He let out a deep breath, feeling Alaïs’ consciousness brush along his own like silk against smooth skin, a promise of life that had his knees threatening to give way with relief. But he fought it down, fought back the urge to lope across the City at his twin’s side because he knew his place wasn’t there, it was here, staring down a Qishir who by all rights shouldn’t be that. Not in the way his twin was, not in the way Thayne was.
Even the bitch un-female’s mother had been more of a Qishir than Xitlali was, or could ever hope to be.
“Does he always leave his people to fight his battles?” Xitlali quipped and gods did he want to beat her with her own tongue while it was still attached to her mouth.
But he didn’t let that show on his face. Instead he adopted his trademark cocky grin and shrugged one shoulder, hands slipping into the pockets of his pants with a nonchalance that was only half faked. “Depends on what you consider to be a battle,” he replied easily.
She narrowed her eyes at him and he barked a derisive laugh that poisoned the air with the fury he was barely holding in check and pressed a hand dramatically to his chest like he was short of breath and totally spooked before rolling his eyes.
“You aren’t scary, bitchy titties, so don’t even bother with your squinty eye’d bullshit. I’m not fooled, no one here,” he gestured vaguely over his shoulder at the rest of the Court that had spread out between him and the Alphenian whose scent was straight fear, “is fooled. So cut the act.”
She rolled her eyes. Bitch, watch your face or I’ma feed it to you.
“It isn’t an act. I am your worst nightmare, Nhulynolyn Otherborn, you just don’t know how yet,” she retorted and he raised an eyebrow, utterly unimpressed but she naturally was too stupid to read his response correctly. Shocker. “Yes, I know who you are. I know who all of you are.”
The way she said it made it sound like he should be terrified of that, like half the damned Worlds didn’t know who he was, who the entire Court was. The only one that may be an unknown still was Adïmshyl and that was only because no one expected a Lupherinre to be part of one of the most powerful Courts in the Worlds the racist fucks; the only other race that would get more skepticism would be the Cymerianthrope race. But even if she really did know them all? There was no secrets the Grey Court had from the Worlds that would devastate them.
Because for all that Rhyshladlyn had buried his face in the dirt in an effort to hide from his own guilt over Shiran and the events that surrounded that City’s destruction, Nhulynolyn had made damn sure that no one in the Court stood any real chance of fucking the lot of them over with their bullshit. It might not have been his proper place as an Other, but with Azriel dead, Rhyshladlyn fucking off where only the gods could find him, and Relyt pouring his entire focus into the Army and its movements within the scope of the war? Nhulynolyn had been the only logical choice left in the Court’s hierarchy.
So he just snorted at Xitlali, utterly unperturbed.
“Good for you. You know facts that are public fuckin’ knowledge,” he clapped his hands in mock applause, grin turning sharp at the smattering of snickers from those that were watching their back and forth. “What d’you want? A cookie?” He literally couldn’t roll his eyes any harder without risking giving himself a permanent migraine. What I wouldn’t give for B to be here to tag team this un-female with me an’ not in the fun way. “Too bad, I left those in my other pants along with your honor.”
Xitlali growled, upper lip pulling fully back off her fangs with the sound. Okay, that’s kind of impressive.
*Only because the races she’s mixed from wouldn’t produce such impressive fangs,* Shadiranamen said, tone full of condescension that made his skin prickle.
You’re not wrong.
“I have more honor in my fangs than your Qishir has in his entire body, and it would behoove you to remember that as a Qishir I am afforded certain respects!”
“So wait, I have to respect you an’ I gotta be afraid of you?” he frowned before rolling his eyes, again, and shaking his head. “That isn’t how that works.”
“Proper respect is born from fear,” Xitlali growled, advancing a step towards him, eyes filled with the rage she was only a spark away from losing control over. Internally, he grinned. “If you don’t fear someone, you don’t respect them.”
Well I’ll be a soggy ol’ man nut, you need to just not be breathin’ anymore, that’s what you need.
He yawned expressively, one hand coming up to hover in front of his open mouth. “Sorry, I wasn’t listenin’,” he said through it, dropping his hand back to his side to level her with a smile that was predatory and dangerous, “on account of you bein’ a dirty fuckin’ rapist an’ all.”
Xitlali launched at him. He grinned triumphantly, loosing a whoop of laughter as he did so because she had done exactly what he’d wanted her to do. And by the way she paled in response? He knew she knew it, too. But it was too late. Even if she backed out now, the fact she had attacked first was still known. There was no taking that back.
I love a good rough and tumble in the morning, he thought as he dodged her easily, spinning on the sole of his right foot, swinging his left around to stomp her in the back of the knees, sending her stumbling forward, balance shot to the Cliffs. Planting his left foot he shifted his weight onto it before ducking down into a low crouch as he sensed her wings thrust into the physical spectrum, one snapping out where his head had been, the wind displaced by the appendage sending his hair into his face in a messy tangle that would be a pain in the ass to brush out later.
“Nully!” Thae’a’s yelled, worry clear in the syllable of his name but he shook his head even though he was unsure if she was able to track the movement.
“I’ve got this, Tee! Keep an eye on that Alphenian!” he called back, sinking lower into his crouch before twisting at the waist, swinging his right arm around to clock Xitlali just beneath her right wing joint, purring in satisfaction when she screamed, the sound clipped. The whoosh of her wings curling forward over her shoulders reflexively made him smirk. Taking the opportunity presented, he danced back away from her, catching his footing just in time for the Mad Qishir to whirl around to face him, her magick crackling around her hands as she swung at him.
