He knew what Rhyshladlyn was capable of, he had the memories of it after all, never mind that he had spent his entire life with the stubborn twat. But when that Oiki had moved? His instincts, his entire being, had screamed to protect his kè, had reminded him of the last time a deadly magickal creature had come within striking distance of Rhyshladlyn. And it had been those instincts that had made him move to intercept the Oiki before it had made contact. The same instincts that had made him haul ass back to Shiran when they were working to get Relyt and Alaïs out because something had told him that Rhyshladlyn needed him. He hadn’t ignored his Otherborn instincts then and he wasn’t about to do so now, so he’d met the Oiki head on.
Even if he knew his twin didn’t need it.
Even if he knew Rhyshladlyn could handle anything the Oiki dished out because for all that Oiki were terrifying they had nothing on some of the shit that Rhyshladlyn had already faced off against.
Even if his kè hadn’t needed protecting since he was in his eighties.
Even if the last time his kè had needed any type of help in battle had been when that colony of Hounds had attacked them in Shiran. And yet Rhyshladlyn had taken that colony on and held out until Bayls had gotten there to at least get him out to safety so that Rhyshladlyn was no longer distracted by the need to protect him. His back still ached centuries later from where he’d been flung against a building by a Hound that day, the nightmares of that fight nearly as bad as the memories they mimicked.
Yet nothing in his memories of their shared lives, nothing in the glimpses he got of who his twin was now when the door to their shared consciousness was kicked open and the Shields around that door were scattered had prepared him for what happened when those long fingers snapped.
Nothing could have prepared him for the pull behind his sternum that signified a Major Working was going down.
Nothing could have prepared him for watching as that Working threaded through the air, latched onto thirty sentient creatures, and vaporized them all with no time taken to prepare it. Just a finger snap, an eye blink, and they were gone.
And none of them had seen it coming.
Though given that Rhyshladlyn had sunk the entirety of Shiran City beneath the sands of the Shiraniqi Desert, they probably should have. Given that he had wiped the Eighth Qishir, someone who by all rights should have been stronger than him, out of Existence entirely without a single bit of strain, it should have been no surprise that a Major Working came so easily. Given that Rhyshladlyn had been at the center of some of the bloodiest and deadliest battles of the war and walked off the Fields as though he’d merely gone for a swim, it should have been expected. But none of those feats had been a Major Working. Sinking Shiran had simply been a matter of scattering the magick that had held the City together, that kept it standing after so many millennia abandoned and untethered. Killing Lulphé had merely required that Rhyshladlyn overload her mind and her Self with a foreign magick in such a high quantity that Lulphé’s own magick couldn’t convert it to something her body and her heart knew and could handle.
But this? This was a Major Working that should have needed hours to days of prep-work and time to build the energy necessary to perform it. This was a Major Working that killed multiple creatures at once, that destroyed their bodies, scattered their magick, but didn’t wipe out their Selves. It should have taken longer than seconds to build and then enact. And yet Rhyshladlyn had just done it as though it were as simple as breathing.
He knew that his flesh-and-blood twin was strong, but it was moments like that that reminded him just how strong he actually was. And as what happened sunk in, he screamed along with everyone. Even if it was only because the Oiki hadn’t been given the chance to do so before their lives were snuffed out. Before those beautiful, iridescent bodies had been destroyed with all the ease of a fledgling kicking over a sand castle.
This wasn’t wholly unlike the Rhyshladlyn he’d known before Azriel’s death, but when they were younger Rhyshladlyn would have hemmed and hawed over such a decision. He would have agreed it was necessary, sure, but he would have tried valiantly to find a different avenue. He would have repeated until they were all sick of hearing him talk that there had to be another way even if everyone knew there wasn’t. But now? Now he just made it without hesitation. Now he saw the necessity of it and when argued with about that necessity, made one attempt to defend himself then just fuck it and did it regardless. It was impressive to see how far he’d come over the years, despite how unnerving it was at the same time. And the irony of that change was not lost on him.
