He hadn’t meant to pull his blades. He hadn’t meant to fight his father with anything but his bare hands, teeth, wings, and magick. But when Anislanzir had flung him against the wall opposite the Watchtower’s room with enough force for the stone to protest his collision loudly, the dust shaken loose from the ceiling above his head falling like snow around him, his instincts had taken over. Mallacht and Beannacht had been drawn before he’d even fully pushed off the wall and launched back at the Lord King, a snarl making the Currents thrum around him. His stomach twisted, bile rose in the back of his throat, a warning he flat out ignored as something in him snapped, as his patience and his ability to deal with being tossed around like he was still a fledgling evaporated in an instant.
But he didn’t even make it halfway across the hall when he heard what sounded like bells chiming and the bottom of his twisting stomach dropped out. Because the second he heard that sound? He knew drawing his blades had been a mistake. Knew when Time slowed down and a feeling of weightlessness that he only ever felt when he was flying encompassed him for all of a second before it was gone that it was happening now. Right this moment.
Knew even before Time went back to normal speed that his life was about to change irreversibly, that he was about to experience a loss he would never recover from, that he was about to change in a way that he didn’t want if it meant this.
But he had lost the right to choose when he’d accepted the mantle Fate had custom made for his shoulders, when he had accepted the purpose Fate had designed for him alone to fulfill. And in that moment, just before things went completely to shit, as the anxiety roiled in his gut, as the denial bubbled on his lips before he was even aware of it, he wished he had never allowed for that mantle to touch him.
Wished with everything he had that he hadn’t said yes as he watched with wide eyes, horror and denial fighting for equal footing in his chest, as Anislanzir’s left foot swung up and around, knocking Mallacht effortlessly out of his grip, sending it whistling down the hallway, as his right hand dropping Beannacht to the floor as his entire body went loose. Watched as the Soullessly Heartfelt’s grey pants and tunic disappeared around the bend in the hallway, watched as his blade aimed right for Azriel’s left side, for his heart. And he knew. He knew that it would strike true. That there was no stopping it.
And even though he had been warned it would happen. Even though he was told not to interfere, that even if he tried, it would only delay the inevitable, he still threw out his hand, still tossed magick at his sword trying to knock it off trajectory, still screamed, “No, not now! Not yet!”
When Azriel’s head turned to look at him when he yelled, he stopped breathing and everything stopped moving except for that blade, except for Thae’a who kept shuffle-running with an arm around Azriel’s waist, his right slung across her shoulders. For a brief moment, he had the sickening thought that he hoped she stumbled so that it was her in the path of his sword instead of Azriel. But even if she did, it wouldn’t have mattered. Because he knew that the look of confusion that slipped across Azriel’s face, the way his mismatched eyes were clouded with pain as he hovered on just this side of the River, would be the last time he’d ever see those eyes turned to him with the Self that he had fallen so incredibly in love lighting them. Knew that this moment had been Fated to happen since his birth, Fated probably even before that. And he hated it.
“Azriel is going to die and it will be by your own blade,” the Faceless intoned monotonously and it felt like the earth had dropped out from underneath his feet.
“What?” he snapped, all decorum evaporating at those words as he leaned forward in the chair, hands pressed flat against the wood of the table in front of him half to show that he still was there peacefully and half to keep him from reaching for his blades to attack gods. “You cannot be serious.”
“We are,” the Nameless spoke up and he turned his incredulous stare to it. “unfortunately. Would though that We were not.”
“The details of the how of it We cannot give you,” the Soullessly Heartfelt added, one hand coming up to run across her blindfold like one would rub at an itchy eye. “We can, however, tell you the why.”
It was beyond disconcerting to feel all three sets of eyes turn and stare at him. It was even worse when They all spoke at once, “For a Greywalker to Awaken, they must undergo a profound loss. He is the only one in your life whose death would be the most disastrous for you. So Azriel will die and you will technically be the one that kills him.”
