It was a beautiful ceremony but he hadn’t been able to focus on it.
He smiled as genuinely as he could at the way Nhulynolyn beamed at Bayls, at how the Sinner Demon just smiled back up at him, a shy blush darkening her cheeks because they looked so perfect stood before the fire, hands clasped and wrapped in ribbons. But for all that their joy was palpable, was a heady scent that filled the air until it dripped with it, he wasn’t fully present in the moment like he should be. For all that he could feel Azriel’s qahllyn demanding he finalize their Blood Oath, that he have them joined in the same way, he couldn’t focus on anything else.
Because on the other side of the fire draped in dancing shadows, eyes hard and dark in a way they’d never been when he was still alive, stood Anis. Ever watching, ever present, ever ready to give a snide remark. It was a miracle that Rhyshladlyn had gotten through the Handfasting Rite without snarling at the specter.
He kept telling himself that this thing wearing his dead brother’s face wasn’t real, that it was a figment of his exhausted and guilt-ridden imagination but somehow that only made it worse.
They were all more than a little drunk on Anglëtinean mead that Azriel had had tucked away somewhere but — I’m not as drunk as they are, so that fucking thing isn’t there because I’m drunkenly imagining it — it didn’t tamper Nhulynolyn and Bayls’ joy. It didn’t tamper the feeling of right that had filled him when he’d finalized the rite.
“By the power of a Qishir Marked by the Nameless, Soullessly Heartfelt, and the Faceless, I pronounce you handfasted; bound until your love wanes or the Worlds cease to be.” Nhulynolyn’s laughter was bright and clear, a perfect counter-melody to Rhyshladlyn’s hair bells when he shook his head at the way his twin gathered Bayls into his arms and dipped her dramatically before kissing her senseless. Seeing the Other that happy had given him a glimmer of hope he didn’t know he’d needed. That he hadn’t known he’d lost until it was returned.
Knowing his twin and the Sinner Demon who had been an unlikely ally were now joined together should have brought him joy. And it did…just not enough to pierce the veil of depression that had settled over him.
Because all he could see was the look on Relyt’s face that day in his tent, when he learned that Rhyshladlyn had known of Azriel’s rebirth for centuries.
“Yes!” he snapped, voice whip-cracking around them, fluttering the canvas walls of the tent. “Yes, it most certainly matters. Because I am your Steward and she is not. If anyone should have known first after you, it should have been me.”
All he could see was the look of false fury when he had accused the Soul Healer of lying about knowing the Ildir were dead.
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.
All he could see was the loss that had darkened Relyt’s face with pure fury as the Soul Healer flew at him after he’d sacrificed the Oiki at the edge of the Forest in Twixteb World.
“How could you!” He tensed as that voice snarled at him, watched as its owner flew towards him with a speed the Soul Healer hadn’t had centuries ago, grey wings bursting from his back in a shower of ice shards and grey sparks. He didn’t flinch, didn’t react outwardly as his most recent past reared up, blew apart its box, and swallowed him whole. He didn’t raise his hands to defend himself when Relyt grabbed fistfuls of his shirt and shook him, didn’t do anything but stare back at him, expression carefully blank. Just met Relyt’s fury with an icy calm that was nothing more than an act. An act and a mask to go with it that he had learned to master in order to survive a nightmare he’d thought he’d never see again after he’d killed Anislanzir.
“How could you kill sentient creatures that did you no wrong! That had willingly surrendered!” Relyt’s voice was a vicious rumble that shook the ground around them as his power rose to the surface like an angry river after the winter thaws and trickled out around them, only a hairsbreadth from becoming totally uncontrollable. “Where is the fairness in that?”
Something was wrong, something wasn’t adding up, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that if he didn’t figure it out soon that it would spell disaster for not just him but for the entire Worlds.
It should have been a joyous occasion, and the gods only knew it was, but he couldn’t shake the foreboding that settled at the top of his spine and was rapidly spreading, stealing his breath when it hit his lungs, making bile rise in his throat when it hit his stomach.
On the other side of the fire Anis laughed at him as the sun broke over the horizon, painting the sky in reds, oranges, yellows, and dark purples.
“The danger is you, lil’it bròtr,” his voice was jovial but it held a mocking edge to it that made Rhyshladlyn’s skin prickle. “It has always been you.”
“No, you’re wrong,” he whispered. “This time it’s different.”
“Rhys? Did you say something?”
He jumped and looked at Azriel who had both his eyebrows raised, a glass of mead halfway to his mouth.
“Rhys, did you say something other than lies?” Anis mocked but he ignored him.
“Hmm? No.” He tried to smile but judging by the way his Companion lowered the glass without taking a sip and stared at him with more intensity it managed to do everything but appease him. Which was just great because once the Anglëtinean’s attention was locked on something, nothing shook it loose.
“Rhys, what’s going on?” Azriel ducked his head to try and catch his gaze but Rhyshladlyn avoided it.
“Noth– I… uh…” he glanced at the pile of ashes that had been Axcil’s body and closed his eyes as a stab of pain made the scar on the top of his right wrist ache. He swallowed thickly and didn’t finish his train of thought but he didn’t need to. Azriel knew what he was trying to say, he always had and he likely always would.
“Go on, take a walk,” Azriel smiled gently at him, eyes filled with understanding and he wanted to be mad but then he remembered that for all that the warrior looked young and was young, this was not his first lifetime. And death hadn’t erased his memories or the experiences that had shaped him. “I’ll make sure these two find their way safely to bed and wait up for you. Just don’t wander too far.”
He tried to return that smile, tried to show his gratitude with it but he knew it didn’t touch his eyes. Azriel’s smile shifted so that it was more in his eyes than a twist of his lips as he stepped forward and pressed a kiss to Rhyshladlyn’s forehead.
“Faith isn’t just for the gods, dear,” he whispered and Rhyshladlyn shuddered, his hair-bells letting out several notes of discontent. Nameless prevailing, I don’t deserve you. Azriel chuckled, the sound sweeter than he could handle and filled with a love he didn’t think he deserved, but he didn’t tell him that. “I have always had faith in you and no matter what you have done, what you have not done, or what you’ve lived through since I last stood breathing and aware at your side, I do not judge you. I do not believe in you any less than I did the very first time I saw you in Shiran City. I did not give my Oath lightly, Rhys-kyn. Never forget that.”
I will try. He tucked his nose under Azriel’s chin before he blinked off into the trees, trying hard not to look back. Trying even harder to ignore the distinct sound of footsteps that followed him, the ever present ghost or whatever the fuck it was of his elder brother.
“Faith is so easily broken though,” Anis commented absently and he fought the urge to turn around and see if coldfire would kill the thing that wore his brother’s face. “And if there’s anyone that truly has faith left in you? They won’t for much longer.”
That sense of foreboding increased a thousand fold and wrapped around it was the ever-present whisper that told him to run and never, ever, look back. But he’d already run once.
And even though every instinct was telling him to leave, he wouldn’t.
He was done running.