Eiod felt Thayne coming even before she swung around the doorjamb in a twirl of skirts and flashing crimson eyes and boiling power that crawled across his skin like something alive and struggling.

Jerald’s hand curling into the back of his tunic was the only reason he stepped out of the Qishir’s way before she breezed passed him, her eyes scanning the Hall and he knew before she spoke that she had seen Azriel on her way in. Knew that the fury that twisted and curled and moaned across her boiling power was because of the state the Anglëtinean had been in when she’d seen him. Out of them all, Thayne had become the most protective of Azriel in the aftermath of everything. She had taken it upon herself to check in with him as constantly as she could get away with, to make sure he was eating and drinking healthily, that his wings were getting groomed, that he wasn’t just wasting away drowning under his own grief.

For all that they hadn’t been born to the same blood family with the Grey Companion’s rebirth, they were still blood, they were still family on a level that wasn’t just because Rhyshladlyn had brought them together against all odds.

Jerald buried his face between his shoulderblades, one arm slipping around his waist, careful to avoid his sword arm, as the Alphenian half hugged him. Every line of the other male’s body where it pressed against his own trembled and he wished he could get them out of there, wished that Jerald wasn’t scared of every furious female Qishir that came within a league of him. But he couldn’t leave, not right now, not when Thayne was this furious and about to face off against Relyt. Not when he felt like he needed to see what happened here as Bayls’ hand loosened around his arm but didn’t let go. Not when his stomach twisted with a peculiar type of anxiety when he glanced down at the Sinner and found her watching Thayne. Found her face contorted with something like fear but not. Tensing the muscles beneath her petite hand to pull her attention back to him, he started to ask what was wrong when Thayne spoke.

“Anyone here care to explain to me why my uncle just walked out of this Hall with tears on his face?”

The silence that spread in the wake of her words was profound and eerie. But no one moved, no one said anything. As though if they just ignored the apex predator standing in their midst, if they stood absolutely still, they would survive the encounter unscathed.

He knew better but it didn’t stop him from doing what everyone else was. Because that roiling, twisting, moaning fury had to go somewhere and he’d rather it not be at his face, not when he was innocent.

“Well?” she prompted when no one spoke up, turning in a slow, careful arc, her attention a near physical thing as she looked at everyone in the Hall. “If I have to make it an attend my fury now will pale in comparison to what I will unle–” she stopped mid-word when her attention fell on Relyt who managed to look innocently unassuming and guilty as fuck all at the same time.

To his credit, the Soul Healer bowed his head as soon as he realized she stopped speaking and just stared at him with that palpable attention. If looks alone could cause harm, Eiod didn’t doubt that Relyt would be bleeding and likely in several pieces on the floor.

“You?” That single word spoken with a questioning lilt carried a wealth of emotion that made Eiod’s vision swim. “You two were fighting, again?”

Rather than answer verbally, Relyt clasped his hands before him and bowed low over them, careful to bare the back of his neck in place of the wings he no longer had. Eiod felt more than heard Bayls growl. It made the skin of the arm she still touched twitch.

“He shows Thayne more respect than he ever showed Rhys,” the Sinner female’s voice was rough and full of an anger that was surprising in one so small. “Fucking typical.”

“What did you do?” Thayne asked, voice even and full of promises, none of which were pleasant.

Sometimes he forgot that he was older than Thayne by at least a thousand years, perhaps more. That he’d watched her grow up into the beautiful female she was now. That he’d watched her hone her intelligence and her magick in equal measure until they were more precise than the gods’ Truth and sharper than obsidian. And then she’d speak with the same tone her mother had used when she and Xitlali were misbehaving and he’d remember with all the force of a boulder triggering an avalanche. He’d remember and find himself breathless and drowning under memories he didn’t ever think would haunt him, memories of a time when he’d thought he had all the time in the Worlds.

Relyt slowly rose from his bow and met her eyes but he could tell by the blankness to them, by the way his stoic mask was firmly back in place that he was seeing passed her. Looking at her, maybe, but he wasn’t seeing her. He stood with his hands clasped in front of him, the perfect picture of blaisé attitude, as though nothing fazed him. Bayls tensed at his side and he glanced at her, wishing he could ask her what she saw that he didn’t, what she knew about the Soul Healer that no one else in the Hall did save maybe Thayne. But he didn’t risk it. If things went sideways, he’d follow her lead.

And right now that, and keeping himself and Jerald safe, was all that mattered.

“It was a minor disagreement that got heated, my Lady. Nothing more,” Relyt’s tone was just as blank as his expression, as his eyes, but Eiod caught the tightness at the edges that said without him having to that Relyt wanted to be anywhere but here. That it was not just a simple heated disagreement but something more, that whatever it was had bled over from not public arguments. From stolen moments that neither male would talk about.

“Oh?” He didn’t have to see her face to know Thayne rolled her eyes, he could hear it in her voice. “I am not inclined to believe that, Relyt. Not when Uncle hasn’t cried at all since Rhyshladlyn’s loss.”

