“For the record, I don’t agree with this,” Jaro spoke in her ear and she looked up at the ceiling, shaking her head slightly, trying to reign in her impatience and failing.

The Soulless had gotten a little too outspoken after spending the last several centuries guarding Relyt Greymend; as though his primary station as personal guard to the Grey Steward made him higher of rank than her. It was cute sometimes, adorably pathetic at others, but mostly it just made her want to throttle him. And the only reason she hadn’t was because she didn’t trust that she wouldn’t drop the Grey Steward’s name in the process and ruin their entire plan. Especially since keeping it hidden that she was really working with Thayne and the Grey Army was paramount to ending this war sooner rather than later.

I never should have agreed that he would stand at my side whenever Relyt was not traveling.

“I am aware,” she muttered, sucking the inside of her bottom lip between her teeth and biting down in an effort to keep from snapping full force.

But for all that her tone gave a warning, Jaro was blind to it. And were this any other moment, were she not functioning on barely three hours of sleep in three days, were she not struggling to come to terms with the fact that not even twenty-four hours ago an Oiki had launched at her, she would be able to appreciate the Soulless’ insight. But she was too fucking tired for it right now.

“Surely there is another way to get to the truth besides–”

“I heard you the first twenty times you said as much, Jaro Erosson,” she interrupted, tone far more biting than it had been as her tenuous control on her patience snapped entirely, “and I would appreciate it if you would remember that hearing you is not the same as giving a fuck.”

She was being unfair but gods she was exhausted. After speaking with Eiod and getting his version of events, she’d had Iköl brought before her only his version didn’t match. Both males had been speaking Truth and it not only confused her, it worried her. Because that shit just didn’t make sense, it wasn’t possible. One of them had to be lying and odd as it was, she was inclined to believe Eiod more than she was Iköl. After all, the Sinner-Anglëtinean had the most to lose from being found guilty of participating in a plot to harm her. And he had moved to save her before anyone else had even realized the danger. She suspected he hadn’t told her the whole story behind how he had been able to recognize what was happening and respond before anyone else, but she didn’t fault him for that. She knew what the ghosts of a horrible past looked like, she had grown up with Rhyshladlyn after all in the house of horrors their sire had made Shiran City’s palace into. Never mind that she saw her own every time she looked in a mirror.

“Aye, my Lady,” Jaro murmured and the demureness in his tone made her skin crawl.

“Peace, Soulless, I am just exhausted and you are a convenient target for my ire.”

He didn’t say anything but he didn’t need to. The way his energy shifted and hummed was enough to tell her he understood and held no ill-will.

While she waited for her Guards to bring Eiod and Iköl back to the Hall, she absently fidgeted with the coin hanging from a chord around her neck, a habit she had developed when struggling to keep from breaking apart. A habit she had taken up since the day it had tipped and turned through the air towards her what felt like a lifetime ago as her entire World had shattered into millions of pieces. Something had told her to take it, that it was hers, and she had worn it since that day. It reminded her that she wasn’t weak. Reminded her that this was her Fate, that what she did here was right, even if only a handful of Dhaoine knew the truth behind it all. Even if the day she had been saved had made her into something different and old and only three Dhaoine in the Worlds knew what that was.

At least for now.

“Lord Queen,” a Royal Guard called as ey stepped inside the Hall, executing a crisp salute, eir right fist pressing against eir lips before dropping back to eir side. “Both males are ready for questioning.”

She nodded and made a come here motion with her hand. “Excellent. Bring them in.”

After another salute the Guard snapped eir fingers and two other Guards dragged Eiod and Iköl in by the chains around their necks, tossing them carelessly forward so both males hit the floor on their knees.

“What is the meaning of this?” Iköl hissed, eyes like green fire when they alighted on her, face a riot of anger that he no doubt was used to scaring females into giving him whatever he wanted. But she had faced off against Anislanzir Faolan Ka’ahne and no male scared her, not anymore. “You already questioned me and said I was Truthful, so why am I back here? I should be being released, not left in shackles.”

