He had imagined it going better than that. Hadn’t thought that he and Relyt would fight, that his Steward would be so angry.
“Yes!” Relyt snapped, voice whip-cracking around them, fluttering the canvas walls of the tent. “Yes, it most certainly matters. Because I am your Steward and she is not. If anyone should have known first after you, it should have been me.”
Though if he had been thinking clearly, he would have planned for that. Would have planned that he’d spend more time than he should have arguing with the Soul Healer and he would have approached him sooner. Would have planned to meet him before he took a shower or intercepted him before he’d even made it across the camp’s boundaries after returning from the Field. But he had done none of that. Had been too focused on the one habit he had, the one thing he always did no matter where he was or what he was doing. And this had been the one time he should have scrapped it.
But it was the only thing he had done for his Steward in centuries and he couldn’t bring himself to stop, no matter how good of a reason he would have had for skipping it. Plus he had needed the routine it held, the constant it had provided over the years since Azriel’s death, because the fear that swirled in his gut at the knowledge that telling Relyt about Azriel would mean that the Anglëtinean would once again be fully part of the Court was nearly debilitating. And if he was being honest with himself, which he rarely was nowadays, he had needed the time to steady himself.
So he hadn’t been thinking clearly. Not like that’s really new where these fuckers are concerned.
And now he was left running through the camp behind Relyt as his blood came alive as Azriel’s Oathing mark was opened, as the wards and Shields shrieked all around them. As every warrior and soldier they darted past called out to his Steward, to the General he had become to them, and all but outright ignored him. He ran behind Relyt knowing he could catch up to him but he didn’t bother; he knew what they were going to discover and wasn’t in an incredible hurry to get there even though he knew that Azriel may not be able to handle everything on his own.
He knew what awaited them because he’d passed Hujiel and eir unit on his way to the camp, he’d recognized the High General and eir men immediately. It was difficult not to recognize them. After all, he’d spent centuries following the neodrach, researching everything about the High General that was absolutely feared among the Eighth Army’s ranks, even by the Elders of the Anglë race from which ey hailed. Though initially it was solely to get to know his enemy, the one member of the Eighth Army who stood a chance of giving him anything close to a challenge. Though once he’d learned that Hujiel had been Azriel’s trainer, his mentor of sorts, prior to that fateful meeting on the Fields? He had wanted to know everything he could about the one nicknamed the Ghost Maker, the neodrach who had largely shaped who his Companion was in this lifetime. Had wanted to know even the things that the best spies in the Grey Army hadn’t managed to uncover. Though once he had? He’d wished he hadn’t.
Because after the childhood he’d had, nothing should have surprised him. He should have been prepared for anything. But none of his experiences could have readied him for the information he’d uncovered.
The High General was a monster, one that Rhyshladlyn was surprised had escaped the notice of the Worlds at large for the nearly two millennium the fucker had been alive and stalking across the Worlds before the war had started. Ey tortured and killed indiscriminately; cared not for innocence or guilt or for the minimization of collateral damage. Ey didn’t believe in such a thing. If one was in eir way? Ey cut them down. If ey thought ey could gain something of value from someone? Ey would go to any and all lengths to get it. Never mind that ey and eir unit were known as the Ghost Makers — or more accurately, the Ghost Maker and eir disciples; they made nothing but ghosts in their wake, left nothing but destruction and bodies. Hujiel’s skill would have been admirable if ey had a rhyme or reason, if ey didn’t kill innocents. And that was the one thing Rhyshladlyn couldn’t forgive: the killing of innocents. It made him feel sick in a way he hadn’t since before he’d committed patricide.
So when he’d caught sight of the High General making swift progress towards the camp? He had sped up, determined to get here first, to mobilize as many within the camp as possible before Hujiel’s arrival. Determined to keep those within the Steward Corps safe from the winged death that rode hard for the camp and that determination had burned away all his carefully made plans on the conversation he wanted to have with his Steward about his Companion. Because he knew that Hujiel was here for Azriel, knew that even if ey said otherwise his Companion was the one ey sought. The Elders of the Race had made it clear that they intended to use Azriel to get to him, to tear him down, when they’d tricked Azriel into fighting on their side against him.