“You will also be Oathed to him when he dies,” the Soullessly Heartfelt added, hands reaching behind her head, the blindfold over her eyes shifting dangerously as she messed with the knot that held it in place. “But his death will not bring about yours, not in the same manner as his own. Your death will be the shedding of the shell that keeps your Greywalker side in check. With his death, should you survive it, you will Awaken as the first Greywalker to walk the Worlds in ten thousand years.”
Shock didn’t quite cover what he felt just then, sitting at that table in a Shadow Chamber he had spent what felt like years in since the Nameless’ Mark had first showed up on his chest, burned in deep beneath his skin. Disbelief was closer, but it wasn’t quite right either.
His Patrons sat unmoved by his shock and the pain that Their revelation had sent searing along his nerves. Though the Nameless looked slightly ashamed, if it were possible for a god to feel that emotion; the Faceless seemed deeply disturbed but given that he had no discernible facial features knowing for certain was rather impossible; and the Soullessly Heartfelt had removed her blindfold, opened her eyes, and Rhyshladlyn saw galaxies come alive and die in them.
“What did You just say?” Rhyshladlyn finally stuttered out after long moments spent just staring at the three gods that had Marked him as Theirs. He had to have misheard. “Because you surely did not just tell me that… that…” he trailed off, shaking his head as he lifted his hands to cover his face. He couldn’t speak the words, couldn’t give them any more clout than what they may have otherwise for being spoken by gods.
“Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn Ka’ahne,” the Nameless began, voice filled with regret, “for whatever it is worth I am sorry.”
“Sorry isn’t good enough!” Rhyshladlyn screamed back, too heartbroken to care that he was screaming at the one being in Existence capable of snuffing his life out without any effort, hands slapping against the tabletop as he spoke, eyes wide, tears shimmering across them. “Sorry will never be good enough!”
The memory evaporated like warm breath in cold air as Azriel grunted. He closed his eyes tightly against the tears that pricked them when he felt the sharp, pronounced pain in his back and chest, knowing without needing to look that his blade had indeed struck true. Knew all too well what it felt like to have a sword plunged through his chest.
He sank to his knees as Anislanzir spluttered a shocked curse. Bowed his head as Thae’a’s shout rang like a whip crack in the hallway, ricocheting off the stone walls. His nails sank into his thighs, his shoulders beginning to shake as Thae’a screamed his Companion’s name, her horror and desperation making his heart break all the more, making the knowledge that his Companion, his mate, was dying all the worse. When he tasted cool, refreshing water on the back of his throat, he knew that Azriel was gone. As the tears began to fall down his face he threw his head back and wailed.
He didn’t stop even when the reality of the Weaving whined around him. Didn’t stop when it snapped like brittle twigs under the force of his magick, the shockwave brought on by its destruction buffeting against him, knocking Anislanzir against a wall with a shout. Didn’t stop when Shiran cried out in tandem with Thae’a as it blew back on them both.
He didn’t stop even when he felt Azriel’s Oath shatter like glass as his Self crossed the River. Didn’t stop when he felt their connection break apart. Didn’t stop when the Nameless’ hands fell to his shoulders and squeezed in an unspoken message that his beloved had made it safely into the After.
He didn’t stop even when he felt his power wing out of control as his Ancient side rose rapidly to the surface, threatening to go nova. Didn’t stop when the air became charged and hard to breathe as his power filled it like water filling a tub. Didn’t stop even though he knew if he didn’t that the entirety of Fènwa World and half of its neighbors would be taken down with him.
He didn’t stop even when he felt hands that burned like brands on his shoulders shaking him. Didn’t stop even when Thae’a’s voice broke through the sounds of grief and absolute loss that fell from his lips in a tidal wave he had no hope of stopping even if he wanted to. Didn’t stop when her hands fell away and her magickal presence slowly receded until he couldn’t feel it anymore.
He wailed and wailed and wailed until his throat tore.
