53

Pain seared hot and wet along his nerves. Swirled like water going down a drain until it gathered in his back, hit his wing nerves and exploded in sensation along them strong enough that his knees gave out before he had even decided he was close enough to drop from the Line near the cabin. He was vaguely aware that his throat hurt, that it sounded like someone was wailing in distress, but all he could think about, could focus on, was that distinct agony in his wings, one that he’d know anywhere, that he’d never forget.

Anislanzir’s laughter was thick and sticky like molasses, drip-dragging along his skin as one of his wings was pulled taught and held fast in a group that was as strong and unforgiving as a mountain. 

“Rhys!” The sound of his name jerked him back to reality. Shakily he looked up to find Azriel standing in front of him, face shifting with concern, making that too-young face look like the older version he had fallen in love with so long ago. Mismatched eyes danced and weaved, looking all over his face and his body, reading more than what was seen on the surface. It took him only a handful of seconds more to realize that his hands felt like he’d stuck them into a snow drift, cold and warm at the same time, surrounded by silken pressure and he frowned.

“One of my Others, Lycarn, caught you before you hit the ground,” Azriel explained and Rhyshladlyn looked down at what was unmistakably an ice wolf stood before him, fur the white-blue of mountain snow drifts, a shock of black spreading up the ridge of its nose to blossom around eyes that looked eerily like Nhulynolyn’s. The Anglëtinean’s voice was a balm to nerves that felt too raw, too open but he couldn’t figure out why they were like that. “You dropped from a Line, Rhys.” It wasn’t a question but the tone Azriel spoke with held the question he didn’t voice out loud, What is going on?

“I… I don–” he cut off as another wave of agony hit him, followed by fear and confusion and then chaos as Nhulynolyn kicked open the door, shattered what little remained of his Shields and flooded him with images that came in short bursts as the Other fought to keep himself together and warn Rhyshladlyn what was about to drop into his lap.

The Alphenian was screaming as Adïmshyl held him back, his roars of defiance and anger and terror a physical thing that punched anyone too stupid to know not to go within reach of him. But the Lupherinre stood fast and unwavering, utterly unaffected by the blows; or he was effected and just didn’t show it. 

Somewhere out of sight Xitlali’s laughter slimed its way over his skin and made him feel dirty in a way he hadn’t since he was a fledgling. 

“Rhys?” Azriel sounded more worried than he had before but Rhyshladlyn ignored him. He could only focus on so much at one time. And Nhulynolyn was his priority right now. Not just because the Other was refusing to let him not see what he was sharing but because he had never felt his twin so fucking afraid.

The scent of sewage and rotted flesh was sickeningly strong as it spiked and pulsed out around him, but the order it carried was not directed at him. With each pulse-pulse of that disgusting smelling power, the Alphenian’s rage and terror and defiance increased tenfold and he stared, waiting for the moment when the Lupherinre holding him back wouldn’t be strong enough anymore.

“Nully!” his attention swung down to Thae’a who was kneeling in an ever-growing pool of nearly black blood, that’s a death bleed he thought idly. “We need to get him to the cabin, to Rhys. I can’t do anything with him here.”

“He won’t survive the trip!” his lips formed the words but it was Nhulynolyn’s shaky, terrified voice that spoke them. “We can’t move him until he’s no longer bleeding.”

“Then get Rhys here!” Thae’a snapped. “Because I can’t get the bleeding to stop! The wounds I have to close are too large, too severe.” 

He frowned. Why is he bleeding that much? Nhulynolyn swallowed and shook his head as though to clear his thoughts but their thoughts were one and that was when he lifted the shroud off their connection on what had him so scared, on what had Thae’a kneeling in a pool of death-dark blood.

“No!” He broke the connection with a violent shake of his head, verbalizing the denial out loud. He screamed it until his throat was raw and his vocal chords protested. Azriel was trying to talk to him, is that Shadi and Thayne, too? But he couldn’t tell for certain. All he could tell was what he had seen, was what he had left in that City.

For the first time in four hundred and fifty years, he felt hopelessness settle thick and heavy in his chest, felt it spread like swift poison in his veins until his vision flickered at the edges.

“Rhyshladlyn!” Azriel’s voice, sharp and filled with fear, held all the power of a strong slap to the face and he turned his gaze to the Anglëtinean, found him probing at the door he’d closed between them when Nhulynolyn had kicked open his. Part of him felt guilty for closing a door he had left cracked over the last nearly a month since he’d gotten back. But he had done it out of reflexive instinct to protect because he had known before Nhulynolyn had even started sharing anything that whatever it was was going to be bad. “What the fuck all is going on?”