Of course, he had planned to tell Relyt about Azriel, but had hoped to get caught up with the Soul Healer first; had hoped to bridge the divide that had opened up between them. Had hoped that he wouldn’t have to divulge that tidbit of information for at least a couple weeks yet. But with Hujiel’s imminent arrival, he hadn’t dared risk taking the time. And it had made him sloppy, made him slip up and tell Relyt that he’d known Azriel had been alive for centuries. Just like how he hadn’t meant to draw his swords the day Azriel died, he hadn’t meant to give that much away, not yet. Because he knew the inevitable question of why was one he wasn’t ready to answer. And when Relyt had snarled a question similar to that at him? He unsurprisingly hadn’t been able to answer.
Now they were faced with a wall of bodies surrounding the training pits as the warriors and soldiers of the Steward Corps stood shoulder to shoulder to keep Hujiel from leaving. Now he was faced with hearing Azriel’s voice and it made him lose his footing; was faced with hearing Nhulynolyn’s voice and it made him stop completely, one hand raised to press against his sternum and the ache that pulsed there. It was almost too much: feeling his Bond with the Anglëtinean come alive again after far too long spent in dormancy only to hear the voice of his twin, a voice he hadn’t heard in the same amount of time. He’d spent so much time in solitude and silence, forced as it may have been, bereft of any contact with those he loved, from those he protected and missed dearly; a self-induced penance that they wouldn’t understand and he didn’t know how to begin to explain it. And because of that solitude it was nearly overwhelming seeing Relyt, hearing Azriel and Nhulynolyn within minutes of each other but he forced that feeling of too much down. Forced it down to deal with later. Forced it down so that when the venom in Nhulynolyn’s voice registered, when his twin’s power slithered out around them, he got moving again.
He strode past Relyt who turned a slack jawed expression on him that would have been funny if the circumstances of its existence weren’t so unpleasant. As he reached the outer circle of warriors blocking Hujiel and eir unit from leaving the pits, he dropped the first few barriers on his power and let it cascade out ahead of him. Let it blanket the camp and shift it just so, watching as a ripple moved over the warriors as he spoke:
“Who dares attack my Companion?”
The warriors before him darted aside to clear a path. While not all of them had met him personally, enough of them recognized his voice or his power. Knew both well enough to know that if he was here, they’d best get the fuck out of his way. Knew it because he was most fond of fighting alongside the Steward Corps on the Fields, moving like a literal ghost among them, dropping enemies they didn’t see and those they did. He was their protector, they’re guiding light, the symbol they wore as a badge of honor, following in the wake of their General, his Steward for whom they were named, who would do anything to keep Rhyshladlyn safe. Not that I have done shit all to earn that of late.
With a deep breath, he slanted a look at Nhulynolyn who raised an eyebrow in a look that clearly said, “Fancy seein’ you here,” but he didn’t so much as acknowledge it before looking away as he tried to ignore the barbed bubble of jealousy in his gut that the first person besides Bayls that Nhulynolyn spoke to was Azriel. As his eyes landed on the High General, he was momentarily stunned at how much ey looked like Lulphé, and would have been nearly identical to her had eir wings been crimson like eir eyes versus pitch black like eir hair. It was odd for a monochrome Anglëtinean to have hair and wings of the same color but eyes that differed from the wings. Usually monochromes had matching eyes and wings or their eyes, hair, and wings were all the same color. Funny how the Race will accept one in their number like Hujiel but not Azriel.
“I struck him, Rhyshladlyn,” Hujiel answered after a long minute of heavy silence. Rhyshladlyn raised an eyebrow when the High General didn’t immediately elaborate, debating as he did so whether to call attention to the blatant insult of not being properly addressed. But Hujiel spoke again before he could decide. “He dealt an insult that our kind demands be smoothed over with blood.”
Rhyshladlyn tilted his head in an ah gesture before blinking to Azriel’s left side, making Nhulynolyn take a quick step back, Azriel jump, and the High General flinch. His hand snapped out and grabbed his Companion’s, lifting his arm so he could see where his mark had been sliced open. Lifting Azriel’s arm to his lips he licked the wound, sealing it as he did so. He fought the urge to purr at the taste, at the feeling of Azriel’s skin beneath his again; tried not to hum in approval of the way the Anglëtinean’s scent became heady with the first spike of arousal. Dropping Azriel’s arm without meeting the heavy gaze of his Companion, he turned back to Hujiel and licked his lips slowly, deliberately. Because purists like the High General didn’t believe in an Anglëtinean Blood Oathing to a Qishir that wasn’t of the Race. Rhyshladlyn gave the High General a sharp smile at the look of disgust that twisted eir features.
