This was a nightmare he’d had since the day he’d accepted Bayls’ invite into her tent in Thayne’s camp centuries ago. One that repeated endlessly, night after night, with the only variations being the ones necessary to keep it realistic enough that he’d wake up in a fucked head space until he could be absolutely certain that Bayls was still alive.
And with each battle fought by her side, with each Field they stepped onto and back off again, those nightmares only got worse.
With each time he watched her get taken down and feared in that moment that she wouldn’t get back up again, those nightmares became that much more realistic.
With each near miss he’d tell himself that he’d stop stalling and ask for her hand properly, especially now that Rhyshladlyn was back and seemed like he was staying, that he’d make her his life mate not just his battle partner.
But he hadn’t and now he regretted that with a potency he didn’t have words for as the air vacuumed towards the sea before blowing outward with an explosion that he felt shake his very bones.
With a shout, he threw up his hands to protect his face, left foot sliding backwards across the stones to brace himself, his natural Shields activating with the motion, as body parts and debris went flying in all directions. He was vaguely aware of Azriel’s body slamming into his Shield and he reached out to pull the Anglëtinean around it where he promptly collapsed against Nhulynolyn’s side, his skin smoking from where the heat had burned through his own Shields. Was aware of a high pitched scream he’d know anywhere, sleeping or awake, followed by a bristling burn across his chest. Was aware of Rhyshladlyn lethargically pulling energy across their connection to keep himself on just this side of the River.
“No, no, no, no, no, no. Bayls!” His voice, filled with heavy denial and swallowed anguish, startled him. He could’t sense Bayls, he couldn’t see if she was still in the window she’d been standing in or if she’d gone out of it onto the courtyard six storeys below. So he screamed for her, for the Sinner female who had stolen his heart and gone running off with it, laughter winter-sky clear and as haunting as his twin singing on the Fields to the melody of his hair-bells. The warrior with the worst balance he’d seen and a stutter when she was really emotional and whose stubbornness rivaled his own. “Bayls! Bayls!”
He hadn’t known he’d dropped his Shields and was moving towards the now burning orphanage until he felt Azriel’s presence seconds before the warrior grabbed him around the waist and held tight, uncaring of the way Nhulynolyn screamed and cursed and beat at his forearms.
But Azriel wouldn’t let him go and realistically he knew that was a good thing. Because he could feel the heat from here, nearly three hundred feet from the flames and the scent of burning flesh and Imènian fire made his nose twitch and his stomach roll as fear made him shiver despite the pressing heat. Knew logically that he wasn’t a Lupherinre like Adïmshyl, wasn’t a Phuri like Shadiranamen, and therefore had no way to survive Imènian-made fire. But logic meant shit all in the face of the very real chance that Bayls was truly lost to him. Especially when the only reason she was even here was because he’d argued for him and Azriel to help that unnamed female. When clearly that had been a fucking trap the entire time and now his mate may be dead because he hadn’t listened to his twin and the sense he’d been trying to make.
“Let me go, Azriel! I need to get to her! I have to get inside!” She can’t be dead. Please, gods, don’t let her be dead. “Bayls!”
“That’s an asinine plan, brother,” Azriel yelled back over the cacophony of sound as those around them got into gear and tried to combat the flames, to corral them enough to lessen the risk to rescuers. “And because of that, I’m letting you go all of nowhere.”
“Fuck you,” he snarled but the Anglëtinean snorted and said nothing; as unmoving as a mountain.
Between one snarled curse and the next, between one heartbeat and the next, something shifted in the air. And he knew that Rhyshladlyn was up and moving, but try as he might he couldn’t see through his twin’s eyes, couldn’t sense anything but the feel of the intense heat that pressed against his skin, the pressure of the flames eating every ounce of oxygen they could and making breathing difficult. But for all that he couldn’t see through his eyes, he still felt Rhyshladlyn’s arrival before he heard him, before he saw him.
Felt it like an ominous wind blowing at his back, ruffling his hair, slowing down time until it was still as the ground around the orphanage trembled and Nhulynolyn blinked to clear his watery vision.
Felt Rhyshladlyn’s power slip out like a lover’s teasing caress and touch every single living thing in Ahkshen, heralding his arrival in a way Nhulynolyn had never felt before.
The smoke disappeared suddenly and what its absence revealed made Nhulynolyn fall silent and still, eyes wide as he stared at the sight of his twin standing before the destroyed, burning husk of what had been an orphanage. The incessant movement of those that had gathered to help them ceased as everyone looked at the Grey Qishir with an awe that was palpable. Well, an awe that was mixed with a heavy dose of uncertainty and fear.
