He sat a kitchen table that seemed too large for a family of two in a City so far from the majority of the Court they were tied to, but seeing everyone gathered around it, he understood why Thae’a and Adïmshyl had chosen this house and this kitchen table placed just off center of the dividing line between an open air kitchen and attached dining space with its wall of windows facing Ryphqi’s Heart Watchtower across an expansive garden. For while Thae’a had apparently chosen to leave the bustling center of the Court behind, had needed to escape, she had planned for the eventuality that the Court would find itself in her home. That she’d be forced to seat them all and feed them all and she’d been right though gods only knew she had probably thought it would be for something better than this.
It had been a shock to walk into the spacious home seated at the base of the Heart of Ryphqi because it had looked so incredibly like the cabin that Relyt had informed them was lost to the Hounds and Oiki that had overrun it. But apparently it had come this way and looked like a replica of the Court’s old cabin only on happenstance. The only remodeling Thae’a and Adïmshyl had done was to upgrade appliances and the wards as well as add more windows to increase what little natural light they could find in a City that had existed in perpetual twilight for the last three hundred years until he’d been dropped into it and set it ablaze to keep it free, to keep it safe.
For all that it was a brand new place for him to learn and explore, for all that it brought a wave of homesickness for a cabin he hadn’t seen in ages, it felt homey. Like he could easily spend days to months here, meandering over its tiled floors and thick carpets touching its textured walls and sinking into the plush furniture that begged to be cuddled on top of. And that just made the emotions that rode the air with the thick sliminess of wrong that covered the Worlds at large worse. As though they were blaspheming in a Temple.
But he couldn’t control anyone in the Court, not like Rhyshladlyn had been able to. So he just had to sit here and wait it out. Which was already exhausting and he’d only been back for a handful of hours. Had to sit here with his back to the windows and watch Azriel stand hunched over the back of a chair, knuckles mottled with the force of keeping himself from shattering the chair beneath those long fingers, barely restrained fury radiating off him as Relyt paced among the couches and chairs and low table in the living room that shared the first floor with the kitchen and dining room. Had to take in everything because he was flying by the seat of his pants while making it look like he hadn’t had a crash course from Thae’a about what he had missed while Eiod had stepped away to use his two-way mirror to contact Thayne. I think there was shit even Tee didn’t know happened cuz this is some next level shit, even for these two.
As he listened to Azriel and Relyt argue back and forth, he lifted the mug he’d been holding for what was probably too long for the coffee inside it to still be anything close to warm and took a cautious sip. He fought to keep from coughing as he got more whiskey than he did the coffee he expected. Apparently their Dreamweaver had expected him to need the alcohol more than he did the caffeine, not that she was really wrong, but warning him first would have been nice. Gods. But for all that he was testy about the lack of warning, Thae’a hadn’t been wrong on him needing the extra kick of whiskey to keep him steady. It had been one round after another of working to keep himself in check as he learned just how frayed things had gotten and got the distinct feeling that that had only scratched the surface of it all. It was more than a bit difficult to keep himself from putting his fist through faces but he had managed, if only barely. He took another sip of his coffee-flavored whiskey as Relyt stopped his pacing and whirled on Azriel who was staring at the table top as though it held the answers to all of existence.
Old Ones only knew how the Anglëtinean had kept himself in check because for all that the Grey Court was the most powerful to walk the Worlds, as well as one of the oldest to still be cohesive enough to retain the Court title, they sure as fuck acted more childish than he remembered. But I guess it’s easy to be patient with stupid, childish fucks when you’re capable of gettin’ all that ink done on your body in one go.
“We certainly shouldn’t be waiting here for Thayne and her Court to join us.” Relyt’s voice was just as biting as it had always been when he was angry only now he was far more powerful, only now he knew how to make the words he spoke sharper than obsidian as they slashed out at whomever held his direct attention. And right now it was predominately Azriel but Nhulynolyn doubted that the Anglëtinean was the only one who had honor of being the subject of the Soul Healer’s full ire. “If anything we need to separate so that both Courts aren’t lumped together! We risk being the perfect targets doing that.”
