“When someone is desperate, they usually resort to desperate measures. It makes people predictable,” Rhyshladlyn shrugged. “It’s why I don’t act when I’m desperate. I act when I’ve given up, when I’ve accepted that my life is about to end. Because no one expects that.”
Well he figured this was as desperate as he’d ever get and even if it made him predictable, then so be it. But he was banking on what he had planned being a total and utter surprise that worked in his favor.
Recalling what he had heard Mother say long ago when he was just a fledgling and it became apparent that Lulphé had been born to the Qishir caste, he stepped beneath, stepped into the farthest recesses of his Self where his qahllyn thrummed with a strength he hadn’t expected with the distance between him and Rhyshladlyn and the strain put on both of them and reached for it. He reached for the one lifeline he had left in the bog that his life had become, the one beacon to safety that still existed, that was still trustworthy. He wrapped his awareness around it, tugged for all he was worth, and Spoke.
Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn GreySong Ka’ahne, Hear me. For I speak the Oath of the Companion.
Because he had no idea how much time had passed, not really. The only thing he was truly aware of was that with each breath taken his agony increased, plateaued, plummeted, numbed out, then increased again. It was a never ending cycle. Each new cut made, each new bone carved at, each new joint dislocated and relocated, each new muscle strained, each new ligament torn, each new piece removed, he found himself drawing closer and closer to his breaking point.
But he never reached it. He hovered close, for certain, but he never crossed that line. Never dropped over it because every time he came close, every time he closed his eyes and accepted his death, Anislanzir did something to pull him back. Perhaps because if he did fall completely Anislanzir wouldn’t get as much pleasure out of torturing a shattered Companion? Perhaps the Lord King figured breaking him beyond usability wouldn’t cripple Rhyshladlyn as much as keeping him whole while he kept the torture going on an endless loop would?
He didn’t know and he wasn’t about to waste the effort it would take to ask.
Whatever the bastard’s plans were, Azriel just wished he’d get them over with already. The waiting was killing him. Literally.
And he was so incredibly exhausted by the never ending loop of pain he was caught in, knowing that his time was up, that there was no other options left besides to die. High Ones willing, this last ditch effort would see him living through this.
Here afore Ckushayel and Azriel Anafiel, with this Life Blood, I give this Oath: I See you before all others, I Love you before all others, I Hear you before all others. For without you, I am Nothing.
Anislanzir cooed somewhere out of sight, sounding not unlike a gleeful child awaiting the gift exchange that followed the Darkest Night celebrations. “My maequïn tells me that Lulphé’s army is still camped right where it was when I called. Guess she doesn’t care if you lose your wings any more than she cared about my second born losing his. Not surprising, I’ll admit. She never did have much honor, did she?”
No, she didn’t. Though how you would know the truth of that is something I’d really like to know.
“So that means I get to cut much more fun things,” the Lord King purred, the sultry rumble of the bastard’s voice making his stomach flip.
His left thigh bloomed suddenly with fresh pain making his eyes fly open as he tucked his chin and looked down to where the Lord King’s talons had sunk into his skin, fresh blood mingling with what already covered him before he looked up at the un-male, mouth slack around the sound of pain he refused to make.
“Just wanted to make sure you were still with me,” Anislanzir said with an apologetic grin, patting his thigh over the fresh marks and he grunted. Then the un-male was gone from his sight again and he sighed softly as his eyes drifted closed again.
You found me when I was Lost and became my Guiding Light, gave me Hope when I had none left. So I shall be a Shield for your back, a shoulder upon which you may lean, a hand to guide you through the darkest of times, and a smile to welcome you home whenever we are apart.
It was such a big risk to take, doing this. Especially because if it worked and he died from whatever Anislanzir ended up doing to him, he would take down more than just himself when he crossed the River. But there was the off chance that completing the Ceremony from afar Healed him, that it gave him the boost of power he would need to break free, to escape on his own, to get back to Rhyshladlyn and their Court, their family. To get home where he could watch Shiran City be reduced to rubble with the Lord King at its epicenter.
“What is it you think you’re doing?” Anislanzir growled, face right next to his and he jumped, eyes flying open again as he turned to look at the Lord King. “Did you think I wouldn’t be able to sense the magick you’re building, hmm? Come now. You don’t give me nearly enough credit, kijet,” as he used the slur for the Race, the Lord King’s fist slammed into his side and Azriel choked around a scream.
