She was furious. Burning so hot it was a wonder steam wasn’t rising from her skin. Was even more of a wonder that Rhyshladlyn hadn’t sensed it or smelled the change in the air. Though given how distraught he was, she didn’t have to wonder how he missed it. It was obvious. And by the Sands and Sky, that just pissed her off more. Because Rhyshladlyn was never unaware of his surroundings, of those stood within five feet of him even when he slept. So for him to miss her anger said a fuck ton more than what his voice had given life to.

As she all but jogged through the gardens, her fury almost palpable, she took note of how empty the paths were despite it being near midday on one of the first bright, clear days they’d had in Eyrdo in months. Looked closer as she walked and found that for all that the gardens seemed deserted, it was more that the Dhaoine who were sharing space with her and Rhyshladlyn, and now Nhulynolyn at the entrance, were staying as unobtrusive as possible. Not out of any sense of danger but more out of respect. For it was hard not to notice the way the gardens’ ambient magick shifted and swirled around the fountain where she’d left Rhyshladlyn, was hard not to notice the Currents making worried chittering noises while the birdsong seemed overtly cheery and the wind made melodies as it danced in and around the trees.

The Worlds would forever cater to her little brother and not because as a Greywalker he was the only way the Worlds remained Balanced. No, her anger dissipated slightly as she looked around both with her power and her eyes, it is because they love him in their own way. Which brought the thought of gods aplenty help us when he finally crosses the River and into the After. The mere idea of what the Seven Worlds would do to mourn Rhyshladlyn’s death chilled her to the bone.

Shaking the morbidly off kilter thoughts away, she refocused on the path in front of her as she came around a corner some fifty feet from the entrance to the gardens and promptly pulled up short. Nhulynolyn was exactly where she’d said he’d be. Though to look at him one wouldn’t know he was acting as guard with the way he stood staring up at an oak tree blooming with brilliant violet flowers scattered about its branches like a fledgling had flung a color-laden paintbrush and where the droplets of paint hit was where the flowers sprouted. He looked like any other Dhaoine in the gardens enjoying the spring warm and clear skies. But she knew better though perhaps only because she knew how to read him.

In profile he looked exactly like Rhyshladlyn, even with their different eye colors, even with the way Nhulynolyn’s hair was all one length and nearly to his waist while Rhyshladlyn shaved the sides and left the top long, even with the way Nhulynolyn was more bulky muscle and Rhyshladlyn was leaner muscle toned to a tensile strength as unyielding as stone and as unbreakable as diamond. At a distance, face twisted with an emotion she couldn’t name right off hand, Nhulynolyn looked like the flesh and blood identical mirror image of Rhyshladlyn. Which wasn’t accurate because her kè wasn’t the echo, Rhyshladlyn was, and her Dhaoinic-born brother bore the proof of that in the displacement of his vital organs, in the extra joints scattered throughout his body, in the way he healed faster than any other Dhaoine that had nothing to do with his power.

Eyes so light a blue they were almost white swung to her, the face that housed them turning half a second later, shattering the illusion that Rhyshladlyn had somehow grown his hair and gotten to the garden’s entrance ahead of her. As she watched those unnameable emotions made his eyes glow, Alaïs wondered how different things would have been if Nhulynolyn had been born as a Dhaoine just like Rhyshladlyn. Wondered if they would have had mismatched eyes, one blue and one orange-amber mirrored in the same way they were reality and its echo. Wondered if Rhyshladlyn would have suffered less growing up, if they all would have. Wondered if her baby brother would have been born a male instead of a neodrach. Wondered if Nhulynolyn would have been as close to Rhyshladlyn as he was now had they shared only blood, genetics, and a likeness.

But the idle wonderment never lasted because she knew her answer. Had known it the moment relief had weakened her knees when Mother had told her and Anis that Rhyshladlyn was the only one of them to be born breathing and Dhaoinic.

“You calm down any?” Nhulynolyn asked, tone conversational but she could feel his scrutiny sure as if his hands were physically on her skin.

“Enough,” she hedged. It wasn’t a lie but she probably wasn’t safe to go near any of the Grey Court, especially the Grey Triad. Not after that talk just now with Rhyshladlyn, not after everything she’d just learned.

Nhulynolyn squinted at her and she snorted.

“Fix your face, brother mine,” she rolled her eyes and held her arms out with a smile she knew looked as false as it felt. “I’m not going to lay hands on any of them, regardless of how much I want to and they deserve it.”

“Al…” Nhulynolyn sighed, both hands coming up to rub up his face and into his hair. Giving it a tug that pulled it loose from the braid it was in he huffed, stomped one foot, and dropped his hands to his waist, eyes still looking at her but she knew he wasn’t seeing her.

Well this outta be good. He only did that when the conversation he was about to have was going to be as unpleasant for the listener as it was for the speaker. As the silence stretched and all he did was continue to stare at her, she crossed her arms under her breasts, and raised an eyebrow.

His curse was harsh and made her ears thrum as the Otherborn language warped the syllables and sharpened the vowels and burned the consonants.

“Look, you can’t–” he cut off with another curse, this one far more vehement, and paced away a few steps, came back, then paced away again before he tried again. “Goin’ in there half cocked an’ tastin’ of fury like you are right now ain’t gonna solve any of our problems, let alone Rhyshladlyn’s.”

Both her eyebrows rose at that because Nhulynolyn never used Rhyshladlyn’s full name unless shit was really fucked. Yeah, this is definitely going to be unpleasant.