“Rhys?” Azriel called, voice too loud in the sudden quiet that had fallen despite the fires that still raged all around them, despite the screaming of the injured and dying that echoed like waves crashing against a rocky shore. Nhulynolyn wasn’t remotely surprised to hear the note of uncertainty in the Anglëtinean’s voice as he let him go.
But the Qishir didn’t answer his Companion. Instead he looked at Nhulynolyn and spoke with a voice that thrummed so deeply in the subvocal range that it was like a million vibrations against every nerve in his body rather than sound waves hitting his eardrums.
“Nhulynolyn Otherborn, fret not for the one to whom you are bound yet lives.”
He shuddered hard enough that he nearly fell at the sight of bottomless eyes that were a swirling mass of every color known and unknown, at the way the shadows shifted and danced in the smoke behind him like revelers at Midsummer, at the way Rhyshladlyn’s presence was thick and cloying, like syrup had replaced the very air around them.
What stood before him wasn’t just Rhyshladlyn and Nhulynolyn had no idea how to react to the knowledge that what spoke using his twin’s body was a literal god.
It wasn’t until one of those weird shadows rose up behind Rhyshladlyn that he realized those dancing, shifting masses actually were sentient creatures and gods aplenty See me always. He’d faced down scores of Hounds, faced off against an Oiki and lived, had combated millions of the best trained warriors the Eighth Army could scrounge up, had held the entrails of his beloved inside her body as he ran for a Healer. And yet, the fear he felt in all of those moments was nothing compared to what the felt when that shadow rose up out of the remaining wisps of smoke, it’s pure white, expressionless and featureless face twice the size of Rhyshladlyn’s, it’s shoulders easily hovering three feet above the Qishir’s. It’s body was nothing but a single undulating shadow as dark as true night, dark enough that what ambient light was given off by the flames was swallowed instead of dimmed.
And then the pure, unadulterated helplessness hit him in a rolling wave and he dropped to one knee, suddenly unable to draw deep enough breath. Suddenly unable to think beyond “what is the point to fighting anymore?”
All around him sounds of distress and fear mingled with the ever-present screams of the injured and dying.
“The Xhlëndïr shall ensure that all remaining young that can be saved will be. As for your beloved, Nhulynolyn Otherborn,” that god’s voice said and Nhulynolyn heard the words with his Self rather than with his ears. Which he was marginally sure were bleeding now. “I have delivered her personally to you, a life saved in accordance with the agreement made between Scion and Patron. Do not squander it, Nhulynolyn Otherborn, for it will not happen again.”
He looked up as Rhyshladlyn stepped aside and that Xhlën stepped — glided? Floated? Do Xhlëndïr have feet? — forward and the writhing shadow of its body shifted and revealed Bayls. He sobbed in relief and rushed forward to take her in his arms, heedless of the fact that he basically ran at a deadly magickal creature, heedless of the way that helplessness intensified the closer he got to the creature that created it.
But fuck it, she was alive. That’s all that mattered.
“Take her home, Nhulynolyn Otherborn, and name her as yours and yours alone with My blessing upon you both,” the god said as Nhulynolyn gently gathered Bayls up in his arms and looked back at those kaleidoscope eyes.
*Nameless,* Rhyshladlyn supplied, voice serene in the way only a god-ridden Dhaoine’s could be and he sent a pulse of gratitude before bowing his head respectfully.
“My sincerest thanks, Honored One. I shall do so as soon as she is Healed and we are–”
“She is already Healed, Nhulynolyn Otherborn,” the Nameless interrupted and his twin’s mouth twitched in a twisted smile.
Oh… well alright then. “Then I shall see that we are mates as soon as we have returned home.”
The Nameless nodded before turning and looking to the southeast, those swirling eyes narrowing before suddenly they where orange-amber and Rhyshladlyn grunted as arrows suddenly rained down through the smoke, the thud-schlick of each impact loud and wet.
He knew the moment Azriel noticed what he did when the Anglëtinean turned and snapped, “Get Bayls back to the cabin and alert Thayne!”
“Fat chance of that happenin’, Feather Duster,” Nhulynolyn hissed in reply.
“Nully, go! You’re a liability so long as Bayls is still here. Get her to safety. I’ve got this.”
“Get to him an’ get him out of here,” Nhulynolyn didn’t bother trying to make it sound like anything but the order it was.
At Azriel’s nod before the warrior ran towards Rhyshladlyn who had slowly begun to fall towards the ground as the crowd screamed and scattered, as those shifting, sentient shadows bristled with soft click-chirrups of sound, Nhulynolyn lifted a hand and caught a Line with Bayls slung over his shoulder.
As he raced back towards Fènwa, he tried not to think of why grey feather-tipped arrows looked so familiar.