His older brother blew through the door before Sheieh had even gotten passed saying Relyt’s title, one hand flippantly waving a dismissal at the Guardian who turned narrowed eyes at him. Knowing it wasn’t worth the time to argue with the other male, Relyt shook his head at the Guardian’s unspoken question. Sheieh narrowed his eyes further and frowned but bowed and closed the door.

He wanted to be annoyed, wanted to be insulted, but he knew that that was just how Lílrt was. It was how he’d been since they were fledglings, barely old enough to have a grasp of how to use their wings, let alone anything else. Lílrt, despite their schooling, despite the Many’s edicts, had always had a sense of entitlement that was just soft enough that one didn’t notice until it was too late to put him in his proper place. And now it was so ingrained in both of them that even though Relyt technically outranked him, Lílrt never gave proper manners to him unless they were in public, unless those who could potentially see it would come to the wrong conclusion. So even if he wanted to be annoyed he knew there wasn’t a point. Lílrt was so set in his ways that any attempts made to make him change now wouldn’t get either them anywhere but angry and tired.

Lílrt stopped mid-stride a handful of steps inside the door and looked around with a frown.

“Did you move the furniture?”

Yes, to make sure the damn walls weren’t actually close in on me. But I moved it back. “Not recently. Why?”

“No reason,” Lílrt answered but he didn’t sound sure. He shook himself and turned that too intelligent gaze on him and Relyt felt like he was a fledgling again when Father was scolding him.

“Why are you here?” he asked as he turned away and walked over to the small table with two chairs bracketing it and the tea set Sheieh had had a servant drop off before his Guardian had tried to announce Lílrt.

It was a cowardly move for certain to head off his brother before he could speak the words that had bubbled behind those eyes, filled with the derision only Lílrt could hold when scolding him. But he didn’t want to hear whatever the other male had to tell him in that tone. It would only make him angry and the Many only knew he was still desperate for a target to unleash on after what had happened at the cabin. After Sheieh had defied a direct order and ran, leaving everyone else behind. And the one Dhaoine who shouldn’t be a target for the anger that bubbled just beneath the surface of his careful and hard won control was Lílrt.

“Does anyone else besides me and Sheieh know you left the Palace a week ago?” Clearly what his brother wanted to discuss had to do with why he was here. Well at least the tone isn’t scolding. That’s something at least.

“That I left?” He fought not to show how the question made him uneasy as he poured black tea into each mug before adding one sugar cube and two splashes of milk to one and five sugar cubes to the other. How he can drink tea with that much sugar and not rot his teeth is beyond me. “Yes, the whole of our kind knows. I left rather abruptly and borderline violently, so the entire race was made aware in a matter of hours. And it certainly didn’t help that Sheieh had the Grand Palace put under full lock down until we returned.” He glanced at Lílrt who was watching him prepare the tea with a look he couldn’t read. “Why?”

“Because according to reports out of Fènwa, that old cabin of yours is a veritable bloodbath. Nothing remains of it.” Lílrt paused and that look intensified. “And there’s been murmurs that you may have been there, too, when everything went down.”

He sank heavily down into the chair farthest from the door, putting the table between him and Lílrt whose expression was twitching around the edges now, like he was angry and trying desperately to keep it under control. Which didn’t bode well. Not that it ever had. But after everything hat had happened of late, he had the feeling it spelled disaster now.

“But nothing certain?” he asked and was proud that his voice didn’t shake despite how his stomach had dropped out and fear was clogging his throat. Was even more proud of how his hands were steady when he reached out and wrapped them around his mug and lifted it to take a slow, careful sip. He twitched and fought not to pant as he burnt his tongue. I still can’t get the temperature right even when I’m not the one to brew it. Fuck.

Lílrt’s eyes flashed to a shade so light they were nearly white before settling back to their normal as he crossed the room and slowly, carefully, took the other seat. He didn’t touch the mug set out for him which was unlike him. Even when angered to the point of blind rage, Lílrt had never forgotten or foregone being a perfect guest who took at least one sip of offered tea. For ignoring it outright as he was now was a grave insult among their kind, one that was nearly as heavy as calling another Dhaoine a liar with or without proof to back up the claim.