Azriel’s sigh was just so Rhyshladlyn that Nhulynolyn looked at him, forgetting for just a moment that his twin wasn’t actually in Thae’a and Adïmshyl’s house. That it was just him, alone, without his kè, trying to navigate Worlds that had gone sideways and a Court that had done its level best to set itself on fire. But in that moment when Azriel made that sound, that sigh that Nhulynolyn remembered well from his twin, remembered from the nights he had sat up with Rhyshladlyn before Shiran’s fall, before they’d devised a way to escape, before Azriel had ever even walked onto the training Fields of Shiran’s palace, he remembered what his new reality was. Remembered as that sound, filled with long suffering, the kind one makes when the reason for it has been a pain in one’s side for way too long but not in a way that one could solve by either beating the shit out of them, killing them, or anything else equally as unpleasant, filled the room and made it chokingly thick with things left unsaid.
“I am aware of that, Relyt,” damn, if tone of voice could kill, Relly boy, you’d be dead right now “but there is nowhere else we can go that is as safe as Ryphqi is right now. And all of us,” Azriel made a vague, half-angry gesture at the entire room and everyone in it, “traveling to Eyrdo would take weeks versus the days it will take Thayne, her Court, and Bayls to get here. Their path here is far less treacherous than ours would be.”
“And how do you know that, Azriel? She has the same amount of people traveling with her here that we would going there.”
Azriel gave one slow blink, expression one of clear astonishment as Adïmshyl and Thae’a both ducked their head and cover their mouth respectively from where they stood against the wall beside the kitchen table. Eiod looked like he was in pain from the effort to keep his amusement off his face and out of his body language from where he was stood behind one of the plush reading chairs. Jerald just smirked outright, clearly not caring if anyone saw his amusement. Everyone else’s responses were too much and he choked on the sip of coffee-flavored whiskey he was taking because even Rhyshladlyn had never been that bad at math.
“I’ll handle this one,” he interrupted before Azriel could answer and brought all that shining, boiling rage and disappointment swinging round to look at him. “First off, learn to count, Relyt, before you open your mouth an’ make yourself look even more stupid than you already do.”
The Soul Healer who stood behind Relyt as Guardian growled lowly and bared a little of his teeth. Nhulynolyn just raised an eyebrow at him and held that unwavering winter-grey gaze before he snarled and shook the air around them. Sheieh glanced away but not before Nhulynolyn caught the look of hatred in his eyes. You ain’t know me well enough for that look yet, Sheieh, but don’t worry. You will. Event’ally.
“Like I was sayin’,” he continued, staring at Sheieh for just a moment longer to make sure the Guardian didn’t look back up at him before he looked at Relyt whose eyes were almost as unfriendly, “Thayne has her, her Triad, and Bayls with her. No one else. We have you, your fluffed up Guardian, Azriel, me, Eiod, Jerald, Thae’a, and Adïmshyl. And second off, our group out numbers Thayne’s not just in numbers but in power. And us all travelin’ across whatever nightmarescape the Fènwa desert lands have become now would be more of a target than the Eighth fuckin’ Qishir travelin’ with her Triad and a wayward Sinner Demon.”
“If that was supposed to explain why we are waiting here for them, why we are gathering everyone in one localized group, it failed.”
“Are you seriously askin’ me why no one will mess with Thayne crossing the Worlds to get here but would mess with all’a us tryin’ to get to her?”
“What part of my question was unclear?”
“Old Ones See me, I’m gone for a few hundred years an’ you lot lose what sense you had,” he muttered and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face.
It was like asking why Rhyshladlyn needed more than one guard on him at all times when he traveled, not that he ever fucking listened to that, when virtually no one else in the Court did. He didn’t know how to begin to explain the difference to someone who was so damned determined to just not get it. But fuck him if he wasn’t going to try anyway.
“When you’re a walkin’ beacon for magickal fuckery, you don’t travel in a time of unrest unless it is absolutely necessary an’ all other options have been exhausted. When the entire Worlds have hated you from the very get solely because a’who you’re tied to magickally, you stay at home an’ let whoever you were supposed to be meetin’ come to you. Especially if those people are un-fuckin’-touchable. Fuck, Relyt, you should know this shit. You’re a godsdamn master strategist, for fuck’s sake.”
