“I wanted to apologize,” his breath caught in his throat, stealing what else he had wanted to say when Nhulynolyn looked at him.
Realistically he knew the Other was not Rhyshladlyn but in that moment when he turned and cast that sculpted face into shadow, when he reclined back on his hands on the wide bench in Thae’a’s garden with the golden light of the Heart Watchtower behind him playing tag in the high and lowlights in his red hair, Nhulynolyn didn’t look like himself. In that moment, he was the true mirror image of his lost kè, the one he shouldn’t have been able to exist without but somehow was despite the impossibility of it. When the Other turned a look he had seen a thousand times on a similar face half wrapped in shadow, Relyt forgot that this wasn’t the Qishir he’d tracked across the Worlds to find in Shiran City.
Relyt just stood there, caught like prey in the sight of its greatest predator, and tried to tell himself that it wasn’t Rhyshladlyn he was seeing in the way the Otherborn held all that tall, muscled body with a grace and stillness that was all banked violence rather than the easy waiting he made it seem like. Tried to tell himself that this figure wasn’t his long lost beloved returned but rather the twin who bore his likeness and nothing more. But while his mind knew that, his heart didn’t seem to want to listen. Not that ever really did where Rhyshladlyn was remotely concerned.
The Many give me strength.
That voice, not quite as deep as Rhyshladlyn’s had been, destroyed the illusion and he didn’t know if he was upset about its loss or happy for it. But he shoved it aside and fought to regain his composure, to act as though he hadn’t been caught off guard as he pushed his hair from his face and tilted his head back so he could look at the Watchtower when he answered. For he knew if he continued to look at that shadowed face and the silhouetted body that accompanied it, he wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Merely knowing it was there, knowing the reaction he’d just had despite knowing who truly sat before him, was enough to make his concentration difficult. Having this conversation while making eye contact? Not possible. Not if he wanted to be coherent.
“How I reacted earlier in the kitchen. That was… uncalled for and rude, among other things, and I had no right to do it,” he shrugged one shoulder and promptly cursed himself for the gesture because it was too flippant and not remotely what he felt in that moment.
But by the Many, Nhulynolyn had knocked him off balance with how quickly he had gone from quiet, almost brooding, to the enforcer that he had been when Rhyshladlyn was still alive in the space of an eye blink. And it was hard to face him now, to try to make the proper amends when Relyt knew without question that the Other was capable of and more than willing to physically harm him if he deemed it necessary. Problem was, he didn’t know what exactly Nhulynolyn would use violence to respond to which made him defensive on principle. And the Many only knew that nothing good ever resulted from him feeling defensive.
So he took a breath and tried again.
“I wanted to apologize for my words and my actions to you. It was rude and you did not deserve that. Furthermore I had no right to do it.”
“Those are some mighty pretty words that don’t mean much,” Nhulynolyn replied and he turned a frown on the Other, the first trickles of offense and anger bubbling in his gut.
“What?” Point for him, his voice was still steady and emotionless despite being everything but that internally and he managed to meet Nhulynolyn gaze for a half second before needing to look away again.
“So you’re what? Sorry cuz I wouldn’t take your shit the way the rest a’the Court’s been doin’ the whole time Rhys has been gone? Sorry I didn’t give you the response you were expectin’? Sorry that you misjudged how your actions would be received?” Nhulynolyn’s voice undulated with a disdain Rhyshladlyn had been so skilled at when he was alive; as though the very emotion itself were a living thing that spoke using his vocal chords versus the Qishir himself. And Nhulynolyn used that now with an unnerving adeptness. “Well which is it, Relyt? What exactly are you sorry for? Cuz that bit ’bout it bein’ rude is nice an’ all but it ain’t an apology. It’s a mere statement of your actions. You didn’t take responsibility for shit all an’ therefore didn’t actually apologize.”