As the Working finished its job and dispersed just as fast as it had been enacted, he watched as Rhyshladlyn closed his eyes and tilted his head tilted back. The twenty-three bells woven into the strands tumbled one over the other, their chiming louder than expected in the din caused by the slowly quieting screams of the Court. He watched as his twin held his right hand out towards the cloud of blood mist and free floating magick, Calling it to him as he aimed his left hand towards the sky, slowly rotating it widdershins. He snapped his jaw shut when Shadiranamen spoke across their link, the suddenness of her voice almost startling him enough that he bit his tongue.
*He’s taking their life forces to Heal those that they had injured or killed.*
*How can you be certain?* Xheshmaryú sounded shaken in a way Nhulynolyn hadn’t heard in centuries, not since they’d stood and watched as Shiran City had sunk beneath the sands and took their kè with it.
I second, Xheshy. He didn’t have to look at the Nochresi to know those violet eyes were narrowed at him. Xheshmaryú hated when Nhulynolyn called him that, which naturally meant Nhulynolyn had to call him it as often as possible.
*I have seen it done before, though not often and not since my people were wiped out.* She sound nostalgic almost and it made his heart ache for her. Never mind that it almost physically hurt not to press the female Other for more information on what race exactly she hailed from. One it was rude, especially if she was the last of her kind. And two, trying to get shit out of her when she didn’t want to talk was just as difficult as getting Rhyshladlyn to stop feeling guilty about shit that wasn’t his fault. *It was something the Greywalkers did both during and after a battle to restore Balance. But it would only prove successful if those whose life force they used were willing sacrifices.*
Well ain’t our wayward kè jus’ a bundle of fuckin’ surprises. He tried not to sound petulant as he shakily rose to his feet, waving Bayls off as she tried to help him up. The combination of Rhyshladlyn’s power and the Oiki’s saliva had him fully healed up so he could move about on his own just fine. Granted, he was still a little achy but that would pass eventually and he’d had worse. Despite not needing help standing up, he did loop his arm around the Sinner’s shoulders and tuck her against his side, his wings chittering at him to let them loose so they could wrap around her possessively. But he ignored them; Otherborn only showed their wings for specific reasons. And because he wanted to stake an even louder claim on his female wasn’t one of those specific reasons.
Glancing down at where Bayls stood with her hand pressed over his chest, fingertips tapping out the rhythm of his heartbeat, he found it strange that the Sinner no longer lost her cool when he got hurt and bounced back faster than was fair. It spoke to the amount of battles they’d fought in together, spoke to the amount of times she had seen him cut down on the Fields only to get back up, pulling magick and energy from the enemies that surrounded them to use to Heal himself just enough so that he could keep fighting. It also spoke to how their bond had grown over the centuries and it made him wonder if how he felt in that moment was how Rhyshladlyn felt when around Azriel. Made him wonder if that was why Rhyshladlyn always seemed to stabilize when Azriel was touching him or nearby. Made him wonder if their Bond of qahllynshæ to Qishir was strengthened by the love they had for each other, a love that had formed before Rhyshladlyn came into his Qishir heritage. He’d never ask though because really he didn’t need to. He had felt Rhyshladlyn’s love for Azriel through their link and while what he felt for Bayls wasn’t nearly as strong, he had no doubt it would get there one day.
Looking back at his twin just as Rhyshladlyn finished his Working and shook himself free of the excess energy, grounding it as he turned to face them, Nhulynolyn wondered if the strength of their bond withstood Azriel’s death and whatever had befallen his twin in the years that stretched between that moment and this one.
“How could you!” They all jumped as Relyt practically flew at the Qishir, grey wings bursting from his back in a shower of ice shards and grey sparks. Rhyshladlyn didn’t even flinch, didn’t react except for his face to go entirely blank as Relyt grabbed up fistfuls of his shirt and shook him. Didn’t raise his hands to defend himself. He just stood there and let Relyt grab hold and lean real close. Met the Soul Healer’s fury with an icy calm that seemed so out of place on Rhyshladlyn’s face.
