“Well?” He prompted when his Steward stayed silent. Azriel sent a pulse of calm down their link, the touch gentle and soothing but he didn’t sink into it like he wanted to. This was a conversation that should have been started months ago when he first came back, when Relyt snarled at him and forgot his place in his tent on the edge of the Forest of Dreams and Darkness, when he attacked him in front of the Court. But he hadn’t wanted to have it. Had hoped to put it off until a better time.
But he’d forgotten that no such thing existed. Not where he was concerned.
<<Rhys>> Not a thought, more a feeling, a tug on his consciousness asking for his attention. He glanced sidelong at Azriel who tilted his head to one side, eyes widening just enough for him to know the Anglëtinean was raising his eyebrows, was saying the fuck is going on with you? Talk to me. He just looked back at Relyt instead of answering.
“I… I honestly have no idea,” Relyt answered. The irony that that answer worked for both of them was not lost on Rhyshladlyn.
“How?” Thae’a sounded angry but the emotion didn’t touch her body language. He narrowed his eyes at her but didn’t linger because she wasn’t his main focus, Relyt was. Relyt whose expression was one Rhyshladlyn didn’t recognize, not on his face at least. It was almost like he was confused. But whether it was at the topic of the conversation or because it was Thae’a that sounded angry with him, was anyone’s guess. “You’re the fucking leader of your entire race but we’re supposed to believe that you’re clueless? Yeah, I will personally get right on that.”
That expression shifted, moved so that it seemed to encompass Relyt’s body language, too, but not in the way that it would have normally done. Not in the way Rhyshladlyn was used to seeing happen. Which wasn’t a surprise really, given he’d been watching his Court from afar for nearly half a millennium. No one stayed the same that long. But in the same respect, no one really changed, just revealed more of their true selves.
“Have to say I agree with Tee here,” Xheshmaryú added, shrugging when Relyt turned a are you serious right now look at the Nochresi. “Be butthurt all you want, Soul Healer, ain’t going to change my opinion.”
“Especially when we know you, Relyt Greymend,” Shadiranamen’s sibilant voice slithered out thick and sickeningly sweet like dark chocolate. “There is no conceivable way you didn’t know there was some faction in the Worlds saying they’re legitimate Grey Soul Healers simply because gretkewqi took to them.”
Relyt frowned, the action pulling at the edges of skin around his gretkewq making it flash and shift, as the muscles at the bolts of his jaw twitched and he bit at the inside of his bottom lip. Rhyshladlyn knew this expression: it meant he was trying to keep things straight in his head. It was his greatest tell that he had already lied or that what he was about to say was a lie.
“I am capable of being the leader of my race but I am not automatically made such unless the Ildir are dead or they name me Gret’yinl in more than birthsake and I accept it,” he began, running a shaking hand through his hair to push it out of his face. “And there were rumors of a group that were calling themselves Greys, but there have always been rumors.” He shrugged, hands slipping into the pockets of his pants, seeming to feel uncomfortable for his lack of shirt, his muscles rippling in the firelight. “There has never anything substantial, so I thought nothing of it having other responsibilities that took precedent to chasing down every rumor.”
*No lie there,* Xheshmaryú sounded almost disappointed.
*But how can he not know?* Shadiranamen asked.
Rhyshladlyn snorted aloud, bringing all attention back to him. He does know. That’s why he wasn’t shocked when I asked him to explain. Because he knows.
*Well truss me up, gape me wide, and call me a Harvest delicacy,* Nhulynolyn muttered testily as his fellows snickered.
Relyt gave him an indecipherable look, head tilted to the side as he continued haltingly, “The Ildir yet live and I remain a Gret’yinl in birthsake only; it is not my duty to do more than what I have done. So until his Majesty brought that female here, I had no idea the rumors were truth this time.”
And there was the lie. He’d smile with triumph at being right if this were something to feel triumphant about. If anything it just made him feel tired. Made the scars on his right wrist and bicep itch and pull.
“You’ll be one of us, Rhys,” her conviction was absolute and he almost envied her it. Almost.
“I don’t want to be one of you, Axcil,” he hissed, trying to call up what energy he could to use to Heal over the start of the mimicry of gretluos those bastards had tried to put on him. He didn’t get very far. “I’m already superior to Grey Soul Healers, I don’t need to be made into one of them nor do I want anything to do with them.”
