He stumbled as the World heaved and settled. As the World let out a breath he hadn’t known it was holding, he dropped the Hound corpse he had been carrying to the burn pile and fought to keep his footing. Adïmshyl turned to him just as the feeling of a blade being run through his chest left him gasping for air with lungs that had forgotten how to work. Grunting as he wobbled where he stood, his vision shaking at the edges, he brought up a hand to rub at his chest but the action only worsened the pain. He hadn’t felt like this since he’d spoken his own Oath centuries ago.
Hadn’t felt like this since the day he’d died.
“Azriel?” Thae’a’s voice dripped worry as she called out from where she had been sitting on the porch. “What’s wrong?”
It took more strength than it should have for him to look up at her, to focus in on where she was gripping the porch railing with hands gone white knuckled. She was scared and he didn’t blame her.
For today I Speak the Steward’s Oath.
“Do you hear it?” He asked, breathless as he fought to push through the waves of agony crashing over him. His knees buckled and he fell to the ground, barely catching himself on his hands before he ate sand.
“Hear what?” Adïmshyl asked, the sounds of his heavy footfalls disturbing the sand way louder than it should be. Like everything around him was amplified and too sharp with it.
“The Oath,” he answered and from the cabin a wail split the air and his chest clenched at the sound, a peculiar sense of déjà vu settling heavily in his stomach.
Thae’a cursed and he heard the muted slam of the front door as though his ears were filled with cotton. He dropped fully to the sands as another invisible blade buried itself beside his sternum, turning onto his side so he could wrap his arms around his middle and curl his legs up as he desperately fought against nausea and the inability to draw proper breath.
Because he knew that wail, was haunted by nightmares of that sound. And while the memories of that sound didn’t match what was happening in the present, it didn’t stop him from feeling afraid.
“Veratone? Speak to me, brother,” Adïmshyl’s voice sounded just as muted as the slam of the cabin’s door had and he struggled to open eyes he didn’t remember closing to look at the Lupherinre who was now kneeling in front of him. “Tell me what ails you so I can help.”
He couldn’t answer the male. Didn’t know where to start. Didn’t want to even try. Because the Steward’s Oath he was hearing? It wasn’t from the Soul Healer and the only reason he should be able to hear the Oath was if it was from Relyt.
And the fact that he was hearing a Steward’s Oath that wasn’t from Relyt terrified him.
Nhulynolyn shot awake as a disturbance unlike anything he’d ever sensed before shivered along the Waves, triggering off a set of warnings that only Otherborn like himself could hear. Warnings that were close to what had been felt Worldswide when Rhyshladlyn had buried Shiran City. Similar to what he imagined his kind had felt when his twin had had his wings forcibly taken from him.
Shadi? Xhesh? He called out as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, turning to make sure Bayls was right where he’d left her when he’d laid down to catch a few minutes of much needed sleep. And sure enough she was still asleep curled on her side facing him, hair fanned out across the pillow, eyebrows pinched slightly as she frowned at whatever dream she was having.
*Here, Nully,* Xheshmaryú answered first, sounding uncertain.
*Someone is Speaking a Steward’s Oath and it’s affecting Azriel,* Shadiranamen answered, the sibilancy of her voice thicker than normal, enough that he thought he caught a hint of her native language woven around the syllables. But he wasn’t certain and he was not about to ask. Not when her accent was that thick, not when he could hear the warning in her tone.
Is it Relyt? It was a logical question because he knew as well as the rest of them that the only way their kè‘s Oathed Companion could hear a Spoken Steward’s Oath was if it came from his fellow qahllynshæ.
*No. It isn’t,* Xheshmaryú answered and Nhulynolyn stared off into the middle distance, looking through the Nochresi’s eyes to see that Azriel was being tended to by Adïmshyl.
*Thae’a is searching the cabin for Relyt before she joins me in Rhyshladlyn’s room. So far our Heart is merely locked in a nightmare, but that’s all I’ve been able to get.*
Does he know that someone is Speaking an Oath that’s being felt by his Companion?
*If he does, he has not yet shown as much,* the Phuri answered and Nhulynolyn sighed, running a hand through his hair in frustration.
*There’s somethin’ else,* Xheshmaryú added and Nhulynolyn felt his stomach flip in the pause. *We can all hear the Oath.*
How the fuck is that even possible?
They didn’t answer but he felt their shrugs. Cursing the fact that they never seemed to catch a fucking break, he swung out of bed just as a wail rocketed through the air of the cabin with enough force to knock him off his feet into a wall and bring Bayls flying awake with a knife in her hand. He didn’t have time to be proud of that before a second wail shook the air and he heard the beginning of the next part of the Oath.
With this Oath, I give strength to a cause more noble than any that has come before or shall come after.
He was running for the stairs before the sentence was even finished, Bayls hot on his heels.
