Movement at the far edge of the courtyard caught his attention and he looked up in time to see the unnamed female from Fènwa touch down with a smile that made his skin crawl. Her clear blue eyes and pitch dark hair that swung around her shoulders was at once familiar and not and he stared at her. Stared as she smiled that enigmatic, twisted smile. Stared as her that same don’t trust, run, run whisper from his instincts flared up again. Stared as she spoke over the din of fleeing citizens and crackling flames.
“Greetings, brother. Did you miss me?”
He rolled his eyes. “Anny, I just saw you, like, five minutes ago.”
“So?” his brother smirked as he plopped down at the table with him. “Five minutes is more than enough time for you to start to miss me.”
“For young females so easily smitten on the heir to the throne, maybe,” he quipped.
“And males and neodrachs,” Anis corrected.
He just rolled his eyes. “Fair enough. Point remains, however, that five minutes is not enough for me.”
Anis clutched at his chest and slumped back in the chair dramatically, making Rhyshladlyn giggle involuntarily. “Brother mine, you wound me.”
“Shut up, my twin,” Alaïs scolded as she stepped out from behind one of the nearby bookshelves, “and leave him be. He needs to study, not be harassed.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Azriel’s voice snapped him back to the present with a jerk as the Anglëtinean rose to his feet in a slow roll, the snake curled around his neck shifting restlessly in counterpoint to its kè‘s controlled movement. “Ahkshen wasn’t in any danger until after we’d gotten here. Why did you lie?”
“Well, you see, Azriel, some Dhaoine lie,” she shrugged one shoulder and the way her mouth twisted when she did it made Rhyshladlyn want to feed her her own skin, “it’s just a fact of life, y’know? And well no shit it wasn’t in danger until you got here. After all, the Coward King’s Court brings disaster wherever they go.”
Azriel growled, body shifting in a subtle way that only those who knew his fighting style well would be able to spot that he was about to attack. But before he could, Rhyshladlyn reached out and curled his hand around his Companion’s left wrist. Malkuth’s head appeared above the Anglëtinean’s shoulder, mismatched eyes staring at him with an intensity that told him that Azriel was using the Other so the Anglëtinean didn’t have to take his eyes off that female.
“She is not worth it,” Rhyshladlyn rumbled, voice scratchy, throat too slicked with blood to vibrate his vocal chords properly. Using the grip he had on Azriel’s wrist, he pulled himself shakily and slowly to his feet.
The female growled at the slight but he ignored her. She’d be dealt with in time.
“I need you to leave,” he spoke the words on a whisper, barely loud enough for even his own ears to catch but he knew Azriel heard him. Knew it before Malkuth’s attention swung from him to that female that looked so eerily like his dead brother and Azriel’s replaced it. “You and Nully were brought here. You were lured into a trap. It was only by sheer luck that I arrived before the,” he coughed and swayed as black spots starburst across his vision and vertigo made the ground feel like it was undulating, “the… the explosion.” It took more effort than he was willing to admit to to keep pulling air in. From the feel of it, one of the arrows had nicked a lung.
Because of course it did. Gods, this shit has gotten old.
“You don’t look so good, brother,” he looked passed Azriel to where that unknown female stood with that enigmatic smile on her face and he snorted at the mocking concern in Anis’ voice as they faced off on in the sand pit Mother had made in her private gardens for them to practice away from Anislanzir’s prying eyes.
“I am fine, Anis,” he replied and shook his hands out, studiously ignoring the way blood dripped down his chin from his broken nose.
“If you call bleeding profusely all over yourself ‘fine’, I’d hate to see what you call ‘not fine.'”
“Stop calling me brother,” he snarled. “I am not family to you.”
“Oh, but you are,” she replied with a giggle that made his teeth hurt as she spun in a circle, arms held out, fingers spread wide to show the whites of her palms. “You may not have been anointed like the rest of us were because you left us like you leave everyone, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t family.”
“Rhyshladlyn, I don’t like this,” Azriel’s voice was breathless, filled with shards of glass that shattered against the air, and he closed his eyes tightly before using his hold on the Anglëtinean to push-pull him away towards the opposite end of the courtyard. “Rhys?”
His heart broke a little at the hurt in that single syllable but he ignored the pain of it.
“I told you, this was a trap for you, for Nully. Now get out of here.”
