18

The further he got from N’phier City, the less afraid he became. But in place of that abject terror and the panic it produced anger took root. And with each loping stride he took, with each leap from one Line to another, dodging Dhaoine and Line Carriages as he went, that anger grew. With each sharp inhale and gusty exhale, that anger blossomed into rage. As he neared the Imèn-Txiwteb border, that rage shifted into a stream of fury so hot it steamed like the end of a great waterfall where it met the rocks and rapids. As he flipped to yet another Line a rogue wave so large it blotted out the horizon and the rising moon rose out of that steam. Higher and higher until it crested and fell, molding to his body so tightly it was like a second skin. And he welcomed it and the frigidity it brought, a coldness so intense it burned.

Because he was so sick of being lied to.

Tired of it on a level that there were no words for. Sick of opening himself up. Of trusting those around him only to find out that it was all for nothing. Only to find out that for all that he gave everything, he only ever received shit. Shit and lies and betrayal and pain and self-loathing and nightmares.

It was ill-advised for him to seek out Relyt right now but the Soul Healer had lied both in word and memory. And Rhyshladlyn had proof now, solid proof. He’d touched that ancient sentience, woken it and learned the truth. Relyt hadn’t walked those grounds either before or after he’d destroyed N’phier’s physical tether to the living realm. Relyt hadn’t seen what the City looked like destroyed and half alive because he hadn’t been there when Rhyshladlyn had walked those streets in his purest form. No one in the Court had. And for the Soul Healer to say otherwise? For him to get an entire search party of Dhaoine to back up his claims? Dishonorable wasn’t a strong enough word.

As he crossed Txiwteb’s southwestern border, that cold fury had settled Self-deep, as unmovable as one of the Old Ones, as unshakable as Fate’s knotted webs. As he skirted around the Forest he felt millions of eyes lift skyward, tracking where he ran at blurring speeds down the Lines; the awareness and touch of those creatures that called the Forest home touching him, asking if he needed them. Felt his brethren, the things that answered only to him — and sometimes to the gods Themselves — move to the edges of the Forest. Felt those who could fly take to the treetops, eyes glinting in the gaps of the branches with the occasional flash of teeth. An army that couldn’t be defeated because there was always more of it left to pour out of that ancient, legend-draped Forest; all of them waiting his command to walk the Worlds. Every last one of them ready to die defending against any enemy, even those he thought were family.

He shook his head, waving them off. He wouldn’t unleash them, not yet. Not until he knew exactly what he was dealing with. Not until he knew the extent of the lies, of the damage those lies had wrought. Doing anything before he had that information was hasty in a way that would see more death than he was ready to deal with.

So instead he stripped out of his clothes as he ran, replacing each article with the armor Shiran had gifted him all those centuries ago. As he flipped up and over a group of Dhaoine, threw out his left wings to slip around a Line Carriage travelling way too fast to stop in time, he dressed for battle. Called in his swords to their customary spots on his back, checked that his vambraces were snug against his forearms, that his tunic and breeches sat just right, the latter tucked into his boots. And when he was satisfied that everything was in its proper place, he twisted off one Line onto another uncaring of the screams his sudden appearance elicited. Just kept running, the slam of his boots onto the Line thunderous, pushing his muscles to their limits so that he ate up the distance at a speed that made him nearly invisible to those he passed.

With each step his fury grew. With each league crossed, every City flown over, every Dhaoine and Line Carriage dodged around and evaded, the need to feel flesh tear beneath his fingers, to hear screams of panic and terror not unlike his own back outside N’phier City make the air burn, grew. The louder the melodic song of his Triad grew, the more of his cold fury hit the surface of his skin, until he was glowing with it. Until the frigid heat of it emanated from as though he were coldfire itself made flesh. And when he could practically feel the song of his Triad’s qahllyn and the chirping chitters of their qahllyn’qir he loosed a yip-yip-hoo-wup! that brought several Dhaoine around him on the Line and those nearby to a sudden stop. For that was not a sound anyone ever wanted to hear him make off a Field, never mind on one.

As Eyrdo rose out of the distance, the Eighth Palace looming above the city’s buildings like a protector or a jailer, he felt the wards warble a warning note as his all-consuming cold fury preceded him. Felt the Barriers tremble as the Shields shook awake when his power came rumbling on the heels of that fury, a heralding of the danger that had crossed two Worlds in a matter half an hour, a trip that should have taken him far longer. He smiled crookedly when the Shields and Barriers engaged, a shimmering line that pressed against the buildings of the city, the flickers of Thayne’s own magick and the ties she had to her qahllyn and fully Oathed Triad twirling in intricate patterns among that crimson-colored power.

