He blinked awake, head throbbing as he fought to focus eyes that shook and ached. And promptly wished he’d stayed out when a mouth that smiled around too many teeth and sapphire eyes that were as dark and unforgiving as the ocean appeared before him, close enough for him to feel the gust of breath from a nose that wrinkled just enough to tell him that that smiling mouth was hiding a sneer.
Yelping loudly, he scrambled back away from that smile and the eyes it didn’t touch, from the clear Danger given humanoid form that was squatting in front of him, forearms resting nonchalantly on her thighs. It didn’t take him long to recognize the magick that swirled around her like the beginnings of a tornado and know he’d been startled by Shadiranamen. But his thundering heartbeat didn’t ease off its rapid tempo with that knowledge and neither did the knot of fear in his stomach loosen as he watched her watch him skip-drag himself backwards away from her to a chorus of snickering. Instead of calming down, his instincts just grew louder, telling him to either run or kill her before the undercurrent of sadistic amusement she regarded him with was replaced by something else.
Before she decided he wasn’t interesting enough anymore and came after him, qahllyn to her kè be damned.
But he was safe with her. She wouldn’t hurt him, he knew that, knew it because they were friends, because his qahllyn to Rhyshladlyn protected him even if he was still unOathed. But looking at Shadiranamen watching him like a predator watches prey it hasn’t decided to eat yet or not he wasn’t so sure their friendship mattered anymore, that his qahllyn protected him anymore. Wasn’t so sure that anything could absolve him of whatever wrong he had done to garner that kind of focus from her.
And what was worse? A powerful sense of déjà vu was making his skin prickle, one that was so familiar it made his qahllyn’qir twist and itch. But he didn’t know why it was familiar.
“Jumpy much, Rel?” Azriel teased and his gaze left Shadiranamen who still hadn’t moved, who hadn’t even blinked — by the Many what is your problem, woman? — to the Anglëtinean.
His stomach swooped and the pounding in his head returned three-fold and he swallowed against the nausea that clogged his throat as his fear of Shadiranamen shifted and became something else. Seeing Azriel propped against a large piece of stone, blood caked down one side of his face, tunic torn and bloodied wasn’t something he had been prepared for. Even though logically he knew that was stupid because he had watched as the male had been tossed through the air by the obelisk’s appearance, had watched him land bonelessly in a pile of rubble and not move.
But what logic didn’t stop the sight from reminding him of what Azriel had looked like after Shiran, after Rhyshladlyn had brought him home for the last time. And suddenly every breath burned, his head felt too full, his heart hammered against his breastbone so hard he was sure he would be able to see it if he could get his head to move. But he couldn’t even close his eyes to the sight of Azriel looking back at him with naked concern, covered in blood, lip split, one eye swollen shut, the other with a deep purple bruise under and around it, nose crooked like it was broken. The Anglëtinean frowned, leaning forward, waving off the Healers that had been working with Thae’a and Adïmshyl to heal him, face twisting with the pain the movement caused and–
There wasn’t any stopping the reaction to seeing the Anglëtinean like that. Rhyshladlyn had tried to warn him but by all the gods, there was just no way to prepare for that. His stomach clenched and relaxed in rapid succession, dry heaving on air, not even bile left inside to spew back up his burning, shredded throat. He wiped a shaking hand across his mouth and off on his pants, watering eyes squeezed closed though that did nothing to dispel the sight of Azriel like that. It was a memory that he’d never be able to erase, one that he knew would haunt his nightmares until the end of time.
“Rel,” whose voice is that? Why do they sound so concerned? “Relyt! Come on, you’re not there anymore, that is the past. Come on now, follow my voice back.” Why is so hard to breathe?
And suddenly his view of Azriel was obstructed by brown eyes and curly black hair that was frizzier than normal, face flushed and covered in dirt and smeared blood and he recoiled as if slapped.
“Relyt? I heard someone vomiting. Are you oka–oh gods,” her voice rose an octave around those last two words and he turned to find Thae’a staring at where Azriel laid on the bed, or rather what was left of Azriel, her hands over her mouth, shoulders shaking, eyes wide and filled with tears.
He was rooted to the spot, unable to move in the wake of someone else knowing what had churned his stomach and then made everything he had in it meet the floor of the hallway with a violence that had knocked him to his knees. Was frozen in the wake of not having to suffer the nightmares this would bring him alone. But then the first sob danced out past her hands and dripped pure anguish into the air and suddenly he was in front of her before he was even aware of making the decision to move. His arms wrapped around her waist and shoulders, tucking her face into his shoulder as he turned them so she faced away from the room. So only he would have to stare at what remained of the man he loved, broken and bloodied and destroyed on the bed they had once shared.
The guilt that washed over him then made his knees weak because for one brief moment he had relished the fact that he wouldn’t suffer alone and it made him feel sick all over again.