“And what? I’m supposed to let that shit slide?” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder, her anger spiking back up, making her face hot as sweat trickled down her spine. “You heard what he said, Nul! You know what he’s been dealing with, alone, for nearly a decade.”

“Al, he di–”

“Us Others not knowing about it is one thing,” she said, cutting him off, not caring that it was rude. She was on a roll and once started, she only stopped when she ran out of steam. “We can only know what we lay eyes on if he keeps our links locked down. And none of us has spent that much time physically around him in the last decade. And he sure as fuck hasn’t been all open-door policy about our shared head space lately.” She growled before taking a deep breath and letting it out slow when the Other twitched at the sound. Reminded herself that Nhulynolyn wasn’t the cause of her ire. He was just a conveniently placed target for it and that wasn’t remotely fair. “But those fuckers who are Oathed to him? They have spent physical time around him. Never mind that when a Blood Oath goes two ways you can’t just close the door and not let shit get through! It’s why Rhys fought so hard for so long to finalize his side of shit.”

“Still don’t mean you can go in there with the intention of beatin’ faces,” Nhulynolyn retorted and this time when the growl trickled up and out of her mouth, she bared her fangs along with it.

“I can though and I should because clearly no one fucking else will,” she snapped back, one hand cutting viciously through the air before she re-crossed her arms, fingers digging into her sides in an effort to keep herself from getting so worked up she wouldn’t come down from it for a few hours. “I just… I want to know their excuses. I want to hear their reasons. I want to know why for all every single person in this godsforsaken Court of his blathers until they’re blue in the face and Rhys’ is sick of hearing their voices, that they care about him and want to help him and take care of him, are never there when he needs them most.

Her power snapped out and sent birds scattering towards the skies as the gardens got suddenly quiet all around them, like they were listening, waiting; prey that finally caught on that a predator was within range and hunting for them. For long moments Nhulynolyn just blinked at her, not taken aback per se, but more like he had been reminded, and loudly at that, that she was far more protective of her baby brother than perhaps even Jerald was as his Oathed Warrior. And that was saying a lot because Oathed Warriors had no limits, no boundaries they wouldn’t cross, when it came to protecting their Qishir.

“I know all’a that, Al. Trust me, I know,” Nhulynolyn said eventually, running his hands through his hair again, having stopped his pacing when her power had snapped out, eyes locked on her and unblinking with it. “But I also know that if you go back in there all righteous an’ reekin‘ of deathly pleasure, all you’re gonna do is make drama that Rhys ain’t need. That an’ you’ll derail us all from shit that, fucked as it is to say it, is way more important than Azriel not keepin’ his dick in his pants, Relyt bein’ whatever the fuck it is he is, an’ Jerald missin’ both of those things.”

Alaïs snarled out a Sinxhët curse, head tilting back so she could glare up at the sky.

“I know you wanna protect him,” Nhulynolyn needled, no doubt knowing he was close to winning, “trust me so do I, but some shit is higher priority. An’ him havin’ emotional issues with two outta three of his Triad when we’ve got literal Cities disappeared off the face of Worlds-wide knowledge an’ Records, never mind y’know the fact that two entire Courts are just,” she caught his vague hand gestures in her periphery, “yeah. This shit,” more gesturing, probably at the two of them and over her shoulder towards Rhyshladlyn, “it’s not that important. Not right now. So let it the fuck go.”

He had a point. A lot of points, actually. But she knew if she followed his advice, if she did what he asked, that Rhyshladlyn would bury the conversation they’d just had and act like he was fine again. And the gods only knew that what Rhyshladlyn buried never stayed buried, not for long, especially if it was emotional or psychological turmoil. That’s why he tended to burn shit to ash or wipe it out of Existence entirely; was safer for the Worlds that way. And she was terrified what would happen if one of the explosions of his youth happened now when he had the strength to magickally level Worlds, to perform Workings with all the prep of a snap of his fingers.

But Nhulynolyn was right, damn him. Closing her eyes as she sighed heavily, Alaïs let her anger trickle away then all in a rush. Grounded it into the thick, lush grass beneath her boots as she looked back at him.

“You’re right,” she made a rude hand gesture when Nhulynolyn tossed a shit eating grin her way. “Fuck you. But… you’re right.”

“Thank fuck,” he made a dramatic show of wiping sweat off his forehead. “If you’d gone on fightin’ me much longer I was liable to start throwin’ shit. Bein’ the logical an’ responsible one was makin’ my skin itchy.”

She laughed and made for the garden entrance behind him, far calmer than she was when she’d left the meeting hall to go after Rhyshladlyn. But as she drew alongside Nhulynolyn, something made her stop. Some tickling sense made her stop and look at him. She flinched at the ancient look in his eyes, at the way they were unreadable, almost cold. Felt the oddest sense of déjà vu as she asked, “Did you know?”

“No,” he answered, “I didn’t know until just now.” It felt like there was more to that answer, like there were words that were left unspoken but not because he wasn’t giving her the full truth of it. She frowned. No, it was like it wasn’t her who asked that question and it wasn’t Nhulynolyn who answered it.

Swallowing as that déjà vu made vertigo tilt her vision this way and that before it spun, she nodded, squeezed his shoulder in the same way she had Rhyshladlyn’s, and made for the Palace again, this time not stopping until she was inside and had put at least two floors between them. Told herself as she got closer and closer to the meeting hall that she wasn’t running from the look on her ‘s face. No, she was just getting back to her Qishir as quickly as possible.

It was bullshit, though. But thankfully the only one who would call her on it was still in the gardens making sure no one else from the Grey Court disturbed Rhyshladlyn until he was good and ready to show them his face.

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