“Sir, you must sit still elsewise I risk doing more damage,” the Healer scolded as he flinched away when ey touched his skin with the needle, intending to stitch shut the longer of the open welts on his back. They weren’t allowed to use Dhaoinic Healing methods per the Mad Qishir’s orders after one her sessions, only Imènian, but they did what they could to keep him alive regardless of their limitations.
Regrettably, by using Imènian methods of doctoring him, he would be — he was — riddled with scars. But scars were of no consequence if it meant he survived long enough to try and get a chance to take that bitch out.
“Apologies, Healer Ahnja,” he murmured, ducking his head and willing himself to sit as still as possible while the neodrach worked with a practiced swiftness to sew the wound.
“She was worse this time,” another Healer murmured from where she was working at massaging a balm into the bruised muscles of his thighs and calves. His gaze snapped to her at the words, shocked that she had spoken them.
If any of them were to report her, Xitlali would have her tortured until Death came personally to claim her for the After to give her a reprieve from her suffering. It was the closest he had ever heard anyone in Xitlali’s service get to acknowledging his literal torture and over all mistreatment. And doing so amounted to out right treason where the Mad Qishir was concerned.
It was a statement spoken like a question. One he opened his mouth to answer because to do otherwise was rude when his whole body jerked as an agony he had never felt before ripped through him. His chest ached and his lungs seized until drawing breath felt impossible and his hands flapped uselessly at the Healers that circled him. He knew they were speaking to him but he couldn’t make out their words.
For different words thundered across his mind, making his bones thrum with the intensity of them.
On all that I am and ever shall be, I dedicate my life to you.
He frowned as he turned in a circle, staring at the walls of a hallway he knew all to well, one he’d never forget even if he’d only ever walked down it once. With a shaking hand, he reached out and touched the wall, jerking his hand back when the rough stone felt just as solid as it looked. But that wasn’t possible. He’d buried Shiran beneath the sands of Shiraniqi Desert. There was no way he was here, in that hallway. It just wasn’t possible.
Slowly, carefully, every instinct on high alert, his back itching with the incessant press of his wings demanding to be freed, he made his way down the hall towards a set of double, black oak doors marked with two sigils in red paint. They were a warning to any who didn’t feel the desolation that leaked out from the room behind them that nothing but a slow, agonizing death waited for any Dhaoine stupid enough to open them.
But he didn’t heed the warning those sigils held any more than he heeded the warning his instincts set off as he felt a ripple of wrong slip down his spine.
He stopped before those doors, hating that his hands shook as he reached out to grip the ornate, polished silver handles carved to look like dancing dragons. Hated the memory brought on by the mere sight of them.
“This room will be yours, little ‘Adlyn, when you are Lord King,” Father sounded proud and it made him nervous. Because Father never sounded proud of him. “It is decorated in your namesake.”
“But I thought Anny will be Lord King?” he questioned.
Anislanzir smiled at him as he gripped the dragon-shaped handle of one door and pulled it open. “He will, but so will you, my little dragon. Anis will not live forever. None of us ever do.”
As he pulled open the doors like his Father had all those centuries ago, he wailed as the memories assaulted him. As the pain of the beating that would lead to him losing six of his wings rose from the depths. He sank to his knees on the threshold, hands still gripped tight around those door handles, arms spread wide. The room looked like it had before he’d fought Anislanzir off and booked it for the door and freedom and safety. Looked just like it had before his magick had swung out and sliced the walls to ribbons as his father caught him before he could kick the doors open and scream for help.
But in an eye blink it changed.
In an eye blink it was covered in blood and feathers and tiny bones half-covered in flesh. The black walls with their orange and amber trims scorched white where his magick had burned the very air. He wailed again as his wings forcibly burst forth from his back and flapped once, as if to remind him that he wasn’t a fledgling anymore, that he was safe, that he had escaped.
And he had. But he had replaced one nightmare for another.
On my magick and my life, I give you everything you never gave me:
He flew awake with a gasp that burned his throat as the wrongness registered with the words of an Oath that was Spoken with a voice and a signature that didn’t belong to his Steward.
Relyt stumble-ran down the hall towards Rhyshladlyn’s room and came face to face with Shadiranamen standing guard outside the door. The look the Phuri gave him made him shiver in a way that had nothing to do with being cold.
The look she gave him was calculating, sharper than any blade he’d ever come across and it made every hair on his body stand straight up. But for the life of him he couldn’t explain why. Only that seeing her expression, he was afraid.
At least, he thought he was until Rhyshladlyn’s bedroom door opened and the Qishir stepped into the hall, orange-amber eyes like trapped suns turning to him as the last of the Oath none of them should be able to hear, that he wasn’t Speaking, thundered out with a finality that made the very air around him burn.
I give you my Self.