At a sharp knock, Bayls looked up from the painting she’d been working on to find Thayne and Relyt standing in the doorway. Watched them step aside to show Alaïs and Xheshmaryú. The paintbrush fell from her hand and clattered loudly on the floor at the look on their faces, the way the Sinner’s face was covered in tear tracks that hadn’t fully dried. The way the Nochresi’s eyes were a purple so dark it was nearly black. Stood shakily to her feet, looking at each of them in turn, wondering where Azriel was, where Shadiranamen was. Frowned as they all just kept staring at her like she was about to lose her collective shit. Like they were worried she was about to do something drastic and bad.

“Bay…” Alaïs’ voice was gentle, kind, had not a single trace of the undercurrent of strength it had had since the day she’d met the Sinner. Those clear blue eyes were just as kind but there was an incredible sadness to them; all consuming, drowning deep. Bayls shook her head as she stumbled back a step. “Bay… we are… fuck,” She watched as fresh tears fell over old tracks, making the Lord Queen’s eyes shine as more built up and fell one after the other.

Alaïs didn’t finish the sentence, her voice having failed her, one trembling hand coming up to cover her mouth but it didn’t hide that ocean-deep sadness. No… it’s not sadness. That’s grief. And just like that Bayls knew exactly why they were here and the realization stole the air from her as the World began to tremble.

“No,” she growled, “no… don’t you– you can’t— no…”

“Bayls,” Thayne’s voice was firm but just as kind, just as gentle, and when Bayls turned to glare at the Eighth Qishir she flinched at the naked grief in those crimson eyes. Which only confirmed her fears. She waited in the too loud quiet for the Eighth Qishir to keep speaking, to fill that quiet. To make it real. But it wasn’t Thayne who said the one thing Bayls had prayed never to hear.

“Bayls, we are your honor guard.”

It was Relyt.

The words hit her like a punch to the face only a thousand times worse. By the Great Mother’s tits it was so hard to breathe. The air whistling in and out of her nose and mouth burned, like it was fire and not air. The World tipped, tilted, and then settled as pain throbbed in her knees but it was muted compared to the absolute agony in her chest. Her ears were ringing from some horrible, high pitched noise that filled the room around her. It hurt so very much to breathe and it just kept getting harder, kept getting worse, as that sound rose in volume and the World trembled harder until her vision shook with it. Her skin felt too tight, too dry, itchy and wet all at once. There was a vague sense that the front of her tunic was wet, that her face was wet, too. But all she could focus on was that terrible pain in her chest and the awful sound that it made and the way she couldn’t breathe.

Strong hands cupped her face, clear blue eyes filling her vision, the magickal signature that lapped at her oversensitive skin so familiar but so incredibly different from the one she craved, the one she wasn’t going to feel again. It was so much worse than the last time she’d looked at Alaïs like this and known her beloved was gone. Because an honor guard was permanent. There was no recovering from that. Because they didn’t come when there was no trace of one’s mate. Only when there was a body to burn, ashes to scatter, Self to guide across the River and into the After.

“Little sister,” Alaïs’ words settled around her like a prayer and she shook her head in that hold, closing her eyes because she couldn’t handle seeing the Lord Queen’s right now. They were too much like the pair she’d never get to see again.

That sound just kept getting louder. Louder and louder. If any of them said those words again, those horrible, terrible words that no mated Sinner Demon ever wanted to hear, she wasn’t going to be able to keep it together. Gods only knew she was dangerously close to losing control and becoming a danger to everyone in the Palace. She may not have been as powerful as everyone else in the Grey Court but a grief-stricken Dhaoine was still dangerous, just for a whole different reason.

But then again that was what an honor guard was for: to make sure that the Dhaoine who received the news it heralded was kept from harming themselves and those around them as the magick they controlled broke loose of its mooring lines and shook the Worlds with the grief that birthed it. And gods surrounding but she had prayed to never be on the receiving end of one. At least not so soon. Not now.

