The Line heaved and he lost his hold on it, sending them both tumbling through the air towards the ground with a speed he couldn’t do anything about. Screaming his defiance and his anger, he pulled Sheieh against him and wished with a viciousness that surprised him that he still had his wings. Prayed as he flung his magick out around them, trying to grab on to anything near by, to slow their fall, that this wasn’t when he died, that this wasn’t when all his work to stay alive, to wait for Rhyshladlyn’s return, saw him as so much meat and smeared across the ground. But there was nothing he could reach without risking flinging them faster towards the ground.
“G’agsha, I ca–” Whatever Sheieh had been trying to say was lost to the roar of the wind around them. Was lost as they barreled through the thick cloud cover and caught sight of a sprawling cityscape beneath them looked like the War had never left it. Oh well at least when we hit the ground it’ll be in pieces versus on whole flattened piece.
He vaguely recognized where they were but he wasn’t one hundred percent certain until he saw the gleaming obelisks, until he felt Azriel’s and Jerald’s magick seconds before the echoes of Rhyshladlyn’s but far stronger for the lack of distance hit him with the strength of a battering ram. His breath stuttered in his chest, lungs seizing as his heart skipped several beats before picking back up at double the speed. If they were in Ryphqi City there was nothing he could do to save them, the ambient magick here was too unpredictable for all that the sentience of the City itself being Balanced, supposedly. Sure Sheieh still had his wings but Relyt knew his Guardian wasn’t strong enough to carry them both, so it was either they both died or the other Soul Healer survived.
The City spread beneath them like a golden beacon. He stared at it with a sinking feeling in his stomach. It was on fire in places, buildings missing chunks, others collapsed onto their neighbors or in on themselves, large plumes of smoke rising in lazy curling stacks. Screams rose above the wind howling in his ears and the blood pounding in his head and over it all he could sense that the ambient magick of the area was about to snap. And when it did, anyone using magick in any form was going to discover what it felt like to have one’s own power turned against them.
Couldn’t go back, didn’t have his wings, couldn’t use his magick to slow their fall or risk snapping that tension himself, Sheieh wasn’t strong enough to support both their weight, and there was no one around that could save them both. So he did the only thing he could think of in that moment of speeding free fall: he kicked Sheieh away from him and yelled, “Fly.” His Guardian stared at him but he couldn’t disobey a direct order. Wings the same winter sky grey as his eyes exploded from his back, caught an updraft and stopped him short mid-fall. I’m sorry, Sheieh, but I won’t be responsible for another Dhaoine dying because of me.
Relyt turned so his back was towards the ground and reached for the Line again, thinking that he’d hop back on long enough to get him over Ryphqi’s Steward Watchtower, drop again and catch the top of it. But as soon as he touched the Line agony burned down his right arm and he screamed again, losing touch of it. The force of the disconnection tossed his arm back and sent him twirling over and over through the air, colors streaming as he tumbled faster and faster until he couldn’t tell what direction was the sky and what direction was the ground.
There wasn’t time to do more than toss his magick out ahead of him in an attempt to cushion his fall, despite the danger inherent in it, despite how he knew it wasn’t going to do much not from this height, despite how he knew that he risked so much more than his own death by doing so. Even if he’d still had his wings, it may not have been enough to keep him from breaking something badly. He cursed again, this time with more feeling and resigned himself to the damage, prayed that whatever it was, if he survived the fall that he could Heal himself enough to get to safety. Prayed that his act of self preservation didn’t spell certain death for anyone else in the City.
But the impact he expected never came. Instead he hit something softer than stone but just as unforgiving, stopping his tumbling free fall short with a jarring force that bruised his ribs and shook his muscles. He struggled until whatever caught him shifted their position in midair so they were facing the City below and he saw the edge of a gold and silver feathered wing before the red leather under set curled around his legs. Going still he realized he recognized the feeling of the body pressed along his back, that he knew who it was even without seeing those wings that were nearly as iconic as his Qishir’s had been. And knowing just who held him now, who had saved his life, made his skin flush with gratitude despite the bad blood between them, despite all the fights and the threats, despite he memory that had risen with its pain and guilt in the cabin not an hour ago.
Because of all those he had expected to see him hurtling towards the ground and save him, Azriel hadn’t even gotten into the orbit of the list.
“Keep it together, Rel,” Azriel’s voice soothed his nerves in a way it hadn’t in centuries. “When we land we’re landing into a nightmare. I only left the ground because we need someone of your skills on our side. You can’t do that dead.”
He wished he could see the Anglëtinean’s face but knew that if he did his tears would fall and he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, look that weak in front of the other male. It was bad enough Azriel had saved him again, just like he always seemed to, the last thing Relyt wanted to do was show that his old control was anything less than solid.
“They’re here, too?” He didn’t elaborate on who they were but he didn’t feel he needed to. Not when he could see Hounds and Oiki dancing in and out of the smoke and the lit by the fires, not when he could feel the Self-deep cold of Xhlëndïr.
“The City is quickly becoming overrun,” Azriel replied. “Jerald and I managed to strengthen our tethers to Ryphqi but it only did so much. And I’m worried that if we don’t stem the tide soon…” He trailed off and Relyt could see him shaking his head, lips in a tight line, eyes hard and filled with a dancing darkness that made the mismatched irises all the more intense.