Axcil just rolled her eyes with a fondness that made his stomach flip unpleasantly. “But you deal with Relyt Greymend willingly enough.”
His head snapped up with enough force he felt his neck crack, pain lancing up the back of his skull and threatening to black out his vision but he ignored it. Because fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. He had to stop wasting time and get the fuck out of here.
“I’m still not buying it,” Bayls said. “I know you, Rel, and you are the type to hunt down every hint of–”
“Well I didn’t!” Relyt snapped. “By the Many, I don’t know how the fuck this Axcil and whoever she is with got their hands on genuine gretkewqi and no matter how many times you ask me, I will only have the same answer to proffer.”
“Lying is rude and unbecoming,” Rhyshladlyn kept his tone even and conversational but only by sheer willpower, idly juggle-tossing the gretkewqi he’d ripped out of Axcil up and down. He didn’t look at the other male, just watched the stones jump and fall, jump and fall, jump and fall and tried desperately to keep the rising tide of memories at bay.
The second his words registered a ripple passed across his Court because accusing a Dhaoine of lying was a heavy thing, an insult that seldom could be recovered from if one did not have the proof to back up the claim.
Azriel shifted closer to him, all of his Others manifesting within seconds, though only Lycarn and Malkuth were physically visible.
Thae’a blanched, eyes swinging accusingly to Relyt which was an interesting reaction he hadn’t anticipated.
Adïmshyl shuffled closer and more in front of his mate.
Bayls and Alaïs growled, the sound barely above the vocal range, while Jaro shifted to a ready position should things escalate in a brawl.
Thayne hissed, her own Qishir magick slithering out to entwine with his.
His Others turned as one to stare at Relyt.
Relyt stared at him, eyes wide and nearly white they were so light a grey, pain carving lines into his face as his back protested the half subconscious attempt to display his now non-existent wings, his mouth dropping open enough to show the pink tip of his tongue wetting his teeth. Rhyshladlyn met his gaze steadily, not letting any of the anger that bubbled just beneath the surface from showing. Met his shocked, hurt gaze and stared back unblinking because he was sick of the half-truths. Sick of knowing there was more than what his Steward had shared with the Court, with the Grey Army, and knowing that had he shared that information, things may have gone differently.
But they’d never know for certain now.
“What are you talking about, your Majesty?” Relyt sounded scared, the kind that was only obvious if one knew how to spot it. The kind that made the Currents wake up and chitter soft serenades.
“Yeah, lil’it bròtr, what are you talking about?” Anis’ voice was mocking and right next to him, the heat of the body it came from making his arm sweat.
Rhyshladlyn closed his eyes and took a deep breath because Anis wasn’t real, he wasn’t and now was not the time to have a mental breakdown.
“The Ildir are dead, Relyt,” he answered. “And have been for centuries.”
The silence was cacophonous.
“Ooh, now that I didn’t seem coming,” Anis quipped. Must you? Gods, go away. You’re dead for fuck’s sake.
“Wh-what?” The Soul Healer spluttered.
Rhyshladlyn rolled his eyes, still juggle-tossing the stones. “I did not stutter.”
“Why else, Rel? To protect you. They knew that once you had access to your full powers they stood no chance to keep control over your kind. Clearly,” he shook the hand holding Axcil’s gretkewqi for emphasis. “And so long as your qahllyn remained only Accepted and not Answered or Oathed, they could kill you and not incite war.”
“But by planning to kill him,” Bayls spoke up, her anger having dwindled but not gone away entirely, “knowing what he is and to whom he is qahllyn, they would have done so anyway.”
Rhyshladlyn pointed at her and clicked his tongue.
“So you… I’m the leader of… How could you do that and not tell me?“
Rhyshladlyn fought to keep his balance as the wind slammed into him with the full force to Relyt’s anger-driven power. But it wasn’t genuine anger, it was false, a mask to hide the fear that Rhyshladlyn could smell on him, faint and well hidden though it was. Could read the apprehension in the twitching, aggravated qahllyn’qir that glowed beneath his skin for Rhyshladlyn’s eyes only.
“You cannot make decisions like that without talking to those who are affected by them!” Relyt snarled and this time the anger was genuine. Interesting. “How could you just kill the leaders of an entire race?”