Sobbed even when his eyes dried, when he no longer had any hydration left in his body to produce the tears he needed, the tears he had to shed or he’d lose his mind.
Screamed even as he stood up and whirled to face Anislanzir who for the first time in Rhyshladlyn’s life looked truly afraid.
Roared his rage and his loss at the fucker’s face even as he felt Relyt clawing at their connection. Even when he heard Nhulynolyn begging through heart-wrenching sobs of his own for Rhyshladlyn to come home to him, to make it through this. Even when Xheshmaryú and Shadiranamen’s voices joined his twin’s.
But he didn’t care. He wouldn’t listen. He couldn’t, not yet. So he threw up Shields after slamming every door in his mind to block them out. The silence was profound, the loss of the second heartbeat that had belonged to Azriel, the contented humming of his power after the Blood Oath had been solidified and Accepted, gone. It made the feeling of loss that stole his breath and stilled his own heart worse and he fed it to the fury that rose like a great backed beast from the darkest of the ocean’s depths and tossed it outwards in all directions.
He blanketed his rage and his pain and his loss and his grief over the Worlds because if they hadn’t fucked up, if they hadn’t allowed his kind to be exiled and mass murdered his Companion would still be alive. If they hadn’t feared what they didn’t understand, if they hadn’t supposed a Qishir who cared only for the furtherance of her own power, Azriel wouldn’t be dead and he wouldn’t be alone again, he wouldn’t have had to give up his mate in order to Awaken and bring Balance back to the Way of Things. It was everyone’s fault and gods grant them the mercy he would not.
“His name was Azriel Kasuske of the House of Veratone!”
Anislanzir stumbled back away from him into the room where the base of Shiran’s Heart Watchtower rested, gold eyes wide, face bone-pale. Kept backpedaling as Rhyshladlyn advanced with long, purposeful strides.
“High Touched by Azriel Anafiel for whom he was named and Ckushayel!”
The Lord King spluttered, mouth falling open to say something as his hands came up in front of him in a gesture clearly intended to show he meant no harm but it wouldn’t save him. Nothing would save him. Not even the gods.
“He was the first person I ever loved!”
As those words left his mouth he felt something crucial break inside him, making the air around them burn as the walls around them shook, as the entire City trembled with one long note of warning.
But he was heedless of that warning. He was done with running away. So instead, he chased after the un-male that had raped him, beaten him, used him, told him he was worthless, that he would never be loved. Chased him across the large room until the Lord King’s back smacked against the stone of the Watchtower. Chased him until he had nowhere else to go. But he knew Anislanzir knew he wasn’t leaving this room alive so he just leaned back against the Watchtower, eyes riveted on Rhyshladlyn, the hands he still held up in front of him visibly shaking.
“He was the first person to love me for me!”
“Are you sure?” Anislanzir quipped, seemingly unable to keep his mouth shut.
Rhyshladlyn felt his rage encase the room, making it feel like his skin was boiling but he didn’t care, didn’t look to see if it was.
His fist cocked back and shot forward, knuckles breaking open against the un-male’s bared teeth, the wounds stinging as his father’s saliva hit them, but he didn’t care. Just pulled his fist back and swung again. And again.
And again, speaking the whole time.
He spoke about how Azriel’s smile could light up a room, how his laughter was like the gods were singing.
Spoke about how the Anglëtinean had always made him laugh even when he wanted to do everything but that.
How he had made him feel safe.
How he had taught him to love himself first, that if he didn’t love himself, there was no point to trying to let anyone else love him because he wouldn’t be able to see why they did.
How he had taught him that his imperfections were what made him perfect, that his past didn’t matter, that what did matter was that he had survived.
How he had shown him that being compassionate, that crying, that expressing feelings, that asking for help did not make him weak but rather made him strong.
How all Azriel had ever had to do to calm him down, to make him feel better, was wrap his arms around him, to pull Rhyshladlyn against his chest and hold firmly, just tight enough that breathing was only marginally difficult, but not enough to actually restrict it.
