
“Like you have any ability to give me orders, Relyt Greymend.”
He knew that tone and the danger it warned of but he didn’t give a shit. He had made a promise to get the stubborn git out of the Palace and out of the City. No matter what the cost. And if the cost was him getting reprimanded and punished by said Qishir for ignoring his order? So be it. But that tone warned of an attend order and the Many only knew that if Rhyshladlyn spoke that, no one among them could fight it, least of all him as qahllynshæ.
“I do as your Healer, your Majesty,” he retorted, allowing himself to be snarky by defaulting back to how he used to refer to him when Rhyshladlyn still called him by his full given name, well the full given name he knew.
“Relyt Greymend, put me down,” Rhyshladlyn’s voice had taken on an even more dangerous edge than before and all it took was a glance at Jaro to know exactly what facial expression accompanied that tone.
He sighed softly, “Is that an order?”
“I can make it one if necessary.”
“You swear upon your Patrons that Shiran can bring you back to full capacity?”
“Yes,” Rhyshladlyn huffed. “Why are you arguing so much on this, Rel?”
“Because while I fear you healthily, my Qishir, I fear your Companion unhealthily should I listen to you and harm befall you on my watch.”
“Fair enough on that, Az has the tendency to go over the top where I’m concerned.”
“Everyone does, your Majesty,” Jaro quipped and Relyt caught a flash of his grin. “Jaro Erosson, pleasure to meet you, since we haven’t had the proper chance to be introduced before now.”
There was a pause that was thick enough to cut with a knife and Relyt found himself focusing back on the hiss-crackle of offensive magick as it continued to weave around them, the shuh shuh of defensive magick engaging and occasionally the swsh swsh of the two colliding. And over it all was Azriel calling out orders and directions, shifting the formation around so that Rhyshladlyn and Alaïs and their carriers were better defended, and just below the clear cut sound of Azriel’s voice that reminded him of the light atop a lighthouse warning of rocks along the shoreline was Anislanzir’s voice as he shouted profanities and screamed unintelligibly in Sinxhët. Whatever the Lord King yelled was lost on all but three in their party, one of which was unconscious, and the other two weren’t concerned with playing translator.
Not that anyone cared what the insane Lord King was saying anyway.
“Erosson… Ero Yi’anrosson was your father?” Rhyshladlyn murmured at length, voice soft but somehow carrying over the cacophony around them, a sliver of guilt leaking into his tone, making his accent thicken with each word.
As soon as the Qishir’s words sank in fully, he nearly tripped over his own feet. Ero was Anis’ personal guard. But there’s no guarantee that Jaro’s father was the Ero we both knew. There could be several Ero’s in the Soulless race.
“Yes, Ero Yi’anrosson nóh Ka’ahne was my father,” Jaro replied, voice just as soft as Rhyshladlyn’s. I stand corrected. Apparently there aren’t a lot of them after all. “He spoke well of you in his letters. It’s one of the reasons I am here. He feared he wouldn’t be able to keep you and Prince Anis safe for very long and tasked me with taking over if…when…he died,” the Soulless’ words held a clear forgiveness that the Qishir would never ask for but needed to hear regardless.
Rhyshladlyn’s breath hitched in a way that had nothing to do with how he was running and his heart broke a little at hearing it.
“Relyt put me down immediately,” he barked, the order holding the barest hint of an attend and he shuddered to hear it, the sound slipping along his nerves like the first touch of pleasure and he fought against the urge to groan as his eyes rolled back.
“Aye, my Qishir,” he answered obediently, hoping his voice didn’t sound as breathless as he felt. Carefully, he slowed to a stop and allowed Rhyshladlyn to slip down off his shoulder to stand in front of him. The second the male’s feet touched the floor a pulse-pulse blew out from him and Relyt flinched as it smacked against his shins like a dog would that wasn’t getting enough attention.
“Anislanzir!” Rhyshladlyn hollered, voice like thunder as it cascaded out into the hallway, bringing their entire party to a sudden halt. As he walked forward, Relyt following his movements, eyeing the knee that had been shattered not even an hour ago, he felt fear slip down his spine, cold and consuming.
Because with each step Rhyshladlyn took, where his feet had been the stones were no longer gold but grey.
“You want me, huh? Well here I am, you fuckin’ coward!”