The Soul Healer’s mask cracked slightly but it didn’t give way. “With greatest respect, your majesty, neither of us knows what he does in his free time.”

Bayls was suddenly moving before he could stop her, closing the distance until she was suddenly there in front of the Soul Healer who flinched at her appearance.

“He sat for three fucking days getting those tattoos inked into his skin. He didn’t cry, he didn’t flinch, he didn’t have water or food or sleep. If that didn’t make him shed a tear, what happened between you two tonight was something more than what any of us bystanders could see.” She invaded his space in a way that made her seem taller, broader than she was, and Eiod couldn’t help the way his jaw dropped slightly at the sight. Because the Soul Healer had at nearly a foot on her in height and nearly double her own weight in size. “So what really happened, Rel? Cuz it sure as shit wasn’t just what we heard.”

“They are tattoos, Bayls,” Relyt responded, tone serene and calm, almost lazy sounding, like one would hear of a zealot speaking of their god. “It doesn’t take much to numb oneself to receiving tattoos. And what you heard, what you saw, was exactly what it was: a disagreement between two people who have spent too much time around each other without a buffer.”

He didn’t see her move, just heard the slap of her palm across Relyt’s face. Just saw him start to fall towards the floor before Bayls’ hand shot out and grabbed him by his tunic, keeping him on his feet, if barely. And in doing so, she reminded everyone in the Hall that while she may be petite, while she may look fragile, she could best every one of them in a fair and unfair fight and not break a sweat.

“They mark where his qahllyn’qir were you worthless–”

“Bayls!” Thayne’s voice smacked at the air like one would swat at flies. “Enough. Release him.”

For the briefest of moments it looked like the Sinner female wasn’t going to listen. Looked like she didn’t give a shit anymore, like she’d reached her own limit. And in that pause where time seemed to slow down and speed up all at once, Eiod knew exactly why she and Nhulynolyn had gotten along so well. Knew that of all the Grey Court to be wary of aside from the obvious major players, Bayls was the one no one should underestimate.

“It’s always the tiny ones who are the most dangerous,” Jerald whispered, chin hooked over his shoulder. He laughed silently, not daring to call any attention to either of them.

“Bayls,” a simple warning but one that carried a weight to it that made it anything but simple. “Go check on Azriel. I’ll find you both later.”

“Watch yourself, Relyt,” the Sinner hissed as she released him.

“Why ever would I need to do that?”

Bayls laughed as she turned and made for the door Azriel had walked out of. “Cuz I don’t love you.” She stopped and looked back at Relyt with a smile that left her eyes colder than if it hadn’t touched them at all. “So if I have to kill you, I won’t be nearly as heartbroken about it as Az would be.”

With that, she turned and walked out the door.

Thayne swung her attention back to Relyt who took a slow step back from her, eyes wide. Eiod didn’t know what he saw that the rest of them couldn’t but judging by the way her fury-backed power intensified, he doubted it was anything short of unpleasant.

“Collect your Guardian, your things, and anyone else who is in this Palace as your entourage and I want you to get out,” Thayne’s voice was like ice shattering against glass and he pressed his free hand against Jerald’s arm where it still pressed against his lower abdomen in an effort to steady himself. As though the familiar feel of the Alphenian’s skin would be enough to remind him where he was.

Anger, pure and all consuming, passed across Relyt’s face then, quick enough that Eiod was almost sure he hadn’t actually seen it. But the whisper of wrongness that flowed across the Hall in its wake was enough to tell him it had been real. Was enough to tell him that he needed to talk to Azriel after he spoke to Thayne. Because if he could feel that wrongness, he wondered what Azriel had felt.

“Am I being banished?”

Thayne snorted. “I cannot ban you without inciting war with your race, Relyt. But for at least the next month, I want you and yours out of my Palace and my city and I only want to see your face again if I call Court.”

That anger flickered on Relyt’s face again before his stoic mask was once again in place, but his eyes were heated, filled with roiling storm clouds. He bowed once before snapping his fingers and suddenly Sheieh was just at his side, as though he’d manifested from thin air.

“As you wish, Qishir Thayne. We shall depart immediately.”

Eiod shifted so Jerald’s back was towards one of the empty tables and he could keep an eye on Relyt as he and Sheieh walked briskly past them. As the Soul Healer drew alongside him, he turned those stormy grey eyes to them and Eiod shuddered hard at the look that swirled in them. But before he could get a read on what it was, Relyt looked away and was out the door.

By all the gods in the Worlds, what the entire fuck is going on?

“That’s what I would like to know,” Thayne answered and he blinked at her, realizing only when he met her eyes that he’d asked the question out loud.

“Don’t we all,” Jerald commented from behind him and Eiod couldn’t help it, he laughed.

Because sometimes one either laughed or one went insane. There really wasn’t a happy medium.

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