But Nhulynolyn knew that expression. Knew it meant Danger with a capital ‘D’ and added emphasis on a level that had seen him shift from the green-jawed fledgling that was terrified for his own life second only to the lives of those he loved into the seasoned, frighteningly powerful warrior that stood before them all now. Knew it meant that Relyt hovered far closer to losing his life despite his position of Steward, however unOathed he may be, than Relyt realized. Because that was the expression Rhyshladlyn had always worn whenever their Father had come calling on him for some “quality time.” And it was the recognition of what his twin’s blank expression and calm demeanor meant that had him waiting, arm tightening around Bayls’ shoulders as the Sinner tensed against him, telling her without words to stay put. Even as he prepared to step away from her and intervene like he had the last time Rhyshladlyn’s had hovered on the knife edge of his hard-won restrain snapping when he faced off against Relyt.
“How could you kill sentient creatures that did you no wrong! That had willingly surrendered!” Relyt’s voice was a vicious rumble that shook the ground around them as his power rose like an angry river after the winter thaws to the surface and trickled out around them, only a hairsbreadth from becoming totally uncontrollable. “Where is the fairness in that?”
“They knew what was going to happen when they surrendered,” Rhyshladlyn answered, voice flat, not even a single hint of tonal changes or inflection. And if anything that only made every instinct in him yell all the louder at him to run for his life. But he wouldn’t run, he couldn’t. He was frozen in place as though he were a tree whose roots stretched all the way to the River’s banks.
“How? You never said shit to them!” Relyt barked, forearm muscles rippling with the strain of picking Rhyshladlyn bodily up off the ground, wings puffed up and trembling as they spread out to their full span.
Oh fuck, this is not going to end well.
*Not even close,* Shadiranamen agreed while Xheshmaryú snorted.
As Relyt shook his twin again, Nhulynolyn held out his free hand to stop Azriel from stepping forward, from getting in the way. Because if any of them tried to intervene, shit would end way more bloody than it already would. Sure Rhyshladlyn was clearly furious and calm with it, but he wasn’t murderous. Yet. If anyone else moved towards him and the Soul Healer currently accosting him in a clear dominance display? He’d see them all as threats and his instincts would respond without any care for logic. And while it wouldn’t be the first time that would have happened where the Qishir was concerned, it would be where he and a member of the Court was concerned and Nhulynolyn didn’t want his twin to have any more guilt piled on his shoulders than he already had.
“No, Feather Duster,” he interrupted the Anglëtinean. “My twin’s got this in the bag. Jus’ watch an’ give him some credit. He ain’t the half cocked fledglin’ o’ your mem’ries.”
*That’s a bit rich coming from you, Nul,* Xheshmaryú quipped but he ignored him.
And sure enough between one blink and the next, almost too quick for him to follow and he knew what he was looking for, Rhyshladlyn had dislodged the Soul Healer’s grip, right fist connecting with a sickening crack against Relyt’s jaw, making him go cartwheeling through the air to land heavily in the packed dirt of the road. In the pause that followed, Nhulynolyn prayed to whatever gods were listening that the Soul Healer’s warrior instincts didn’t respond. Prayed that Relyt’s Steward instincts were louder in that moment than any of his others.
But his prayers went unanswered.
Relyt dropped his hand from where it had flown to touch his bleeding mouth, showing where his teeth had cut into his lip, grey eyes filled with a rage that made Nhulynolyn’s own lips curl off his teeth in a warning snarl that he fought not to voice. Nearly as fast as Rhyshladlyn had moved, Relyt closed the space between them and struck out, left hand getting smacked away but his right connected just not with the full force of the blow as Rhyshladlyn leaned back and sidestepped it at the same time. But even with the blow being only a glancing one, it was still enough to make blood pour from his twin’s nose. Rhyshladlyn’s snarl shook the air and made Nhulynolyn’s bones whine in protest as he tightened his hold on Bayls. Like the Sinner had any plans to suddenly make a suicide mission to separate their Qishir and his dumbass Steward, but he needed something to hold on to, needed something to steady him, and the gods aplenty only knew that Bayls was that to him and more.
