It sounded like rain was falling plop, plop, plip plip plop-plop but he knew that wasn’t possible. He was inside and it couldn’t rain inside stone walls. But that was all his overworked, cracking mind could conjure up as an answer for what that sound was. It didn’t care for his logical argument against it, all it cared about was the pain his body felt and not letting him know why he was in pain. And as that pain reached another crescendo before it eased off, he didn’t fight to get a better answer from his mind. It took effort and energy he lacked. Plus it was pointless. The silence in his heart was deafening because he was alive and Rhyshladlyn was de–
Wait. What is that…?
He blinked, slowly at first then rapidly, to try and clear the fuzziness from his vision as interlocking web strands in shifting hues of white and silver showed up on the bare skin of his arms. He watched as they dipped and twirled, wove over and under each other, their glow pulsing hard and fast. A flicker of recognition lit in his beleaguered mind at the sight of them and he stared harder, tracing every inch that he could see on his arms and what little of his legs that were in one pie–plip plop plop-plo-plop. Where had he seen those before? His mind protested trying to use it, wanting instead to focus on the plop, plip-plop, plip plip plop-plop of the rain that fell around him but didn’t once touch his skin or get him wet if it did. But those web strands were important, he knew, he could sense it, but he just couldn’t remember why. Could only grasp hold of jagged, incomplete memories of a room shadowed by flicking candlelight that bounced off grey eyes so dark they looked nearly black and a gaunt, exhausted face as it turned an equally tired smile at him.
That cooing call was nearly deafening–
A soft boom of a door closing followed by Anislanzir speaking to someone pulled him from the memory that had started to form. But he didn’t pay anymore attention beyond realizing the Lord King was still nearby. Because those strands that marked every inch of skin that he could see were more important; they demanded his full attention with their pulsing hum, with their shimmering glow and shifting hues, with the sense of hope that grew in his chest. He wondered at that hope, small and weak as it may be, because there was no reason to hope. He knew that with the same certainty that he knew these marks were important. He knew it because the only reason he had had to hope had sacrificed himself barely going on an hour ago. Or was it a lifetime? It was hard for him to tell how much time had actually passed. Especially after what that un-male had done to his win–plop plop, plip-plip plo-plop-plop plop.
“What? The army is doing what?” Anislanzir barked and he flinched.
But he didn’t look away from his arms, didn’t stop trying to access the full memory that was associated with the first time he had seen them. Didn’t stop trying to dispel the shadows on the face that held that exhausted smile that he knew didn’t reach the eyes of its owner as that shadow-faced individual reached out a hand, as he watched as long, thin fingers–
–traced one particularly intricate pattern on the back of his left hand–
“General Thayne’s army is marching towards the City as we speak, my Lord King,” a wavering feminine voice broke through his thoughts and he tried to growl at them to be quiet, that the two Sinners were doing shit all for his concentration, but no sound came out of his throat. He frowned, trying to figure out why but his mind slid away from the query with a soft plop plop plip-plip-plop plop. “But it is not nearly the size of what it was. I think General Thayne elected to forego following her mother’s orders and those loyal to the General remained whilst the rest returned to Zhalharaq.”
“Amass our own then, General Xhey. If that stupid bitch wishes to have a go with me after what I just did to her uncle, by all means,” Anislanzir answered, voice shifting as he paced around, “especially if her ranks are limited. I have a supply of millions behind these walls. She has no idea the horrors she is walking into.”
“And what of him,” General Xhey questioned and Azriel could all but see the female nodding in his direction and he sighed with a heavy roll of his eyes as the sound of the falling rain grew louder in the stretch of silence as the Lord King considered his response. He tried not to tense his back when he felt those cruel amber eyes slide over him because he knew if he did that the muscles would pull at his mutilated win–plop plop, plip-plop, plip-plip plop.
“Worry not about that. I will handle him,” absolute glee colored his words and it made Azriel’s stomach flip over. “If Thayne wishes to try and take on the City directly,” he shuddered at the feeling of fingers gently running through his hair, “then it would be rude of me not to greet her with a proper gift of welcome.”
The sound of boot heels clicking together as the General no doubt executed a salute echoed around him, briefly overshadowing the rain.
“I agree completely, my Lord King. I shall get the army gathered immediately. Anything else you wish of me?”
“Send at least two warriors to help me carry this worthless sack of flesh to the Great Temple,” the Lord King ordered as he moved in front of him, the hand that was in his hair gripping hard and pulling his head up and back with a jerk. Meeting cold, gleeful amber eyes, he tried to bare his teeth in a snarl but the muscles around his mouth wouldn’t work right for some reason. “You are quite a frightening sight, Azriel, you should see yourself. I really do hope that it frightens those trying to march on my City as much as it very nearly frightens me. I would show you what you look like but I need your mind intact. At least for a bit longer.”
I really do hope that that army butchers you, you spineless dick.
Anislanzir made a humming sound almost as if he’d heard Azriel’s thoughts and let him go, dropping his head back down, neck muscles too weak to hold it up on their own. The Lord King was forgotten as soon as he moved away, his words having slipped in and out of his head like a breath, mind already having moved on to safer things. As his gaze dropped back to the swirling strands on his skin, strands that only he seemed to be able to see, his mind hyper-focused on them and the sound of rain grew in volume again. He frowned, trying to press for the full memory associated with them again but his mind once more protested the action. But he merely pressed harder.