He blinked and looked at the Other again before he could think better of the action but found that Nhulynolyn wasn’t even looking at him anymore, he was once again looking skyward, eyes closed, face bathed in that ethereal golden light from the Watchtower. It was as though the conversation didn’t matter to him, as though it wasn’t really even happening. He clenched his fists as the anger that bubbled in his gut threatened to spill up into his chest and throat. Fought not to let it out, to keep it down because as much as he wanted to snarl at Nhulynolyn it wouldn’t solve anything. It wouldn’t make anything better only worse.
Sheieh had been right, he needed to make amends. Fighting with Azriel was one thing; they’d always fought since the beginning, maybe not to this level but it had still happened and was expected without Rhyshladlyn to act as buffer. But it was uncouth to do the same with Nhulynolyn or anyone else in the Court. He needed to correct it now before it got even more out of hand. But it was hard to remind himself of the need for that when Nhulynolyn was being so flippant about his apology.
Then Nhulynolyn’s words fully registered and the anger that he’d managed to somewhat squash down hit his throat and he choked words out around it but managed to keep it from following them. Barely.
“I have not given the Court shit, as you say, Nully,” he retorted and frowned, counting quickly to ten as he released his fists before continuing. “And I am sorry for how I treated you, for taking a swing on you. I could say it was because you startled me and after the war, I am not able to curb my involuntary response to being startled at all, and reacted before I could think it through. But that is merely an excuse and not one that should garner me forgiveness. As for the rest of that… I don’t know what you mean by any of it but I take insult to the insinuations that I have mistreated anyone in this Court.”
Nhulynolyn snorted and it held a level of derision that smacked against his legs as though the Other had kicked him again. The easy use of magick that the rest of the Worlds had learned the hard way to hold back on made his breath catch again but for a whole different reason. Because normally when a Dhaoine did that kind of thing, the tension level of the area’s ambient magick would shift. But when Nhulynolyn had done it? Nothing. There wasn’t even a whisper. But that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t come if the Otherborn kept it up.
After all, only Azriel was known to have Others left in the Worlds after Rhyshladlyn’s loss and none of them performed magick like their more humanoid counterparts did so he’d never tested the theory that Others wouldn’t affect the precarious balance of ambient magick like a living Dhaoine would. But for all that it was a workable theory that Others wouldn’t affect the precarious Balance of the Worlds at large like normal Dhaoine would didn’t mean that he was willing to gamble with his life to test it. Especially not right now.
“If you truly believed that, Relyt, then you haven’t been payin’ fuckin’ attention. Also I didn’t insinuate shit all, I accused, there is a very distinct difference,” the Other replied as he smoothly moved off the bench and stood on the other side of it, facing the Watchtower hands pushed into the pockets of his trousers. “An’ it don’t matter how much you say you’re sorry, it’s just empty words. This Court, my twin, I, deserve better. So either show me you’re sorry through actions or get the fuck away from me and this Court so they can heal.”
The anger flowed out of his mouth then and he could all but hear Sheieh’s admonishing sigh where he stood hidden in the shadows along the fence that lined the left side of the yard.
“And how exactly am I to show anyone I’m sorry if no one wants me near them? And what do they need to heal from if I haven’t done anything to hurt them?”
Nhulynolyn whirled to face him and in that single movement he wondered how he had ever thought, even for a split second, that the Other was Rhyshladlyn. Wondered as those electric-blue eyes blazed with his power stared him down, as his hair drifted and danced on the wind raised by that same power, as his whole face shifted and twitched with a sneer that touched every single part of him from the sweep of his forehead to his feet, how he had ever thought Nhulynolyn was anything but a very real danger to himself. Wondered how he had ever mistaken the Other for an extension of Rhyshladlyn versus seeing Nhulynolyn for the true individual he really was. Wondered how he had never noticed before that moment that while Rhyshladlyn had always held a touch of barely restrained violence in his every single move, his Otherborn twin had something different, something more.
