Bayls drummed her fingers on the tabletop and tried to breathe through her frustration. Tried not to get angry at how everyone kept on talking shop like Rhyshladlyn’s vacant chair wasn’t a blaring siren that shit was wrong. Like the Grey Qishir’s scent wasn’t still thickening the air; a scent that had only gotten stronger when Alaïs had come back in drenched in it, like Rhyshladlyn had been all over the Lord Queen, smelling of fear and frustration and tangy betrayal.
But it seemed like she was the only one besides Alaïs who gave even half a fuck that their Qishir had just bolted from the meeting hall after the whole thing about why the City Relyt had found shouldn’t exist. Well the two of them and Nhulynolyn who had lurched after Alaïs soon as the Lord Queen had slammed through the doors a handful of steps behind her brother. Realistically, Bayls knew Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú also cared, given the way the two Others were side eyeing Alaïs in turns. Like whatever the conversation the Lord Queen had had with Rhyshladlyn was one the Others had also been part of, even if they hadn’t been there physically. But the only two in either Court who showed shit all was Nhulynolyn and Alaïs. Everyone else just seemed unbothered.
And by the Great Mother’s quivering lady bits, it made her want to break something.
“Relyt, your race keeps records nearly as meticulous as the main Worlds Records,” Thayne was saying and Bayls clenched her jaw as the urge to snap at the Eighth Qishir to shut up made her mouth dry. “Have you checked to see if there is anything about this business with that City?”
“I contacted my g’agshaïrt to check in my stead as it will be faster,” Relyt replied. “I should know something by nightfall.”
“Alright,” Thayne looked around at the entire table, eyes slipping by Rhyshladlyn’s chair as though it wasn’t empty, as though the reasons why it was empty didn’t matter, and Bayls swallowed convulsively, “so that exhausts that route. Any suggestions what could have done this?”
In the silence that followed, what control Bayls had snapped and she slapped the table, bringing all eyes swinging to her as every single one of them jumped.
“Are we not going to even ask why Rhys just up and bolted?” she snapped, voice harder than steel, and she took note of every guilty expression it elicited as well as the number of ones it didn’t. “Never mind are we just going to ignore that the only Dhaoine in the Worlds capable of doing shit all to affect a City is Rhys?”
“Bay–” Azriel started, tone placating, gentle, like he was trying to talk down a child from hysterics.
She rounded a glare on him, one strong enough that Jerald, who still stood behind Rhyshladlyn’s chair, stepped back out of range and Relyt flinched hard enough to make his chair creak. Azriel just met her glare head on but she could tell by the way the muscles along his jaw twitched that he wasn’t as unaffected as he was trying to pretend to be.
“Don’t you dare use that tone with me, Azriel Veratone,” she bit out, raising a shaking hand to point at the Anglëtinean, not giving a single fuck that he not just out weighed her but also outclassed her from warrior to warrior. And that wasn’t even touching on the fact that he outranked her in the Court. But at that moment she didn’t give a shit. Because distantly she felt the way her mate was equal parts worried and pissed and knew it was because of how his twin was feeling. “You know that I’m right. You all know that I’m right,” she added with a quick scan of the table before she looked back at Azriel. “So let’s cut the shit and focus on the real important stuff.”
“Like what, Bayls?” Relyt asked and his tone had her looking at him in slow motion, like her neck muscles were tight. The second she saw Relyt’s eyes, so dark they were nearly black, and expression, like he’d swallowed something especially sour and was determined to take it out on anyone else, she was out of her chair fast enough that the World blurred for a moment.
As the sound of her chair clattering to the floor echoed around the room, she was vaguely that Azriel had tensed up, that Jerald was slowly reaching for his sword as was Eiod. That Thae’a and Adïmshyl were pushing away from the table as though it was suddenly going to become a war zone. But that was the extent of her eye line. No doubt Thayne’s end of the table was reacting similar to Rhyshladlyn’s end, but the only Dhaoine she had eyes for was Relyt. Him and that fucking sour look that made her hackles rise and her jaw clench with the need to punch it off his face.
“Like what was strong enough to effect the Grey fucking Qishir’s memories enough that he’s doubting the validity of his own mind,” she bit out, taking a single step forward and smiling as Relyt slowly rose from his chair, meeting her unspoken challenge. Azriel’s softly muttered fuck as Shadiranamen disappeared with a soft pop of displaced air would have made her smile under normal circumstances. “Like how he spoke of what really happened to that City you found and all the air and fight went out of him like he’d been punched in the gut. Like how the Records don’t show anything major going down in that area, or Xitlali and her Court of mad fucks disappearing or suffering or anything beyond a vague mention that they’d existed at some point. Like how the Worlds feel real but not, almost like someone took a storyboard and suffocated the Worlds with it.”
“And we were discussing that, Bayls,” Relyt quipped with a roll of his eyes, the act dismissive. “Which you would have known had you been paying attention instead of preparing to throw this tantrum. Truthfully, I’d thought you more mature than this.”
“Bad move,” someone murmured but she didn’t catch who.
She growled and punched the table because if she didn’t she was going to vault it and put her fist into Relyt’s face.
“Alright then how about we discuss how the only one of you who ran after him was Alaïs,” she replied, not bothering to acknowledge or respond to the dig at her maturity. “You and Azriel didn’t even fucking look at him when he ran passed you.”
