She watched Alaïs stride into the Main Hall looking ready for war despite being dressed the exact same as when Thayne’s voice had thundered across the Palace and felt her stomach flip. The Honorable Companion looked around with clear blue eyes that reminded her of Nhulynolyn’s, even though Alaïs’ were more blue than white. The comparison made her throat tight and she had to close her own eyes to regain control over herself.

Nhulynolyn turned to her, eyes filled with abject horror, one hand outstretched towards her as she ran as quickly as she could. Chaos erupted all around her as Azriel fell to his knees screaming. There was a blindingly bright flash of silvery-white before all sound was gone save this high pitched whine that made her entire body throb.

She was almost to her mate when the air shifted and with it came a wash of power that made her want to vomit violently and not stop until every organ in her body had come up out of her mouth. Nhulynolyn sighed, mouth falling open to say something just as she made it to him, her hands grabbing fistfuls of his shirt. There were two loud pops one after another. She didn’t look away from those electric blue eyes, didn’t dare, but she didn’t have to to know that Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú were gone.

“Ba–” he didn’t get to finish before suddenly he just wasn’t there anymore and all she was holding was air.

“So I’ll get right to it,” the Sinner said and Bayls jerked out of the memory with a physical jolt, swallowing thickly as she watched Alaïs cross the Hall in quick long strides, her height imposing in a way Bayls had never noticed before. “According to Companion Azriel,” she paused long enough to take a deep breath and curl her hands over the top of the chair she’d been sitting in, “as of five hours ago Shiran City’s Watchtowers began to glow gold.”

For several heartbeats no one moved. Just stared at the Sinner who looked at each of them in turn, looked at the mishmash of Thayne’s Oathed Court and what remained of Rhyshladlyn’s and said nothing, just waited. Waited for it to sink in, waited for them to process the information.

She couldn’t believe what she’d heard, personally. Couldn’t believe that there was even a chance that her Qishir was alive. That with that life came the return of her mate, of the male she had craved for centuries; the male who had been ripped away from her. The Great Mother and Father knew she wanted desperately to believe that Rhyshladlyn lived again, that there was a chance she’d see Nhulynolyn again in reality and not just in her dreams, not just in the memory Weaves Thae’a called up for her on their anniversary, but she didn’t dare let it take root. Not when there was even a tiny chance that Shiran’s Watchtowers waking up for the first time since the City had been sunk beneath the desert sands had nothing to do with Rhyshladlyn.

Even if a voice in the back of her head that sounded so much like her Otherborn’s whispered that she fucking knew better.

“He lives?”

The voice that broke the thick silence was soft, careful, and full of a heartbreaking hope that she could agree with even if she didn’t like the Dhaoine who spoke with it much anymore. Breaking up one too many fights between him and Az will do that to a girl.

Alaïs’ gaze shifted like a physical touch and she watched as Relyt flinched under it but he didn’t avert his eyes and he didn’t back down. Just stared back at the Lord Queen with grey eyes that were glazed from smoking one roll too many of g’hitshé root, face devoid of all expression, his hair a riot of black curls just short enough to stick up in all directions but not long enough to corral. Since Rhyshladlyn’s disappearance, the Soul Healer had gradually returned to how he had been when he’d first met the Grey Qishir he had saved. Had gradually become just as stoic and cold as he’d been raised to be. The only sign that he wasn’t as well held together as he appeared was the glaze that never left his eyes. Was the tension that sang along his aura like a fledgling waiting to be cuffed about the ears.

Of all of them in the Grey Court he was the one who had taken Rhyshladlyn’s loss the hardest, even worse than Azriel. Which made no real sense to any of them given that Relyt had never been fully Oathed to Rhyshladlyn in any capacity, had barely even been Accepted. But that hadn’t stopped Relyt from responding to the loss of Rhyshladlyn’s magickal signature in the Worlds worse than a mother took the loss of her child. She suspected it was because he knew something about what had happened that the rest of them didn’t. That he knew why her instincts whispered that she was missing something any time he was nearby.

But unlike Azriel who had made it very clear that he didn’t trust the Soul Healer as far as he could throw him, who had argued with the Soul Healer at every available opportunity to the point that Thayne had ordered them to stay away from each other unless it was absolutely necessary, Bayls hadn’t voiced her suspicions to anyone.

Well no one alive and able to respond.

“That is the theory,” Alaïs answered and shrugged a shoulder. “Azriel didn’t give more information than that. Least none that I heard before I returned to the lot of you.”

“So what now?” Jaro asked, leaning forward so that his upper body weight was supported by his forearms on the table. “If the Grey Qishir had been found or reborn again, whichever,” the Soulless flapped a hand vaguely in Relyt’s direction before the Soul Healer could do more than open his mouth, “that un-female leading the Anointed in Stupidity Ones would have lost her collective shit.”

