“Nul, everything okay?”
“Hmm what?” he blinked and shook his head to clear it, feeling Rhyshladlyn leave the wards’ reach. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, everythin’s fine,” he replied watching as Azriel hip-checked the back door closed, arms cradling a basket filled to the brim with herbs and vegetables and spices picked from the garden. Nhulynolyn still didn’t know how Relyt had managed to cultivate let alone keep alive a garden at all in Shiraniqi Desert’s harsh climate, never mind one of the size they had out back. “Was just lost in thought.”
“Oh?” Azriel hummed as he began unpacking the basket, a clear offering for Nhulynolyn to talk about it if he wanted to.
He seemed distracted but Nhulynolyn knew he wasn’t. Not really. Even if he hadn’t spent an inordinate amount of time with the Anglëtinean warrior over the last four days since Rhyshladlyn had removed Relyt’s wings and brought the Soul Healer home to recover, even if he hadn’t known him before the war, the Other would have known that Azriel missed nothing. After all, the other male had the ability to hold a conversation and be actively listening and participating all while being totally aware of everything going on around him. On a battle field it was said he fought thousands of tiny skirmishes besides the one his hands and body participated in; that he saw the possibilities depending on what actions he took and what ones he didn’t well before he even faced them. And that was just what he could do on a Field, it didn’t even touch on the skills he had in a royal court or a Qishir’s Court.
It was what had made him such a formidable warrior in his previous lifetime and this one. Was why even though the Race had known he was Oathed fully to Rhyshladlyn, that that Oath would eventually call the Anglëtinean to his proper place, they had still tried to use him for their own machinations — despicable fucks — because while there was no mistaking that Azriel Kasuske of House Veratone had the capability and power to fell thousands without breaking a sweat, his mind was even deadlier and it was something no one ever saw coming until it was too late. And it was something Azriel’s birth race hadn’t wanted to easily give up, not if there was even a slim chance they could keep it on their side.
*Guess that’s why he and Rhys had gotten on so well from the get,* Xheshmaryú commented, his voice a lazy drawl, made that way from the mindless laundry work he was doing with Adïmshyl, the two males having kicked Thae’a out of the cabin to get some fresh air and take a break from chores.
*I do not doubt that,* Shadiranamen agreed and Nhulynolyn got a flash of her watching Bayls and Thae’a chase each other around and through the garden, smiles bright, their laughter brighter. *Our kè is just as formidable as his Companion’s, if not more so.*
“Yeah,” he answered, realizing he’d taken just a few beats too long to do so. But Azriel didn’t comment on it, just kept going about his task of getting the ingredients for dinner prepared. “Just I can’t make sense of why Relyt did what he did in Ryphqi y’know?”
Bayls bounded in the back door before Azriel could reply, her face lit up with a smile that made Nhulynolyn’s heart stop, hazel eyes wide and bright. He was vaguely aware that Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú were snickering at his thought of holy shit she’s hot but he didn’t acknowledge them. Thae’a came right on the Sinner’s heels, knocking into the smaller female’s unmoving body with an oomph.
“The fuck, Bay, why’d you stop runni–oh,” the Dreamweaver finished lamely when she saw that he was the cause of Bayls’ sudden cessation of movement. The older female huffed good-naturedly and pushed her way around Bayls with a roll of her eyes. “If you’re gonna ogle the male, at least be courteous enough to not block doorways while you do it.”
“Yeah, Bay,” Azriel threw a smile over his shoulder that was all mischief, “it’s rude. Not to mention unsafe.”
Bayls didn’t acknowledge either of them. Just kept those bright eyes locked on him, narrowing them as she read him like a book. Nhulynolyn didn’t move, just waited for her to say something, knowing better than to try and avoid her gaze; it only took trying that shit once and the miserable failure of it to teach him never to do it again. And Azriel, to his credit, knew better than to interfere with a Sinner Demon locked on target.
“You’re still hung up on the why, aren’t you?” Bayls asked finally, her voice still light at the edges from the happiness that her game with Thae’a had brought her even if it was dimmer now. And he reveled in the way it made her accent lilting and thick around her words, like she was speaking her native Sinxhët even when speaking Common. It was rare that he heard that happiness lace its tonal shifts through her voice since and he hated that he was essentially the cause of dimming it.
But despite that, he didn’t bother trying to do anything but admit outright to what she’d said. He knew better. And on top of that, he couldn’t lie, not to her.
Never to her.
“C’mon, B, you can’t really blame me can you?” He raked a hand through his hair man I need a proper wash soon eww gods before laying his hands flat on the countertop of the kitchen island. “He had to have known that Alphenian was wielding a death blow. Why risk wrapping his wings ’round either of us when they aren’t infallible? It just doesn’t make a lick o’sense.”
“He’s got a point,” Thae’a agreed, wiping her hands dry on the apron she’d tied around her neck, using an elbow to shut off the sink faucet, before beginning to help Azriel prepare dinner. “I admit I was curious about that, too, because Relyt doesn’t do things without at least a small amount of thought put into them. Otherwise Thayne wouldn’t have promoted him to General.”
Nhulynolyn flicked his fingers at Thae’a, eyebrows raised in a see? I’m not the only one who’s thinkin’ it! gesture at Bayls.
Bayls sighed and came around the island to press her forehead against his, her smaller hand hot against the back of his neck. “I just worry about you drowning yourself in guilt, babe,” her voice was kind, quiet, and he rumbled a purr back at her in lieu of a verbal response. “Cuz I know you… you’re just as bad as your twin with that.” Fuck, I don’t deserve you. He purred louder at her, it was the only thing he could think to do in response. No words were good enough.