“I am so very sorry, little sister,” the Lord Queen whispered and Bayls had no idea how she managed to hear Alaïs over that noise that hadn’t stopped since Relyt had spoken those words.

It wasn’t until Thayne and Xheshmaryú came to kneel on either side of her, their hands touching her shoulders, that she realized she was crying. It wasn’t until Relyt came to kneel behind her, both his hands touching her shoulder blades, forehead resting at the top of her spine, that she realized she was rocking back and forth, all of them moving with her. It wasn’t until Alaïs let out a choked sound that she realized that that awful, horrible sound was her wailing. That she had been making it the entire time and hadn’t stopped. Hadn’t even slowed down.

“Bayls Qaeniri Otherborn nóh Ka’ahne,” they intoned as one, “we are your honor guard for the death of your mate, Nhulynolyn Otherborn. May his passage to the After be swift and effortless.”

Her control snapped, her magick winging out all around her, as she wailed all the louder. Screamed wordless pleas and curses, tears flowing faster, lungs burning as she struggled to draw breath fast enough to keep making those sounds. But the four of them weathered it. Even as her grief-powered magick tore the couch to shreds, even as it smashed the chairs against the hearth. Even as the walls ran with cracks and the windows shattered with the tinkling ring of glass, they didn’t let go of her, didn’t move. Even when she clutched at her abdomen and her wailing increased in pitch until she felt as though her eardrums would shatter, they held on.

Nhulynolyn cupped her face, hands so large the palms pressed against the sides of her neck, thumbs brushing along her cheekbones. Those blue eyes of his boring into hers as he leaned down and kissed her soundly. She clutched at his hips, trying to ignore the whisper of unease that made her stomach weakly protest the meal she’d last eaten. She kissed him back, holding him against her for a heartbeat longer, needing to feel how real he was beneath her hands. 

He smiled against her mouth and teased her lips with his tongue, dipping in to taste her before he pulled back and winked. The love he felt for her was a physical thing that lapped at her skin like the gentle heat of his magickal signature; all desert winds in summer right before the nights began to get cold with the coming autumn. It turned his eyes warm as summer skies and just as endless, just as bright. Made the self-satisfied smirk playing with his lips hold more heat, more realness than he ever showed anyone else. Except maybe Rhyshladlyn. 

“I’ll make sure everyone comes back safe, B. I promise.” 

“You fucking better,” she replied and he chuckled, low and masculine, before kissing her again. She watched him walk away and stand with his twin with a lazy smile on her face and didn’t even think about hiding it. 

Her hands flailed, reaching for the male in her memories, the mate she’d never hold again. If she’d known that would have been their goodbye, she’d have told him the news she had hoped to share that night in privacy. If she’d known… gods, if she’d known… She’d have demanded he’d not leave, that he stay behind no matter how much Rhyshladlyn wanted him to go along. But she hadn’t known, neither of them had. Had trusted that after everything the Court had been through, the countless battles, the war, and how no matter what the Worlds had thrown at them, Nhulynolyn had always come home to her, always. So there had been no reason to think this time was going to be different.

Alaïs caught her hands and gripped them tightly, not uttering a single sound as Bayls squeezed hard enough to feel the delicate bones creak. Relyt’s arms wrapped around her waist, shuffling forward so his chest was pressed against her back, chin tucked over one of her shoulders. Thayne and Xheshmaryú turned so that their foreheads were touching her temples. She collapsed fully into their hold, finally understanding why an honor guard was so important in moments like this. Because she’d be lost without them. Was even thankful for Relyt’s presence, even if he was only there because he was the highest ranking member of the Grey Court still in the Palace. They surrounded her with their support, both physical and emotional, their magick soothing and calm as it contained her own as it destroyed everything in the room.

In their hold, in the arms of her family, she let go and grieved at full volume and full strength for the male she’d lost. Sobbed until she ran out of air but even then she kept going. Because the singular thought that wove around he’s can’t be gone was one that just made everything so much worse.

How the fuck am I supposed to raise a fledgling without him? 

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