“What remains of it,” Ishmariel, Thayne’s Warrior, commented to a round of snickering from everyone at the table.

“My point exactly,” Jaro continued with a nod at Ishmariel who raised his cup at the Soulless in return. “So why are we hearing about it from Azriel? Why hasn’t Xitlali done shit all in response to Shiran’s Watchtowers?”

She felt the prickle of Azriel’s power before he spoke but it didn’t keep her from jumping with everyone else.

“She has, Jaro,” the Anglëtinean pushed off the wall where he’d been leaning beside the Hall doors. When did he even get in here? “She’s pulled all her forces back from Imèn World’s borders. She did it with no warning and in small groups so that no one would notice that they’re not gathered en masse anymore. Not until they’d already cleared out. ”

Relyt looked away from Alaïs and met the unwavering and unnerving gaze of his fellow qahllynshæ and she watched as the muscles at the corners of his eyes twitched, as his lips quivered, before his emotionless mask settled back over his face again. It was the only thing that gave away just how much it bothered Relyt to have to speak to Azriel, to be in such close proximity to him.

“He’s dead, Azriel!” Relyt’s voice sliced the cacophony around them into nonexistency.

“He can’t be!” The Anglëtinean shot back. “I wouldn’t be alive if he’d crossed the River.”

“Then explain why our qahllyn’qir are gone.”

“Are any of her warriors still there?” Relyt asked, the voice of the present so unlike the one of the past that it evaporated the memory.

“Only enough to give the illusion that none have left,” Azriel’s voice was cold, filled with the sharp edges of disappointment she had come to expect to hear whenever he spoke of or to the Grey Steward.

“That’s why none of the scouts reported it,” she said. Azriel nodded to her, a small smile twitching at his lips. She winked at him before looking at Alaïs. “So what now?”

The Sinner female pulled her chair out from the table and sat heavily in it as Azriel walked up to stand at her back.

“I wish I knew.”

Gods, don’t we all.

“Did they start pulling back before or after the Towers began to glow?” she asked, looking back at Relyt as she did so. Watched him stare somewhere into the middle distance, like he wasn’t seeing the room they sat in anymore. With a roll of her eyes she turned and looked back at Azriel.

He tilted his head to the side and every one of the tattoos that covered him from head to toe twitched, shifted, and danced before settling. She didn’t prompt him, didn’t make him hurry up. No one at the table did either. They all knew by now that the Grey Companion would speak at his own pace, in his own time, and not a moment sooner. The last Dhaoine who had tried had been Relyt and the result had been less than pleasant, for everyone.

“By the time I’d gotten to the Imèn-Fènwa border, the majority of the Mad Army’s warriors were gone.” He remained standing behind Alaïs, head tilted to the side, and for a split second she could have sworn she’d seen the old him, the one who had smiled at her over a game of cards, who had laughed and tossed her over his shoulder during a game of catch and release in the back yard of the old cabin. But she blinked and it was gone.

Azriel would never be like he was, even when, even if, Rhyshladlyn was found alive or was reborn. Something had broken in the Anglëtinean that day, something that couldn’t ever be repaired. And sometimes she lamented the loss of her best friend, at least the one she had known before, but other times she was glad for that loss. Because what the Grey Court had needed in the aftermath of Rhyshladlyn’s loss and the loss of his Others hadn’t been the naïve, freshly reborn warrior Azriel had been before that fateful day. No they’d needed the cynical, cold, merciless yet fair warrior who had laid for three days nonstop to have an inker trace where his qahllyn’qir had been, to mark them as a visible, permanent act of mourning for the Qishir had he been more than just qahllyn and Oathed to.

They had needed a Companion capable of stepping into the shoes their Qishir had left behind. And he’d given them that and more.

It had been enough back then but now?

She glanced at Relyt who for all that he appeared to be unaware of where he was she could tell by the tightness around his mouth, the fine tremors at the hollow of his throat where his shoulders and collarbones swept away under his dark grey tunic that he was actually hyper aware of everything and everyone around him. Thayne stepped into the Hall then and the conversation shifted and picked back up around her as everyone worked to figure out what to do about this latest development. But she was only half listening. Not that it mattered any way, Azriel would fill her in later or Jaro would. Reluctantly she pulled her attention from Relyt and looked around the table, trying her best to focus on the present.

But it was difficult because now she wasn’t sure that Azriel could give them the kind of Companion they needed to see that the Court held together much longer. Not when so many pieces had already fallen away, not when so many fractures and full chasms had formed.

Before they’d needed a Companion now they needed a Qishir. And unfortunately, they were fresh fucking out of that.

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