Because they were important. Important in a way that he knew Rhyshladlyn had been important the first time he’d laid eyes on him on the training fields of this very Palace. They were important in the way that he knew the death of his wife and son had been important all those centuries ago, releasing him from a life that hadn’t made him nearly as happy as he was now though he wasn’t able to see it that way at the time. They were important in a way that told him if he didn’t remember why that something horrible was going to happen; something worse than Rhyshladlyn dying. But his mind stubbornly refused to focus on what it was, just reminded him that it sounded like rain falling around him.
The memory sounded like rain falling around him!
That cooing call was nearly deafening as he watched as Rhyshladlyn traced a particularly intricate pattern on the back of his left hand. The rain battering against the walls of the cabin was almost loud enough to drown out his heartbeat. He knew what those lines were. They were the lines of his qahllyn’qir pulled into the visible spectrum for the first time by Rhyshladlyn’s touch, by his unspoken Acceptance.
As the memory settled fully around him, he found himself choking around the need to cry out in elation but his throat wouldn’t work any more than the muscles around his mouth. But it didn’t matter because the only way for his qahllyn’qir to be visible to him, to still exist at all, was if his Blood Oath was still intact, was if Rhyshladlyn lived.
He’s alive! He’s alive!
It didn’t matter that Anislanzir was cutting his bonds. It didn’t matter that agony sang one long, unbroken note along his nerves as unknown hands touched him and lifted him from the chair and away from the disparagingly large pool of blood and goopier things that encircled it. It didn’t matter that the Lord King was instructing the owners of those hands to follow him, that their destination was the Great Temple and the obelisk, the Watchtower, that rose from its heart. It didn’t matter that servants and Palace staff alike scattered with screams and whispered prayers as he and his carriers passed them in the halls.
It didn’t even matter that now that he knew to focus on it, he knew that that door was gone, that he could feel Rhyshladlyn’s worry and desperation and guilt as though they were his own, that his heart wasn’t filled with that incredible silence anymore. It didn’t even matter that the Qishir was yelling words at him down their link, the intent for him to respond clear but he couldn’t respond, even though he tried.
But it was okay. Because his Qishir, his mate, lived.
And with that thought he felt Shiran City come alive around him, its power mixing with his own, weak as it was at that moment, and together they sang in elation.
“What is that?” the warrior on his left muttered, feeling the thrum of magick that trickled down off the walls of the hallway around them.
“Is that singing I hear?” the warrior on his right asked by way of reply as the thrumming became the base beat to Shiran’s song of elation that fell off every golden, glowing surface around them.
“I’m glad you’ll die with a smile on your face. Well, if one could call whatever action your mouth is doing a smile,” Anislanzir commented offhandedly as his face ducked down in front of him, lips curled in a smile that was more like a sneer as the Lord King walked backwards ahead of him. Without missing a beat, he leaned closer and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper that was anything but, “It won’t matter that Shiran still sings for him, that it cares more for that traitorous bastard child of mine. You will both die today. I just have to get you in position and wait for the right moment.”
“Hurry up,” Anislanzir snapped at the warriors carrying him as he faced forward again, stride lengthening, “if he’s happy and the City is singing that means my son’s en-route and I want him to arrive in time to watch me kill this kijet.”
He screamed a warning down their link but the words didn’t come out right, it was like Rhyshladlyn couldn’t hear him, like he was talking down their connection but was on a different frequency and fear slipped down his spine and he shuddered, the action making a wet gurgling cry erupt from his shredded throat as his body reminded him of his mutilated wings. As it reminded him he was dying. As it reminded him that while Rhyshladlyn hadn’t died yet he was going to, because their bond was solid, the Oath had taken root, and with the death of one came the death of the other. As it reminded him that he didn’t have anything left in his stores to Heal himself or even to pretend to.
And the adrenaline that was keeping him conscious chose that moment to drop out from under him and he would have fallen were it not for the two warriors already dragging his limp, useless form down the halls of the Palace and out into the City.
As his vision began to tunnel, dark spots spinning along the edges, he heard a war howl he would know anywhere and tried to smile but the muscles of his face didn’t cooperate with the order. But it didn’t matter. Because Rhyshladlyn was alive and Anislanzir wouldn’t be for very much longer. He just prayed that Rhyshladlyn made it in time to keep the entire City from crumbling around them all. Just prayed that the Lord King wasn’t able to kill him, that somehow whatever had kept Rhyshladlyn alive had made him untouchable. But if Rhyshladlyn didn’t make it in time?
He looked at Anislanzir’s back, absently aware of the way his qahllyn’qir had begun to glow, that the warriors carrying him made noises of surprise and worry but didn’t slow their pace. All around him the buildings of the City glowed a pulsing glow, though he caught sight of patches that were grey and dead, especially a large circle in the main square at the base of the road that lead away from the Palace’s main doors. Seeing the way the City was gathering itself, hearing the elation it sang as its flesh and blood Heart no doubt ran full tilt towards it, he realized that if Rhyshladlyn didn’t make it in time that it was okay.
So long as he lives, my death will not be meaningless. For even if I die today, at least I’ll die knowing that this fïtshånŷr will follow me to the Cliffs. At least I will die as an Oathed Companion who finally found someone worth dying for.
And then everything went dark.