He stared at the far wall as the doors flew open and Alaïs skidded to a breathless halt just inside them. Didn’t blink when Jerald tensed behind him as three more sets of footsteps followed in after her. All he could focus on was the numbness that had settled in his chest and was slowly spreading outward. The only thing that mattered now was getting to Bayls so he could then get to Nhulynolyn. Because for all that he knew his twin was alive, Rhyshladlyn couldn’t feel him anymore. And until he could put his hands on Nhulynolyn, could hold him tightly, could see for himself that the male breathed? He wouldn’t be able to focus on fuck all else.
“My Qishir, Shiran City has risen. Word just reached us.”
“I know,” Thayne replied as she sat forward, crimson eyes dark but not just from the confirmation of what he’d just told her, but the information that accompanied it. “Any word on survivors within its walls?”
Azriel scoffed. “It was buried for hundreds of years, Thayne. Anyone who managed to survive its sinking likely fell victim to starvation and lack of resources within days. Weeks if they were supremely unlucky.”
“It’s still a question that needs asking, Azriel. Don’t be a dick,” Thae’a scolded and Rhyshladlyn was glad they were all stood behind him so that the smile that tugged at his mouth didn’t give Azriel a reason to snarl at him again.
“Why would a sunken City rise like that?” Thae’a asked. “And why now so long after Rhys sank it?”
Rhyshladlyn glanced at Alaïs who was already looking at him. They knew why; him because he’d felt Nhulynolyn’s severance from his consciousness and Alaïs because she was his Other and had felt the solidification of their bond as kè and Other. They also knew because they’d grown up reading every book in the palace library in Shiran that they could get their hands on. Even those that had been left to gather dust until it smeared the ink on their pages in places, rendering the words nearly illegible, forgotten about for thousands of years until they’d gone rummaging through the shelves.
A sunken City only rose for two reasons: when the one who sank it brought it back to life or when its true Heart, it’s Keeper, was reborn within its reach.
But he didn’t offer that information up and neither did his sister. They both knew the danger in doing so. Knew the risk of divulging that information until the precise moment when doing so would be more of a risk to the health of their enemies than it would be to their allies. Instead, Alaïs just relayed the reports she’d gathered before running for the audience hall. Crossed the hall to her Qishir who had slumped back in her throne, paler than normal, eyes haunted. Left Thae’a’s questions to hang unanswered and loud with it in the hall. But no one called her on it. Just focused on the reports that had Thayne looking much like she had back when she was still just General Firesbane and not the Honorable Qishir.
Rhyshladlyn felt for Thayne but unlike times before when the Seven Worlds were rocked by horrors and unprecedented things, he wouldn’t be here to help her. To advise her. He couldn’t, not anymore. Not now that he remembered how he had spent three hundred years alone, cut off from his truth, from his magick, from his Others, from his Court. How it had been his Steward who had locked the collar around his throat that had left him at Lílrt’s mercy. How he had known Relyt was a traitor months before everything had come to a head, before Anis had been called back to the living realm to torment him, to make him question everything he saw and thought and felt. But he hadn’t acted on that knowledge. Had instead waited because it had been too much to consider let alone know without a trace of doubt. And that was just the tip of the mountain of shit he had to wade through, had to deal with, and until he did? Thayne was on her own. They all were.
I will make sure that this time none who stand against me survive.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Caught Thayne’s eye and inclined his head in as close to a proper bow he could manage just then, his hair-bells letting out a handful of mournful chimes that silenced the hall around him. Straightening as Thayne nodded, eyes still haunted but filled with an understanding that soothed his frayed nerves if only a little, he pivoted on his heel and made for the door, Jerald only two steps behind him.
He finally got a look at Azriel, Thae’a, and Sheieh standing between him and the doors. Watched as Thae’a took a few steps forward, soaked so completely in blood that the bodice of her dress clung to her breasts with a weight that threatened to spill them out of the fabric that hid them, mouthing moving around words he couldn’t hear. Sheieh looked at Thayne with eyes ringed by dark circles, face splattered with blood, tunic and neck and leggings smeared with it in places but Rhyshladlyn knew he didn’t see the Eighth Qishir. He didn’t see any of them, really.
Someone had died and violently at that given the soaking they had. And it was someone important enough to bring them both here to Thayne’s audience hall before either could get themselves cleaned up. Not my problem. He shook his head and looked away.
His eyes slid to Azriel despite telling himself he wouldn’t. Wondered what his former Companion was here for, but found he didn’t care enough to pursue the thought any further than the vague curiosity that had birthed it. Looking away just as those mismatched eyes shifted towards him, Rhyshladlyn stepped between Azriel and Thae’a, intending to make for the door and Bayls’ quarters. The quicker he let the Sinner female know of her mate’s return, the quicker he could get the fuck to Shiran City and greet his brother properly.
“Where are you going?” was the only warning he had before his body jerked to a stop, right shoulder protesting the action with a sharp pain that lanced the entire way down his side and towards his sternum like a lightning strike hitting a tree and filling it with deadly power right before the bark went splintering in all directions. He closed his eyes, clenched his hands into fists, and moved, the air a whistle in his ears as he turned on the person who had grabbed his wrist and pulled him up short. It didn’t surprise him to see it was Azriel who had stopped him. Didn’t surprise him to see the look of fuck me that flashed in those beautiful mismatched eyes right before Rhyshladlyn felt the male’s nose break under his knuckles with a crunch that was far more satisfying that it probably should be.