The silence that followed that accusation was loud. It settled on her shoulders like a pair of hands pushing down with enough force that if she was any weaker willed, her knees would have buckled. But as it was she wasn’t backing down. Not now that she was on a roll. Not even as she felt Nhulynolyn’s magick building at the edges of her awareness, growing stronger with each breath she took, like he was running for the hall. Not even as Shadiranamen took form beside Xheshmaryú again. Not even as the doors opened and her mate darted through them, skidding to a stop at the sight before him, face flushed and hair a halo around his head where several strands had escaped his braid.
“What exactly are you implying, Bayls Qaeniri,” Relyt’s voice was even and dark, a statement instead of a question, like he was trying to give her an out, a warning of the line she was dangerously close to crossing.
But she didn’t care. She’d watched Rhyshladlyn wither and wilt over the last forty years while two of the three of his Oathed Triad watched, while those same two were no doubt the underlying cause. And while no one else may be willing to stand up and do shit all about it, she for one wasn’t going to sit idly by. Not anymore.
So as Nhulynolyn blinked to her side, she pressed both hands into the table until she felt it bend beneath them and leaned forward, as close as she was willing to risk getting to Relyt and still drive home her point.
“I’m not implying anything, Relyt Greymend,” she smiled, all sharp edges and fury that made the air around her drip with humidity, “I’m stating for all gathered that you’re a fuckin’ co–”
One word and the air sucked out of the room as Rhyshladlyn arrived with all the force of a hurricane making landfall, making her vision spin as cries erupted around the room. But there was no anger, no upset to that touch of power, of sentience that was the Grey Qishir. Just this yawning emptiness that made her eyes sting as she leaned back against Nhulynolyn who wrapped on arm around her waist and took her weight easily. There was no sense that the Grey Qishir was even upset anymore, that he’d been upset at all, at least not in his scent or the feel of his magick as it breathed out through the room, touching every one of them, and left Balance in its wake.
But it was noticeable when her vision cleared and she saw the tear tracks on his face, the way his eyes were more orange than the orange-amber they really were, his nose red and cheeks flushed, a sure sign he’d been crying and crying hard. As her throat grew tight, Nhulynolyn squeezed the arm around her waist and she looked away from Rhyshladlyn to her mate, craning her neck to do so. As those ice blue eyes met hers she hissed and closed her eyes tightly as her anger rushed back to the forefront and twisted in her gut.
“Qishir Thayne, I think we have spent enough time here doing naught but going in circles,” Rhyshladlyn said as the air came back and the tension fully dissipated. “I suggest that we break for a few hours and reconvene at dinner, if you are amenable to that.”
“I am, Qishir Rhyshladlyn,” Thayne’s voice was tight like she was clenching her jaw but Bayls didn’t look to confirm it. Just stared at Rhyshladlyn who looked less like a living Dhaoine and more like an animated statue. “Meeting dismissed. We will return here at the dinner hour where we shall have our meal and continue the discussion where we left off.”
Rhyshladlyn saluted, turned on his heel and strode out of the meeting hall. Bayls shrugged off Nhulynolyn’s hold but only got as far as a couple steps before her mate caught her hand and pulled her up short. “Leave him be, darlin’heart. Now ain’t the time to be pesterin’ him with anythin’.”
She snarled but didn’t fight him. Of everyone, Nhulynolyn would know when Rhyshladlyn was safest to approach with questions or concerns, either about and for the Qishir’s own self or others. So for all that she wanted to ignore him, she didn’t.
“Fine, but let me go, I’m not staying in this fuckin’ room any longer than I have to.” Nhulynolyn did as she asked and soon as she was released she was walking to the doors, carefully keeping from looking at Azriel or Relyt or Jerald, but especially the first two. Because if she did, she knew she wasn’t going to get the fuck out of there without throwing punches. She was still too angry, even after Rhyshladlyn had Balanced the room.
Was too angry at everyone for seeing how bad Rhyshladlyn had gotten and doing nothing to help or stop it or solve the problem. Just let the Qishir go on acting like the arena fights weren’t a huge ass warning that shit was up, let him and themselves go on acting like nothing was wrong. Like Rhyshladlyn wasn’t close to a breakdown of some sort, a breakdown that when it hit could potentially level entire Worlds. But fuck it, right? So long as he seems like shit is fine, it is. Which was such bullshit.
Relyt’s voice stopped her just as she was reaching for the hall’s doors, “I will let this slight against me go this time, Bayls Qaeniri, but next time I will not. So it would behoove you to remember my rank and how it correlates to your own. For so long as I’m the Grey Steward there certain courtesies that, whether you agree with it or not, you are law-bound to afford me.”
Her laughter was everything Rhyshladlyn’s emptiness hadn’t been as she glanced over her shoulder at the Soul Healer. She didn’t know what expression was on her face but it couldn’t have been pleasant the way Nhulynolyn’s eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline and Relyt straightened his spine, the only sign that he wanted to step back under the weight of her stare. Azriel’s expression went carefully blank, a sure sign that he knew the danger inherent in her stare, in her laughter, and was smart enough to not make a target of himself. Jerald didn’t look away from Relyt or Azriel. Smart male.
“I will afford you those courtesies the day Rhyshladlyn trusts you enough to make your Blood Oath truly solid, Relyt Greymend, and not one fucking second sooner. Because I don’t trust you, never have and never will. And while I may not know the why yet, I will one day and you can bet your stoic, stuck up ass that I will use it to drown you.”
Before Relyt could do anything more than stutter while everyone else whistled and made sounds of shock and awe, Nhulynolyn’s proud masculine laughter the heartbeat to it all, she punched her way through the doors while she still had the strength to fight off the urge to get violent.