He felt the rumbling before he heard it and whirled in a circle searching for its source as his stomach dropped out to play about with his knees. The ground rippled a handful of yards away beside Azriel who stood talking with a group of searchers, absolutely ignorant of the danger that was right there. As the change in the air registered seconds before the earth began to crack and bubble inches away from the Anglëtinean, he screamed out:
But the second the words were out of his mouth, pulling the Anglëtinean’s attention to him, he knew it wasn’t quick enough. He watched in slow motion as an obelisk shot skyward, spraying dust and dirt and rubble in all directions. Watched as Azriel went cartwheeling through the air into a pile of debris and lay still. Watched as the search party that managed to stay standing rushed to put up Shields to protect those that hadn’t, to protect those that couldn’t move out of the way of the falling chunks of stone. His stomach slammed up into his throat and it felt like his heart had seized in his chest.
And if he refused to acknowledge the fact that a fucking Watchtower had risen out of the ground well, he didn’t think anyone would blame or judge him. Not in that moment. Not when he was faced with the fact that he hadn’t confronted Azriel about why he was so furious with his mere existence lately, why he was determined to fight every chance he had since the Hound attack. And in that moment, he feared he’d never have that chance.
In that moment all he could think on repeat was, Not again. I cannot bury him again.
Seeing Azriel go flying like that snapped something in him that he didn’t know was ready to break. Seeing Azriel motionless against the rubble, blood dripping from his ears, trickling down over the stone beneath him, pooling at his feet, made his skin feel hot and cold all at once. His gretluos burned white hot on his arm, reminding him what he was, reminding him that he had a duty to protect those who couldn’t do it themselves. But for all that he knew that? He wasn’t able to listen to it. Wasn’t able to turn and help make Shields to deflect falling debris when his fellow qahllynshæ lay bleeding and broken while the City shook all around them. He was duty bound as a Gret’yinl, as a Healer both of the Self and the Body, to protect the majority, but damn that to the Cliffs. He had looked away once already where Azriel’s safety was concerned and it had landed him staring at a funeral pyre.
And he’d sooner betray his qahllyn than deal with that ever again.
Without a second spared for how stupid it likely was, he ran for Azriel, dodging the bodies of the dead and dying that littered the area and those that were Shielding them. He wished he had the room to release his wings, to get there faster. But he couldn’t, not without risking hurting others in the process. So he relied solely on his speed, on his agility, to close the distance. He was almost there when the ground heaved and he looked up as another obelisk rapidly rose on the other side of the City, piercing the burning and broken skyline. With a curse, he stumbled and nearly fell, catching himself against the Watchtower whose appearance had sent Azriel flying.
The second he touched it his vision went black and he felt an awareness that was ancient and yet young, curious and elated, slip and slide along every single nerve in his body. Felt it recognize him, felt the familiarity of it settle contentedly against his Self, felt it pet his qahllyn’qir, soothing the burning itch of them that he had managed to ignore in light of the most recent disaster to befall the Worlds. Heard a happy purr of Steward, I have missed you. He shivered hard enough to dislodge his hand and felt the loss of that awareness with the exact same intensity that he had felt the loss of Rhyshladlyn’s presence in his life over the last four centuries. With a choked sob, he collapsed to his knees.
He knew he needed to get to Azriel, knew he had to make sure his fellow qahllynshæ was alive, was okay, but in that moment all he could think about was how he felt hollowed out by the loss of that awareness within him. Like someone had carved out everything that made him him and left an all encompassing emptiness in its place.
Opening eyes that he hadn’t remembered closing he stared down at where his hands pressed against the trembling stone of the street. Stared because something was different, something was wrong. Though wrong wasn’t quite the right word.
Just as he realized what that difference was he felt his body jerk like something had hit him and he screamed as pain flared just below his sternum and spread like a fire outward until all he felt was that burning on every inch of his skin. With a scream that he could have sworn he heard three other voices echo in tandem, his arms gave out and he collapsed fully to the glowing, gold stone of the street.