Shouts rang out through the hall, making the air shake with the force of them as magick winged out, as wind buffeted them all with the strength of a maelstrom. But he paid none of it any mind. Had eyes only for the Anglëtinean who had released his wrist and was using that hand to hold his throat in a pathetic attempt to hold him at bay, free hand slapping away swings left and right. Blood gushed down Azriel’s face from his broken nose, bubbles forming in that waterfall of blood as the Anglëtinean huffed with the exertion of fighting one handed against him. When Azriel released his wings with a snap to try and act as extra limbs, Rhyshladlyn laughed and went totally limp, the World tipping as his sudden dead weight sent them both off their feet. He was rolling before they’d even really landed, legs pulled into the space between him and Azriel, feet planting just over the Anglëtinean’s belly button before kicking him away. It wasn’t very far, just enough for Rhyshladlyn to flip to his feet in time to face Azriel who was growling furiously as he launched himself back across the distance, his magick a spiked ball of rejection and loss and anger so strong it seared Rhyshladlyn’s face where it hit it.
Back and forth they fought. Ducked punches and slaps and slices with nails made talon-strong with magick. It was a long time in coming, this fight, and Rhyshladlyn reveled in the chance to bleed his former Companion, to take out years of frustration, months of resentment, on the source of it all. Because it was his fault that Rhyshladlyn was here now, that his twin was dead, that he’d nearly died himself, that Bayls had had to receive an honor guard, that the discovery of his new Companion had occurred at all. And the Nameless See him, but Rhyshladlyn wanted to take every ounce of retribution owed out of the un-male’s skin until those tattoos were scars born as a warning of exactly what kind of male carried them.
They fought unstopped for what felt like hours, no one daring to try and break them up and risk hitting the wrong Dhaoine. Or worse, becoming a target themselves. Exchanged words that were just as dangerous as the blows they exchanged though Rhyshladlyn didn’t register any of what Azriel said. Ultimately this fight and the words that accompanied it didn’t matter. This wasn’t the resolution of everything between them, it was merely the spark that set the fuse to dying. The explosion was yet to come.
A lucky knock to his jaw sent him rolling ass over heel and provided just the amount of distance and time those in the hall with them needed to keep them apart. A sickeningly wet snap of broken bone followed by a short, high scream made his head snap up to see the source but all he saw was Xefras glaring at him, mouth spread open around an impressive set of fangs, scales peaking through his skin here and there, power lapping at the air like a dog at a water bowl or the ocean at a shore; hesitation but not without bone crushing strength. How did I not feel him enter the hall?
“I will do no such thing, my Qishir.”
He growled and rolled to his feet, shaking the tension out of his shoulders as he did so and took a slow, deliberate step forward. Xefras, to his immeasurable credit, didn’t even blink.
“And why the fuck not.”
“Fighting the bastard does none of us any good. He is not the reason you are numb right now and making him bleed will not assuage your hunger, either. Breathe so that you can think before you fuck shit up further.”
“I didn’t stutter, my Qishir, and neither will I repeat myself. You know as well as I that I’m right. Now get yourself together and go do what you need to so that when Nully is ready for you, you can be fully focused on him.”
Rhyshladlyn stared at Xefras for a heartbeat more before he looked around. Jerald was holding Azriel at sword-point, face bristling with rage while the Anglëtinean held his compound fractured left forearm to his chest, eyes staring at Rhyshladlyn with an emotion that burned hot enough that he knew better than to decipher it right now. Thae’a was holding Sheieh back though from coming to Azriel’s aid or his own, Rhyshladlyn wasn’t sure but only because, like with the emotion in his former Companion’s eyes, he didn’t want to think too hard on it at the moment. Thayne was standing in front of her throne, crimson eyes glowing, mouth a thin line, her fury written in the muscle that twitched at the bolt of her jaw, in the way the air shimmered and trembled around her. Alaïs sat on the top stair of the dais, clear blue eyes dark but not with anger at himself, more with understanding. She knew Nhulynolyn lived, knew too the sacrifice he’d made to Awaken as the Greywalker he now was and so she knew why Rhyshladlyn was numb, why he had responded to Azriel’s hand on him the way that he had.
“As you will, my Companion,” he met Azriel’s eyes and smiled. Knew by the way even Jerald blanched that it was all darkness and monstrosities given life, promises he’d made good on and those he hadn’t yet but would in due time. “As you will.”
He turned and strode from the hall without another word. Didn’t stop as Thayne called after him. Or when Azriel did. He pulled open the doors to the hall hard enough that they banged against the wall and swung closed behind him fast enough to ruffle his tunic and hair. He stood in the corridor for a long moment just breathing. Replaying the last half hour or however fucking long that fight had been over and over in his head. Looked over the conversation he’d had with Thayne before they’d been interrupted. Thought back to how Azriel and Xefras had demanded he either go with an escort or not the fuck at all when he’d gotten out of bed after waking up with Nhulynolyn’s name on his lips. Looked desperately for the moment when he’d lost control of the situation again, even though he knew it wasn’t possible to lose what one never had in the first place.
Rubbing one hand along the newest scar on his chest, feeling the ridges and bumps of it beneath the thin fabric of his tunic, Rhyshladlyn shook his head, hating how his hair-bells made no noise with the action. Hated even more that no one knew how damning it was that they had fallen all but completely silent. Sighing deeply, a sound that was equal parts frustration and swallowed sob, he turned left and aimed for the rooms Nhulynolyn and Bayls had shared. Told himself as he walked blindly through the Palace that if he’d known that the price for no longer feeling empty was this he’d have never asked to be whole again.