But he swallowed it just like he swallowed his own tears and grief and anguish. He would handle that later. Right now he had to take care of Thae’a, had to prepare a funeral pyre, had to get past the urge to vomit again just looking at his fellow qahllyn’shæ so he could get Azriel cleaned and dressed.
Right now, the Court needed their Steward to be strong in the wake of the loss of their Companion and the abandonment of their Qishir.
His own grief and everything it brought with it could be dealt with later.
“Relyt!” A crack! rang out and pain bloomed along his cheek. He blinked rapidly, fighting to push away the memory and found Thae’a, older and wiser than the one in his memory, with a greater darkness behind those already incredibly old eyes looking down at him from where she was straddling his thighs. Hysteria colored her voice, not entirely but enough to help him push back the nausea that roiled in his gut. Enough that breathing was still difficult but he no longer felt like he was drowning. “Are you with me?”
He nodded shakily, the action making his cheek burn as the skin stretched where she’d slapped him. “Yeah, I’m… I’m with you.” His hands pet idly from her knees to mid-thigh, a habit he had developed over all the years they’d known each other and she’d helped him through his episodes whenever they’d hit. By the Many, how many times has she been there for me without question or hesitation? The number wasn’t immediately provided by his memories but he knew it was far higher than it should be.
Definitely higher than the amount of times Rhyshladlyn had been there for him like he should have been over the centuries.
“You sure?” It wasn’t asked with disdain or disbelief, more a reassurance, an attempt to make certain that she could leave his side, could give him back his personal space. He tilted his head to the side to regard her, trying to read the shift in her expression and oh fuck that was a mistake because it put him right back in eyesight of Shadiranamen who was exactly as she had been only now her focus was far more intense.
Only now that Danger had a second scent to it that was like the calm before a storm, one that would leave death in its wake only it was worse. And suddenly he could see himself standing in that destroyed hallway in Shiran City’s old Palace, staring at the Other, feeling like he was making a decision he shouldn’t be making but was too damn stubborn, too damn guilt-ridden, to do anything but make. The look she’d given him then wasn’t the same as the one she gave him now but it was similar enough that he could tell that the only difference was the intensity.
Ahh, so that’s where the déjà vu was coming from.
It was terrifying.
“What do you have to be guilty about?” Shadiranamen said and he jumped, as did Thae’a, and he flinched at the movement, having completely forgotten the Dreamweaver was on his lap.
He swallowed hard. “I don’t… I’m not? What?” he spluttered as Thae’a scrambled off his lap now that he was clearly coherent and no longer having issues, one hand held out to help him stand. He took it without looking, feeling like the Phuri before him would attack the second he stopped paying attention to her.
“Shadi, what the fuck are you talking about?” Azriel asked and Relyt resolutely did not look at him. He wasn’t risking another episode when he’d only just handled the last one.
“Guilt has a very particular scent,” the Phuri answered, the sibilance that wove around her words thick enough that it almost sounded like she spoke a different language. She rose slowly out of her squat, every movement careful and precise and controlled and it made his throat dry. Because in her movements he saw Rhyshladlyn. Saw the hundreds of times he had squatted exactly like she had been only to roll upright to his full height, eyes hooded and filled with promises, smile sharp and filled with mischievous danger. But that was where the similarities ended.
“Why are you even here?” he asked before she could continue, too afraid of what she could possibly say next and not wanting to risk it. Not right now. Not ever, if I’m being honest. “I thought you were supposed to be at the cabin with Bayls?”
Clearly that question was not what he should have asked as her eyes darkened further and her expression shifted into a stoic mask that rivaled any he’d seen on the Ildir. He knew her well enough to know that her being expressionless was far more dangerous than he had words for.
“I am here,” if tones could cut he’d be bleeding out right now of that much he was certain, “because someone is orchestrating Oathing Sacrifices that are targeting Sanctuary Cities throughout the Worlds. So far Ryphqi and Zhalharaq have been hit. The site of where Shiran had once stood was only kept from being number three by the Shields Rhyshladlyn has around the site.”
“How is that even possible? Oathing Sacrifices don’t destroy whatever is around the one that enacts one. That would negate the entire point of them,” he countered.
Shadiranamen raised an eyebrow and snorted. “And you are the leading expert on Oathing Sacrifices, are you now?”
He raised both eyebrows, arms crossing over his chest in what may have been construed as a hostile gesture but was really just to hide the way his hands were shaking.
“I still don’t see why that requires you to be here,” he retorted, faking a bravado he didn’t feel. A bravado that had Thae’a huffing a barely whispered gods, having a dick doesn’t mean you have to act like one as she threw up her hands and put some distanced between them. Not that he blamed her, Shadiranamen’s expression was borderline murderous. Or would have been had she not had that stoic mask still perfectly in place.
“Just because my kè doesn’t tr–”
“Shadi!” Rhyshladlyn’s voice was like lightning as it snapped out, crackling across the Currents between them. “Leave him be.”