How just being in his presence was enough to make him feel comfortable and happy.
How he looked so at peace and innocent when sleeping even though Rhyshladlyn knew he could get down right vicious with his practical jokes if not kept in check.
How he was socially awkward and didn’t get subtlety at all and neither did he have common sense but fuck all if that didn’t mean he wasn’t terrifyingly intelligent.
How he was the first person to treat him as an equal despite their age difference, despite how he had more experience on and off the Fields, despite how he had spent centuries to Rhyshladlyn’s decades learning the true scope of shit that life could throw at a person.
How for the first time in his life, he’d felt at home, he’d felt whole.
How when he was with him, he was no longer afraid.
“And now that’s gone! Because of you!”
Not once did Anislanzir raise his hands to defend himself. Not once did his father so much as try and open his mouth to yell at him, to speak, to do anything more than grab a few lungfuls of air before Rhyshladlyn’s fists descended again. He just stood there and took it. Just let Rhyshladlyn beat his face until one side was so swollen it looked like a bloated body in the summer heat ready to burst at any moment. Just let Rhyshladlyn crack all of his ribs and shatter three. Just let Rhyshladlyn break his left knee, dislocate three fingers, and his left shoulder.
“I am not strong enough for this,” he whispered breathlessly, voice shaking around the edges, the words he spoke shattering across the floor like icicles. “You cannot ask this of me. This is… this is too much.“
“We are not asking, lil’it uhn,” the Faceless responded and Rhyshladlyn wondered for a brief moment how he spoke without a mouth but didn’t voice the question aloud, “we are telling you you must. There is no choice here.”
After what felt like hours Rhyshladlyn stepped back, bloodied hands falling to his sides, fists slowly uncurling. As he stood there staring at the beaten, bruised form of his father, a spark of sadistic satisfaction swirled in his belly but died in the wind created by the grief that filled him, that made his blood run cold and eyes burn with tears he couldn’t shed.
As he stood there, chest heaving with breaths he just couldn’t seem to catch he felt the air become charged, felt like the room was suddenly packed with Dhaoine but he could only see himself and Anislanzir. As he stood there, staring at the male that had sired him, he felt no remorse, no real satisfaction seeing the damage he’d wrought. If anything he felt empty. He felt lost, like a ship snapped free of its mooring line and adrift without an anchor. Rolling his shoulders, cracking his neck, he took a deep breath and let it out slow and steady, eyes falling closed as he came to a crossroads that he had been running towards his entire life.
Before him lay a choice and which one he made would determine the entire future.
“How will it all end? How will I know what to do to Awaken completely without dying?” he asked, rubbing hard at his face before raking his hand through his hair.
It was several minutes before any of Them spoke, but when They did, he found he wished he hadn’t even bothered to waste the breath to ask in the first fucking place.
“You will simply Know, My child,” the Soullessly Heartfelt replied as she stood and gestured for him to do the same, signaling the end of what had turned out to be a rather shitty meeting.
“Why did you remove your blindfold?” he asked the Soullessly Heartfelt as she walked with him to the door of the Shadow Chamber.
“I removed it, My Child, because while I am generally, as a rule, supposed to be blind to all who are brought to be weighed against My Feather, there are moments that My blindness is a hindrance.”
He frowned. “How is this one of those moments, Honored One?”
Her smile was soft, filled with a sadness he didn’t understand as she replied, “Justice cannot be achieved without Death’s sacrifice,” she said and ushered him out the door without any further explanation.
He heard the chiming of bells again and opened his eyes to find the Soullessly Heartfelt standing just to the left of the Watchtower, those eyes of hers no less unnerving now than they had been the first time he’d seen them. She gave him a soft, understanding smile and fury unlike what he’d felt before, unlike anything he’d ever felt, rose up in him at the sight. Because how could she understand? She was immortal! Her beloved was immortal! She would never have to experience what he was right now. She would never have to know what it felt like to have a literal piece of yourself die, to feel that person die. To die with them but not actually be granted the reprieve the After gave. She would never have to grieve like he would now.