Those that stood between Rhyshladlyn and his father stepped to the side to allow for a clear path to the Lord King. With each step he took that pulse-pulse grew stronger and stronger until his knotwork snapped and fell away, no longer needed as every wound was healed by Shiran City’s magick pumping up into the Qishir. Looking beneath Relyt could see the connection, could see the tendrils of grey flecked with gold as they coiled around Rhyshladlyn’s legs and crawled up over his hips. Shaking himself, he focused back in as Azriel stepped up beside Rhyshladlyn, hand curling loosely around the Qishir’s wrist, making him turn those glowing orange-amber eyes to the Anglëtinean’s mismatched ones. When did those eyes become so normal looking to me? He wondered apropos of nothing.
“Rhys, we need to leave. Please, just run,” Azriel murmured, expression holding all the love and fear he wouldn’t voice and to see it made him breathless, made him realize it had always been there but he’d never noticed before.
“No,” Rhyshladlyn hissed back and pulled his wrist out of Azriel’s grip. “He threatened to take your wings, Azriel.” He said nothing else but he didn’t have to. That was more than enough to get Azriel to back down.
“Everyone, keep moving!” Azriel addressed the rest of them. “We’ll be right behind you!”
He turned to watch as everyone but Rhyshladlyn’s Others resumed running down the hallway, disappearing around a corner.
“Nully, Shadi, Xhesh, go with them. There’s no telling what traps that bastard laid throughout the Palace,” Rhyshladlyn’s voice was steady, holding a calmness that Relyt knew he didn’t feel but no one commented on it. “You three are the only ones capable of detecting and defusing them in my stead. Go.”
“Twin, I can’t do that–”
“–we are not leaving you–”
“–that un-male isn’t getting his hands on you again, my kè.“
They spoke all at once, their words tumbling over one another until it was a wonder he was able to discern whose voice belonged to what words. Rhyshladlyn looked over his shoulder at them, eyes hooded, looking like captured flames in his scarred and blood-soaked face.
“We will be right behind you. I swear it, now go.”
For a moment more none of them moved then Shadiranamen turned and took off, Xheshmaryú two steps behind her but Nhulynolyn remained where he was, ice blue eyes staring at his twin with a hardness he had never seen the Other have before.
“You will be following us,” the Other stated, eyes flicking away to watch as Anislanzir began slowly approaching them, the Lord King’s hands glowing as his magick swirled and condensed into balls of energy in his hands. The Other’s words held an order all their own, the hardness of his expression bleeding into his tone, leaving absolutely no room for argument.
“Yes, Nully, I promise. Please, go,” Rhyshladlyn replied, a hint of begging slipping in around the words.
But Nhulynolyn didn’t leave yet. Instead those blue eyes turned and regarded him and then Azriel before he looked at them both at once, a feat that was impressive all on its own. One that had him trying not to hunch his shoulders like he did when he was little and his parents were scolding him.
“If he dies, I will make sure that you both regret the days you were born,” and with that the Other turned on his heel and took off after the rest, gone from sight between one eye-blink and the next.
“It must run in the genes,” Azriel muttered under his breath, giving one slow blink, eyes wide.
He snorted, unable to help it.
“Now where were we?” Rhyshladlyn smirked at them both before he turned and faced Anislanzir again, lifting his hand just as the balls of energy came flying at them, deflecting them easily. “Oh, that’s right, patricide.”
Rhyshladlyn slapped his hand out against the wall to his left and a ripple of magick went flying down towards the Lord King before the walls on both sides exploded, the ceiling dropping down to the floor as its supports went crumbling beneath it.
“But I’m late for an appointment so you’ll have to wait. Play with you later, fahmen!”
Before he or Azriel could even process what had happened, Rhyshladlyn was running past them, hands grabbing theirs and dragging them along as Anislanzir’s enraged shout followed them from beyond the rubble that blocked the hallway.
“What the fuck?” Azriel spluttered. “I thought you were going to fight him?”
“I will…just not right now. Not with the lot of you still in the Palace, not with Al barely holding on, and sure as fuck not with everyone else that’s still an innocent left in the City.”
“Then what is the plan now?” he asked breathlessly as he tried to keep up after Rhyshladlyn had dropped their hands.
“Now?” Rhyshladlyn mulled it over, eyes losing focus as he reached out to his Others. “Now we catch up to the rest, they just made it to the exit point, and get the fuck out of here. We’ll figure everything else after that.”
They didn’t speak after that, just focused on running and he found himself switching between watching Rhyshladlyn and Azriel as they ran, watching how they ran in perfect sync, how they moved flawlessly around each other, how they seemed to know exactly where the other was without looking to confirm it. He wondered if he moved the same with regards to them. Wondered if he had the same spatial awareness of Rhyshladlyn that Azriel did and vice versa. Wondered if the love they had for each other was evident in him, just a different flavor. Wondered if it was as obvious to everyone else as it was to him.