And whatever that more was, that thing that made Nhulynolyn fundamentally different from the twin he shared everything with save shade of hair and eye color, it faced him then. Looked at him with an intensity only a god could have and slowly walked towards him. Slowly crossed the thick grass that Thae’a had managed to grow in a City that sat surrounded by a desert wasteland, bare feet silent in that lush greenery, body moving in a roiling motion that was like watching the waves of the ocean roll up and onto a beach before being sucked back out again. He fought to stand his ground, to not step back, to not tense up. If only because the Other was itching for a fight just as badly as he himself was and if they continued what had been started in the kitchen, one of them wouldn’t walk away alive.
And for the first time in centuries, Relyt honestly thought the victor wouldn’t be himself.
He held his breath as the Other drew closer and closer, felt the tension thicken the air, felt Sheieh’s attention sharpen as his Guardian prepared to rush to his defense should Nhulynolyn act upon the promise that saturated the air around him as he walked. But the Other didn’t strike out, didn’t do anything but pause briefly when they were side by side with barely two feet between them, those striking eyes staring him down with a weight behind them that reminded him of when he’d seen the Many step down off its altar and speak to him. That reminded him of the day Rhyshladlyn had whirled on him with his death written in orange-amber eyes. That reminded him of the look Azriel had had when he’d walked into the Main Hall of the Eighth Palace covered in his newly inked qahllyn’qir and bent knee to Thayne.
He saw a million lives birthed, nurtured, and killed in those eyes. Saw his own future, his own hopes, turned from brilliant sparks of life into blackened pits. He saw every fear he’d ever had manifest in those electric-blue eyes and felt his legs go numb from the knees down and knew that if Nhulynolyn struck out at him then, he wouldn’t be able to recover in time to save himself. And he was afraid. Looking into those eyes he finally understood why Otherborn were spoken of in hushed and fearful tones. Because there was a magick to them that was as old as the gods and just as powerful that didn’t rely on Balance the way Dhaoinic magick did. And because it didn’t rely on that same Balance it wasn’t bound by the laws of the living any more than the ones who wielded it were.
Then Nhulynolyn spoke and that weight broke across his heart and drowned him.
“Cuz you conditioned them to think of you as an abuser who is more likely to strike out at them than hold a fuckin’ decent conversation. Or be too high to remember to breathe without someone to remind him,” Nhulynolyn’s voice was soft, careful, but his tone was all sharp edges and broken glass and dreams turned to bitter nightmares that dragged along his skin with enough strength he was almost certain they left cuts in their wake.
“You stopped being the Steward, the General, they could trust and became…” The Other looked him up and down and that sneer split his mouth and showed the fangs that were just as impressive as his twin’s were. “…whatever this thing before me is. And if you were worthy of the qahllyn that makes you Rhys’ Steward, you would have fuckin’ realized that before now. Wouldn’ta needed me to show up an’ say anythin’ about it but you did an’ yet despite me pointing it out you still argue the point. You still act as though you have done nothin’ wrong when you have.”
“And if you were worthy of the qahllyn that makes you his Steward, you would have fucking realized that.” Azriel let go of him and stepped back, eyes filled with an emotion he didn’t want to name because he was afraid to. Didn’t want to understand because the consequences of it were too much.
So he stayed silent as the Anglëtinean addressed everyone within earshot, voice pitching with the clarity only one of the Race had as he spoke the words that tore Relyt’s World apart at the very seams, “As of this day, Relyt Greymend is named anathema to the Grey Court.”
He shook the memory off and swallowed hard around the lump that had formed in his throat, that had nothing to do with his anger anymore and everything to do with the sudden intense want to sob as the emptiness where his qahllyn’qir once were roared. He struggled to shake free of that memory, struggled to focus back on the here and now, on the reality that stood a greater than of destroying him than half-formed memories that felt more like elaborate nightmares than a reality everyone else had forgotten except him.