“No, nothing concrete,” his brother answered, tone edged with the anger he was clearly struggling to keep a hold of. “Though not for lack of trying on the parts of some Dhaoinic circles. You aren’t nearly as well liked as you were back during the war, Relly.”

He ignored the jab and took another, longer sip of his tea. “What of everyone else that was there? Any word on them?”

“They escaped, barely, but they did. Some say it was by some form of sheer luck, others are saying that Rhyshladlyn showed up and spoke an attend that was strong enough that his signature rode on the desert winds, that his power and the scent of it touched Dhaoine all throughout Fènwa.” Lílrt grunted as he shifted to a more comfortable position in his chair, one hand pushing his fringe out of his eyes in a gesture that had the fluidity of long practice but the hesitancy of being fought against in certain company. “Though from the sounds of it, Nhulynolyn is barely holding on, but I can’t get anything concrete on that. Anymore than I can confirm whether Rhyshladlyn actually showed up or not. A prevailing theory is that was just a hallucination or possibly the latent magick he’d built into the cabin calling his likeness to visibility in a time of great need.” He shrugged. “There’s no telling.”

It felt like the ground had just given way beneath him and he was free falling with no end in sight. The only people who could have started even the rumor that Rhyshladlyn had stepped foot on the grounds of the cabin was those who had been there. And Azriel couldn’t lie, it was an impossibility built into the very genes of the Race. So Rhyshladlyn had been there? Had touched down into that nightmare and just… left? It made no sense. If he had returned to them, he wouldn’t have left like that.

Not unless he body walked. 

“Relly?” Lílrt sounded closer but he knew he wasn’t. Knew also that his expression had gotten away from him and likely broadcasted his thoughts to his brother who wouldn’t have missed a single one of them. Knew that Lílrt had come phishing for information just like he had back during the war.

Only unlike then he wasn’t going to help his brother learn more about the Qishir who was a mystery even to those who knew him well. Which meant that he had to distract him. Somehow.

“By the Many’s ten cocks,” he breathed, “I told Sheieh not to leave. If we hadn’t have left, I could have help–”

Lílrt snorted loud enough that Relyt cut off mid-word as the ground was suddenly right where it was supposed to be. He didn’t know if it was a mixture of the topic, who he was sharing it with, the information, or the realizations he’d had in the last several minutes, but the anger he’d been trying to contain broke free of his control and spilled over as he glared at the older Soul Healer.

“And what would you have done, Relly?” Thousands of years of life hadn’t changed the fact that Lílrt could make him feel so small with nothing more than a change in tone and a few words. “They couldn’t know you were there. Did you think you were going to, what, run in all hero of the day and they would forget that you had hard proof hidden in your godsdamn walls for fuck’s sake that you betrayed them? Betrayed your Qishir? Or not ask why you were there in the first place?” Lílrt snorted again, shaking his head. “You are a brilliant master strategist but sometime you don’t think shit through.”

He growled and set his mug back onto the table harder than he should have but it felt good to watch Lílrt flinch, just a little. Just enough for him to catch the flicker around his eyes that told Relyt that he had said a bit more than he’d meant to. Or had said exactly what he’d meant to just not in the exact way he’d wanted to. It was always a chess game with them, one he had felt since they were fledglings that he was destined to lose but the Many only knew that didn’t stop him from trying.

“So what they had or have proof that I was working with you during the war? So what they know I’m related to the Anointed One? Who the fuck cares, Lí!” He rose to his feet and fought to hide the way he was trembling if only because he wasn’t certain if it was from anger or something else. “None of that makes me a traitor any more than Rhyshladlyn being related to the old Lord King of the Sinner Demons a child raping monster!”

“I do! care!” Lílrt snarled, rising from his own chair and slamming his hands down on the table, making the tea set and the mugs tremble. He leaned forward, reminding Relyt that for all that the other male didn’t feel imposing energy-wise, he was physically large, taller than himself by several inches, and when Lílrt wanted to he could use every inch of that large, tall frame to his advantage. “You could be killed for what we did. It isn’t just guilt by association, you idiotic fuck, you gave me troop movements. You gave me information on how the Grey Qishir operated, how he handled emotions, how he handled crises and conflicts and disagreements. You literally gave me information that no one outside of that fucking Court should know. That is what makes you a traitor to your Qishir. When we had all those talks you weren’t gushing to a sibling you were gushing to someone who was supposed to be your enemy.”

