She had fought on many Fields since she’d first took up a sword and gotten her first set of notches. She had fought on many Fields, nearly all of which had been shared with Rhyshladlyn over the course of this stupid goddamn war. And one would think that she would have gotten used to the way the Grey Qishir’s arrival to a Field felt. One would think she wouldn’t be surprised by the opening lines of the Song of War and Love drifting on the breeze before power thundered across the Currents, making them go tumbling over each other with screams that were eerily like Dhaoinic ones.
One would think she wouldn’t forget that each battle Rhyshladlyn fought in this war he took personally. He stepped onto each Field with a chip on his shoulder and a grudge against every enemy. His bitterness was a scent that dug in deep and lingered; it sat at the back of one’s tongue, clogging the throat and the nose, made everything one drank and ate taste bland for days.
One would think she’d remember that he hit a Field with the sole purpose of being the only survivor and didn’t care what it took to achieve that goal. He left scorched earth and boiling sand and mutilated corpses in his wake. And for all that everyone knew when he fought alongside or against them, he was a ghost: unseen but felt. A flesh and blood catastrophe that no one saw coming until it had already come and gone, known only by the destruction left behind.
And that didn’t even touch on the way his power left invisible marks on one’s skin for months after he came and went. Even if one didn’t actually see him on the Fields, just felt him and heard him, just encountered the aftermath of his arrival, it touched places no magick should be able to reach. It left scars that ached and hummed and cooed. Made one simultaneously crave more of him and fear his return.
Thayne had fought millions of battles in her lifetime, and it was always the ones fought alongside Rhyshladlyn that haunted her.
And she didn’t doubt that this time would be any different. Because despite knowing he was coming, despite having called for him, when he dropped down from the Line with the suddenness of a lightning strike, all eight wings snapping out to help keep his balance, power cascading over them all, his attend for stillness and attention winging out in that power’s wake, she swallowed and jumped.
His hair bells tumbled and danced over each other as his hair settled over his eyes, head bowed, knees bent to handle the shock of his landing without shattering bones and dislocating joints. His power heat-shimmered off his skin, his Greywalker markings playing peekaboo along his skin. He was humanoid fury and death and in that moment she understood why he was frightening.
Then he looked up.
High Ones forgive me. She loosed a shout before she could swallow it down.
It wasn’t that she was afraid of the Qishir, she knew he had no reason to look at her with an expression that was the rape-begotten child of betrayal and love that contorted his face, but even knowing that, it didn’t calm the veritable river of fear that drenched her in cold-sweat and shiver-bumps at the sight of that expression.
Sure, she knew his ire and his disgust weren’t directed at her, but by all the gods, her brain wasn’t accepting anything close to logic in the face of the fallen god that wore her Qishir’s face. That rose slowly from the partial crouch he’d sunk into upon landing. That rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck as he stowed his wings with a flap that sent sparks and golden dust dancing through the air around him.
“Show me,” his voice was filled with a power that slammed against her nerves and seared them.
She nodded, stepping aside with a wave at Thae’a and Adïmshyl who brought Luapít forward. It was hard to enjoy the way the Neflim tensed at the sight of Rhyshladlyn before ey began struggling to get away, the fear that dripped from em genuine this time, thick and sweet and cloying. But Thae’a and Adïmshyl were too strong for em to actually get away from, but ey did manage to slow their forward progression enough that Thae’a turned a snarl full of fangs at the Neflim. Luapít just spit at the Dreamweaver in response.
She swallowed convulsively at that attend as the Neflim stopped struggling immediately, allowing the Dreamweaver and Lupherinre to guide em to stand before Rhyshladlyn before they kicked eir knees and dropped em to the ground just as Nhulynolyn, Bayls, and Azriel dropped from a Line behind Rhyshladlyn.
Azriel’s expression was twisted into something akin to the one Rhyshladlyn had, but it was just different enough that Thayne could tell that the betrayal Uncle felt was of a keener note than their Qishir’s. Nhulynolyn was blanked faced, eyes hard and hooded, jaw clenched tight as he stood slightly behind Bayls like he was her personal guard and not her handfasted mate; as though the Sinner female wasn’t a full foot shorter than him and roiling, barely restrained rage packed into a tiny, muscled, and deadly package.
