The first scream sent a shiver down his spine. Reminded him of the ones he’d heard in the compound, reminded him of all the times he’d made a similar sound before he’d learned that it only made things worse. The second and third screams were even better than the first. By the twentieth scream, he’d stopped counting. But it didn’t matter how many screams Lílrt made, didn’t matter how he cried and sobbed and begged when he could spare the breath, Rhyshladlyn didn’t give him any leniency, didn’t release him.
Because some things were un-fucking-forgivable and Lílrt had done nearly all of them.
As blood bubbled out of Lílrt’s mouth as his throat tore from so much screaming, Relyt darted forward from where he’d stumbled back when Rhyshladlyn’s power had flooded the room. Ran towards his brother despite the danger, shrieked in a broken voice that warped the Gretlök he reverted to when Nhulynolyn caught him around the waist and kept him from getting more than a few steps. Watching as Relyt hissed and struggled, as Nhulynolyn effortlessly pulled him back a few feet, Rhyshladlyn’s smile changed. Knew by the way it pulled the muscles of his face and neck that it had made his Dhaoinic mask slip more.
The sound of vomiting behind him and to his left wasn’t surprising. If he hadn’t seen worse, hadn’t done worse, he’d have likely been fighting against joining them. But as it was, this wasn’t even close to those things, to the nightmares that would haunt him for the rest of his lifetimes. So while his Court, his friends and his family, reacted all around him with disgust and horror, he watched everything play out with a glee that probably wasn’t healthy but he didn’t care. Not anymore.
“Stop this!” Alaïs was suddenly at his right side, hands curled around his wrist and forearm, blue eyes clear but filled with pain, with danger that while not quite directed at him, it could be. He remembered that look, knew it from when he was a fledgling and he and their birth giver had been fighting. But unlike back then it didn’t remotely sway him now. “Rhys! Stop it.”
He stared down at her and cocked his head to the side. “Why?” he asked, genuinely curious because she seemed so disgusted, so upset, and he didn’t understand. She had seen worse things than this. “He did atrocious things to me, Ally,” he added, looking away to watch the show. Spoke while he watched Lílrt finish pulling the hair out of his scalp, taking another large chunk of skin as he did so. Watched as the Soul Healer, the self-titled Anointed One, dug his nails into his own face and began to pull long, thin strips of skin away, slowly revealing the muscles and bones and tendons and ligaments underneath. “This is the least of what he deserves.”
“How can you say that?” Relyt snarled, grey eyes so dark they were nearly black, darker than his older brother’s had ever been naturally. His Steward fought to get free from Nhulynolyn’s hold but the Other wasn’t letting go any time soon. “This is… this is…”
He narrowed his eyes as he sensed the next words before Relyt’s mouth moved to form them. Felt the way the tension levels in the room rose and tilted as everyone who wasn’t vomiting or trying not to shifted their focus from Lílrt to Relyt. He growled, a single warning of a sound but before he could get out the words that went with that sound Azriel spoke up, voice rough around the edges and shaky in a way he’d never heard it be before.
“Relyt, don’t. Just once, please, shut the fuck up.”
Relyt didn’t listen. Not that he had ever listened, even when doing so would protect him and those around him.
“For someone who said he never wanted to become like his sire, you sure as fuck fooled me.” Relyt snapped, voice filled with malice. Each word smacked against him, an open-handed slap that while painful wasn’t disastrous. But despite that something broke inside his chest, something that resonated throughout his entire body like someone had dealt a physical blow from beneath his skin. Something that took whatever chance they had to close the chasm between them, to heal the damage that had pulled them apart, and destroyed it.
“You remind me so much of your father, do you know that?” Even faced with her impending death, even knowing that he would not, he could not, let her out of the room alive she still had the audacity to speak like she was his superior. Like she had ever been anything more than a womb for breeding fledglings.
Alaïs wasn’t holding his wrist anymore and he didn’t remember when she’d let go. Lílrt wasn’t moving anymore and he didn’t remember freezing the Anointed One’s punishment. Azriel was standing on his left and he could sense Shadiranamen standing behind him, close enough to feel the ripples of her power. Could just make out Thae’a kneeling on the floor in the kitchen beside the island counter as she wiped a hand across her mouth before allowing Adïmshyl to help her stand. He knew Eiod was at the end of the hallway before the Sinner-Anglëtinean twitched, knew too that he was keeping Jerald out of eyesight, was protecting the one member of his Triad new enough to the Grey Court that Relyt would make a target out of him.
No one moved at first as Relyt’s words sank in. And when they did, when Rhyshladlyn finally decided that he would take care of Relyt’s punishment now, Alaïs was already moving. By the time he’d realized that Nhulynolyn had hauled Relyt even further away, Alaïs was already there and his twin let go of the Soul Healer just as their older sister’s hand flashed out in a blur. The sound of the slap was as loud in the sudden quiet. Relyt cried out before staggering to the side. Alaïs slapped him again and brought him to his knees, her anger palpable.