“No! I won’t leave you al–”
“I’m not alone!” He interrupted with a growl that rumbled down in the subvocal range as he whirled around to face his Companion. With a wince he pulled out the arrow that had lodged in his left shoulder joint and tossed it at Azriel who caught it with a frown. “There’s an army gathered on the edges of this godsforsaken place. So take that fucking arrow back to the cabin and get everyone the fuck out of it. I’ll meet up with you once I’ve finished here.”
Azriel and Malkuth both looked at him with those matching mismatched eyes before Azriel growled in frustration and nodded.
“I’ll give you two hours.”
Before Rhyshladlyn could reply he caught a Line and was gone, the discontent he felt about being sent away leaving a metallic tang in the air in his wake. With a sigh, Rhyshladlyn turned back to that female who was busy examining her nails with poorly concealed impatience.
“You done?” her voice quipped, eyes glancing up from under her lashes to stare at him.
He huffed a laugh as he ducked a book that was thrown from across the room, accompanied by grumbling about snarky brothers.
“You’re just mad that I’m faster than you, little sister,” he teased with a wink.
“What did you just say?”
She looked at him with bright, clear blue eyes that reminded him so much of Anis’ that it made his heart ache. It had been over a century since his brother’s death but the pain of that loss hurt just as keenly as if it had happened only hours before. He smirked.
“You heard me just fine.”
“Well, so what you’re faster than me? I get my stones tomorrow!” she retorted, arms crossed under her breasts. He frowned and tilted his head to the side. “I’ll finally be anointed!”
“Hellooo! Earth to Rhyshladlyn!”
He blinked and shook his head, pressing one hand to his forehead with a groan.
“Welcome back to reality. Where the fuck did you go?”
“Welcome back…” her voice faltered, trailing off as she noticed his bruised face and the way he was limping, eyes unfocused. “Where the fuck did you go? A torture chamber?”
“May as well have,” he answered with a groan, sinking heavily down onto his sleeping mat. “You’re not still accepting that bullshit they’re telling you about being one with them and being anointed are you?”
For the first time she actually looked ashamed, guilty almost, and it made what instincts he still trusted come alive and shrieking with a warning that was far too painful in its familiarity.
“It’s not bullshit, Rhys,” she muttered, reminding him that for all that she looked of age, she was barely of majority for her race. “They are my family, they treat me right. I want this, I’ve earned this.”
“Axcil…” he sighed and regretted it when it made his fresh injuries scream at him in protest. “That family? They did this to me.” He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, watched as she took in his torn clothes, the bruising, the way he gingerly lay on his stomach, hips shifting as though nothing kept the pinpoint agony in his nethers quiet. “And if they’re willing to do it to me, what are they willing to do to you?”
“No. You’re wrong,” Axcil replied, voice hard and unmoving and he lifted his head, shifted to fully look at her and he knew before she kept speaking what was coming next, “they’d never hurt me like that because I’m not a prisoner.”
“I know you,” he straightened up slowly, hand falling away from his face as he met her gaze, knowing finally where he knew her from. “It was a ploy the whole time. You knew exactly who I was the entire time!” He yelled as he pulled the arrows out one by one, letting them drop to the ground as he walked towards her. Fear flashed across her face but was hidden quickly. He just smiled and knew by the way she blanched that it didn’t touch his eyes. “You lied to me. I trusted you!”
She smirked and shrugged, her hands held up in a ‘what can you do’ gesture as she did so and he roared.
“To be fair, so did a lot of Dhaoine,” she answered and he launched at her.
“My name is Axcil. What’s yours?”
He looked up and recoiled, mistaking the set of clear blue eyes and pitch black hair and tanned skin for his elder brother reborn but the magickal signature that sang out from the female wasn’t his brother’s, the intelligence that lit those eyes wasn’t the sharp, mischievous kind that he had always associated with Anis.
As his fist connected with her gut with enough force to pull her bodily off the ground, the soft click-chirrups of the Xhlëndïr that had blended back into the smoke rose in pitch, and his laughter at her grunt of pain wove a secondary melody to that eerie sound.
“I’m Rhyshladlyn,” he answered hesitantly, not trusting that he wasn’t the only prisoner Iköl had.
She cocked her head to the side, considering it before she nodded. “It suits you.”