“He made the choice to try and save you both of his own volition,” Azriel said, voice serene as he moved expertly around Thae’a, deft hands cutting vegetables and herbs, sprinkling spices and slicing meat. “Any consequences for that choice are on him and him alone.”
“Plus he probably figured he had time for his wings’ armor-plating to kick in before the strike landed.”
They all turned to the hallway to see Alaïs leaning heavily against the corner by the coldbox, her clear blue eyes shadowed with pain, chest rising and falling with deep, labored breaths. But she was awake and she was standing and Nhulynolyn sent a prayer of thanks to every god in existence for it.
“Alaïs,” Thayne whispered as she stepped through the dining room doorway drenched in sweat from her workout in the sparring room on the other side of the cabin.
Nhulynolyn didn’t doubt that if the Qishir had had anything in her hands she’d’ve dropped it. She was at the Lord Queen’s side in swift strides, wrapping her up in arms that trembled. In all the centuries he’d known her, he only remembered seeing the General with that mixed look of apology and worry and fear once before and that had been the day she’d handed Rhyshladlyn the letter Relyt had had smuggled out of Shiran City.
Alaïs didn’t seem to mind the sweat or the trembling, just buried her face in Thayne’s neck and closed her eyes. They stood there looking for all the Worlds like they were merely lovers that had spent months apart due to work or something equally as trivial. Not a war or intrigue or explosions that ripped apart whole Cities and killed hundreds of thousands at the minimum. In that one moment, they looked like any other couple being reunited if one didn’t know what to look for. If one didn’t see the way Thayne held the Lord Queen tightly but with care for the wounds that weren’t visible, that were still healing. If one didn’t see the way Alaïs nuzzled her throat, clearly scenting her.
If one didn’t hear Thayne speak in a broken voice quietly enough that only those with keen hearing caught it, “I missed you, Ally. High Ones be thanked Rhys found you in time.”
Alaïs didn’t say anything but she didn’t need to, the way she tucked herself more against the General, the way she allowed Thayne to hold all her body weight, her arms wrapped tight around her waist, spoke volumes. Spoke all the things she didn’t give a verbal voice to.
Nhulynolyn hugged Bayls to his side probably a little tighter than he meant to but she didn’t complain. He knew how Thayne felt right now; he remembered vividly the Hound attack not that long ago and the day on the Fields that he’d come far closer to losing his firecracker of a Sinner female than he’d ever wanted to. Remembered all too well that all encompassing fear when one truly believed the wouldn’t get the chance to hold the love of their life ever again.
“Welcome back, Al,” Azriel said brightly, lightening the moment with a breath of normalcy. Nhulynolyn snickered, seeing it for what it was: a gentle reminder that she’d dropped an information bomb on them and then not followed up on it.
She giggled, leaning back from Thayne but didn’t step out of her hold, turning a gaze that he still had trouble accepting was centuries older than the one he remembered from Rhyshladlyn’s childhood. “Thanks, Az. You’re looking well.”
The Anglëtinean inclined his head, shaking his hands expressively. “I’d offer a hug but I’m not fit for it at present.”
“I understand. Please, keep on. Your meals were always the best.”
“Oh don’t tell Shadi that,” Thae’a snorted as she nodded at the Lord Queen, her own hands just as dirty as Azriel’s.
“I didn’t plan on it,” Alaïs answered as Thayne helped guide her to the empty stool to his right.
Nhulynolyn frowned as a feeling tickled the back of his neck seconds before Azriel stiffened and whipped around to look at him.
“Where’s Rhys?” That wasn’t the easy going Anglëtinean warrior whose cooking skills were nearly as well known as his fighting skills that looked at him. That was Companion Azriel using the power of his unnerving, mismatched eyes to his best advantage.
He shivered and didn’t hesitate to answer, “Shiran City.”
“Why the fuck would he go there?” Alaïs and Thayne asked in unison to the snickers of Bayls and Thae’a.
“For the same reason he ever goes,” Nhulynolyn answered on a shrug, that feeling intensifying just enough to tease the edge of his awareness but not enough to give him anything definitive. Shadi? Xhesh? Are you feelin’ this? “I told him I’d send Azriel to get him when dinner was ready if he weren’t back by then.”
*I’m not getting anything,* Shadiranamen answered.
*Me either,* Xheshmaryú added seconds later.
Azriel dropped the meat he was holding to the counter, flicked his hands clean, his magick a crystalline burst of intensity that filled the air with bursts of electricity like after a lightning strike. Then he was running for the door, catching a Line before he’d even reached it.
“Sure,” Bayls snarked, “just leave without telling us anything! Great job there, Azriel!”
He stared at where Azriel had left without a word, the emptiness left in his wake thrumming with magick that made the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stand on end. All while that feeling intensified even more, right there on the edge of his knowing, if he could just get it to–
Rhyshladlyn’s fear reached him then like a wave cresting and he cursed loud and harsh before darting off his stool after the Anglëtinean, hearing Bayls’ snapped are you fucking kidding me, Nhulynolyn! like a punch to the gut but he didn’t answer her, didn’t slow down or stop to explain why he was leaving again. He just shot a thought to his fellow Otherborn to lock down the cabin and make sure no one but Azriel, himself, or Rhyshladlyn got remotely near the retaining wall before he blinked out.
Because he only knew of one thing capable of causing that kind of fear response from his twin. And if he was somehow alive again? They had much bigger problems.