He slowly turned and faced the male, the hand that had been playing with the gretkewqi reaching out towards the Soul Healer to show the gretkewqi. Relyt blanched but didn’t back down.
*Gotta hand it to him, least he commits to somethin’ wholly,* Nhulynolyn said.
*Even if doing so could get him killed,* Shadiranamen agreed.
“I didn’t have to tell you because you knew the second they died,” he answered as he crushed Axcil’s gretkewqi to dust with a burst of magick. He grinned darkly, all teeth, when Relyt’s own gretkewq flashed and his gretluos glowed blindingly bright for a few seconds as the displaced power of his collective race, of him as Gret’yinl, returned to him with their destruction. “And I could kill them because they had been working to destroy your race from the inside out for centuries before you’d left your homeland behind and came in search of me.”
“I don’t,” Relyt closed his eyes and doubled over, hands on his thighs, body trembling faintly as he tried to breathe through the sudden rush of returned magick. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, your Majesty. I had no idea that I was Gret’yinl in more than birthsake until you told me and I have no idea how this group came to possess genuine gretkewqi.”
He leveled Relyt with a look but the Soul Healer took no notice. Just kept speaking and the longer he spoke, the more Rhyshladlyn wanted to throttle him.
“It is possible the Ildir pushed their energy into all harvested gretkewqi and implanted those same stones before you killed them. Though making mock Soul Healers out of those not of the race makes no sense unless they were desperate because the number of Greys left in the Worlds is far less than it was half a millennia ago,” Relyt was mostly talking to himself and Rhyshladlyn wasn’t inclined to stop him.
Because he knew his Steward had lied. Knew because he had killed the Ildir three and a half centuries ago and he had known Axcil after that. Had met her when Iköl had found him half-starved, covered head to toe in ice, and offered a seat at his campfire. Rhyshladlyn had accepted it even though he’d known Iköl was a Cymerianthrope, he had been desperate. And that desperation had made him careless.
So very, very careless.
He knew the lies his Steward was pedaling where Axcil and her group’s possession of gretkewqi was concerned because while he may not have had any contact with his Court, he had had plenty of contact with the warriors of the army that fought in his honor and in his shadow. And where his Court had things they hadn’t spoken of to each other, those under their commands knew.
And it didn’t take much to get anyone talking openly to the Grey Qishir.
“Gretkewqi can be harvest by anyone within the Worlds but only one of the Ildir or a Gret’yinl can push power into them and the ink that is inlaid beneath the skin as gretluos,” Alaïs quoted as she looked at him, clearly reading from his expression and the silence he had pulled around himself that he knew that just as well as she did. And that he had something else up his sleeve that enabled him to throw the lack of truth in Relyt’s face.
“That is true,” Relyt’s expression was carefully blank, the controlled stoic mask he had when Rhyshladlyn first met him and seeing it now, with everything that was going on, with everything that had happened, it made his blood boil. Relyt only ever wore that mask now when he had something to hide. “But it is still possible this female had her gretkewqi inlaid before the Ildir were killed.”
“Enough, Relyt,” he rubbed a hand over his face and sighed, “she was bereft of those stones when I met her a full century after I’d killed the Ildir. I didn’t discuss the decision with you because if I hadn’t done it, you would have. You knew because you are not the only Grey Soul Healer in the whole of the Grey Army and they told you. They came to you.” He watched Relyt carefully but the Soul Healer didn’t react, not even a twitch of the corners of his eyes.
*Got him.* Rhyshladlyn didn’t know what Other said that but it didn’t matter.
For several minutes he stood in silence, staring at Relyt and wondering where the male he had fallen for had gone. Wondered when his precious, confused about emotions Relyt had died and was replaced with this two-faced thing capable of lying convincingly enough that were Rhyshladlyn not able to read him like an open book even he would be fooled. Wondered what else he had missed. I never should have been gone so long, even if it was to keep them all safe.
“You knew that female?” Thayne asked, breaking the tense silence, backtracking several topics in the process. Sensing that if she didn’t that they would likely come to blows. Rhyshladlyn didn’t know whether to be grateful or annoyed because the gods only knew that right now he wanted nothing more than to pummel the fuck out of his Steward.
“Yes, well enough that at one point I trusted her nearly as much as I do the lot of you.”