“I was talking to my brother, the one my parents — our parents — disowned for something stupid. I was rekindling a relationship I had been raised to believe had never existed even though I knew it had. I was righting a wrong. What you did with the things I said wasn’t my fault. I can’t fucking control you anymore than I can control anyone else in the Worlds. I’m not a Qishir,” he yelled back, bristling as the anger turned slowly to boiling rage.  Because how fucking dare Lílrt make him into the bad guy here when he wasn’t. Not even close.

“Your life literally rides on them never knowing the things they do now, you do know that right?” Lílrt bit back, voice colder than the air that howled around the Iryduu Mountain tops. “By the Many, Relyt, you’re acting like you’ve got immunity. And you don’t, little brother, you don’t. You’re free fucking game and you’re to go see the lot of them as though you’re safe. As though it isn’t a trap. As though it will be the last thing you ever do as a free Dhaoine, as a living Dhaoine.”

“And how the fuck would you know whether or not I’m safe from whatever punishment may or may not be waiting for me?” he demanded, taking one shuffling step forward before he could talk himself out of it, before he could get enough control back to stop himself.

He didn’t bother to ask how Lílrt had known that he and Sheieh would be traveling to Ryphqi City to meet with both the Grey and Honorable Courts. He knew Sheieh reported what he did to Lílrt, at least when whatever it was he was doing, had done, or was planning to do put him and his older brother in danger. But especially me. But for all that he knew how Lílrt had likely gotten the information it didn’t mean he was going to just assume and risk being wrong.

“Because your precious Qishir isn’t around anymore, is he?”

“And what of it?” At least he didn’t sound like he’d been punched in the gut, no matter how much it felt like it, no matter how much it hurt to just try and breathe.

Lílrt laughed mirthlessly and shook his head. “I remember our talks, Relly, during the war. I remember how you said you thought the only reason anyone in the Grey Court paid you any mind or respect was because Rhyshladlyn insisted on it.” His brother raised an eyebrow, somehow looming further over the table towards him despite the fact that Relyt knew he didn’t move save to raise that single eyebrow. “Now if that were true, what do you think they’ll do without him there?”

“I am still the Grey Steward, they cannot touch me without his permission,” he growled but even to him it sounded weak. “Not if by doing so they will do permanent damage.”

That mirthless laugh ricocheted around the room again and he clenched his teeth in an effort to not snap at his brother to shut up or slap him. Though by the Many did he want to knock that smug look off his face. It was a horrible idea, which is why he refrained from acting on it, but oh the idea was very tempting.

“You lost that title the day Rhyshladlyn disappeared from the face of the Worlds, brother mine.”

“What?” he frowned. “Azriel didn’t lose his title, what makes you think I lost mine?” Even to him it sounded like the whine of a spoiled fledgling wondering why someone else got to play but he didn’t.

Lílrt shook his head and made for the door, calling over his shoulder as he went, “Yes, but he was also Oathed to the Grey Qishir when Rhyshladlyn disappeared and well… no one in the Worlds wants to challenge the famous Azriel Kasuske of House Veratone for the right to retain that title. Not even me.”

Before he could say anything in response Lílrt opened the door and stepped through, closing it behind him as he started saying something to Sheieh. The door thudded closed with a finality that made fear slide down his spine, leaving a trickle of cold in its wake. He took a breath and let it out slow, told himself the walls weren’t trembling, that the floor wasn’t doing that either, as he carefully drank the rest of his tea and poured Lílrt’s back into the pitcher.

Told himself that his cheeks didn’t burn from tears. That it was just the anger that made his face flush, that it was nothing more than feeling like the one Dhaoine he could trust and turn to besides Sheieh had just kicked all his hopes to pieces. Kept telling himself that even as the tears he refused to acknowledge splattered on the table top between where his hands gripped it in an effort to keep him from falling forward.

He stood there and cried silently to himself and prayed that if he just kept telling himself that he wasn’t hurt, that he wasn’t alone, that he hadn’t fucked up in so many ways he’d long since lost count often enough, that maybe one day he’d believe it.

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