Just as they rounded a corner and saw the hole that Shiran had opened in the Palace wall where it jutted perfectly against the City wall itself, the rolling sands of the Desert seen just beyond it, he felt a prickle of warning slip down his spine. It was all he had before the World inverted itself as he was sent tumbling forward, pain lancing down his left arm, the sound of his wrist breaking as he tried to catch himself loud in his ears, the pain muted as he shut down that part of his mind and focused on what had sent him feet over head. The pain in his arm had the distinct flavor of magick and he growl at the scent, cloying and smelling of dead things long left to rot. As he rolled to a stop he shook his arm out and focused all his power on clearing the remnants off himself.
He sat up to find Rhyshladlyn with his wings out as he twirled and ducked, expertly wielding Beannacht and Mallacht, face pinched into a cold-burning fury, eyes having broken past the iris to bleed into the sclera, meeting the Lord King blow for blow. Azriel was leaning against a wall not far from where Rhyshladlyn was engaged with Anislanzir, the Lord King and his son hissing back and forth at each other in their native tongue, too fast for him to even attempt to follow regardless of whether he knew more than twenty words or not. Gritting his teeth against the pain as his magick shifted focus and began healing his broken wrist, he pushed himself to his feet and slipped around his Qishir and the un-male he fought to get to Azriel. Dropping into a crouch beside the male, he reached out and cupped his neck, magick washing over the Anglëtinean and Healing what it could in the immediate moment without requiring deeper concentration. Thankfully what damage there was was mainly superficial and easily taken care of.
“Rel,” Azriel coughed, spitting blood and what looked like a piece of a tooth out onto the floor before focusing back on him. “You need to get Rhyshladlyn out of here.”
He glanced at where said male was snarling at his father, the two almost evenly matched but only because Rhyshladlyn was already weakened. Looking back at Azriel he gave him a hopeless look. “How? I’m not wading between them. That would be a suicide mission.”
“They’ll separate, they always do. It’s a move Anislanzir is fond of: disengage, step back, assess, one breath, two, then run at opponent. He always does it. And when he does? You grab Rhys and run for the doorway, it’ll close soon as he’s through it.”
He narrowed his eyes at Azriel then. “What about you?”
The Anglëtinean smiled at him, but it was sad and what little of it touched his eyes made them shimmer in a way that he suspected had more to do with barely held back tears than emotion.
“I’ll tackle the Lord King and occupy him long enough for you to get Rhys and get out of here.”
He snarled, low and dark, wings breaking out of his back but he kept them from extending out to their full span by sheer force of will alone.
“No!” he denied, shaking his head as he did so, his hand gripping harder where it rested against the side of Azriel’s neck, his other one coming up to cup the other side. “I will not leave you here with that bastard creature! Do you forget I was his plaything in our Qishir’s stead for the last several months? I barely survived it. You and I are not made for that kind of torture. And with Alaïs gone as well? You will be his sole focus. I will not do this stupid, stupid thing you ask of me, Azriel Veratone!”
“But you gave me your word,” Azriel replied, looking guilty and sad all at the same time and by the Many, he wanted to strike him for it. Especially because he was right, damn him.
“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.”
His native tongue sounded and felt foreign on his tongue as he cursed and pushed roughly away from Azriel, rising to his feet and pacing away a few steps before coming back, reaching down to grab the male by his shoulders and haul him to his feet just so he could press him back against the wall, one hand slamming against the stone just above his shoulder.
“You planned this! You knew this could happen!” He gestured at Rhyshladlyn and Anislanzir sharply. “That’s why you made me promise!” He growled, wanting to yell but knowing better than to distract Rhyshladlyn while he fought. Anger burned hot and swift in his veins and he had to swallow convulsively against the need to shake the Anglëtinean, desperately trying to remember his training to regain control over his emotions and failing. “You underhanded–”
“–Relyt!” Azriel cut him off, hands coming up to grip his arms just above his elbows, the male’s lighter skin contrasting beautifully against his own, his gretluos humming happily when his fingers touched it. “I had no other choice. No one else could ensure that Rhys would make it out alive, not without risking themselves and him to get me out, too,” he paused, eyes drifting past him to look at Rhyshladlyn before refocusing. “I have suffered worse than what the Lord King could do to me and he won’t harm me too much, he won’t kill me either. He needs me alive so that Rhys can watch me suffer, so Rhys can know I’m suffering. And it won’t be for long. This way the Triad isn’t entirely weakened, I’m too good of a prisoner to risk killing, and Rhyshladlyn gets out alive, as does Alaïs. It’s the only logical option.”
