“Are we just going to not talk about it?” Ishmariel asked, voice loud in the shaky silence of the Hall.
She looked at her Warrior and raised an eyebrow. He rolled chartreuse eyes before gesturing at the empty chair next to him with a clipped, short gesture that told her just how upset he really was. He wasn’t from one of the more notable Anglëtinean Houses but he was high enough bred that if he was letting that much emotion show, he was nearly at his limit.
“Relyt’s response to the news that Shiran’s Towers are lit,” he answered her unspoken question, his distrust of the Grey Steward chittering across their Bond, making his qahllyn’qir twitch beneath his sun kissed skin. I’ll never understand how a pure Anglëtinean can be naturally that tanned. “All of us here know the Stories, yes?” He looked around the table as everyone nodded or made sounds of agreement. “Then can we please discuss the t’n-anhpele in the room?”
“Well if we don’t talk about it we don’t have to do shit about it,” Jaro muttered and Bayls snickered.
“I’m with Jaro on this one,” the Sinner Demon said and slapped her hand against the Soulless’ when he held it out towards her.
She shrugged a shoulder when Ishmariel looked at her with a clear how do you work with these people. Personally she didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to focus on how the Soul Healer had seemed utterly unfazed, hadn’t seemed shocked to hear the news as though he’d heard it before or had been expecting it. But that was impossible, he was watched constantly and not just by his Guardian, but by those she trusted to get the job done and not kill him if he stepped one toe off the line Uncle had carefully drawn centuries ago. Because she, like everyone else in Rhyshladlyn’s old Court, didn’t trust Relyt she just didn’t know why.
But the Stories spoke of when the dead Watchtowers of the first Sanctuary City to fall to means other than dismantling began to glow. That a great wrong would be righted but it would not come without a heavy price. And Shiran fit those Stories, the glowing of its Watchtowers, a glow that hadn’t been seen since Rhyshladlyn had risen them from the sands after he’d sunk the City they’d been attached to, fit those Stories. But the only Dhaoine living or otherwise capable of making the old Sanctuary Cities, or any part of them for that matter, do anything was Rhyshladlyn.
She had a headache that was rapidly moving towards a migraine and she wanted sleep but the gods only knew she wasn’t going to get sleep. Not with this news.
“He wasn’t surprised in the least to hear the Towers were glowing,” Uncle’s voice was still a shock to hear and she jumped dropping her hands from where she’d been rubbing at her temples. The only saving grace for it was that she wasn’t the only one at the table who did. “If anything he seemed resigned, as though he expected it. But he doesn’t know why any more than the rest of us do.”
“I still think he’s guilty of something and that we’ve missed whatever it is,” Bayls added, suddenly serious as she raked a hand through her hair, sending the strands tumbling over each other, her hazel grey eyes narrowed and filled with an oldness that Thayne knew hadn’t been there when she’d first met the Sinner. “And by the Great Mother’s quivering lady bits, I’m getting sick of that feeling.”
“Me, too,” Jaro added.
“Three,” Ishmariel quipped.
“Four.” Alaïs smirked and winked at her when she rolled her eyes at her Companion.
“Five,” her Steward, Y’adtrik, said, deep voice echoing out like a base note drum beat.
“Are we just gonna count until we run out of numbers?” General Anrèhn commented, silver-blue eyes full of mischief.
“Alright, settle down the lot of you,” Thayne admonished to a smattering of giggles. She didn’t begrudge them the laughter though or the levity that brought it on. Seldom did either her Court or Rhyshladlyn’s laugh nowadays. It was good to know it was still possible for them to.
The silence that fell then was thick enough to slice with a knife, not that she dared test the idea. Not with Azriel standing at her back and drawn tighter than a bowstring ready to be plucked.
“But with all seriousness, I am personally distrustful because he’s the only one of these Courts who argues that Rhyshladlyn died,” Alaïs’ voice was harder than steel and Thayne glanced at her Companion, reaching out a hand to touch the Sinner’s thigh under the table, the touch enough to calm the twitching of her qahllyn’qir. “But if my brother had died, Azriel would have gone with him to the After. I’d have felt it, Relyt and Jerald would have all felt it. Just because their qahllyn’qir became visible and then disappeared doesn’t mean the Qishir they were tied to is dead.”