Relyt didn’t need him to finish that sentence any more than he needed to finish it for him but he did it anyway because some things needed to be said, especially if one didn’t want to say them. “We will have to abandon it.”
That word and the emotion that wrapped around it hurt his chest, made it tighter than his eyes felt. Because he knew that it cost Azriel a lot to admit to that kind of defeat. To admit that if they couldn’t save everyone that they’d count those they had and leave the rest for unavoidable collateral.
He would have argued against it once but that had been when their Qishir was still alive. That had been when he’d known where he stood in the scheme of things. That had been when Azriel didn’t have his qahllyn’qir inked beneath his skin. That was before everything had gone from shit to sideways to the Cliffs before bringing all thirteen of them collapsing into the living realm. So he didn’t argue now, even if he wanted to. Even if he knew that it would give Azriel a sense of home, of a return to the old normalcy they’d both once relied on to keep them alive to see another dawn. Instead he just gently, tentatively, laid his hand on Azriel’s forearm where it rested across his waist, squeezed the muscle that twitched beneath the pale, soft skin. Whatever it is worth, I meant the promise I gave you both, that regardless of what happened between us, I would love you to the end of Existence. The Anglëtinean didn’t say anything, just tightened his hold briefly, a quick flexing of his muscles before they relaxed again. It was enough that another knot of something in Relyt’s gut eased up. It didn’t go away but it loosened enough that he felt like he could take a true breath for the first time in centuries. Sure he knew their issues with each other weren’t resolved, not remotely, but for now they would shelve them for the greater good. It was the only option they had.
We were never meant to get along with Rhys to act as buffer, were we?
“Drop me where I’m needed,” his voice was barely above a whisper but it didn’t need to be louder as they made for Ryphqi’s palace in the distance and the Watchtower that sprouted from the ground in its main courtyard. “I’ll do what I can.”
“This doesn’t change anything,” he flinched at the words, not because of the Truth they held or the message they delivered but because Azriel’s breath ghosted across his ear sending a shiver down his spine that he fought to hide, “but for right now the Worlds need us working together so the shit between us will get shelved until this latest crisis is handled.”
“But after that, we’re back to how we’ve been towards each other.” He spoke it like a statement but Azriel answered it as though it were the question Relyt hadn’t been strong enough to speak.
“Yes, we go back to how we have been because while I don’t know the why, not yet, I don’t trust you. But this shit right here, right now, in this City and across the Worlds? It doesn’t matter whether I trust you or not as a person, what matters is that I trust your abilities and your magick. So don’t mistake my cooperation for leniency or forgiveness.”
He snorted, the sound far more derisive than he’d intended but there was no taking it back so he pretended he’d done it on purpose. “I know better than that, Azriel.”
They fell silent as Azriel banked towards that Tower with its pulsing, glowing stone. There was another tightening of the hold around his waist before Azriel suddenly let go and Relyt was free falling through the air again. Only this time he knew he wouldn’t die. Knew that if he missed his mark, Azriel would be there to catch him, that while he may end up dead at the Anglëtinean’s hand one day, today wasn’t that day.
Today they would act as they had before Rhyshladlyn’s loss, before the Worlds had gone insane and ablaze with it. Today they would pretend that they still loved each other without any of the extra baggage that had attached itself during the war. Today they would act as the Steward and Companion unit that had sent the Worlds to trembling when they stood beside their Qishir. Today he would have a taste of what he’d lost and pray that by the breaking of dawn tomorrow he wasn’t missing more pieces.
Because the Many only knew he was so sick and tired of losing pieces to and because of the males he loved.
He reached out his right hand towards the Steward Watchtower’s uppermost point where it pierced the permanent twilight that had fallen over the City it stood guard over. Reached for it and prayed that even if he couldn’t be forgiven for whatever transgression he had done against Azriel and Rhyshladlyn, that the two of them would live and thrive. Prayed that one day his sins, whatever they were, would be forgiven, the damage of their existence healed, even if he wasn’t the one to do it.
Ryphqi’s shouted elation-wrapped welcome as his fingers brushed that stone, as his palm hit next, as he gripped the point tight enough to feel the obsidian cut into the lines of his palm as he swung around and thumped against the opposite side, gave him the first true glimmer of hope he’d had in centuries. It wasn’t an answer to his prayer, not really, but it was a start. So he took a deep breath, planted his feet against the stone lip that circled that point and stared out over the City he remembered in pieces and flashes of pain and fear and burning flesh and the sight of his Qishir at full true form walking the broken, blood-drenched streets. Stared at the City as its Self wrapped around him, as it reached deep within and touched the tether that connected them and gave him the first true, unadulterated taste of his Qishir that he had had in three hundred years.
Greetings, Ryphqi. Shall we?
Yes. Fun. Save many. Welcome home, Steward. Welcome welcome welcome.
Standing there surveying the City as the sentience that bore its name cooed at him and played with his magick, perched precariously on the top of the Watchtower he had touched centuries ago when Rhyshladlyn tethered the entire Grey Triad and himself to Ryphqi City, Relyt finally let his tears fall. He cried and touched Azriel and Jerald as the City came fully awake around them with a sound like Rhyshladlyn’s battle cry.
Closing his eyes, he reached out with his free hand towards the Heart Watchtower in the distance, fingers splayed wide, reaching for the thread that connected the Heart to its fellows and felt a sense of right fill him before he curled his fingers into a fist and the tension around him snapped with a thunderous boom.