His breath rattled in his lungs and he heard the wet gurgling of the air in his throat, knew that it meant that somewhere one of his lungs had been punctured. He felt the sharp edges of two shattered ribs scraping against each other, sending white-hot pulses of pain along what nerve endings remained intact, and tried not to panic if only because doing so would only worsen the damage. He could hear the soft scritch-scritch of bone on the delicate membranous tissue of his lungs while his body shook with adrenaline tremors. He felt the blood belch out from where Anislanzir had torn open his upper torso with his bare hands what felt like months ago versus hours, and the fear that if he didn’t die from asphyxiating on his own blood or the shock his body was desperately trying to go into, he was going to die from blood loss became more of a reality and less of a hypothetical.
“Whatever you were doing, little bird, it won’t work. This room? I had it specially made for this type of work. Designed it myself, even. No magick besides my own will work while the caster is inside these walls. Well, that and the magick of whoever is allowed by the Warding. I learned from when I took ‘Adlyn’s wings that not having a Warded room wasn’t very responsible of me.”
He was barely aware of the Lord King’s words as the un-male walked away. He just focused on trying not to die. But it wasn’t as though he was in true danger of dying, not yet, even if it certainly felt that way. Anislanzir had one of his Healers come in every so often, after all, but the most that Healer did was keep him conscious and on just this side of the River. But that didn’t keep him from being close enough to smell the purity of the water, to smell the grass and the wild flowers that grew along the banks on the After side. At the rate things were going, it wouldn’t be long before he felt the soothing River’s water on his skin and the wild flowers swaying against his legs like cat tails.
His eyes tracked Anislanzir as he walked to a table across the room, moving things around as he searched for something. But his concentration on the Lord King slipped away, back to what he had been doing before. Sure he would know, sure he knew, that Azriel was doing something but the worst thing the un-male could do to him was take his wings, and that was an inevitable thing. Dying at this point would be a mercy and Anislanzir was not known for his mercifulness.
So he focused back on his Oath, because sure the room may be Warded against magick but what he was attempting to do wasn’t magick, it wasn’t a Working or a spell or a charm or a curse. No, what he was doing predated all of that. He was performing an act of divinity, if one were to believe the clergy of the Worlds.
And if believing it meant he succeeded and saved both himself and his Qishir? Then so be it. He’d believe with anything and everything he had left. Just so long as it worked.
Rhyshladlyn, at your side and yours alone shall I stand fast and true. To you I Pledge my magick, my Self. To you I give all that I am and ever shall be.
I shall only ever answer your Call. I Oath that whenever you have need of me, by your side I shall be. As you have granted me Acceptance, I grant you my Life.
He focused back in on what was happening around him when he realized his tormentor had been talking for some time.
“Did you know that Lulphé once petitioned to have you act as personal guard for my heir? Azhuri denied it before it even made it to me, of course, but your sister, she is one tenacious thing, and she tried again, only she petitioned for you to act as guard for my wife,” Anislanzir remarked as he paced, hands moving in expressive displays that reminded Azriel far too much of his Qishir. Guess I now know why Rhys tries to keep himself from talking with his hands. Neat. “But I said no. Figured that it had to be a trap because I don’t trust your kind, but I especially don’t trust Lulphé. We were to be wed, you know. But the day we were supposed to speak our vows, she claimed to have found her life mate. So… I vowed to ruin her life one way or another for her lies. Yes, yes, you kijet can’t technically lie, some faulty wiring in your genes or some such, but there’s ways around that, isn’t there? And, of course, your kind has figured out how to use every single one to your advantage. I have to admit, it is impressive, even if it makes me want to eradicate the lot of you from the Worlds.”
Did you babble this much when you tortured Rhys? Fuck. Shut up and just get on with it already. You’re annoying.
“Oh! But I have digressed!” he giggled, giggled, and Azriel just raised both eyebrows at the sound, wondering when he had left reality and why no one had bothered to warn him first. “So when ‘Adlyn came to me and said you had fought him in the pits and held out far longer than anyone else he’d fought? I knew who you were the second he told me your name. I knew what Azhuri had planned when she set you up to fight my second born, but it was destined to fail. She always was so brilliant, it was a shame she broke so quickly after that worthless shit was born even if it made it easier to control them all because she supplied me with the information I needed…” he trailed off with a shrug and Azriel barely kept from growling as Anislanzir turned away again.
