He hated that he’d had to return here, that he’d had to go back to this bitch’s side. But he had a part to play. Even if he hadn’t agreed with it in the slightest he had been outranked on the matter and so whether he had agreed or not hadn’t mattered.
What mattered was that he followed the orders that he’d been given. What mattered was that he did what no one else besides him could do with any degree of success.
“I don’t want to go back to her!” he argued, lip curling off his teeth at the mere thought of the un-female let alone being near her. “I am skilled, but I will not be able to hide my distaste for her. Not anymore.”
Thayne just stared at him, utterly indifferent to his plight, her eyes uncannily like her mother’s. “She did not see you standing beside the Grey Qishir and right now that will work to our best advantage. You say you wanted to help us anyway, correct?” He nodded begrudgingly, hating that she was right. “Then do so. Go back to her, say you came to among the rubble to a Healer working on you. When you were cleared to move, you stayed long enough to help find others among the rubble before leaving to join her.”
“There is no guarantee she’ll go to any of her safe houses, though!” High Ones forgive him, but he truly didn’t want to go back to her side, no matter how sound Thayne’s arguments for doing so were. “I could wander between them all for decades and never find her.”
“Then you’ll at least be able to say you tried,” Thayne countered, tone hard and it was in that moment that he was reminded she was a Qishir just as her mother had been; that she was the rightful heir to the Eighth Throne. A throne she would be sat upon were there not a war waging through the Worlds. “Zhalharaq is destroyed, Eiod. Our home? It isn’t there anymore. It’s in worst shape than Ryphqi and likely because of her, because of my worthless little sister.”
Thayne sighed, sitting down heavily on the long couch across from him, running a shaking hand through her hair in a gesture he hadn’t seen her do since she was a fledgling and it made a fondness swell in his chest. For all that he didn’t like the Qishir that Thayne was all-but Oathed to, he still loved Thayne like the daughter he’d never had and never would have. He had watched both of Lulphé’s daughters grow up, he’d practically had a hand in raising them and now he was plotting with one on how to kill the other. It would be comical if it weren’t so very real. Oh but if their mother could see me now.
“I need you to do what I cannot, Eiod,” Thayne continued, crimson eyes lifting to level a look at him that was all General Qishir and none of the fledgling he had just been reminiscing about. “I know it isn’t an easy thing to work for my sister, to play a double agent against her. But I have no one else that’s already at her side and close enough to the do the damage necessary. And if I were to try and replace you? I would be faced with wasting centuries more just praying that they’d get even half as close to her as you already are.”
She had been right, but it didn’t make standing by while Xitlali threw her favorite Alphenian slave around any easier to do. It didn’t make listening to Jerald’s pleas and screams any easier to ignore. Knowing that before too long he’d be able to watch the light die from the un-female’s eyes was the only thing keeping him standing rooted to the spot by her unreasonably ornate throne while she chased Jerald across the room, screaming in an octave that would have hurt their ears if she weren’t magickally lowering it out of the subvocal range.
Gods but he hated her. Hated her scarred face and her voice and the way she ran a Court and her politics. Hated even more that she portended that she was virtuous and benevolent when she was no better than the Lord King whose death had sparked this accursed war. Well, that and Azriel’s death and the sinking of Shiran City, but semantics weren’t important right now.
What was important was Eiod remembering every ounce of his training as a slave, as a courtier in royal and Qishir Courts, and engaging it all at once so he didn’t raise a hand and strike the bitch down before he got any useful information out of her.
But High Ones Hear him, if he had to watch her rape him one more time to the Cliffs with his orders, he’d make her into a very messy example.
“Mistress, please!” Jerald begged, his terror strong enough to thicken the air until it was nearly impossible to breathe. Eiod was certain he would smell that scent until the day he died.
But he didn’t move to do anything about it, just dug his nails into the skin over his ribs, hidden by the way he had his arms crossed, flattened his tongue so he could press the sides between his back molars and did his best to stare at a spot on the far wall. Tried to think of anything else but the verifiable torture his beloved’s daughter was performing against a slave. Tried to hear anything and everything else but Jerald’s pleas for mercy and forgiveness, his assurances that whatever slight he had committed against her that he would never do it again.
He wasn’t successful. But despite his inability to drown out what was going on, to see anything else, he didn’t move.
Because Thayne had asked this of him and right now, the fate of the Worlds stood in the balance. And the plight of one male, even one he sympathized with because Eiod himself had once been in the Alphenian’s exact position, wasn’t enough to risk tipping it. Not until he’d gotten what he needed from Xitlali.
He just prayed that Jerald survived that long.