The door opened to Xitlali dragging Xefras by the arm beside her. The Mad Qishir held his gaze as she tossed Xefras to the floor where he hit hard, unable to catch himself because she’d tied his hands behind his back. Before Rhyshladlyn could do more than glare at her the Anointed One strolled in and gently kicked the door closed behind him.
His breath left him in a whoosh because for just a moment Rhyshladlyn didn’t see Lílrt with his black eyes so many shades lighter they were practically a pale grey. No he saw Relyt standing just inside the room like a Storm packed into a humanoid prison. Saw the male that had been his Steward instead of the Anointed One whose anger spread out around him like an ominous wind, tasting so much like his little brother’s that, combined with his anger-lightened eyes, the similarity was uncanny. Wondered as he tried to see through that sameness to the truth behind it why his heart had skipped a beat. Wondered why he was more afraid of that anger than the one who wielded it, than what that male was capable of doing regardless of what he was feeling. Is it because in his anger he looks like Relyt?
“So I hear you have a weakness after all,” Lílrt drawled, smiling slow and wicked, dispelling that uncanny similarity instantly, as he walked over to Xefras and ran a hand through the slave’s hair without breaking eye contact with Rhyshladlyn. “Of course you would end up caring for such a worthless thing as a slave. But no matter, I’ll happily exploit that to get what I want from you. The torture had gotten tedious after awhile.”
“Aww, I’m proud of you, Lílrt, you figured it out all on your own,” he retorted, smirking. “Oh that’s right, you didn’t. That maeshir did. ”
Blood flew as Lílrt hit Xefras in the face with a speed Rhyshladlyn could barely track. The slave screamed and scrambled away from the Anointed One, careful to slip into the proper pose of a slave before their better but his fear was palpable in a way Rhyshladlyn hadn’t felt in centuries from anyone. He growled, the sound more felt than heard, as Lílrt took a step closer to the prostrated slave, making him freeze mid-step.
It was no big secret, it wasn’t even that hard to figure out, that his biggest weak spot was those he cared for, those he had sworn to protect. But what wasn’t so well known was that he could, he would, kill those he cared for. And he wouldn’t lose sleep over it either because when it came down to it, his weaknesses were his greatest strength because he had no problem removing those weaknesses before they could be exploited to the fullest extent and render him completely helpless.
So while he had no problem killing Xefras if it became truly necessary, he had made a deal that the slave wouldn’t be harmed so long as Rhyshladlyn answered Lílrt’s questions. But one snarky remark and the Anointed One had reneged on it. Which was unacceptable. So he stared that bastard Soul Healer down and growled again just in case the warning was missed the first time.
“Are we supposed to be scared of you?” Xitlali asked, trying for aloof and failing.
The look he gave her was eloquent. “You already are scared of me, bitch, don’t pretend to the contrary.”
Xitlali flinched and looked away and he turned back to Lílrt who had gone so very still, one leg extended with the step he hadn’t finished taking towards Xefras, eyes intent and only slightly wide. It was the tiny widening of his eyes that gave away that the Anointed One was not only caught off guard but afraid. Because unlike Xitlali, Lílrt had never learned the hard way not to underestimate him. But by the gods above, below, and surrounding he was fucking about to.
“Do not touch him,” Rhyshladlyn’s voice was gravely and thunderous, carrying the weight of an attend that he couldn’t actually speak with the collar still around his neck, but that didn’t mean that the intensity couldn’t still be there. He was a gifted orator and he used that now, used it to give the illusion that even rendered Imènian-blind he could still speak an attend. “I told Xitlali I’d talk to spare him but if you mistreat him for every smart remark I make then we’ll get fucking nowhere. And if you kill him? Nothing you do or say will get me to talk.” The Anointed One glared at him and Rhyshladlyn just smiled. The look wasn’t the best he’d seen so it didn’t shake him as much as Lílrt was probably hoping it would.
“And if I said I don’t believe you?” Lílrt asked.
“You’ll believe or disbelieve whatever you want to regardless of what I or anyone else says. But the one thing I know that you know is that if I decide to not do something?” He let his expression go blank, let all the emotion drain out of his body language, his eyes, his voice. “Nothing will get me to change my mind. So leave him the fuck alone like we agreed or we’ll have a battle of wills and it will not be one you win.”
“slave yshlad don’t do this! I am not worth it,” Xefras begged suddenly, voice filled with worry and no little amount of fear. Though the latter was likely because he was verbally speaking in the presence of betters and unlike Rhyshladlyn, Xefras had been made for slavery. It was his perfect job, crafted for him by the gods Themselves, but Xitlali didn’t follow the Old Laws, didn’t view slaves as something sacred. So all Xefras had experienced was mistreatment and abuse and fear at the hands of those who should have treated him like the treasure he and others like him were. But there was more than that to the fear that wove around his words.
Rhyshladlyn looked at him, took in the bruising that was already darkening the left side of his face, the blood drying over his mouth from where Lílrt had broken his nose and cut his lips open when he’d hit him. Saw the desperation and pleading in those brown eyes, so determined to protect him when it wasn’t Rhyshladlyn who needed protecting. After all Xitlali and Lílrt couldn’t afford to kill him or damage him too badly; he made them too much money and his collaring alone had damaged the Worlds in a way no one had expected, his death would likely make that damage permanent. But Xefras didn’t know that, or he did and it didn’t matter to him enough to see that he needed protecting instead. So the slave turned those wide, sincere eyes on him, begged for something other than the sacrifice Rhyshladlyn was making for him. But he knew better than to sink into them. Knew better than to let himself get caught up in the illusion that he could feel empathy, that he could feel true guilt for anything.
