“Pick yourself up out the dirt, little brother. You look pathetic.”
Relyt jumped, looking up at the tent entrance feeling something like indignation and fear play tag down his spine. But he had nothing to fear from the Dhaoine standing there, not really. Everything Relyt stood to lose he’d already lost. But the indignation? Now that was real if only for the fact that he was the younger sibling and entitled to it.
“You’ve no room to talk on what is and is not pathetic, Lílrt,” he bit back as he stood up on shaky legs, running his hands over his torn forearms to stop the bleeding as he turned on his heel and went to the trunk that held his Healer supplies. “What are you doing here?”
“That’s no way to greet me, Relly,” Lílrt answered.
Finding a roll of bandages, he walked to the map table, dumping the gauze on the top as he conjured a bucket of water and cloth to wipe the wounds clean before beginning to wrap the his arms. The other Soul Healer’s stare was heavy on him but he did his best to ignore it with the same fervor that he ignored the memories that pressed insistently against the doors to their cages. Memories that whispered of how this was worse than the first time he’d tried to rip his qahllyn’qir out. That the itching and burning and cooing of the marks that denoted who and what he was to Rhyshladlyn had been growing steadily worse over the centuries since Shiran’s fall.
He had more important things to focus on besides that. Like, for instance, why his formerly disowned elder brother was in his tent in the Steward Corps’ main camp.
“It is the only way I shall greet you when you show up unannounced. In my camp no less,” he retorted with a raised eyebrow. “Honestly, what were you thinking coming here?” He leveled his best displeased General stare at the older Soul Healer.
It was still hard to believe that the brother he had been told growing up was his mind trying to cope with the loss of Z’kiryt was real. Father had always told him that Lílrt didn’t actually exist, when in fact he had.
But as he’d grown older, as time had passed after his parents’ deaths and he had done research, he’d understood why Zelít had tried to convince his youngest that the second born son of his wife wasn’t real. Because while the Grey Soul Healers were rather open when it came to relationships and sexual orientation, the one taboo — besides rape — that brought shame to a Dhaoine that couldn’t be shaken even with death was adultery. And the Many Keep her always, Mother had strayed, only once, on a particularly drunken night of revelry greeting the sun’s return at the end of the Longest Night. The proof of her mistake had shown through Lílrt who by all rights was a mixture of the Black Soul Healer that had been his father and their shared Grey Soul Healer mother. But the second born Greymend son had taken after their mother enough to pass as a Grey. At least at first.
No one had known besides Ishè until Lílrt had reached the proper age to receive the start of his gretluos and to begin the trials for his gretkewqi when his magickal signature read not purely as a Grey Soul Healer.
It was only by sheer dumb luck that Mother and Father had caught it before Lílrt had left the house. That was the only time Relyt could remember seeing Zelít show any emotion besides open love to Ishè. It was the last clear memory he had of both his older brothers and his parents in the same room together. For Lílrt had been disowned, Ishè punished privately by Father, and that had been that.
Then Z’kiryt had died in a tragic accident that should have taken Relyt’s life and he’d asked when his other brother was coming home. The answer had been… unpleasant.
“I wouldn’t have chanced it without good reason, Relly,” the half-breed rolled his eyes as he closed the distance between them and snatched the gauze from Relyt’s hands, effectively snapping Relyt out of his reflection. With deft fingers, Lílrt wrapped one arm and then the next from fingers to elbow, expression softening when he noticed Relyt had ripped open old scars. “It’s getting worse innit?” It was a fair question, but even so it wasn’t one Relyt fancied answering.
“Why are you here, Lí?” he asked instead, exasperated. He was exhausted but he doubted highly that with his older brother here that he was going to get the chance to sleep any time soon. There was never rest to be had when Lílrt Greymend was around.
The other male shrugged one shoulder before hopping up onto the map table, legs swinging idly back and forth as he watched Relyt pack up the gauze before waving a hand to fix his broken tea mug as he set about making more tea.