A wet snort sounded and he frowned, looking back at Anislanzir who was doubled over, hands pressed against his thighs just above his knees, body shaking. His frown deepened when he realized the Lord King was laughing. And that fury that swirled in his gut grew. It grew until it was chasing away the grief, until it had overshadowed the emptiness that grief had brought on.
“Why in the fuck are you laughing?” he snapped and Anislanzir lifted his head up, caught sight of his face and started laughing harder, the sound bouncing off the walls back at them, making his lip curl back off his teeth as his hands curled into fists again.
“I’m laughing because you’ve lost your shit over a worthless, imbecilic, kije–”
He didn’t let Anislanzir finish the slur. Didn’t even think about what he did next.
Between one eye blink and the next, he was pressing his hand against his father’s chest just over his wildly beating heart, feeling the tension that had built in him rising to a crescendo, feeling as though all the Dhaoine he couldn’t see that filled the room around them took a collective breath and held it. Between one eye blink and the next, he was recalling every single atrocity committed against him by the un-male, recalling every horror, every nightmare, every misdeed, every trauma. And he used it as fuel for that fury that raged through him like a forest fire devouring everything in its path as he pushed the Lord King against the Watchtower.
Lips twisted with a grin that hurt his face to make, he spoke one simple word, did the one thing he had been so terrified that he’d almost done not even three days before.
He closed his eyes as the attend blasted down his arm and into his father’s chest, smiled as the magick literally ripped his father to pieces. He kept his eyes closed until he felt the piece of his father still held against the obelisk by his hand crumble into dust.
He kept his eyes closed as he sank to his knees on the floor, hand sliding down the Watchtower that thrummed against his palm. He kept his eyes closed as the sobs he’d swallowed back before fell out of his mouth, as they mixed with sounds that were grief personified. He kept his eyes closed as he threw his rage and his loss and grief against the Currents, tossed it to the Winds, and broke apart at the seams.
It was said that one experiences snap shots of one’s life flash in an eye blink across their mind’s eye at the moment of death. That every regret, every happy memory, every worst nightmare, every horrible moment, was replayed for the viewer’s benefit. As though to remind them of where they came from and to make sure that that moment is where they wanted their story to end. Until that moment, he had never believed it was something that actually happened.
“Come what may,” Azriel murmured the words as he leaned down and brushed his lips along a scar that followed the sweep of his collarbone, “no matter what happens to me or why, I will always find my way back to you.”
He huffed a soft groan as the Anglëtinean nipped at the juncture of neck and shoulder.
“Even if you die before I do?” he whispered, feeling his heart thunder in his chest with enough force that he was pretty sure Azriel could feel it.
Those mismatched eyes lifted to him, one eyebrow raised as though he wanted to question where in the fuck that question had come from but he didn’t. And Rhyshladlyn was glad he didn’t because he wouldn’t have been able to answer. Not without lying.
“If I die before you,” Azriel answered after a moment more of staring, shifting around so he was straddling Rhyshladlyn’s lap rather than laying between his legs, hands smoothing up his abdomen and over his chest to cup his jaw on each side, “I will be reborn and I will find you. I promise you that, on everything I am and ever shall be, no matter what happens, I will always find you again. You just need to wait for me.”
“I will,” he promised.
The tension snapped as the air bent and reality whined and he felt the City heave and shake around him, as sounds like mountains falling thundered all around him.
And as pain lanced hard and fast across his heart, as his hands came up to cover his face as he kept sobbing, he screamed one lonely, heartbreaking syllable, one that he would never be able to speak again without breaking apart at the seams. Wouldn’t be able to speak again without hearing Shiran sob it right along with him as the World shattered around him: