Her stomach dropped out as the World tilted slightly only to right itself as soon as it shifted. Before she even had the chance to wonder what in the fuck a ping lanced across her mind, just sharp enough to catch her attention but not sharp enough to drop her. With a sharp breath, she swayed where she stood, catching herself on a nearby chair just before she fell completely. Had she been asleep when it hit, she didn’t doubt she’d have flown awake. As it was, she ignored it as best she could, thankful that she was able to hide that anything was wrong. But given the way Jaro’s eyes narrowed, she doubted highly that she hid it as well as she thought she did. Though if he was the only one of the two other Dhaoine in the Hall with her that caught what happened, then she counted herself successful.
Didn’t mean she was going to alert Jaro to whatever the fuck that was, though. There were other important matters to focus on besides why that connection had suddenly flared to life for the first time since Shiran City had fallen.
Even though she caught glimpses of nightmares made flesh and blood moving in waves across sands that were far more familiar than she wanted to acknowledge just then, she swallowed the fear the sight invoked, swallowed the worry that threatened to break over her like a wave on the shoreline. There was nothing she could do about any of that, if she was actually seeing something happening in real time. So she elected to ignore it for now. One thing at a time.
“Tell me again, Eiod,” she repeated, shaking her head to clear it, ignoring the way the Sinner-Anglëtinean groaned, “like I’m slow.” She turned and faced the male, knowing that the crooked smile that twisted a corner of her mouth was reminiscent of the younger brother she hadn’t seen in centuries. But she was tired of the cat and mouse games, was tired of the espionage, was tired of wondering who she could trust. And with that exhaustion came a distinct lack of fucks to give. Gods aplenty, I am too old for this shit. “Why did the Cymerian reek of mind magick but you didn’t have a trace on you?”
“I have told you,” Eiod replied, clearly exasperated, pacing behind where his shackles had fallen to the floor, gold eyes staring at them with an emotion she couldn’t quite name but felt like she recognized despite that.
Not that she blamed him really, they’d been at this for hours, nearing on a day now, but she didn’t give two shits. Mind magick, true mind magick, was illegal and for damned good reason. And the idea that it had happened in her Palace? It was more than a bit terrifying. Never mind that it was nearly impossible to trace back to the performer. But here she had someone who was in close enough proximity to the victim — much as she despised referring to Iköl Aodh as that — that the male had caught a brush of the magick but it hadn’t touched him like it had the Cymerian. Which meant that he had been within touching distance of the Cymerian and the perpetrator when the latter was gathering the energy and power to perform the act.
And if Eiod was that close, why didn’t the Mind Worker fucking touch him as well? Why did he leave the male unaffected? It makes no sense.
“Two Royal Guards came to collect me for questioning,” Eiod continued, hands pushing wayward strands of hair out of his face, “one was a male Black Soul Healer, though his coloring was on the lighter end of the spectrum. He passed me over to the female Guard, Sheneith, who escorted me away.” The longer he spoke the more animated he became, hands gesturing out complex partners in the air in front of him, the movements like half-aborted Sinxhët signing. “As we walked, I asked her who the other Guard was, she told me it was just her who had come to get me. But I distinctly heard that male speaking to the Cymerian who ca–”
Ringing pierced the sealed Hall, interrupting him mid-sentence. Turning to where Jaro was sitting at the base of the dais, she raised an eyebrow when he scrambled to get to his pack behind her throne and pull out the two-way mirror. He engaged the call and tossed it to her. Catching it she watched as Nhulynolyn’s face came slowly into view as the connection solidified and the fear and worry she’d been resolutely ignoring smacked into her nearly full force. If she hadn’t grown up with the sire she had, she’d never have been able to swallow down her instinctive reaction to it.
“Heyo, Ally,” the Other looked paler than she’d ever seen him, “we need to chat.”
“Can it wait, N?” she glanced over her shoulder at Eiod who was looking at the ceiling, acting like he wasn’t paying any attention to her or to the conversation, looking relieved if anything that he had a break from the same question being lobbed at him over and over. If his reputation didn’t precede him, and had any amount of shade to it, she may not have believed him. “I’m kind of in the middle of something at the moment.” Do I need to be there? she asked without actually saying it aloud, not that she would at the moment given present company.
*No, not yet.*
“No, it can’t wait,” Nhulynolyn cursed softly and the connection distorted as he moved too quickly for it to follow him. As it steadied she heard arguing in the background. Snippets of snarling male voices, just clear enough that the words she caught made fear slide up her spine.
“They sent several colonies of Hounds, Relyt! Colonies of Hounds! To a cabin that no one in the Worlds who isn’t part of this fucking Court should know how to find!”
“What the fuck is going on, N?”
“Well as you can clearly hear ol’ Feather Duster, we got attacked by Hounds. A metric fuck ton,” he paused as more arguing filtered through.