He didn’t slow down at the sight though, at the brush of warning and request to slow down that they sent to him. He didn’t shatter them, didn’t even crack them. Just passed right through like they were water and he a diver that had jumped from a platform. They didn’t even try to deny him entrance for not other reason than that no magickal creation could, none was strong enough. None save those formed at the hands of the gods stood a chance of keeping him at bay. And even then it wasn’t a guarantee.

At the sight of the Palace’s roof, several floors above where the meeting hall was, he let out another yip-yip-hoo-wup! call and let go of the Line, free falling through the air. Heard shouts of surprise as those on the Line with him no doubt thought he’d slipped. Felt the alarm of those on the ground when they recognized his signature and caught the scent of his fury seconds later, their cries rising on the wind that pulled and pushed at him as he fell.

But he ignored it all.

Tucking his arms to his sides, stretching his body out to its full height he rocketed face first towards the Palace. At the last second before he hit the roof proper, he blinked through it and every floor between it and the meeting hall. Curled in on himself as he blinked through the last floor so that when he dropped to the center of the table, he was on one knee, one hand planted in a fist beside that bent knee, other hand gripping Mallacht‘s hilt, head bowed as the blast of air from his impact sent papers flying and his hair-bells to shrieking several notes of discontent as his hair whipped around his face. The table bent under his sudden weight, nearly buckling, before it settled, the magick that reinforced it engaging to accommodate the extra weight. His armor engaged, becoming impenetrable as his Court and Thayne’s scrambled to get away from the table, to escape the slithering tendrils of his fury and the body that used it as a conduit.

It was like being back in Shiran City, waiting for the next time Anislanzir called for him. Only this was worse. Because this? This was Relyt. The one who had heard his Call in a back alley of Shiran City and answered it without hesitation. This was Relyt who had willingly offered himself up to go stand at Alaïs’ side to protect her from the Lord King because Rhyshladlyn no longer could. This was Relyt who had always been there. Who had never once strayed from him. Whose loyalty Rhyshladlyn believed in wholeheartedly right alongside Azriel’s. This was the male he had willingly invited into his bed, the only one besides Azriel.

And gods did it feel fantastic to lift his head slowly, not for effect but because pain lanced down the back of it and settled at the top of his spine. To lock eyes with Relyt who stared back at him with shock that quickly shifted into terror at the expression that greeted the Soul Healer’s stare.

He stayed in that kneeling crouch, unmoving, and watched those slate grey eyes he’d loved for so long, had come to expect to see in the mornings, lighten until they were nearly white before threads of black swirled among that white-grey. Watched as the male he had come to depend on when things had gotten shaky with Azriel and tense with the Court at large, struggle to keep his composure in the face of Rhyshladlyn’s fury. Watched as those eyes slowly went blank, hiding the thoughts that lay behind them. And while Rhyshladlyn wasn’t surprised to see that old stoic mask slip over Relyt’s face, too, he hated that he saw it. Hated that it existed still, that Relyt could call it on demand. Because Relyt only ever used it when the Soul Healer had something to hide. When he had a lie to protect.

Baring his teeth in a slow, deadly smile he coiled in on himself and snarled. It was the only warning anyone had before he launched himself at Relyt. Shouts rang out around him, Relyt’s loudest of all, as he pushed the Soul Healer to the ground, chair and all. Heard the sounds of scrambling feet as they landed with a loud thunk. He curled his hands into fists in Relyt’s tunic, holding himself in a mock handstand for a heartbeat before he dropped his feet to the ground to the left of Relyt’s chair, and then pulled the Soul Healer up and into a half circle before pushing off the with his right foot towards the nearest wall, hitting it with a concussive boom that shook the air. Growled a warning as he felt Azriel and Jerald close in from behind him, freezing the two males in their tracks at the sound.

“Rhys, where have you been,” Thayne’s voice wasn’t as far as he expected it to be but she at least had the mind to be monotonous and careful. Good for her, “and what the fuck is going on?”

He didn’t answer, just stared at Relyt and growled again, this time in the subvocal register. Delighted in the way his Steward recoiled, hands twitching at his sides like the Soul Healer wanted to try and dislodge Rhyshladlyn’s fists from his tunic. But he didn’t. Smartest thing you’ve done all week.

*My twin, what the whole and entire fuck has–* Nhulynolyn cut off with a verbal curse that trailed off into a hiss that smacked at the air like a hand slapping a table when Rhyshladlyn showed him a glimpse of what he’d seen at N’phier City. Only doing so because unlike Thayne who would take his silence as a hint to let him move this along at his own pace, his twin had no such restraint.

“My Qishir, I–” Relyt gulped and closed his mouth so fast his teeth clacked together when Rhyshladlyn’s upper lip curled up off his teeth. But the warning only held for a second before the male was trying again, “I-I don’t… what is this about?”