“I got word to that mad bitch and her pet Anglëtinean to make sure everything was ready at a moment’s notice. Iköl and the rest are standing by.”
Relyt frowned at him. “Lílrt, it’s not even the Summer’s End yet! Why have you moved things up? I thought we were going to set everything in motion on the Harvest?”
Lílrt leveled him with a look that was too much like their Father’s disapproving stare for Relyt to keep looking at him. So he turned away and went back to making tea, pulling two mugs out as he did so. The one thing his brother was weak for besides a beautiful body to warm his bed at night was black tea from the Cold North. It was one of the few constants Relyt had had for the duration of this Many-forsaken war.
“Have you been paying any attention, Relly?” Lílrt scoffed. “Your Qishir is too close. Letting Iköl capture him and try to indoctrinate him into our cause was stupid, but then you went and brought Anis Ka’ahne back to what, harass him? Seriously?” The half-breed made a noise that told him without looking that Lílrt had shaken his head before pushing his hair behind his ears. He was always so predictable. “So I’m closing ranks before the Grey Qishir gets any closer to finding out the real identity of the Anointed One and not just the face of him.”
“We agreed on the Harvest, Lí,” he muttered but it was a weak argument. Lílrt was right, he knew he was. But the Many only knew he hated when plans changed suddenly. Things never ended well when they did.
“Yeah, well, that was before you up and leaked the cabin’s location to Xitlali’s sadistic executioner Eschael.” Relyt flinched, nearly dropping the teapot in the process. “Honestly, what you had hoped to achieve with having Hounds sicced on Rhyshladlyn is beyond me.” The blatant disgust in the other’s voice was what finally made his patience, his precious hard won control, snap.
Relyt growled, slamming the teapot down on the table next to his portable stove before he whirled on Lílrt.
“I wanted him to see us. Really, truly see us. And the only time he ever had before was when one or all of us was in mortal danger,” he snarled, power leaking out around his words until his breath fogged in the air as the heat was leeched out of it. “I wanted him to care, even if it was only briefly, even if it was only half-assed, I wanted the male I fell in love with back. Not this… this mimicry that wears his face.”
His chest heaved as he fought to regain control over his wayward emotions, keenly aware of the way Lílrt was staring at him with something that looked almost like pity and it was not helping him calm down. So he turned his back to the other Soul Healer again if only so he didn’t have to see that look in eyes that were so light a black they were nearly grey.
So he didn’t have to see the way the gretkewqi he’d personally inlaid and threaded power to after the Ildir had been killed caught the light filtering through the smoke hole and main entrance and fractured it in all directions.
So he wouldn’t have to see the echo of their Mother’s gentle pity on a face that held all the ruggedness of the hardened warrior his father had been and all the regality of the royalty their mother had been.
So he wouldn’t have to see the way Lílrt’s gretluos curled down past his right elbow, the knotwork so similar to Relyt’s own because as the only other surviving member of the Greymend line, he had restored Lílrt’s familial rights to him.
“You need to leave,” his voice was soft and subdued. And he hated it. “You being here, especially right now, puts us all in danger.”
“I will once you confirm that you’re ready for when I give the signal,” Lílrt retorted. His words were hard and clipped, their native accent weaving around them, but his tone was gentler than normal.
Somehow that just made everything worse.
He jumped as Rhyshladlyn’s voice boomed all around him just before the Qishir’s power hit the camp with all the force of a hurricane making landfall. Hissing as his body registered the burning tea he’d spilled all over his hand, he turned to look at Lílrt who was smirking, damn him.
“Consider this my confirmation. Now leave.”
“Consider this me being gone,” Lílrt answered and between one blink and the next Relyt was the only one in his tent.
Wiping his hands off as best he could, he scrubbed the air of the tent of any signature but his own, and headed to meet Rhyshladlyn outside. No sooner had he stepped out of the tent was the Qishir right there with a snarl that made his very bones rattle in his skin.
And then the blow struck his face, faster than the eye could track, all liquid grace, and the ground was no longer under his feet.