If he fought the urge to stick his tongue out at the Phuri Other no one had to know but him.
“And, Relyt Greymend, stop picking fights with people, it’s unseemly.”
He opened his mouth to protest that he wasn’t the one picking fights like a fledgling when he caught sight of his Qishir walking towards them through the rubble, eyes glowing like glass orbs lit from within, skin the color of sunlit garden soil. He was covered in blood and dirt like they all were but for all of that, he looked just as breathtaking as he had the very first time Relyt had met him outside that pottery shop in Shiran City. Only there was something else there now, something that shifted and moved behind that gaze, that spoke in tandem with him but didn’t add the discordant echo that his Others speaking with him did. It made his skin feel too tight and too lose all at once and by the Many now is the wrong time to be aroused, get yourself to-fucking-gether. But it was hard not to be aroused when Rhyshladlyn walked like he was made purely of liquid violence, the bells in his hair ringing with each step he took though the sound wasn’t as clear as usual if only because his hair was caked with soot and sweat.
And then he noticed the male that walked with Rhyshladlyn, recognized him immediately and felt his mouth go dry, his throat clicking when he swallowed as all arousal drained out of him.
“This is Eiod nóh Akkensahn. He saw Alaïs from the Palace courtyard just before the blast. He said he’s willing to help us find her.”
“How? There’s not enough left of it to get one’s bearings for landmarks,” Thae’a questioned, arms crossed under her breasts, one hip cocked to the side. He couldn’t see her face but didn’t doubt she had both eyebrows raised. “And how do you know we can trust him, huh? ‘nóh Akkensahn‘ isn’t really a name that gives me the warm and fuzzies.”
“I’ve got that covered,” Rhyshladlyn answered, rolling his eyes. “And yes, I do trust him, Tee, at least with this.”
“Why though?” Azriel asked, tone hard in a way Relyt hadn’t heard since well before he’d died. “Does it have anything to do with the fact that the entire City glows gold and the Watchtowers are raised?”
Whatever answer Rhyshladlyn gave he didn’t hear because the air displaced behind him, rustling his hair where it hung loose around his shoulders and he tensed hard enough that he was nearly certain he’d pulled a muscle in his back.
“Guilt has very particular a scent, Relyt Greymend,” Shadiranamen’s sibilant voice spoke right in his ear and he jumped, only keeping from screaming in fright because his instincts told him to freeze as they recognized the predator now standing immediately behind him. A predator he hadn’t even noticed had moved. I’m getting sloppy. “And you are covered in it.”
“What is your problem with me?” he hissed out of the side of his mouth, hands curling into fists at his side, feeling only minutely relieved when indignant anger rose up to burn through some of the fear that threatened to choke him.
“I’m not sure yet,” well at least you’re being honest “but I will find out and you better pray whatever the answer ends up being doesn’t give me cause to kill you.” Okay a bit less honesty is a good thing, too.
“I’m qahllyn to your kè, Shadi, you can’t kill me,” he countered but didn’t sound nearly as convinced about it as he should be.
The Phuri chuckled, the sound sliding down his spine to settle low in his gut with a heat he didn’t remotely understand.
“You would be correct, Soul Healer,” she took a deep breath of his scent and he felt her body shiver. “But the rules of the living aren’t applicable to me and my kind. Remember that.” Her voice was full of promises he didn’t want her to ever make good on, regardless of what they were.
He let out the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding when she stepped around him, gaze unwavering as she flashed him a smile that was filled with too many teeth.
“Shadi!” Rhyshladlyn’s voice made him jump and let out an undignified squawk of a sound that thankfully only the Phuri heard. “Stop messing with my Steward and get over here, we have plans to go over.” When neither of them moved the Qishir’s eyes narrowed. “Now. Both of you.”
“As you wish.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
He was careful to keep a couple feet distance between him and the Other as they walked, gritting his teeth against the mocking laughter she didn’t even bother to try and hide when she noticed what he was doing.
“What is so funny?” he hissed at her, that indignant anger sparking off again.
Her bark of laughter was like steel grinding across stone and made the air crackle around them. Rhyshladlyn was watching them with an expression he couldn’t read but didn’t think he wanted to.
“You act as though the notches you earned makes you as strong as my kè and his Companion but the second a true adversary steps up to you? You quake and shiver,” she spoke with a surety that rattled along his bones. “You are the same weak willed male I first met centuries ago, Relyt Greymend, and no warrior notches, no battles won, no respect of the soldiers and warriors under your command will ever change that.”
He had absolutely no response to that. Instead all he did was stare at her wondering when he’d lost his friend, wondering what had changed and when.
But he didn’t ask, even though he desperately wanted to. Instead he just watched her lengthen her stride and pull away from him with a sinking feeling that the fallout between them was only the beginning.