“Hello, lil’it uhn,” Rhyshladlyn began conversationally, voice barely above a whisper but it rang like a shout in the silence that had fallen over the Field as every single Dhaoine on it stood witness, locked in stillness and silence by his attend. “Do you know who I am?” The Neflim nodded and that smile darkened and shifted and High Ones See and Keep us, what have I done calling him here? “Good. Good.”
Thayne didn’t see him move. One second he was leaning forward slightly and the next Luapít was dangling above the ground, feet kicking futilely, Rhyshladlyn’s hand around eir throat. He leaned forward, still smiling but now it was with a mouth that was too wide for his face, the corners nearly touching his ears, his eyes burning, and his power leaking out of him in all directions with a ferocity that made the Neflim’s skin and clothes smoke. His emotions beat against the Shields around her mind, demanding to be let in, to drown her just as he was drowning, but she fought them off. If only barely.
But judging by the way several warriors in the crowd around them whimpered as their eyes rolled back and they swayed where they stood, kept on their feet by Rhyshladlyn’s attend alone, others were not so lucky.
“What is this one’s name?” Rhyshladlyn asked, not looking away from the Neflim whose fear had intensified, making the air thick and difficult to breathe as Rhyshladlyn’s power wove around it, goading it with each flick and twitch, with each minute that passed with that face just smiling at em.
“Luapít Greymend, so ey says,” Thayne answered, proud that her voice held steady enough that she didn’t sound as unsettled as she felt, as she actually was.
“We have confirmed eir magickal signature is similar enough to Relyt’s for em to be his blooded child,” Thae’a added as she leaned a shoulder against Adïmshyl who slipped his hand against hers. It was the only sign they were as rattled as she was at seeing this side of their Qishir.
“So my Steward is your sire?” Rhyshladlyn directed the question at the Neflim who nodded as best ey could, feet still kicking, hands twitching at eir sides in aborted attempts to lift and claw at the furious Qishir’s arm and hand. But his attend kept em from succeeding. “And you’re in league with the Anointed One?”
“Aye, I am one with the Anointed One, honored be he who showed us the proper way of things,” again Luapít’s voice held the kind of devotion that had no business being given to any save a god, mirror-like eyes staring at Rhyshladlyn with a defiance that would have been admirable if Thayne didn’t know it would get em killed.
Rhyshladlyn’s expression shifted into something she had no words for, only knew that it struck at something deep inside, some instinct that was old, one left over from when Dhaoine were one of the Original races and not the umbrella for twenty subraces.
“Pay very close attention to what I am going to ask you next and be certain not to lie, for I will smell it and I will know. And if I smell untruth, I will make your suffering great enough that even the gods will vomit for the witnessing of it,” his voice was like death given flesh and blood and bone.
“Is your sire the Anointed One?”
Luapít carefully, slowly shook eir head. “No,” eir voice shook slightly but it was more out of fear than a lie.
“I cannot tell you that,” eir voice was scratchy, strained. Thayne gulped involuntarily as Rhyshladlyn’s grip tightened almost imperceptibly.
“Who is the Anointed One?” The attend smacked against the Neflim with enough force that Thayne could have sworn she saw eir bones through eir skin before she blinked.
“I cannot tell you because I don’t know,” ey replied, voice breathless, arms twitching along with eir hands, legs swinging idly back and forth as they trembled. “No one knows what his actual name is. We only a vague idea of what he looks like because no one sees him in the same way as the next.”
Rhyshladlyn’s eyes narrowed, head cocking to the side. “So you are unable to offer any proper aid in helping me find out who he is?”
“No, I can’t.”
Rhyshladlyn’s responding smile would plague Thayne’s nightmares until her dying day.
“Very well, then you are of no more use to me.”
With a twitch of his hand, Rhyshladlyn snapped eir neck and casually tossed eir body into the battle-churned dirt as though he hadn’t just killed the child of his Steward. As if it had meant nothing to him to so flippantly take the life of another.
By the way he rounded on Azriel when the Anglëtinean grabbed his wrist before the Qishir could catch a Line, presumably to go have it out with Relyt not that I can really blame him, she realized that it did mean nothing to him. That he saw it as a necessary thing, an unavoidable outcome. That the consequences of letting Luapít live outweighed the ones of killing em.
And she didn’t know what upset her more: that Rhyshladlyn held such little value for another’s life, even one of the Court’s children, or that it really didn’t really shock her all that much.