“Relyt! Stop this shit!” Thae’a hollered, voice like the sound of steel scraping on stone and it made him jump. “The fuck is wrong with you! You know Rhys always has his reasons for doing things!”
The Soul Healer spared her only a quick flick of the eyes before he focused back on Rhyshladlyn who was moving, the glamour that hid his true face dropping in places. Fuck that is not good. It was only by sheer luck that Relyt was facing off against Rhyshladlyn in hand-to-hand combat and not pitting steel against steel. Because while Rhyshladlyn was pissed beyond words, he had enough control left to realize that killing his Steward, however within his rights he was to do so, wouldn’t solve shit, and so he had kept his swords sheathed and vanished out. He hadn’t even brought out his wings yet.
But if Relyt kept pressing him? There’s only so much restrain a person can have.
*And Rhyshladlyn is dangerously close to losing his,* Xheshmaryú added just as Thayne’s voice rang out next.
“Rel! Come on, this is insane! You know better than this!”
Nhulynolyn shared a knowing glance with his fellow Otherborn. While Rhyshladlyn had grown and changed, perhaps for the better, Relyt had done the same, though not in the ways he probably should have. It was a hell of a lot to ask of one person: to take on the mantle of Qishir-regent of a wayward Court that was full of stubborn fuckers who didn’t know what “following the rules” meant, never mind to become a General of part of an army when everything about the race one hailed from gave a whole knew meaning to the term “conscientious objector.” But despite how Nhulynolyn could somewhat understand why Relyt was so angry, so fed up and acting stupid with it, he couldn’t condone it either. There was a reason, after all, why Nhulynolyn and his fellows had done everything they could to keep from being near the Soul Healer, especially in battle. And part of that reason was showing itself in that moment.
“He will kill you!” Azriel thundered making Bayls flinch against him, sounding much like the Anglëtinean of their memories in that moment as he leaned over Nhulynolyn’s arm and attempted to talk some sense into his fellow qahllynshæ. “I know you know better than to challenge him like this, Relyt Greymend! It’s suicide to do so!”
“Don’ waste anymore’a your breath,” Nhulynolyn said softly, voice pitched so only those nearby could hear him. “He has it in his head that m’twin did somethin’ wrong on a level that’s worth duelin’ over. It’s a lesson he’s gotta learn on his own.”
“And if he dies in the process?” Bayls asked and he glanced down to find those eyes he loved so much staring up at him, face a riot of emotion.
“Then he dies,” Nhulynolyn answered honestly as he looked back at Rhyshladlyn and Relyt.
He watched with a keener interest as Rhyshladlyn advanced and circled, danced around the Soul Healer while Relyt tried to find an opening. But each time he made to strike out against him, Rhyshladlyn knocked the attempt away with all the ease of one swatting the flank of a horse. Despite that, Relyt managed to land one actual blow, one that knocked Rhyshladlyn’s jaw out of place and caused the Qishir to stumble slightly. In his shock, Relyt didn’t follow through and that was his second biggest mistake of the day besides attacking Rhyshladlyn in the first fucking place.
Gods, I never pegged him for bein’ this stupid… Xheshmaryú and Shadiranamen murmured their agreement as they all watched Rhyshladlyn pop his jaw back into place, test it, then turn and level a look at Relyt who visibly flinched. Nhulynolyn couldn’t even track him when he moved next. Just one moment Rhyshladlyn was a couple feet away and the next he was bringing Relyt to his knees with a hand fisted in his hair. Using that grip to pull his head back and expose his throat, Rhyshladlyn materialized Mallacht in his free hand and pressed the point into the vulnerable flesh where Relyt’s chin became his throat. It was then that it seemed to dawn on the Soul Healer the depth of his mistake and he tried to open his mouth but Rhyshladlyn beat him to it.
Nhulynolyn shivered as the attend stabbed out at them all. Found himself compelled to keep his voice silenced even though attends spoken by one’s kè didn’t affect Otherborn. But this one did, if only as more of a heavy suggestion than the rigid order it was for everyone else.