But it didn’t matter what he said, how he said it, or that he even tried to explain it because of course it doesn’t. He knew that by the way Relyt just stared at him. He sighed, downed the last of his whiskey and coffee, and stood up. He felt those slate grey eyes follow him from the chair he’d been in to the sink. Felt the disappointment and hatred and guilt and something he didn’t have words for bore into his back as he washed the mug out and set it on the drying rack before he turned around to face that look. He gripped the counter behind him tight enough to feel the granite and wood bow under his strength before he took a deep breath and let it out nice and slow and carefully relaxed his hands. He told himself as he closed his eyes that while it would feel so damned good in the moment, starting a fight with Relyt wouldn’t get them any closer to finding Rhyshladlyn and freeing him. Wouldn’t get him any closer to seeing Bayls again and holding her properly. Wouldn’t fix whatever had gone wrong with the Worlds. He knew that, didn’t like it one bit, but it didn’t make it any less true.
So he just breathed, counted to twenty, and when he opened his eyes he caught the moment that Relyt’s expression was unguarded. Found himself staring at a face contorted by an expression that made his skin crawl, that made some memory prickle along his neck but not take full root, made his eyes narrow as he slowly tilted his head a little to the side. But in the time it took him to blink that expression was gone. Buried deep and hidden behind a face that was as emotionless as it had been when he had first met the Soul Healer. But that control, that stoicness, didn’t touch those burning eyes and when he had the time he’d looked more closely at why it bothered him so much. He’d try and dig that memory out and into the light and examine every inch of it. But for right now he would let Relyt pretend that neither of them knew that expression had existed. He would let them both pretend that at some point the Soul Healer wasn’t going to cross a line that would see him and anyone who had ever supported him dead.
But for all that he was willing to let them pretend, he wasn’t going to let the lack of respect the Court had for the hierarchy stand any longer. May as well start here.
“I dunno what happened in the last three hundred years for all of you, I only was able to follow Bayls around while I was locked in the in between, an’ even then that never lasted overlong, but whatever you went through? I don’t give a fuck about it. Whatever it was or still is, get over it, shelve it for now, or get out of my sight,” he held Relyt’s gaze the longest but looked over every one of them before settling back on the Soul Healer. “We have too much important shit to do to allow petty fuckin’ shit to get in the way. So handle it or I will.”
Relyt growled, low enough that if his hearing wasn’t already pretty fucking spectacular he might not have heard it. Don’t test my patience, Relly boy. You will not like the result. Sheieh reached out and touched Relyt’s shoulder but the Soul Healer shook him off and advanced a step and then another. He kept walking until he was on the other side of the island counter, the only thing left standing between them. That growl came again, louder this time. Relyt’s entire body shivered, the way his shoulders lifted slightly, his jaw clenched, and his hands curled into tight fists at his sides. And with that everyone else reacted and Nhulynolyn felt his fury go from banked to a full blaze as he took in each and every reaction.
Azriel’s entire demeanor shut down as though someone had slammed a door on his body language, his expressions, everything. Between one blink and the next he went from a living Dhaoine to a statue bearing an uncanny resemblance to a living Dhaoine.
Eiod slipped a hand around the hilt of the sword strapped to his hip as he stepped around the edge of the chair so he was more between it and Relyt.
Jerald’s jaw clenched and the glamour he had always worn before things had gone sideways shimmered back into place huh I hadn’t noticed it wasn’t there as he sank further into the chair that Eiod had moved around.
Thae’a stepped over and back, curling in on herself while Adïmshyl bared his teeth in a silent snarl. The Dreamweaver hadn’t been able to look at Relyt before and that lack was only emphasized now while the Lupherinre couldn’t seem to look away from him.
The only Dhaoine in the room who didn’t react the way Nhulynolyn had expected was Sheieh. Of them all, the Guardian was the only one who didn’t act like they were facing an abuser getting angry again. He was the only one who didn’t act like he was expecting a blow at any second, regardless of whether he was in the abuser’s line of sight of not.
What the entire fuck did I miss?
“You have no right to talk to me that way,” Relyt hissed the words like one threw knives. He’d expected a lot of things but those words from Relyt hadn’t been among them. “You don’t know what we’ve been through, the sacrifices we’ve had to make. You’ve been gone just as long as Rhyshladlyn has and we had to learn to fend for ourselves.”
