55

He hadn’t even thought about it. He’d acted solely on instinct, pure and simple.

Not because Nhulynolyn was Rhyshladlyn’s Other, not because the male was one of his lieutenants — and the best one of them, if he was being honest. No, Relyt had thrown himself at Nhulynolyn, wrapped his wings around them both with seconds to spare before the Alphenian’s blow landed because Nhulynolyn was his friend, was like his brother. Z’kiryt, know I mean never to replace you.

And the idea of burying another member of his family because he’d failed to act was just something he couldn’t abide.

But laying on his back, distinctly aware of the lack of weight to the wings that spread to either side of him, that tugged at the muscles of his back? Part of him regretted putting himself in that position. But he knew that was the pain talking. Knew it was the agony that skittered along nerves scraped raw before being set aflame. Because if he wasn’t struggling to control his reactions, his magick, if he wasn’t so terrifyingly close to having his mind shatter under the press of my wings are too damaged to recover, I’m going to lose them, I’ve lost my wings, I’ve lost my wings, I’ve lost my wings he knew he wouldn’t regret doing what he did.

The only regret he had in his long, long life was not doing something when presented the opportunity to try and save someone he considered family. Whether he succeeded in the attempt mattered not, what mattered was that he had tried.

He shouldn’t be here, he knew that, but after word had reached him during his travels of Jiklyt’s death, he had rushed back home. Rushed back to the Cold North and the ice shelfs he had played on as a fledgling. Had come back to stand at the grave of the son he had saved and ultimately failed. 

“I am so very sorry, Jiklyt, my precious little one,” he knew it was weakness to do so but he cried anyway, sinking to his knees in the cold snow before the ornately carved stone that bore his son’s name and the Clan from whence he hailed. At least right had been done by the boy in death for the Clan name he was honored with was Relyt’s own. 

“I so swear here, before the memory of you, that so long as I live, I will never fail another like I failed you.”

The sky was a riot of oranges, purples, and deep reds as the sun began to set, the streaks of color slashing through the bright blue of the daytime desert sky. It was fitting that something so beautiful was the last thing he’d ever see.

He closed his eyes with a deep sigh, the sounds of Nhulynolyn and Thae’a’s voices overflowing with anxiety and fear and desperation fading away into the sounds of birds chirping merry greetings. The sounds of the Alphenian’s roars turning into the rushing of the River’s waters as it flowed around the rocks that sprouted from its depths like wildflowers in a meadow. The breeze was warm and calming, reminding him of how Rhyshladlyn had always described how his power felt; the lap of cool water around his ankles soothing and rhythmic as a festival drumbeat. It felt like coming home even if he knew home lay behind him, lost in the realm of the living.

“Relyt!” 

He looked over his shoulder in time to see his Qishir drop from a Line, rocketing down through the air towards the City, face a riot of denial and fear and regret so strong it was palpable. He wanted to turn fully, to move to meet his Qishir, to step away from the cool water lapping at his ankles like playful Snakats but he couldn’t.

I’m sorry, your Majesty. I tried. 

The last thing he heard before darkness fell across his vision was Rhyshladlyn’s defiant war howl.

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