Alaïs took a deep breath, her hand sliding over Thayne’s and squeezing it gently. “But no matter how often I try to explain that to the stubborn fuck, he won’t hear me on it.”
“He doesn’t hear any of us, Al,” Bayls said softly, reaching across the table to take Alaïs’ other hand. “I wish he did, but you can only bring a starving man food, you can’t force him to eat it.”
No one said anything for several minutes, not until the bells from the Temple rang out that it was time for the evening prayers. Everyone glanced at Azriel who had stiffened at their sound, his hands convulsing at his sides, making the muscles of his forearms send the tattoos there to dancing. The Anglëtinean relaxed in increments as the bells faded off into silence again. But no one commented on it, no one moved, no one dared. It happened every time he was in the Eighth Palace and the Temple bells rang. Regardless of the reason behind their ringing it was enough to remind him of the day every Temple’s bells across the Worlds rang with a Song Dhaoine the Worlds over knew by heart.
She turned and watched as Azriel sank to his knees, trembling from head to toe, the tremors making his muscles jump visibly beneath his skin. She wanted to go to him but didn’t dare, and even if she had, Thae’a’s hand on her arm stopped her.
All around them the sounds of bells ringing clear and piercing, deep rumbling clangs and high sweet twangs, made her shiver but not at their beauty. No she shivered at what they signified. It had been millennia since the Seven Worlds’ Temples rang their bells in mourning of a fallen Dhaoine. Millennia since any Dhaoine had been given the honor of being noticed by the entire Worlds at their loss. And to know that her Qishir, that Rhyshladlyn, had been recognized as such made her heart her clench and her stomach seize and her lungs feel too big for her ribcage.
It had been a month since Rhyshladlyn’s disappearance, since the Balance of the Worlds had died with a sound there were no words to describe. A month and no one was able to find him or any trace of him beyond the boundaries of the Forest of Dreams and Darkness where he’d crossed on his way to find Xitlali. Dhaoine had even searched the Forest, guided to safety by the Xhlëndïr that had gotten Eiod and Jerald out of the Sanctuary of the Blessedly Cursed alive but the search had proven unsuccessful. It as if the Grey Qishir had just vanished into thin air.
Rhyshladlyn’s magickal signature itself was gone. Any Shields or Barriers or wards he’d erected remained but they were dull, the humming of their existence muted as though they, too, mourned the loss of their creator. Ryphqi City had gone dark in a way that was akin to the Forest, caught in a forever twilight that even the sun at midday could not penetrate. The Shields around Shiran City’s Watchtowers killed anything and anyone who tried to cross them, regardless of the intention. The only Dhaoine known to even get close enough touch them had been Azriel when he’d gone to check that his Qishir wasn’t there either.
It had been a month and the Worlds themselves agreed that the Grey Qishir was lost to them. And so the bells rang and Dhaoine on both sides of the war threw back their heads and lent their voices for the mourning Song. All but two: Azriel and Relyt.
“Uncle,” she was careful to move slowly, to speak softly, as she reached out and took one of his trembling hands. Those mismatched eyes bracketed by his tattoos turned to her and she felt her breath leave her in a rush. His pain was a touchable thing and she felt it march across her nerves like a million tiny brands.
She didn’t say anything else but she didn’t have to. He knew what she wasn’t saying, knew what she wanted to say but didn’t have the words to express. His hand tightened around hers, squeezing just enough to let her know he was in the present, that he knew where he was. Bayls’ chair scraped loudly on the floor as she stood up but thankfully Azriel didn’t jump, didn’t twitch, just kept staring down at her until Bayls reached across him and took his hand from hers. Then that gaze moved away and Thayne felt like she could breathe again and wondered when she’d stopped.
“Come on, Azzy babe,” Bayls murmured, looking up at him, “let’s go get drunk and break shit, yeah?”
His responding laughter was wrong, off, but it was laughter nonetheless and she didn’t know whether she should be happy he could still make the sound or terrified that that was what it sounded like now.
“Sounds good, Bay,” he answered and let her lead him by the hand from the Hall.
As soon as the doors were closed everyone let out a breath and she looked at her Court, looked at her Companion, her Warrior, her Steward, her friends, her family. Looked at them and shared a moment of crystal clear understanding.
Grey Companion Azriel was not going to survive much longer without Rhyshladlyn.