His proud, strong, Other-laden Anglëtinean warrior didn’t look like a warrior in that moment as his words hung in the air between them and it struck Rhyshladlyn to his core. Made the World take a breath and pause long enough for him to have a half decent, controlled thought.

“Relyt’s been injured,” his voice sounded mechanical, off, wrong, and Lycarn, whose fur he still had his hands buried in, shuffled closer, his muzzle bumping Rhyshladlyn’s elbow affectionately. At the action, he took a deep breath and let it out slow, willing it to lend him the strength he needed to answer the questions he knew were coming.

“How badly?” That was definitely Shadiranamen.

“What happened?” Xheshmaryú sounded steady but Rhyshladlyn could tell by the way his hair was covering his scars that the Nochresi male was anything but. Not that he could blame him.

“Is everyone else okay?” Thayne asked, crimson eyes solid and unwavering, jaw set in what Rhyshladlyn had come to call her General mode.

He didn’t know what to tell them, didn’t know where to even begin trying to explain–

–Relyt laid on his back, body wracked with convulsions that started at his chest and worked their way outward. His slate grey eyes were wide and while unseeing held an awareness that only those suffering mind-breaking pain had. He had no other mark on him, no blood save what was splattered across his face, but that was a blow back line, a spray that had ricocheted off whoever or whatever had been in front of him. The only wound in the Worlds that he knew could do that was damage to a wing.

That was when he noticed Relyt’s wings, hidden among the ever-widening pull of blood that surrounded him, only made noticeable when a convulsion shook them. But it made no sense… his wings were nearly ten feet in span, there was no way a blood pool that was barely the width of his body and then some was concealing their entire length.

“Nully! Where is Rhys?” Thae’a demanded, her glowing hands lifting one of those wings out of the blood, working over the severed edge where the feathers and skin were haphazard and torn, showing the delicate white bones and muscles that lay within those powerful appendages.

“He’s… he’s on his way,” his-voice-that-was-Nhulynolyn said. *Twin, I need you here. Please. We cannot move him or he’ll definitely die.* His attention swung off Relyt and back to the Alphenian as another pulse of that disgusting power sailed by. He felt the Alphenian’s roar in his bones. *Please, Rhys. I need you here.*

He blinked and looked at each member of his Court in turn, settling on Azriel last and knowing that what he was about to say was going to hurt the Anglëtinean. But he couldn’t lie, he wouldn’t lie. But gods did he wish this wasn’t happening.

I’m sure Relyt feels the same fucking way right about now, a small voice that sounded eerily like his father snarked at him. He ignored it.

“The Alphenian is under an attend order to attack and kill Nully. Relyt made it just in time to jump between them,” he swallowed and looked away, unable to face any of them when he said the next part, “as a result… Relyt took the full brunt of the damage. Which resulted in both his wings being cut in half from top arch clean through.”

The reaction to his words was instantaneous: a litany of retching, gasps of horror, and breathless prayers but he didn’t focus on any of it. Just kept talking as he rose to his feet, giving Lycarn a rub behind the ears in gratitude before letting go of the ice wolf.

“I’m going back to Ryphqi because if the bleeding isn’t stopped Relyt will die.”

“I am going with you.”

He looked at Azriel who despite the whiteness of his face and the tightness around his eyes that clearly said he was fighting off memories and the horrors they brought along, was unwavering.

“No, Azriel. You are staying here,” he answered. When the male opened his mouth to protest, Rhyshladlyn stepped around Lycarn and cupped Azriel’s face, thumbs brushing under his cheekbones. “You are fully Oathed to me, Relyt is not. If he dies? The result would be devastating, but it wouldn’t be deadly. If you died? If Xitlali cast a death attend at you and I didn’t stop it in time?” He shuddered and shook his head. “No, the risk is too great to the entire Court if you come with me. I need you here, where you’re safe, where you can speak for me with regards to fortifying the cabin, to protecting Alaïs and Jaro and seeing that they’re tended to.”

Azriel’s hands came up to wrap around his wrists, the Anglëtinean’s thumb rubbing absently across the god-Marks there.

“Rhys… I can’t…” he shook his head before leaning forward and pressing their foreheads together. He didn’t finish whatever he had been saying but Rhyshladlyn didn’t need him to.

“Yes, you can, mïn Leipkin,” he whispered with a soft smile when Azriel’s breath hitched. “Yes, you can because I have faith in you.”

*Rhys!*

I’m coming, Nully! 

“You both come home,” Azriel said, hands tightening around his wrists when he flinched at Nhulynolyn’s desperate plea. “Alive, Rhyshladlyn. Do you hear me? You both, you all, come back alive.

“Aye, I hear you.”

He ducked a quick kiss to the male’s lips before he spun on his heel, caught a Line and raced back to Ryphqi at full speed, hoping against all odds that he would make it in time.

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