So he smiled as gently at Xefras as he could manage and looked back at Lílrt who was staring at the slave with a jealousy that made his skin crawl. Fuck no. Don’t be jealous of him, you sick stupid fuck. Be jealous of everyone else but him. He isn’t a threat to you any more than you brother is a threat to Azriel.
“Ask your questions, Lílrt Greymend. Ask them and I’ll answer them as best I can and with full honesty.” Black eyes so light they were basically white now turned to him and that look of jealousy seeped away and in its place something else passed across the Soul Healer’s face. Nameless have mercy, he and Relyt have no idea how very much alike they are, do they? “But hear me now. If Xefras is harmed at all, ever, because you are frustrated with me? I will kill him and then you will be left with nothing save a dead slave, one who won’t talk, and an ass load of questions you’ll never get the answers to.”
“You would really kill someone you care for so much you were willing to do anything to keep them from going through the same torture you had?” Xitlali asked, voice dripping with incredulity.
He scoffed, shaking his head. “What do you fuckers think me being a Greywalker means? That I just run around all willy-nilly and keep the Worlds Balanced by existing or some shit?” He laughed hard enough to rattle the chains holding him to the wall as his body shook with it. “It’s more than that, so much more. I have no empathy, Xitlali. I don’t care what happens to anyone. The only Dhaoine in existence who overrides that lack is my Companion and we all know neither of you will ever get to him. Plus even with Azriel being the one exception, I knew he was going to die when he did, I even knew how, and I did nothing to stop it.”
Lílrt made a noise that made Rhyshladlyn look at him. “You what? Why the fuck did you let him die if you knew you could save him?”
“Because without his death, the Worlds would have died. I needed him to die so I could Awaken and right the Way of Things.”
“He was a means to an end?” Xefras whispered.
“Yes. At some point everyone is.”
Xitlali and Lílrt both made motions of prayer and warding off evil at that and Rhyshladlyn rolled his eyes. Everyone always acted like he was some kind of monster when he showed even a hint of his true self. They acted like it was they didn’t rely on him and Dhaoine like him to do the things they couldn’t. But of course, we are only accepted when we can serve a purpose. And when we can’t? We’re rejected.
“But as I was saying; yes, I would kill anyone, even those I care for, if the ends justified the means. So long as the Worlds regain Balance? Nothing is unacceptable to me when it comes to achieving that goal. The only thing that stays my hand is my sense of high honor. But there is a point where even that will not stop me.”
The silence was thick. No one moved except Xefras who tried to implore with his eyes that he forgave him. Tried to tell him not to do this thing, to not try and save him. But for all that Rhyshladlyn could kill the slave, the one who had become his friend, who had saved him in more ways than Xefras even knew or likely realized, it would destroy something in him to do it when his honor dictated that he shouldn’t. Just like it had destroyed something in him to watch his blade travel down that hallway all those centuries ago and pierce Azriel’s heart in a blow that killed the Anglëtinean damn near instantly. Just because he lacked empathy, just because he was ruthlessly practical and logical with it, didn’t mean that there weren’t things that wouldn’t haunt him.
And Xefras’ death, no matter how it came, whether by Rhyshladlyn’s own hand or someone else’s, if he was was ultimately the reason why the slave died? That would haunt him nearly as badly as Azriel’s death had.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Tried to remind himself that he wasn’t alone, that it only felt that way. Tried to remind himself that he had brought Nhulynolyn back, that the Other knew what had happened to him, that if anyone would find a way to free him, it would be his twin. But the hope those thoughts brought on was short lived when he opened his eyes and saw Lílrt once again looking at Xefras with that look of jealousy but underneath it was confusion. As though the Soul Healer couldn’t understand why the slave cared so much what happened to him let alone why Rhyshladlyn was willing to do whatever it took to keep him safe. You’ll be wondering for a good while, there, Lílrt. Cuz the gods only know I can’t explain it.
“Time is ticking, Lílrt,” he goaded, rolling his shoulders to release some of the tension before he did his best to relax in the chains that held his arms slightly up and out away from his body. He acted like he wasn’t worried but deep down he was. So much could go wrong and gods but he needed things to go right for once. Just once.
The Anointed One looked him up and down before glancing back at Xefras then back at him. He watched as the Soul Healer took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Watched as the anger leeched out of his face and his eyes, darkening them back to their normal greyish-black shade. The Anointed One completed that step and fisted his hand in Xefras’ hair hard enough that the slave cried out, eyes fluttering, arms tensing as he fought against his bindings to try and instinctively fight Lílrt off. But the Soul Healer didn’t seem to notice or he did and just didn’t care because those grey-black eyes were locked onto Rhyshladlyn as a smile slowly curled his lips at the corners.
It was a smile Rhyshladlyn recognized well enough, after all he’d watched Relyt make one just like it every time they played cards and the Gret’yinl was about to lay down the winning hand. But something told him that Lílrt wasn’t about to do something so innocent as that.
“So when did slave xefras here,” Lílrt shook him, “figure out who you really are?”