Most Dhaoine discounted his sister, thinking that she wasn’t as strong as her twin had been, as strong as her infamous little brother. But Rhyshladlyn knew better. She had learned to be strong physically and mentally, had developed her intelligence with the same tenacity that a warrior developed their hand to hand combat and weapons skills. Had done all of that because she had been born first with Anis coming out minutes later and their sire had never let her forget it, never let her live it down because female Sinner Demons didn’t sit the throne of the race, only the males did. Until the events of his ninety-first nameday and the war that had sparked afterwards, that was.
But Alaïs wasn’t the Lord Queen of the Sinner Demons because she was gentler and more accepting than Anislanzir had been. She sure as fuck wasn’t the qahllyn and Oathed Honorable Companion solely because Thayne loved her. No. Alaïs was all of those things because she had power that took one’s breath away. That acted much like the syrs that lured sailors and sea-goers to their deaths in the open waters of the oceans.
And that same power hit the air now and staggered everyone but him, Nhulynolyn, and Azriel because they all knew it was there. They knew what to expect when she physically got into another Dhaoine’s face and put her hands on them.
“How dare you,” Alaïs snarled in Sinxhët and he debated translating but figured her words were understandable enough.
“I don’t…” Relyt swallowed as his eyes unfocused. With a small shake of his head his gaze sharpened and he met her stare head on. “I don’t understand your native tongue, Al.”
Or maybe not.
*He’s consistent with his self murder-inclined stubbornness, at least,* Shadiranamen muttered. Xheshmaryú managed to mask his snort as a huffed breath. Nhulynolyn looked like he was struggling to breath, or was constipated, in the effort to keep his own mirth contained.
“Lord Queen Alaïs,” she corrected, each word, each syllable, sharply pronounced, the enunciation clear enough that even though her accent drenched the words, they were still clear. “Use my title and proper name or do not speak to me at all.”
“Scum doesn’t speak to their betters,” this from Xefras who stood leaning nonchalantly against kitchen counter near the sink, eyes hooded, arms crossed over his chest. Rhyshladlyn took a moment to appreciate the metamorphosis in the Dragaen before refocusing back on Relyt and Alaïs. He growled at the look Relyt shot his friend. “Control your face correctly, Soul Healer, or I fill feed it to you in a way no one but myself and Rhyshladlyn shall enjoy,” Xefras’ voice was even and conversational but it held an edge to it that made Rhyshladlyn chuckle.
Relyt just spluttered, expression clearing, even if only briefly.
“He’s gonna shove it up your ass,” Nhulynolyn quipped with a wink at Xefras who snorted and rolled his eyes.
“That wasn’t quite what I had in mind,” the Dragaen replied, his laughter making the words lighter than they really were, “but I’ll keep that option in mind.”
Relyt regained his composure but it was clearly a struggle. “Am I seriously the only one here who is upset at all by what he’s doing to another Dhaoine?”
“No,” Thae’a spoke up when the silence began to stretch. Rhyshladlyn looked at her and she flinched, holding up both hands as she hastily added, “But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand why he’s doing it.”
There was a smattering of agreement, noises that were half formed words, but he didn’t pay any attention to any of them. Instead he watched Relyt who stared back at him with an emotion he felt he should recognize but didn’t. Watched those grey eyes lighten back to their normal slate grey, watched the anger drain from his face, watched the mask he had seen on the Soul Healer’s face all those centuries ago in a back alley in Shiran City slip into place. He took a step forward when he caught the way Relyt’s jaw clenched, knowing something was going on when Relyt didn’t react when his still broken jaw and dislocated joint moved.
But before he could do anything, say anything, before anyone else could, Relyt moved, shoving Alaïs out of the way as he lunged for Lílrt who was still frozen mid-motion. Closed the distance between himself and his older brother, cupped Lílrt’s face with a desperately whispered, “I’m so sorry. I don’t have any other choice,” and broke his neck with a sharp jerk.
Rhyshladlyn loosed a mind-breaking scream of pure fury as he lunged for Relyt, issuing the same attend to his Steward as he had to the the un-male’s brother. But he never made it, never got to see if it took or not. Because just as he finished speaking it, he felt the Worlds gather themselves. Felt them let out a breath he hadn’t even known they’d been holding. Felt the instability of too much magick in such a small space shake, wobble, and then give way.
And just as Lílrt’s body hit the floor, just as he locked eyes with Relyt and saw burning hatred in those slate-grey eyes, the Balance of All Things dropped to the Worlds it had been ripped from and drowned them all.
END BOOK THREE