“Did you ever stop to think for one moment, you pompous bastard, how Rhys would react to you being left here?” He snapped, shaking Azriel’s hands off as he stepped back just out of reach, not trusting himself not to hit the other male. “Did you ever stop to think what the guilt of leaving you here while he was safe would do to him? I volunteered to come here not just because I had the Healer’s Contract to keep me safe, but because my suffering wouldn’t have garnered as intense of a reaction in Rhys as yours would, as it will. You didn’t have to hear what his voice sounded like when he spoke of you after I found him in that alley before you made it back, I did. The guilt you and I felt that night when his second set of wings returned? That is nothing compared to what he felt regarding you being locked up and knowing he could have prevented it. How dare you lay at my feet the task of handling that alone!”
For a moment the only sound that filled the hallway was the sounds of Rhyshladlyn and Anislanzir fighting and his breathing rattling past his lips in a half-hiss, half-snarl of a sound, chest heaving with each breath, hands curled so tightly into fists at his sides that he felt his nails cutting into the skin. But he didn’t dare uncurl them, he didn’t dare move at all yet, because he couldn’t trust himself not to put hands on Azriel in a way that had nothing to do with Healing.
“Relyt… please,” Azriel begged, sounding broken. His upper lip curled back off his teeth at the sound.
“How could you ask this of me? How could you trick me into giving my word, Azriel?”
“I… Rel, please, what other choice did I have?”
For a long moment he said nothing, just stared at the Anglëtinean who stared right back at him, expression open and full of guilt and apologies and pleas that he wouldn’t voice. He sighed heavily.
“I will do this incredibly stupid thing because I promised, but for it I shall never forgive you,” he replied finally, pointing at Azriel with one shaking index finger, blood dripping from his palm down to the floor with soft plops. “And if you die, if you are wrong about this and misjudged it and you die? When you are reborn, and you will be, I will show you exactly why my race was so feared we were forced into isolation. Do you understand me?”
“Aye, Relyt, I understand you,” he had never seen the other male look so tired before and it unnerved him. “Thank you.”
“No! Do not thank me for this. You do not get to be thankful for this,” he bit out. “You tricked me into this promise. I am following through on it only because the honor that I have will not allow for otherwise.”
Azriel just nodded solemnly in response, an apology clear in his expression but he didn’t voice it. For which he was glad, he’d have likely struck him for certain if he had.
Sighing softly, hands lifting to push through his hair, he asked, “How much longer until this move you spoke of is made?”
“Two minutes, tops.”
Closing his eyes as he tipped his head back, he sent a prayer to the Many for the first time in what felt like years before looking back at Azriel who was no longer looking at him, instead watching Anislanzir and Rhyshladlyn with an intensity that reminded him so much of Rhyshladlyn that it made his heart ache.
“Je dú velknaden, bòtr,” he whispered in Tengú Elaèy, knowing Azriel would understand it, it was a phrase he had spoken many times to Rhyshladlyn and vice versa. And sure enough the Anglëtinean’s attention snapped back to him, eyes wide.
“I…” the Anglëtinean trailed off before he could even finish the sentence.
“I am furious with you, but you are my brother and I love you,” he stepped forward and cupped the male’s face, leaning forward until their foreheads touched. “You had better come home alive, do you hear me?”
“Aye, I hear you, brother.”
Nodding, he stepped back and turned to watch the fight, waiting for Azriel’s signal.
That signal came in the form of a whispered, “I love you, too,” before a coin was tossed his way and then Azriel was running at Anislanzir with a war howl that rattled his bones and made his ears throb in protest of the sound. He didn’t have to look at the coin to know it was the one he had tossed at the Many’s Altar in the Great Temple, he knew it by touch alone, knew it by how familiar it felt in his grip. But he didn’t have time to focus on that, to ask why Azriel had it. All he had time for was vanishing that coin as he ran to Rhyshladlyn, tossed the Qishir over his shoulder like before, and sprinted for the opening in the wall and the Desert that lay beyond it.
Just as he felt the sands shifting beneath his feet, he felt a sharp pain in his lower abdomen as the ability to breathe suddenly left him and Rhyshladlyn’s scream of Azriel’s name sent his left ear to ringing before the Qishir was flipping over and off him.
With a shout of his own he turned and grabbed Rhyshladlyn around the waist with just enough time to watch Anislanzir pull his blade from Azriel’s abdomen, to watch as the Anglëtinean looked down at the wound, face contorted in confusion, hands coming up to press against the wound as he sank slowly to his knees before Shiran sealed the doorway with a muted boom.