“I am well aware of that, Azriel, but that’s not my primary concern right now.”
“Oh? And what is your primary concern right now, hmm?”
“Somehow my twin managed to take them all out, but he collapsed out in the aftermath of it,” Nhulynolyn continued as Azriel and Relyt’s arguing became muted, like the Other was moving away from them in an effort to be able to actually hold a decent conversation. “My concern is how they knew where this place was, when there’s no damned way anyone outside this Court knows the cabin’s location.”
“Wait… how did you even know the cabin was under attack?”
Nhulynolyn rolled his eyes at her, the ghost of a fond smile that was such a perfect a mirror of Rhyshladlyn’s that it made her chest tight to see it playing at his mouth.
“He warned us,” the Other answered, tapping his temple with a raised eyebrow that clearly said fucking duh and she wanted to throw something at him.
Before she could say as much what he had said and implied sank in and she frowned at him, at the brother that she hadn’t gotten many chances to get to know before the war had broken out.
“That ping that was him?” She didn’t dare say their shared brother’s name out loud, not here, not with a potential enemy but she didn’t need to speak Rhyshladlyn’s name. Nhulynolyn’s expression shift was enough to tell her that he knew exactly who she was talking about. I thought he couldn’t reach me?
That there-but-not-there smile formed just enough to make a mischievous glint to touch his eyes for all of an eye blink before it was gone. *Y’know better than t’underestimate him.*
“Yeah, Ally, that was him. He was tryin’ to alert us all. It’s the firs’ time he’s opened the doors ‘tween us since Shiran. If he hadn’t…” Nhulynolyn shook his head and looked at something off to the side, squinting slightly before he refocused on her. “If he hadn’t we’d’ve had no time to do an’thin’ but die in our beds.”
Sighing heavily she paced back towards the dais and Jaro who was staring at her, very obviously hanging on to every word of the conversation. She shook her head at him and his attention slid to Eiod who was still resolutely staring at the ceiling.
“He was already awake?” she asked, though she knew the answer soon as the question was fully out of her mouth. Is he going to recover?
Nhulynolyn snorted. “You know well as me that that stubborn fuck doesn’t sleep. Don’t think he’s slept since we were fledglin’s. Which can’t be healthy.” *S’far as I can tell? Yeah, he is.*
“If I tried to argue that, I’d likely be lying,” she agreed and rubbed a hand over her face before pushing her hair out of her eyes. “Back to the point though, why call me?”
“There’s a traitor ‘mong us, Ally.” The Other let the statement hang just long enough for the tension in the silence to build before he said what she knew they were both thinking but had hoped he wouldn’t make real because it was too terrifying of a thought.
For a long minute they just stared at each other before she couldn’t take it any longer and snorted loud and hard making Eiod and Jaro jump. “Who the fuck would be that stupid?”
Nhulynolyn didn’t laugh, if anything his expression darkened and she blinked back at him.
“I dunno, Ally, but I know it ain’t me an’ it sure as fuck ain’t you or that Soulless you got followin’ you ’round. So that leaves everyone else here,” Nhulynolyn’s voice was dangerous in a way she’d never heard it before. The Other opened his mouth to say more but was cut off by Relyt. Apparently in the Other’s unconscious pacing during the call he’d drifted back towards the arguing pair.
“What exactly are you implying right now?” There was a shadow to those words, that wove among the syllables so thickly that the accent of Relyt’s native Gretlök colored each word in an emotionlessness that made her jaw clench.
Nhulynolyn’s attention pulled away from her again but he didn’t disconnect the call. Let her listen as Azriel and Relyt argued back and forth. She didn’t press Nhulynolyn for any more details than what he’d given and didn’t hang up the call. Even though she had her own shit to deal with, even though the longer she kept the call open the greater the chance that Eiod would learn something that he could use against her.
She knew logically that she could just end the call and be done with it all. After all, what could she do from this distance? But she kept it open because her instincts told her that she needed to hear this argument. That it had something to do with what Nhulynolyn had said to her and the concern that prompted him to use an emergency line they had agreed to never use unless shit was really bad. A line that they hadn’t opened since Bayls had nearly died on a Field.
“You don’t seem too upset about the fact that several colonies of Hounds somehow found this cabin,” Azriel answered, phrasing it like a question. One that held so many implications coming from an Oathed Companion to an unOathed Steward that she felt lightheaded.
“Maybe because there are more pressing matters that demand my focus.”
“Like what, exactly?” Azriel bit back, tone sharper than obsidian, his accent the thickest she’d heard it since the first day he’d shown up in the Palace in Shiran. “Because from where I’m standing your focus is on arguing with me.”
“Such as the fact that his Majesty hasn’t woken up since performing the Working that dropped every last Hound that attacked us,” Relyt all but snarled, tone still flat but holding a bite to it regardless of its monotony.