He didn’t acknowledge Anislanzir’s ramblings anymore, even if he listened to every single word. There just wasn’t a point to responding and it wasn’t like Anislanzir needed him to respond anyway; the bastard talked just to hear himself speak. And he sure as shit didn’t need to listen to know what was going to happen next. He remembered the Lord King’s call to Lulphé, knew that if Thayne’s army hadn’t backed off that he was going to lose at least one half of one wing for each day they remained there. And while the thought terrified him, he knew there wasn’t any way to prevent it, not anymore. Even if Lulphé had decided to believe Anislanzir, there was no guarantee that the un-male would keep his word and release him. He was too valuable of a hostage and the leverage Anislanzir could wield so long as he held him was too great to pass up. So long as the Lord King had him alive? Rhyshladlyn would do anything the un-male wanted.
Is it so wrong that I had hoped that just once Lulphé would choose me over whatever plot she had brewing?
Though if what Anislanzir had said was true about Lulphé’s petitions, about their betrothal, that would certainly explain a lot and was definitely something he planned to look into provided he made it out of this alive. Because it meant his sister had known exactly what she was doing when she sent him here all those decades ago, that she had known exactly what the potential outcome was and had intended for him to die the entire time.
Guess the joke is on you, bitch. I’m not so easy to kill, am I?
“You have a side you’re less fond of?” Anislanzir questioned, the sound of a whetstone on a blade filling the room and he wondered with a morbid curiosity how close they were to the room where Rhyshladlyn had lost his wings.
He didn’t bother to ask though. There were some questions one didn’t need to know the answers to. He shook his head both to answer the Lord King and to clear his thoughts.
With this Blood, I Oath myself as your Companion. With this Self, I Oath this lifetime and all those that shall follow to you and you alone. My life is yours and with it I will do everything I can to protect and honor yours.
“It’s a shame to have to remove these,” the Lord King murmured. It was beyond unnerving how he sounded almost genuinely remorseful. “They are nearly as pretty to look at as ‘Adlyn’s.”
With a hiss he jerked away when he felt Anislanzir stroke the top curve of his left wing, the sensitive appendage flaring out before snapping forward to avoid the Lord King’s touch. Agony tore through him with the movement as it shifted his entire body and he keened low and harsh, sagging in the bindings that held him to the chair, every inch of his body alight with pain.
Until that moment he had managed to fight his natural instinct to run, to fight back, to do everything possible to defend himself. Until that moment, he had been able to ignore the gaping hole where his left kneecap had been ripped out, the shattered bone of his right femur, the way the dislocated ball joint of his left hip ground against the socket it had been pulled out of with a feeling that he imagined was what the sound of stone grinding on stone would feel like. Until that moment he had been able to ignore the damage to his ribs and his lungs, to his shoulder, his throat, his hands, and his feet.
Until that moment, he hadn’t truly realized just how bad off he really was.
With best Intent, I give this Oath freely. I Call to you, how do you answer?
He was about to lose a piece of his wings and he knew that Lulphé wouldn’t have sanctioned a rescue attempt and Rhyshladlyn wouldn’t have recovered enough yet to do it regardless. He’d seen the look on the Qishir’s face when Anislanzir’s sword had pierced his gut. Had felt the shuddering caress of the death attend that the male had only barely kept from saying.
Not nearly enough time had passed from those moments to now for Rhyshladlyn to recuperate. Even if he managed to touch Shiran and pull energy off the City, it wouldn’t be enough.
So he had contented himself to wait it out. To hold on just long enough for help to arrive. Just long enough to gather what little strength he had to try and reach the Qishir through his qahllyn and establish the full link they didn’t currently have. Just long enough to finalize that link so that he could pull energy from Shiran and send it to Rhyshladlyn. He had pulled on every piece of training he had, on every memory Rhyshladlyn had ever shared of what his father had done to him. He’d wrapped that knowledge and his hope around himself like one would don armor, praying that it would give him an advantage. But it hadn’t.