“I heard the supposed insult,” he began, tone light and conversational, “but you see, what gets me is that it could only be considered an insult if there were some truth to it.”
“The Race is incapable of telling a lie regardless of the language they use,” Hujiel countered.
Rhyshladlyn hummed. “Tell that Lulphé.”
A smattering of hisses erupted at the name, not all from Hujiel’s unit, though the Steward Corps hissed for a far different set of reasons than the Ghost Makers did.
“Qishir Lulphé never lied outright. As I said before, we are incapable of doing so,” Hujiel said, eir voice clipped and tight. “But she is not the one in question right now, I am. And I tell you, Rhyshladlyn, that I struck Esteemed One Azriel for his insinuation that I am a liar.”
“You will address me as Qishir Rhyshladlyn, High General, or you will not address me at all,” Rhyshladlyn growled, the words woven with an attend. “And furthermore, insult dealt or not, you have no right to bleed my Companion at all let alone from his Oathing mark.”
“How dare you tell me what I am allowed to do as an Anglëtinean!” Hujiel snapped, bearing eir teeth as eir accented Common thickened until some of the syllables were more Anglë’lylel than Common. “You know nothing of our culture!”
“I know enough!” Rhyshladlyn hollered back, making the Currents whine as he advanced a step. “I know enough,” he repeated, voice quieter, tone once again light and conversational, continuing to advance on the High General, pace sedate and measured. “You value purity at a level that is not just asinine but also unattainable. You see emotion as weakness yet demand it at the most ridiculous of times, punishing those who cannot meet that demand. Any infraction, no matter how small, is treated like a betrayal of the hive-mind trust of the Race as a whole and the punishment for each mistake is severe enough that it becomes a legendary lesson that none can ignore or forget. You mutilate fledglings. You denounce your own kind for the stupidest of things, things they have no control over,” he glanced back at Azriel and slipped his hands into his trouser pockets as he took a deep breath and let it out slow. “So yes, I know about your culture and your kind and the atrocities it commits against those who do not fit perfectly into its ideals.”
Hujiel huffed, the sound one that made Rhyshladlyn grind his teeth, it reminded him too much of when he was a fledgling and his father would speak to him as though he were looking down at him despite them being of a height for the majority of his life. He growled low in his throat, the sound nearly subvocal.
“Do you have something you wish to say to that, High General?” he asked, head tilted to the side, the warning in his tone clear to anyone with enough intelligence to hear it.
As Hujiel opened eir mouth, Nhulynolyn cut em off with a snort that sounded like it hurt. “I really wouldn’t, Huhu.”
Hujiel just blinked once and slowly at the nickname and Rhyshladlyn turned a laughing frown at his twin. “Huhu?”
“Don’t ask me,” Nhulynolyn motioned at the snake draped around Azriel’s neck, “ask Malkuth over there. He’s the one that came up w’it.” The smile that his twin turned on the High General was full of more sharp-edged mischief than Rhyshladlyn had ever seen from him. “That snake really doesn’t like you. Wonder why?”
“How can you even communicate with it?” Hujiel asked by way of answer. “It doesn’t speak like us Dhaoine can.”
Nhulynolyn’s smile got all the sharper. “Oh you’re gonna love this, Huhu,” he answered, leaning forward, blue eyes filled with dancing flashes of lightning. “See, us Otherborn? We have the ability to talk to each other, even when we don’t share the same kè.”
Hujiel hissed and made a complicated hand sign before emself and Rhyshladlyn snorted.
“As if the existence of Otherborn was a shock,” he commented with a shake of his head.
“Or a sign that the kè to whom we’re attached aren’t an evil t’be warded ‘gainst,” Nhulynolyn added with another snort.
Sharing a look with the Other, the two of them broke down laughing uproariously. The sound of his twin’s laughter like a balm that soothed the nerves that had become frayed by seeing Azriel again, by hearing his voice, by hearing his scream and feeling his pain. Wiping a hand across his cheeks to remove the tears from his laughter, he took a deep breath to calm himself and turned his attention back to Hujiel and eir unit who were all staring at them like they had gone completely insane. Not that he could entirely blame them.
“Now where was I?” Shaking his hair out of his face, his bells woven letting out a short note of displeasure, he dropped his smile and the mirth from his expression. “Oh, that’s right,” blinking to within inches of Hujiel he shot out a hand and gripped a handful of the neodrach’s tunic and lifted em off sand of the pits, “teaching you what happens to those who harm my Companion.”