Watching as Relyt’s mouth snapped shut and his throat worked around a swallow that was loud enough to hear even with the distance between them, Nhulynolyn couldn’t help but remember the last time Rhyshladlyn had turned a face gone slack with fury on his Steward, lips moving around an attend that would have done more than call for a quieted voice. Remembered the first moment Rhyshladlyn had come so very close to speaking the first death attend in millennia and how Relyt’s fear then was nothing compared to now.
Because back then they had all known Rhyshladlyn wouldn’t have followed through, even if Nhulynolyn hadn’t gotten there in time to take over his body and forcibly stop him, even with his apparent loss of control at the time. But that was then. Now?
Now none of them were sure what his limits were. Not anymore.
What happened t’you while you were gone, twin o’ mine? It felt like a question he would be asking frequently, even once — if — he ever got an answer to it.
“I am your Qishir,” Rhyshladlyn didn’t raise his voice, didn’t so much as project it either, but it packed all the weight of a punch at full force regardless. “And this is your only warning to never lay your hands upon this one again. I may not hold to the old ways as many of my caste do, but make no mistake, when it boils down to it? I am your superior, I am your better. And it would behoove you to remember that just because I treat you as an equal does not mean that you are one.”
He let go of Relyt’s hair and leaned back, eyes pools of liquid orange fire, his Greywalker markings having begun to fade, the smoke that once rose from his skin dispelling in the breeze that hesitantly danced around them, as though unsure if it was welcome to do so. “You will take care of the ones I have Healed with the freely given life force of the Oiki and then you will dismantle this camp and move. I do not care where, but it will not be here by sundown. If it is, I will punish you.”
As Rhyshladlyn turned to go vanishing Mallacht as he did so, Azriel slapped Nhulynolyn’s arm out of his way and stepped forward, calling out, “Wait! Are you leaving again?”
He watched as his twin’s back tensed, as the skin beneath his armor rippled as his wings pressed against it. He watched as Rhyshladlyn turned his head so they caught his expression in profile, his face twisted with a set of emotions that Nhulynolyn had no name for and wished more than anything he could read at the base level across their connection. But it was closed and he had no idea when, or if, it would ever be opened again. And until it was, he was flying just as blind as the rest of them when it came to Rhyshladlyn’s thoughts and feelings.
“I will not be far. But for your safety, I cannot remain this close,” he answered, sounding almost regretful. “Not right now.”
And before the last syllable had finished, Rhyshladlyn looked away and was gone.
“Well, that’s just lovely,” Thayne muttered testily after several minutes of thick silence. “Great fucking going, Relyt.”
To his credit, the Soul Healer actually looked chagrined as he rose to his feet unsteadily, eyes vacant as he stared in the direction Rhyshladlyn had turned to face before blinking away. A slow trickle of blood moved down his throat from where Mallacht‘s tip had nicked him.
“Now what are we going to do?” Thae’a asked from behind him and Nhulynolyn shrugged his free shoulder up and dropped it again, acutely aware of how reminiscent of his twin the action was.
“Exac’ly what he said,” he answered, tilting his head back so he could side-eye her, grinning cheekily when she rolled her eyes at him. “Tend t’the wounded an’ those that were Healed then pack ever’thin’ up an’ haul ass out.”
That was when the attend released and Relyt sucked in a heavy breath as though he had been holding it the entire time and maybe he had been. Or maybe Rhyshladlyn had forced him to.
Even though the attend keeping him silenced was gone, he didn’t say anything as he turned and walked away back towards his tent, back towards the Forest that stretched beyond the camps northern border, shoulders tensed and back a hard, unforgiving line as he pulled his wings back in. Nhulynolyn recognized the body language as that of a spoiled child that had been scolded when they didn’t feel they deserved to be and it made him nervous.
We may need t’keep an eye on him, he commented, watching Relyt walk away with narrowed eyes, feeling Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú doing the same. A glance around him showed that they weren’t the only members of the Court that watched the Soul Healer with a degree of apprehension.
And that, more than the fight he had just witnessed, told him things had changed irrevocably and not necessarily for the better.