“That doesn’t tell me how to fix anything,” he tried not to sound petulant he truly did but something about the Ka’ahne twins, specifically the flesh and blood one, always seemed to bring out the worst in him. “And I’m not acting like I haven’t done anything wrong. For fuck’s sake, Nully, I’m standing here apologizing to you. What more do you want? What more do I have to do to fix whatever is wrong?”
Nhulynolyn shrugged and the tension dropped a few notches but that banked violence was still there, still so tantalizingly, dangerously, close. He wanted to know where that weight had come from and why it was just gone between one eye blink and the next. Wanted to know how he could get it back because the Many forgive him but he wanted to play with it.
“I’m not supposed to solve your problems for you, Relly boy. That’s all on you,” Nhulynolyn replied and started walking towards the house, giving Relyt his back as he did so.
It was either arrogance or trust or a weird mixture of both. Though knowing Nhulynolyn, it was probably more arrogance than anything else. But then again, given how fast he’d moved when Relyt had tried to elbow him? Maybe not arrogance. Maybe that was just a mask he hid behind. A façade that lead Dhaoine into a false sense of security so that they forgot what and who he was until it was too late.
“Did you really mean what you said earlier in the kitchen; that you’d kill me?” he asked before he could think it through. But once spoken he didn’t try and take the question back. He needed to hear the answer, even though he was certain he wouldn’t like it.
He watched Nhulynolyn tilt his head to the side but not break stride, not stop, not even glance back at him. He just kept walking towards the house until he climbed the three steps that lead from the grass to the large stones that made up the patio. It wasn’t until his hand was curling around the doorknob of the sliding glass doors that lead inside that he stopped, that he paused and turned so Relyt caught a glimpse of his profile in the light of the Watchtower and the soft glow of the lanterns that hung to either side of the doorway. That same weight from before was present in the glint in his eyes, in the twist of his lips, but it was muted now. It was a warning, one that he registered but wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to heed, that if he didn’t tread lightly there would come a time when no amount of fear of Rhyshladlyn’s response to his loss would save him.
“Don’t ask me questions you already know the answer to, Relyt. It’s unbecoming,” the Other said as he pulled open the door and stepped inside, and closed it behind him.
He looked away as his throat grew tight, as the first tear ran down his cheek, as Sheieh stepped out of the shadows and crossed the yard to lay a gentle hand on his shoulder. His heart had crawled into his throat and shattered with the Other’s words. Which was so stupid, he didn’t care for Nhulynolyn the way he did for Rhyshladlyn or Azriel, but yet his words had cut just as deeply as though the Other had been either of them. Had reached places Relyt thought fortified and rubbed them raw.
In that moment he did the only thing he could do, made the only plausible decision to make. Even if he hated it.
“Sheieh, pack our things. If my presence is truly a detriment to the Court then I shall make myself scarce,” he said it with a conviction he didn’t remotely feel but that didn’t matter. Nothing did anymore.
“You shouldn’t hide away because they are unwilling to see the tru–”
“No, Sheieh,” he held up a hand as he cut the other Soul Healer off mid-sentence, “do not blame them for my short comings. I am a danger to them as much as they are to me.” He sighed and swallowed around the lump in his throat and felt the first stirrings of his addiction to g’hitshé root as he wiped the tears off his face. “Make sure we have more root, too. If not, acquire some before we depart.”
Sheieh bowed low at the waist clearly disgruntled and wanting to say more but he wouldn’t. Not right now. So instead, his Guardian just bowed with his right hand touching his gretkewq as he did so.
“As you will, g’agsha. How swiftly are you wishing to leave?”
Sheieh said nothing else just made for the house to follow his orders leaving Relyt to stand alone with his all too clear thoughts. The loudest of which was that he believed he finally understood why Rhyshladlyn had left the Court during the war. Understood that some grieving was so profound it destroyed not just oneself but everyone around them.
And on the tail end of that thought was another, Where did I go wrong?