36

He’d expected a lot of things when Jerald had told him that Rhyshladlyn had called them to the Companion Tower. But seeing the veritable sea of destroyed bodies and blood that filled the square hadn’t been one of them. Seeing Nhulynolyn glassy-eyed with the hands of a Dragaen in Dhaoinic form gripping his ashen face and screaming you better not fuckin die; no, do not make me have to explain that to him; Nhulynolyn, don’t you dare hadn’t been close to his list. Seeing a Grey Soul Healer with one hand outstretched towards where Rhyshladlyn was slowly falling to his knees, hands fluttering at his chest and the blood that gushed from a gaping wound where his heart should be definitely wasn’t even in the same universe.

And that didn’t even cover watching Jerald slip his Dhaoinic form and burst into the square like something out of a nightmare when he caught sight of Rhyshladlyn. Too many arms and legs that moved almost independently of each other, skin and muscles rippling and shifting like the flames of a shipwreck viewed from beneath the choppy ocean surface as it sinks. A face full of eyes that saw everything and in all directions simultaneously, the nose nonexistent as those eyes replaced everything that had made Jerald’s face Dhaoinic. His mouth now where his throat should be, spreading nearly all the way around a neck that was suddenly as thick as an oak sapling.

As the thing that his friend had become scattered those flesh-less things, the Oathed Warrior in him demanding he protect his Qishir, Eiod looked away. Because an Alphenian’s real form was a sacred thing only to be shared with their Qishir or their mate and for Jerald to slip his skin now told Eiod just how dire things were. So he looked away to honor that and focused on the Otherborn instead. Mainly because the male was closer to him than Rhyshladlyn. And even if Nhulynolyn weren’t closer, Eiod would have focused on him first because he figured the Qishir was strong enough to stay alive on his own, to heal quickly enough that–

Eiod’s thoughts came to halt when he saw that Nhulynolyn didn’t have a single wound on him. Which didn’t make any sense because Eiod could sense how close to death the Other was. Looking back at Rhyshladlyn and the Soul Healer who was gently bringing the Qishir to the ground, hands slipping into that wound as white-hot power filled the gretluos that curled around his arm and around the gretkewq on his forehead, Eiod cursed. Nhulynolyn wasn’t this close to death because Rhyshladlyn twin had suffered what would have been a mortal wound on any other Dhaoine. No the Other was doing what any good Other did for their : he was giving back the gift of life he’d been given. Shit.

“Tell him that… it’s okay,” Nhulynolyn’s voice sounded wet, choked with blood that didn’t come up. Eiod felt his stomach roll at the sound and the lack of wounds appropriate for it. Was frozen in the wake of the acceptance that filled the Other’s face. It was a sacrifice that one always hoped was never needed but knew that one day it may be. Old and High Ones have mercy. “Tell ‘im… that… I’m sorry.”

“No, Nhulynolyn, don’t you fucking dare. No! Tell him yourself, you godsdamn fuck!” the Dragaen’s voice ricocheted off the stone all around them.

Eiod got his body to obey him and move before the Dragaen was even finished speaking. Had grabbed hold of the male to pull him away from Nhulynolyn and out of Eiod’s way just as the light in those ice blue eyes died. His throat closed at the sound of Nhulynolyn’s last breath wheezed out and sound rushed out all at once. Had hoped to spare the Dragaen the sight of the Other dying but he hadn’t been quick enough.

“No,” a voice like fire snarled, the noise wrapping around him like a too warm blanket, so very loud in the eerily muffling silence that filled the square. “Let me go! I can save him!” Eiod grunted as an elbow knocked him in the ribs. Disengaged just as one clawed hand came swiping for his face. Ducked a punch, blocked a kick, and slapped away an elbow before his patience snapped. He didn’t have time for this.

Cease! He’s dead,” he growled, catching the next swing, free hand gripping the Dragaen’s face. “Fighting me does no good. Go help with Rhys before we lose them both.”

“Fuck.” The fight left the Dragaen in a rush, tears tracking down the male’s face unhindered. The look the male leveled at him made Eiod raise an eyebrow. “You really trust me that much?”

“I don’t trust you at all,” Eiod slowly let the male go. “But any Dhaoine who reacts like that to someone dying isn’t a mere stranger. And that says a lot where this Court is concerned. So go. I’ll handle getting us all out of here.”

He didn’t wait to make sure the Dragaen had done so. Just turned back to Nhulynolyn. Stared down at that too still form and sent a prayer for swift and easy passage to the After. Even though he knew the Other wasn’t there and wouldn’t be until Rhyshladlyn died, too. For twin’s were cursed to wander the in between while one of them still lived. It was a benefit but also a terrible burden to being a twin.

Taking a deep breath he pulled the emergency two-way mirror out of the pack at his hip. Remembered a time back during the war when he’d debated calling Relyt, Thayne, or Alaïs and had chosen the first. But not this time. This wasn’t a call for the Grey Steward or Companion to take or even the Eighth Qishir Eiod had helped raise. No, this was a personal call. This was family. And while he doubted Alaïs and Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú didn’t know already, he still owed it to them to confirm it personally.

Old and High Ones See us all. Flipping open the mirror and engaging the spell, he knelt beside Nhulynolyn’s body and reached out a hand to gently lower the Other’s lids so that those lifeless, striking blue eyes were hidden from view. Fought back the wave of guilt that he hadn’t gotten here sooner, that he hadn’t argued when Rhyshladlyn had separated them all.