Rhyshladlyn leaned forward until their noses brushed, smile shifting into something dark and dangerous as he felt Relyt’s rapid breaths puff across his face. For all that his Steward looked calm, he wasn’t; in fact he was so very afraid. Taking a deep breath, Rhyshladlyn pulled that scent in deep, memorized the nuances of it, memorized the way it tasted on the back of his tongue. It was good for his Court to be reminded why they should fear him, why crossing him was a horrible idea. Clearly they’d forgotten given their actions of late. May as well start with the worst one of the lot. Lesson number one…

“I went to the site of that City you walked through,” his voice was barely above a whisper but in the nearly cacophonous silence that had fallen over the room, Rhyshladlyn may as well have shouted. “And you know what I found there?”

Relyt swallowed and shook his head.

“Nothing, Relyt Greymend,” he straightened and let go of his Steward, taking one step back and then another. “I found absolutely fucking nothing.”

“That’s not possible!” Relyt spluttered, gesturing with one hand, looking for half a second like he wanted to push away from the wall but thought better of it when he caught the look Rhyshladlyn turned on him. “I know I saw it. I know we walked there. One of my party is dead, we buried em after ey ripped out eir own throat for the Many’s sake!” The Soul Healer dropped his hand and stared unseeing at the floor, looking so lost that for a heartbeat Rhyshladlyn almost felt bad for him. Almost. “There is no way we collectively imagined that.”

*Show us,* Shadiranamen’s voice was calm, deathly so, the touch of her presence against his memories gentle. He showed her, showed all three of his Others, what N’phier had shown him. Let them see the day he’d destroyed the City and every single living thing that had been within its walls. Let them see, too, the memory that had come after. While they struggled to come to grips with that, he focused back in on the primary conversation at hand.

“It showed me the truth, Relyt,” he countered with a derisive sound while his Others made sounds of shock and confusion and horror behind him. “The second I made contact with the ground where it stood, it showed me the day I destroyed it.”

“What?” Azriel stammered out, the Anglëtinean’s disbelief dancing along his spine like fire sparks licking at kindling.

“We have seen what our speaks of via our connection,” Shadiranamen answered, her tone leaving no room for argument. “It is as he says: N’phier City was destroyed by his own hand, torn apart to the very molecular level and scattered to the winds. Nothing survived. Not even its Watchtowers remain.”

“Motherfucker,” Bayls whispered before a muted thud sounded, no doubt from her dropping heavily back into her chair. “You totally destroyed it?”

“Why?” This from Alaïs.

“No,” Relyt said before Rhyshladlyn could respond to them. Shook his head, stepping off the wall, turning imploring eyes first on Rhyshladlyn who just raised an eyebrow and then at Azriel and Jerald who stood to either side just behind him. “Look I know what I saw, I know what I touched. It was real, on my gretluos I swear it was real.”

“See, that’s the thing though,” Rhyshladlyn closed his eyes, head tilting back as he fought to calm himself, to release his cold fury and ground out the excess anger that remained, “Sanctuary Cities are no more capable of lying than the Greywalkers who created them.” Opening his eyes, head still tilted back, looking at the ceiling with its ornate swirling carvings high above his head, he sighed.

“Rhys,” Alaïs’ voice trembled and he shifted just enough to see her out of the corner of his eye over one shoulder, raising an eyebrow to show he was listening. “Why did you destroy a City like that? Why’d you take even it’s Watchtowers from it?”

He closed his eyes and tried to find the words he needed to answer her. It was just like before the war ended. Back when Rhyshladlyn had been so furious, so hurt, he didn’t have words to voice it. Just used his fists and his power to express what boiled in his blood, what filled his mind until all that he could find and feel had been darkness and fury so complete it had burned anything that had remained of who he had been.

And then he’d made one last mistake.

“I know it was you who brought the Hounds upon us.” His throat burned with the words, with the absolute debilitating pain ignited all along his spine, shorting out his thoughts. His eyes rolled back, every muscle in his body relaxing at once, followed by the peculiar sense of falling but he never hit the ground. With a shuddering groan as his mind scrambled to try and figure out what had happened, as his god-Marks flared to a brilliant life at his chest and wrists, he tried to speak, tried to reach out for his Others, for his Triad, but got nothing. Nothing but that agony spreading, hitting every single nerve ending in his body, making him shake and twitch, not a single muscle responding to his order to cut it the fuck out.

The pressure built inside, built and built, the agony so intense that it closed his throat, stole his breath, and logically, buried beneath that pain he knew he was seizing. Recognized the feel of it though he didn’t know from where. But before he could try and remember, the pressure building inside him snapped, his jaw dropped open, and he screamed until darkness rose up and swallowed him whole.

6 thoughts on “18

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