She raised an eyebrow and turned to look at Eiod, to see if Xitlali’s personal guard had any similar objections. But the male didn’t do much more than shift so his hands rested on his thighs, head slightly lowered, eyes staring at a middle point in the floor between him and the dais. He didn’t give off an air of submission that his pose usually indicated but rather one of harmlessness. As though he was uninterested in what his fate was, as though he already knew the answer she’d provide and had accepted it; only wished to show he was no threat so that his punishment was swift and less severe than it may have been if he fought. Well that is certainly interesting. Is it a play?

There was a pause before a secondary thought answered, I do not think so. Remember what you noticed earlier regarding his pain? It likely has to do with his response now. Or lack thereof, as it were.

“You were both Truthful, Iköl Aodh,” she confirmed and her other eyebrow joined its twin when the Cymerian frowned at her and then looked accusingly at Eiod. “And because both of you cannot speak Truth about the same event and the actions of others as well as yourselves, I wanted to hear the story from you both. Together.”

A muscle along Eiod’s jaw twitched and she focused in on him, watched him instead after Iköl huffed an exasperated breath before the Cymerian began to speak. It wasn’t until Eiod flinched outright, a knee jerk reaction he couldn’t fight, when Iköl got to the part about being called to the Hall to be questioned the first time, that she looked at them both. Reached deep within to a power that she was still getting used to and looked closer. Looked beneath.

She hissed at what she saw, the sound harsh and sudden, a hand coming up on instinct as though she meant to throw a Shield up. Around the Hall the sound of steel being pulled was loud but she ignored it, ignored that every Guard and court member had taken up a defensive stance across the Hall. None of it mattered.

Because as soon as she’d hissed, Iköl had fallen silent and Eiod’s attention had snapped up, gold eyes glazed but no less intense for it. His expression was that of confusion and dejected acceptance, confirming her earlier suspicions. I know that look. And she did. She’d seen it every day of her little brother’s life; had watched it grow worse and worse as time went on. Gods have mercy. She no longer needed to hear their separate stories told in tandem to discover the lie, she’d found it and it made her stomach drop out, made it suddenly so much harder to breathe. A feeling that she hadn’t had since she’d watched her homeland sink beneath the desert sands and take her brother and his Companion with it.

“Guards, take Iköl away, I must speak with Eiod alone. Everyone else but Jaro clear the Hall,” her tone offered no room for arguments.

Eiod didn’t say anything, didn’t fight, just sat there and stared back at her. He didn’t react when Iköl hissed at him, the language he spoke dark and cutting as the Cymerian was dragged out of the Hall literally kicking and screaming. She met the Sinner-Anglëtinean’s gaze evenly, careful to keep her face blank, taking stock of every shift of his aura, of his energy, of his power, of his Self while everyone cleared out around him. It was easy to see why Lulphé had chosen him as her personal guard, as her confidante; he was clearly capable of going to a place mentally that kept him calm in situations that would have taken the stability of most Dhaoine.

She waited until the last Dhaoine had left the Hall, waited until it was just the three of them, before she waved a hand and sealed them in, throwing up privacy Shields and activating her personal wards that no one else could get through. Then she leaned forward in her throne, snapped her fingers sending Eiod’s shackles and chains to the floor with clangs that reverberated off the walls. She watched as Eiod stared at them with a barely restrained shock, unconsciously rubbing at his wrists before meeting her eyes again, the look in his own far less dejected than it had been. If anything it was the liveliest he had looked since she’d watched him bend knee to pledge service to Xitlali.

“Now tell me, Eiod nóh Akkensahn,” she began once she was certain they would not be overheard or spied on, once she was certain she had his complete attention, her voice biting and filled with a danger that would make Rhyshladlyn proud, “why that Cymerian reeks of mind magick but you don’t have a single trace of it on you.”

7 thoughts on “26

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