“Everyone out.”

Thayne growled lowly, head snapping up at the demand only to freeze when she saw Rhyshladlyn standing five feet inside the doors to the audience hall, orange-amber eyes dull with pain but just as sharp as always despite that. He listed slightly, as though he’d topple over at any second but that and the pain darkening his eyes was the only sign he was still recovering. That and the mound of scar tissue where his heart was nearly ripped to shreds, hidden though it as beneath the soft silk of his black tunic. Thayne looked passed him and raised an eyebrow at her herald who stood behind the Grey Qishir, wringing eir hands, mouth a thin displeased line. The herald met Thayne’s eyes, shrugged, made a vague gesture at Rhyshladlyn’s back and walked back out of the hall. It wasn’t the first time the Grey Qishir hadn’t allowed himself to be announced before barging into her audience hall, though he usually was far more courteous if not outright formal.

Something was wrong. It was the only reason good enough to make him take control of her audience hall as though it were his own.

“I will not repeat myself.” This time there was the barest touch of an attend, an almost physical warning to accompany the verbal one, filled with bristling needles and a cold darkness that was more of a promise than a warning.

Thayne sighed and waved an impatient hand, dismissing those gathered in the hall, knowing that she’d only get answers that way. That and she didn’t want to deal with the upset of Rhyshladlyn making his order a full attend. She was too tired from dealing with the aftermath of Ryphqi City, Uncle’s nonsense, and Relyt’s rude ass for nearing on a week to fight with Rhyshladlyn. Jerald slipped inside to stand behind and to the right of Rhyshladlyn in his customary place as the male’s Warrior, seeming to ignore the flow of courtiers as they filed passed him and his Qishir, but Thayne knew better. The Alphenian saw everything even if his eyes never looked anywhere but at Rhyshladlyn or herself.

When the doors closed behind the last Dhaoine Thayne leaned forward in her throne and let her anger flash across her face. She gave Rhyshladlyn a lot of leeway given that she only sat the Eighth Throne by virtue of birthright and Rhyshladlyn’s utter lack of interest in assuming a throne larger than the one he sat on already as the only living Greywalker and the Qishir of the Grey Court. But before she could even take a breath in preparation to say anything, Rhyshladlyn spoke.

“I’m sorry for my rudeness, Thay, but this couldn’t wait for formalities.”

“Or just basic common respect?” she countered.

He flinched and inclined his head slightly. “Yes, or that.”

“And what the fuck is so pressing that you’re out of bed, Rhys, and with only your Warrior to back you?” She leaned back and took careful stock of the Qishir as Rhyshladlyn remained right where he was, still gently listing side to side, like he stood on the deck of a ship in choppy seas. It was odd that he’d made no move to come closer, that he’d barely even paid attention to the Dhaoine who had filed passed him when normally his eyes would have tracked their every move, taken stock of who was here and who met his gaze as they left. But he’d only looked at her. “Where are your Companions? I’m surprised you shook them. They’ve been glued to your side for the last five days.”

Rhyshladlyn twitched at that, the barest tightening of the skin at the corners of his eyes the only show of emotion from him besides the rolling emptiness that reminded her of the stretches of barren desert land that dominated Fènwa World. She watched as those bright eyes dulled all the further, as his face went blank and cold as stone. But whether it was at her plural use of Companion or how long it had been since he’d been brought from Ryphqi City barely alive or whatever had brought him barging so rudely into her audience hall, Thayne couldn’t say. Jerald’s face closed down entirely, arms coming up to cross over his chest, the muscles bunching and jumping. That told her that whatever came next, if it was an answer and not a vague reference to something being wrong, was going to rock her.

“My twin lives.” High Ones prevailing, I hate being right.

Thayne blinked, feeling like the ground had dropped out from beneath her and was thankful she was already sitting. Though if she were being honest, it didn’t seem to matter. Her vision still swam and vertigo made her regret the handful of small sandwiches she’d allowed Alaïs to force upon her an hour ago. Her skin felt too tight and too lose, shiver bumps marching across her bare arms as she leaned forward, hands curled around the edges of the arm rests of her throne, eyes narrowed. She couldn’t have heard that right.

“What.” Not a question, not even a demand. More a breathless whisper of noise that sounded vaguely like a word. But it was the best she was able to do with those three World-altering words.

For the nearing on a week since Rhyshladlyn nearly died in Ryphqi City and Nhulynolyn had sacrificed himself to save them all, Thayne had all but literally torn apart the Eighth Palace library and the Worlds Library and every City library she could get the keys to looking for any and all information on bringing back an Other. Especially one whose tie to their was as unique as Nhulynolyn’s had been. But everything the Court had found, everything, said that it was impossible. That not only an act of Divinity could bring the Other back, especially if he was as much a living Dhaoine, a in his own right as the one he’d died protecting.

And here Rhyshladlyn was, barely awake, barely even coherent from the pain and the magickal energy he’d hemorrhaged to keep himself and everyone in Ryphqi City alive, saying that Nhulynolyn lived despite every single thing Thayne and the rest of them had found that said that was not possible. Did the Ahlüt nes Nühnet reach out and bring him life? It was the only possible way but Thayne couldn’t believe or understand why the Creator would have brought a single Otherborn back from the dead. That god tended to remain well away from the politics and doings of its great-grandchildren.

Jerald uncrossed his arms and touched a hand to Rhyshladlyn’s shoulder as the Qishir tipped harder to one side, brown eyes drowning deep, face otherwise expressionless. But the Alphenian’s magick whispered out, lending strength to his Qishir and that told Thayne more than anything else that Rhyshladlyn spoke the truth. That it cost him dearly to do so if only because he wanted to be at his twin’s side, wherever that was, but instead he was here. Bound by duty to tell her, to then follow up and inform Nhulynolyn’s mate that her honor guard was no longer needed. I don’t envy him that task.

“My twin lives. As of fifteen minutes ago I awoke from the banks of the River and felt him take a breath as I cried his name. He lives.”

Thayne narrowed her eyes. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Rhyshladlyn sighed deeply and looked away. Something dark passed over his face and she was reminded of the first time she’d seen him in a war camp centuries ago when he’d shown her a hidden door to get inside Shiran City and bring it to its knees. Was reminded of how he had looked so ancient when teaching her warriors and soldiers how to combat Anislanzir’s only to step off those training fields and show that he wasn’t even of majority for his parents’ races.

“Why are you doing this?” she questioned as Rhyshladlyn turned now haunted eyes back to the wall that spread skyward before them, humming softly in time to the pulsing golden glow that emanated from it, as though he were replying to the City as it cooed softly at him in the only way it could.

“I’m doing this because if your army were to storm the Gates head on, you would all die,” he answered, voice soft, “and enough people have died because of me.”

She saw it now, that ghost of horrors remembered, guilt that gnawed at him not because he truly felt it but rather because he was told he should. Watched it make his scarred face look younger and older simultaneously, watched his glamour shimmer and then drop, that the only clear spot of skin on his body was where his god-Marks glowed. She felt Alaïs touch her mind and knew what Rhyshladlyn would say before he looked back at her and the weight of his eyes settled against her skin. Knew because her Companion was running through the Palace at that very moment to deliver the news that had just broken across the Seven Worlds.

“Shiran City rose with him.”

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