“What happened?” Adïmshyl’s voice sounded like trees collapsing under the weight of a forest fire.
“NO! I do not consent to this! I refuse!” he screamed but it didn’t matter. The Dhaoine Iköl and his merry band of bastards worked for didn’t give two shits about his consent or lack thereof. His roar of agony-born defiance made the air vibrate as the first lines of knotwork were inked over the burn scars on his right bicep. “No!”
“Nothing good, Adïm,” he whispered, not looking away from Relyt whose eyes widened and face paled, the shadows dancing across his face making him look so much younger.
And suddenly he was standing in the Healing Pools at the Palace back home, was staring at the slate grey eyes of a Soul Healer who seemed unflappable and unafraid of anything save the darkness that lived within the Qishir he was qahllyn to. He was staring at a Relyt covered in blood and smoking from using his Soul Wave for the first time, terrified that he had done something that would see him abandoned by his god and forsaken by his people no matter the reason behind the act. He was staring at the Relyt he had grown to love, the one who was filled with laughter that barked out without warning, who was all quick wit and a sharper tongue, who was unafraid to speak his mind the consequences be damned.
But between one blink and the next the memories disappeared and reality replaced them. He shook his head and turned away from his Steward. There wasn’t a point in continuing a conversation he may as well be having with a clump of mud for all the answers he was getting.
“Thayne, you and Relyt will return to the army and inform your respective commands that there is a faction likely working in tandem with Xitlali and the Eighth Army that believes they are Grey Soul Healers,” he glanced at his Steward and sighed heavily. “Make sure to include that whoever these individuals are that follow the Anointed One have access to Oiki and genuine gretkewqi and gretluos.”
“As you will, my Qishir,” Thayne saluted.
Relyt’s silence was heavy and he did his best to ignore it in lieu of focusing on giving out orders to the rest of the Court. They had lost way too much time fucking about when there was still a war going on, when Xitlali was still gathering Selves in jars, when he was still trying understand why he hadn’t felt compelled to Blood Oath Relyt, how the fuck those Hounds had found the cabin despite it being magickally hidden, and a myriad of other things.
It was too much and there was never enough time and gods I’m so fucking tired.
Azriel touched his elbow and he fought back the flinch as he felt everyone but Bayls, Nhulynolyn, Relyt and Azriel leave. Relyt’s gaze burned against his back but Rhyshladlyn didn’t look at him. Didn’t dare because he knew if he did, he’d stop being so angry, he’d
“Rhys,” but clearly for all that he had been dismissed, Relyt clearly didn’t give a flying shit, “we need to talk about this.”
“I will happily have a discussion with you when you are capable of not talking in circles,” he answered, tone clipped and hard. “Now get to your post, General Greymend.”
“As you will, Qishir Rhyshladlyn,” Relyt answered, sounding almost sad, before he caught a Line and was gone.
With each mile put between them, Rhyshladlyn felt like he could breathe easier and easier.
When did his power stop feeling like a soothing, cool spring breeze and more like the hot blast of air before a Storm?
“Probably about the time you didn’t tell them you nearly became just like this Axcil,” Anis muttered and Rhyshladlyn chanced looking at him, finding the older Sinner male squatted in the dead grass and dirt. Clear blue eyes met his own and he flinched hard enough that Azriel grunted as he nearly knocked the Anglëtinean to the ground.
<<Rhys>> The same sensation that tugged at his consciousness before came again and he whimpered. Azriel wanted in, could tell something more was wrong than the obvious, but Rhyshladlyn was too afraid that if he let Azriel in, then he and Nhulynolyn and the rest would learn just how badly he’d lost it. Because No one was reacting to the Anis-that-wasn’t-Anis’ appearance, to him talking. Which that it had to be all in his head. And that thought did nothing to lessen his fear.
“Better destroy this body before they realize you have the same markings she does, lil’it bròtr.”
“I fucking told you to stop calling me that,” he hissed and side stepped Azriel when he reached for him, rubbing at his face with both hands as though that would dispel whatever specter had chosen to haunt him wearing his dead brother’s face. It didn’t work, not even close. “I’m going to try and get a few hours of sleep. Nully, I’ll handfast you and Bayls when I wake up.”
With no other explanation he walked towards the tent, snapping his fingers at Axcil’s body and sending a lick of coldfire to consume it.