He snorted and raised both eyebrows as he pushed slowly, carefully away from the counter.
“Oh really? Funny, cuz from where I’m standing, I am the highest ranking member of the Grey Court in this room so I can say whatever I fuckin’ please to you. Also out of everyone here, you’re the only one with a fuckin’ Guardian at his back. Which means, Relly boy,” he took a step forward and blinked around the counter so that his next words were spoken inches away from Relyt’s face, “everyone else managed to fend for themselves while you failed to, just like you always do.”
Relyt snarled and swung his left arm out, elbow bent and aimed for his face but he caught it easily with one hand, punched the Soul Healer’s armpit with his free hand and then bodily lifted him by those two holds and slammed his face down onto the island countertop. Blood sprayed across the granite as Relyt’s nose broke and his lips got cut on his teeth, an arc of it following after him when Nhulynolyn pulled him up off the counter, swept his left leg at the back of Relyt’s knees and rode him down to the tiled kitchen floor. The thunk of his head hitting the floor was loud in a room that had gone deathly silent.
For several heartbeats they didn’t move. He just crouched there with one knee pressed into Relyt’s diaphragm, one hand still wrapped around his elbow, and the other pressed into his armpit while the Soul Healer stared up at him. Then Relyt hissed and tried to move, tried to bring his other arm up to probably punch him in the face but Nhulynolyn was having fucking none of that. Before Relyt could do more than lift his other arm, Nhulynolyn altered his right hand from a fist to a palm-down grip around the inside of Relyt’s shoulder joint as he dug his fingers into the elbow joint and extended the arm itself up at just the right angle that if he wanted to, he could easily snap both the shoulder and the elbow joints simultaneously. He let Relyt feel the potential of the hold, let him feel the strength in his hands, in the fingers that held him immobilized better than any other grip could.
“I am not so easily bullied as everyone else in this Court, Relyt Greymend. So stand the fuck down or I’ll break both these joints an’ let you discover why no one wants to be hurt by an Otherborn.” His tone was even, voice soft. The fury was still there, still a brilliant blaze, but it was colder than the shadowfire he controlled. It felt like Rhyshladlyn’s anger always had, that cold fury that would consume everything in its path but those caught by it didn’t know they were burning until it was way too late to save themselves. This felt like that.
Relyt stopped fighting then and went limp, acknowledging with the action that he had lost, acknowledged his submissiveness. Nhulynolyn nodded and stood, still holding on to the Soul Healer so that as he rose he pulled Relyt to his feet along with him. When they were both standing he let him go slowly, making eye contact and the Soul Healer see that if he tested him, Nhulynolyn had no problem doing whatever was necessary to correct him. Rhyshladlyn may have loved him, may still love him there was no telling, but Nhulynolyn had never held any feelings for the male before him. And it made doing whatever was necessary to ensure the safety of his twin easier to guarantee.
Even if meant killing any one of them, he would do it. Because above all else, Rhyshladlyn’s safety was his top priority. And it was high time Relyt and the rest learned that the same applied to them so long as they were part of this Court.
No one said anything as Relyt fixed his shirt and dusted his hands off on his breeches. No one else looked at him as he turned and walked towards the secondary door off the kitchen-dining room area, no doubt aiming for his designated room in the back of the house. Sheieh turned one last look at them all before he turned and followed dutifully after his charge.
Nhulynolyn waited until Relyt was almost in the hallway before he called out. He had to make sure that it was obvious where he stood, that Relyt knew exactly what the consequences were if he crossed one more line.
“If you pull any more shit like that again, Relyt Greymend, I will kill you, the consequences with Rhys be damned.”
Relyt didn’t even miss a step. He just kept walking until he was in the hallway and out of sight. And that, more than anything else, was telling for how bad things had gotten because always before the Soul Healer would have turned wide, shimmering eyes on whoever had spoken to him like that, all genuine confusion and worry and apologies, no matter how stoic he was pretending to be. But now he didn’t. Now he just kept walking like Nhulynolyn hadn’t spoken, like he hadn’t just received a distinct threat of death of he didn’t get his shit together.
It was fucking unnerving.
Why do I get the feelin’ that we’re more fucked than anyone’s realized yet?