He met her strike with his bare hands, palms cupped around her fists, arms extended to keep her at a distance, meeting her offensive power with his immovable defensive strength. The impact made a muted boom of a sound as dust and debris shot in a wide arc around them, sending several onlookers ducking for cover. But they needn’t’ve worried. For all that it looked like this was going to be a knock down drag out fight between a Qishir and an Other, it was mainly theatrics. He knew that Xitlali posed no actual threat to him, though that didn’t stop her from trying, from pretending to be more powerful than she was — there was a reason her mother had named Thayne heir to the Eighth Throne and not her after all — and because of that he wasn’t giving her even a tenth of his strength. There just wasn’t a point to wasting energy on someone who hadn’t proven themselves worthy of it.
“Listen here, you piece of shit,” his pitched his voice low so only she could hear it while he held her fast in his fists, his magick wrapping tight around her ankles and rooting her to the street for good measure. “You’re gonna turn around an’ walk away. You’re gonna forget ’bout that Alphenian an’ find yourself another plaything that ain’t him, you got me?”
“And if I don’t?” she asked, struggling against his hold, tone more bravado than anything else, but there was genuine curiosity that laced over and around the fear of what he could do to her, what he would do to her.
“If you don’t, I will make everythin’ you’ve done to him look like a wet dream.”
Xitlali hissed at him and began struggling in earnest to disengage but he held her fast, uncaring for the trickles of fear that began to muddy the scent of the Alphenian’s that still saturated the air.
“You can’t touch me, I’m a Qishir!” she spluttered, eyes wide. “Let go of me, immediately!”
“I’m an Other,” he answered, “and the laws that bind the living in the Worlds don’t apply to me.” He cracked his neck and rolled the tension out of his shoulders as he continued to hold onto her. He watched as a muscle ticked in her jaw, as her eyes narrowed just the tiniest bit, as her forehead shifted in an aborted frown, nose twitching with a sneer she fought hard to keep from showing.
“That slave belongs to me, I own him, and that ownership is binding. The only way he’ll be free of me is through death,” she spat, clearly trying to regain some composure but so long as he held her, she wouldn’t prove successful.
He smiled slow and sweet. “That can be arranged.”
Her eyes widened, true fear licking at the air between them before she seemed to remember what being a Qishir actually entailed. He was honestly disgusted it took her that long. Rhys an’ Thayne woulda figured it out the second I showed I wasn’t easily moved.
“Let me go,” it was a clear attend order, one that smacked into him with all the strength of a war-hammer to the gut and he tossed her away with a careless flick of his wrists, pretending as he did so that it didn’t hurt to breathe. Pretending that her power didn’t taste like sewage and rotted flesh, that scent strong enough that his aching gut threatened to empty itself violently in whatever direction his mouth was aimed.
*Nully, I’m heading to the cabin to let Thayne know we’ve got Al, that she’s alive. Azriel is traveling behind me at a slower pace with Alaïs, Rhys is carrying Jaro. Relyt is enroute back to you.*
Got it. He was grateful his internal voice didn’t sound as wheezy as he was sure his verbal one would.
“Did you just threaten a Qishir?” Xitlali quipped, brushing dirt from her shoulders and arms with all up-turned nose he expected from someone of her ‘caliber.’
“You cheated, y’know, with that attend bullshit,” oh neat, my verbal voice isn’t wheezy either the smile he gave her was broad but didn’t touch his cheekbones let alone his eyes, and he knew it by the way Xitlali stepped back from him without actually moving. It was an unconscious move prey made when faced with a predator they knew they couldn’t fight. “Without that added boost, you stand no chance against me and you know it.”
“Stop playing and answer my question,” she retorted and Nhulynolyn sighed heavily.
“Threat, promise, guarantee, warning, same thing,” he waved a hand up and down flippantly.
“Threatening a Qishir unprovoked is a death sentence.”
He stared at the un-female for long moments before he snickered, the sound morphing into a giggle, then a laugh, and then he was full on doubled over, gripping his knees guffawing with enough force that his whole body shook with it. Distantly he felt Shadiranamen, Xheshmaryú, and Rhyshladlyn’s curiosity brush against his mind across their connection but he ignored it, just fed them his amusement and left them clueless beyond that.
“You’re a fucking joke,” he said once he was able to draw enough breath that he didn’t feel he’d pass out. “This entire thing is a joke. You pose no challenge, no threat, and yet are actin’ as though I should be terrified of you? You who couldn’t even usurp your mother from her throne while she was alive let alone once she was dead? Puh-lease. I’ve met lice on my sire’s pubes scarier than you.”
Xitlali just smiled serenely at him and he blinked, frowning at the sight. That was not the reaction he had been expecting.
For the second time her sewage and rotted flesh power-backed attend smacked against him. But the compulsion in it kept moving, parting around him like a river parting around a rock in its path. He frowned harder at the un-female, wondering who she would compel that wasn’t him if — fuck.
He whipped around just as Thae’a screamed out, “Nully, behind you!” and found an attend-effected Alphenian charging at him, eyes glowing with a power that tasted like Rhyshladlyn and Ryphqi’s love child had been spliced with clean mountain air and wild herbs. There wasn’t enough time to properly deflect the incoming blow, no time to even really duck or block, not without losing a lot of blood, not without suffering a wound that could prove fatal if he wasn’t very careful. The Alphenian was too fast and he knew that short of a Self-blow they were indestructible. His only hope was to protect his vitals and pray that that would be enough.
Before he had the chance to do more than twitch his arms in a meager attempt to defend himself, his vision was filled with slate-grey feathers and blood as the World howled around him.
It took a minute before it clicked that that wasn’t the World howling in pure mind-shattering agony, it was Relyt. And a heartbeat after that he realized that he was holding a piece of a wing in his arms that was not attached to a body oh, double fuck.