“Who?” Alaïs barked before the connection had even settled. When he hesitated to answer, not wanting to make it any more real than it already was, his courage suddenly gone, the Lord Queen snapped, “Eiod, who.”

“I need back up. These things have practically over run the City,” he replied. Only keeping his voice steady and even, devoid of the emotions that made it so very hard to breathe, that blurred his vision at the edges, thanks to his centuries of training. He was stalling, gods forgive him, but this was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. And he’d told Lulphé her third child hadn’t survived the birthing.

“Who. Is. Dead.”

He swallowed at the demand that carried almost as much punch as an attend. Closed his eyes with a prayer for strength before he opened them and answered her. Stalling further would only make it worse. Stalling was doing the Otherborn at his feet a dishonor. No matter how much the Worlds would understand why this was the hardest call Eiod had ever made, the hardest thing he’d ever had to say to another Dhaoine, Nhulynolyn still deserved better.

“Nhulynolyn.”

Eiod’s threadbare composure cracked as Alaïs let out a keening wail that warbled the connection as she swayed on her feet and lost the battle to stay standing. The mirror went tumbling, giving him a blurry view of the meeting hall. Shouts of the Lord Queen’s name echoed down the line as the mirror settled on the table. That horrible, gut-wrenching sound never stopped. Just went on endlessly until suddenly it cut off. He didn’t know whether it was because Alaïs had passed out or someone had gotten her out of the room or if his hearing had failed completely.

It was a long moment before Thayne’s crimson eyes filled the mirror, the connection warbling still from the blast of Alaïs’ magick. Eiod stared silently back at her, watching her mouth move but he couldn’t hear her. Could only hear the rushing in his ears. He had no idea how long she’d been trying to talk to him while he fought not to sob. Had no idea how long between her picking up Alaïs’ mirror and when she smacked it to make it whine, jerking him out of his stupor.

“Eiod,” her voice was kind but firm. “Talk to me. You’re my eyes and ears right now.”

He blinked rapidly, glancing up and over the mirror to see Jerald’s throat-mouth open wide and close around the entire head and neck of one of the creatures. Watched as all those arms and legs scrambled to grab hold of the thing as the Alphenian’s elongated torso twisted spinelessly. Glittering blood sprayed in a fountain as Jerald ripped that head free and spat it at another creature before turning to leap at three more at the same time. Knew that if he didn’t get his shit together and right now, that there’d be more bodies to bury and not just those Ryphqians who hadn’t been able to defend themselves against the flesh-less nightmares that had flooded the City.

The whole situation was so royally fucked and he wished he knew what the right answer was here. Wished he knew what the possible outcomes were. Wished even more that he could back and do things so very differently. Because he knew that Bayls still needed to be told and the Sinner’s reaction was going to be far worse than Alaïs’.

“Send only an extraction team. Enough extra warriors to help me transport Nully’s body out of here. Jerald is keeping Rhys safe for now but our top priority is getting him out, too. We’ll regroup and figure out what to do about Ryphqi after but what to do with the City isn’t my main concern right now.”

“How badly is Rhys injured?” Alaïs’ voice was thready, shaky, but when Thayne stepped back enough for the Lord Queen to step into sight, those clear blue eyes were steady and filled with something Eiod didn’t want to name.

“From the brief glance I got,” he swallowed and looked away from those eyes. “He has a hole in his chest where his heart should be. But I haven’t gotten near him and thus cannot tell if that is applicable to where it would be if he weren’t a mirror or where it actually is.”

Thayne nodded and pulled Alaïs against her side, planting a kiss to the Sinner’s temple before those crimson eyes looked back at him. “I’m getting word to Shadi and Azriel as we speak. They’ll be accompanied by ten of my best warriors, five for transport, five to escort.”

“We are in the square of the Companion Watchtower,” Eiod said, voice shaky. “Friendlies are myself, a Soul Healer, the Dragaen we came here for, Jerald, Rhys, and Nully. Jerald has slipped his skin and into his Alphenian form. He is also killing anything that isn’t directly helping his Qishir.”

“Understood. I will ensure those arriving for you are made aware,” Thayne replied.

“My thanks, Qishir Thayne,” he saluted and made to disconnect but stopped when Alaïs spoke.

“Eiod?” He raised his eyebrows and she sighed, one hand coming to her mouth while she visibly fought to keep her composure. “I… thank you…” she trailed off and shook her head, voice and words utterly failing her as tears spilled over her cheeks.

“It is alright, Al,” he soothed with a weak smile. “We’ll talk about it when everyone is home.”

The Lord Queen nodded and stepped out of sight with a sound that broke his heart. He knew that sound, had made it himself too many times to count. It was a sound one made when someone one loved was gone forever, when guilt soaked one’s heart for all the things one could have done but hadn’t. Nully thought only Rhys would struggle to forgive himself for his loss. But there are so many more Dhaoine who will blame themselves. 

“Shadi and Azriel are enroute now,” Thayne’s voice was gentle, reserved, her eyes tracking her Companion. “I’ve authorized the use of a Gateway to get them there faster.”

“I will expect them,” he replied, saluted even though she wasn’t looking at him, and disconnected.

Pocketing the mirror he stood just in time for the Soul Healer he’d seen when he and Jerald got here to fly into the Watchtower with a sickening crack as sound came rushing back in. Stumbling back he turned and felt the blood drain from his face as he watched the Dragaen struggling to get up from where he’d been flung into a building a handful of yards away from the Tower. And then movement brought his attention back to the center of the square. He was running before he’d even fully registered what he was seeing.

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