Azriel snorted. “Ah yes, the Qishir you were so very ready to rip the throat out of not a week ago. Yes, you must be so concerned.”
For long minutes there was just silence and Alaïs could picture the look on Relyt’s face. The way it was blank but his jaw was clenched, the way his slate grey eyes looked like roiling storm clouds, the way his gretluos would shift and dance with every twitch of his muscles. The way the his anger was obvious only if one knew how to look for it, what body language heralded its beginning, its existence, and its end. Could see the way he debated what to say, the way his lips would thin so slightly that it was easy to miss if one didn’t already know it was a thing he did as he tongued the backs of his teeth. She had seen enough of that muted, checked anger during his stay in the Palace with her before Anislanzir’s death and Shiran’s fall. Knew it well enough that she didn’t need to see it to know it was there, it was described perfectly in the silence that fell from him.
And just like she knew the anger that kept him quiet, she knew the silence that fell from him, too. Knew it better than she wished she did. And with that knowing came a bubble of distaste bordering on hatred because she remembered, too, just what the Soul Healer was capable of when that silence finally broke. Because it would, it always did.
Before either male could say anything else a barbed female voice snapped, “That’s enough, both of you. I get that shit is fucked right now, but if you could stow your dicks for an hour or two, I’d greatly fuckin’ appreciate it.”
She raised an eyebrow at the chided murmurs of “Aye, Thae’a” and “Sorry, Tee” answered that sharp voice as Nhulynolyn turned his darkened eyes back to her, the sounds of further scolding fading off as the Other either moved away from the group or they moved away from him.
“Find out who sent these fuckin’ Hounds, Ally.”
“I still don’t understand why you called me for that, N.”
“You heard those two; we’re ’bout to slice each others’ throats here an’ he’s still out like a smothered campfire an’ I’m in no position to take his place in figurin’ this shit out.”
She felt the color drain from her face. “N… is he… is somethin’ worse goin’ on with Rh–with… y’know?” Mentally she punched herself in the throat for nearly saying Rhyshladlyn’s name. But Nhulynolyn didn’t seem to care.
“Nah, he’s just Working-sick. What’s go me all hot an’ furious is that one of those fuckin’ things dropped my xhe’x’änyä an’ I take that real fuckin’ personal.”
The call disconnected before she could say anything else. Cursing long and harsh in Sinxhët she snapped the mirror’s case closed and threw it back at Jaro who caught it easily and returned it to its rightful place in his pack.
Colonies of Hounds had found a cabin only the entire Grey Court knew how to find. A location that was spelled to secrecy by Rhyshladlyn himself, that each Court member who knew said location promised never to divulge. It wasn’t an Oath that they’d all taken, but a promise to a Greywalker carried just as much weight as an Oath even if the magick that made it as binding as one wasn’t there.
One thing at a time.
Taking a deep breathing she let it out slowly and turned back round to look at Eiod who returned her stare with a bored look but she could tell by the glint in his gold eyes that he was dying to ask questions about the call she had just received. Would know that look anywhere because she’d seen it in her little brother’s eyes all the time growing up. Gods, it had even been in Anis’. She always suspected that her own twin had been who Rhyshladlyn had gotten the habit from.
His grin was boyish and full of a light she hadn’t seen in decades. “Key is keeping your face blank. Cuz most people don’t look at the eyes even though that always gives Dhaoine away.”
She tilted her head to the side as Anis leaned forward, one hand fluttering in the air before it dropped to his lap as he asked, “What do you mean?”
Rhyshladlyn’s grin fell away, face going blank, but that grin was still in his eyes. It was in the way the color of them lightened, the way his pupils seemed to mirror his heartbeat with each tiny movement. It was in the way the muscles at the corners twitched, wanting to crinkle the skin to reflect the grin he’d dropped seconds before.
“See?” he asked. “The eyes always show the truth behind the mask. Always. No one is capable of making their eyes as blank as their face.”
“I don’t have anything else to give you, your Excellency,” Eiod spoke before she could question him again. The male sighed and spread his arms wide before dropping them back to his sides. “I’ve told you everything I remember. Do you have a clairvoyant on staff here? Have them pull my memories. You’ll see I’m telling the truth.”
She shook her head, waving a hand dismissively. “I know you’re telling the truth already, Eiod. You’re half Anglë, that’s more than enough for the inability of the Race to tell a lie to effect you.”
“Then what am I still doing here?”
“Tell me about this Guard’s eyes,” she answered.
“What?” Eiod blinked at her in confusion. “His eyes?”
“My Lady,” Jaro interjected before she could reply and she willed herself to keep what little patience she had left from slipping away, “but what would his eyes give away that his overall description hasn’t?”
Alaïs smirked. “According to my brother? Everything. The eyes give everything away, even when we think they don’t.”