To eir credit, the High General didn’t look all that phased and ey really should have been. Guess for all eir intelligence when it comes to torture isn’t applicable to everything else.
“D’you know what happened to last the people who did that dumb shit?” Nhulynolyn asked, tone filled with a glee he didn’t bother to restrain.
Rhyshladlyn bared his teeth and gave a low subvocal growl.
“I wiped their Selves out of Existence.”
Hujiel’s eyes went wide as ey finally seemed to realize the situation ey had found emself in. Eir nails scored bloody lines down Rhyshladlyn’s arm, booted feet swinging against his shins, power snapping around them as ey flared and flapped eir wings, but Rhyshladlyn ignored all of it.
“You have no business being here, High General Hujiel,” his voice rumbled low in his throat, every instinct screaming to shred the one who hurt Azriel though he fought against them for now. He had questions he needed answered first. “It has been the unspoken agreement since this war began to leave the opposing armies alone within their camps. Why break that now?”
For one long minute Hujiel didn’t say anything. But when ey did, Rhyshladlyn felt like the ground had given way beneath him.
“For the crime of murdering three million Anglëtineans, seven million Sinner Demons, and scores of other unknown races when you sank Shiran City beneath the sands of Shiraniqi Desert; for the crimes of matricide and patricide; for the crime of murdering the Eighth Qishir Lulphé Akkensahn; for the crime of killing Azr–”
The attend wrapped itself around Hujiel’s throat before Rhyshladlyn was even consciously aware he’d thought of doing so, cutting the High General off before ey could finish saying more than the first syllable of Azriel’s name.
“I did not kill Azriel,” he bit out past clenched teeth, head bowed, the air that danced around him displaced by his power rising swiftly to the surface making his hair shiver and sending his bells to ringing. It almost sounded like the Song he sang on the Fields. “My father killed Azriel.”
“It was your blade though, was it not?” one of the Sinner warriors that stood behind Hujiel spoke up.
Rhyshladlyn ignored her, there was no point getting into a debate about the semantics of it all. He remembered clearly what had happened. Relived it every time he closed his eyes to sleep; it was one of the reasons he’d kicked his Others out of his head. It was one thing if he lost sleep over it, he wouldn’t risk them being weakened because of his failures.
“Is that what you’re doing here, Hujiel?” he asked, fingers tightening around the hold he had on the High General’s tunic, forearm muscles flexing as he gave the neodrach a shake. “Followed the tracking spell you snuck onto Azriel’s magickal signature, hoping that one day I would be nearby and that you’d what? Get to speak your grand accusations and take me into custody or kill me where I stood?” He laughed, the sound harsh and painful even to his own ears as it burned roughly at his throat. He released the attend for silence and let Hujiel go, watching as the High General fell to eir knees in the sands, a hand rubbing at eir throat. “You may be powerful, Hujiel, but only two Dhaoine alive have the ability to kill me and you are not one of them.”
Ey hissed something in Anglë’lylel that made Azriel roar, the air crackling as his power winged out around them, Nhulynolyn’s voice telling him to calm down as no doubt his twin and Relyt struggled keep Azriel from going after the High General. He didn’t need to ask for a translation though, he was fluent enough that even colloquial insults like what Hujiel had just spoken were understandable.
Who knew that such a pretty language could cut so deeply?
But he didn’t act on the insult, didn’t strike em even though he was well within his rights to do so. It wasn’t worth the effort.
“I’ll be lenient just this once, High General Hujiel of House Jaunyr, and let you and your unit go. But do not spit in the face of that leniency or I will stride into one of the Eighth Army’s camps.” Rhyshladlyn didn’t elaborate but he didn’t have to. The threat was clear enough.
Hujiel didn’t say anything until all of eir unit had caught a Line and left. Didn’t say anything until ey stood up and brushed sand off eir knees and straightened eir tunic. Didn’t say anything until ey held up a hand and reached for the same Line eir unit had taken and paused, crimson eyes staring at him.
“Mark my words, Qishir Rhyshladlyn, one day you will be weighed for your crimes and found wanting. And on that day?” The neodrach grinned at him, flashing a single fang. “I will be there and I will enjoy every minute of your punishment.”
He rolled his eyes as the High General caught the Line and disappeared. “Yeah, yeah. Take a fucking number.”