No amount of training could have prepared him for the depravity Anislanzir imparted upon him once he’d gotten him back to this accursed room. No amount of prior-gained knowledge could have told him the abilities that Anislanzir had. How he knew exactly where to cut to inflict the most damage without going too far. How the Lord King knew how to keep someone from passing out, no matter how much pain they were in, no matter how hard their body fought to go into shock, no matter how their psyche tried to save them from experiencing the horrors inflicted upon them. Nothing could have prepared him for feeling his hope begin to dwindle and fade.
It was then that the severity of his situation sank in and his stomach tried to stage a violent revolt which did nothing to aid in keeping his insides where they belonged. The added pain of trying to stave off the vomiting made vertigo steal what little breath he had left while dark spots danced at the edges of his vision.
“Easy now, Azriel, wouldn’t want to make those cuts worse,” Anislanzir soothed, coming around to stand in front of him, the hand that had touched his wing gripping his chin, smearing the blood that dribbled out of his mouth as the Lord King lifted his head up so he could see the gold eyes that glinted with glee and lust, could see the wicked Sülknír dagger the Lord King held in his other hand. His stomach stopped its attempted coup at the sight but only because it had dropped to somewhere near his knees. It wasn’t exactly what he’d call an improvement. “Do you recognize what kind of steel this is?” Anislanzir asked.
“Yes,” he replied, the act making his throat protest and fresh frothy blood dribble down his chin. He shouldn’t have spoken but he knew that if he didn’t answer verbally it would be beaten out of him. That was a mistake he had made only once. And if you call these “cuts” I’d hate to see what you’d actually consider to be wounds. Plus the sight of that blade did more to instill fear in him than anything the un-male had done so far. Because he knew the capabilities of that kind of blade. They were crafted to be anti-magick. Any wound caused by a Sülknír blade had to mend in the Imènian way, completely bereft of any magickal aid.
For any magickal aid would only worsen the damage. It was why Rhyshladlyn had wanted his original long sword to be separated into Mallacht and Beannacht because they made any attack he dealt with them infinitely more deadly.
Gods, I’m so fucked.
“Sülknír blades are unique,” Anislanzir let him go and idly licked the blood off his fingers with a smile that made his skin crawl. “See, when they make a cut it is so precise, so clean, that the blade actually seals the wound to itself. It also runs hotter than average steel, so when it pierces skin it cauterizes in the same instance which makes the damage done when removing it worse than what is done when inserting it.” He spun it with deft fingers.
Guess that explains Rhyshladlyn’s natural skill with a blade. I’m learning all kinds of shit today.
“It’s what I used when I tore ‘Adlyn’s third set of wings out, you know, using my hands, while fun, just wasn’t practical. Though it didn’t cauterize his wounds for some reason, but it made the cuts cleaner so they Healed much better than they would have had I used a different blade. Even if he couldn’t have any Healers work their magick on him without reopening the wounds.”
Fuck. I was really hoping he didn’t know about that part.
He said nothing though, trying to focus instead on staying conscious, on not letting go of the qahllyn he had such a tight hold of. Even though part of him knew it was useless, knew that there wasn’t a point, this wasn’t the first time the Lord King had held a prisoner in his Palace and tortured them over and over for hours to days, probably longer, he still tried. He had to try. For Rhyshladlyn’s sake if not his own because if he gave up he didn’t deserve to be the Qishir’s Companion. Plus he wouldn’t show this worthless excuse for a Dhaoine any fear, any weakness, beyond what he couldn’t control.
Never mind that he doubted anyone was coming to his rescue and if they were, he knew they wouldn’t make it in time. There just wasn’t any way for them to. Time was already up. And the silence that filled the link made between him and the Qishir filled with a dread that he had never felt before.
“Oh, and something else I think I should mention,” Anislanzir was behind him now when did he get there? and he aborted a flinch that would have had him swallowing cries of pain. But when un-male grab his left wing and jerk it backwards and he felt the connector joints dislocate with a sickening crack, he screamed long and loud, his body one stiff line of torment. “This is the same blade I used on Rhyshladlyn.”
As the blade bit into the leather of his left wing and tore, he threw his head back and shook the dust off the walls as he howled. And all around him Shiran screamed right along with him.