To say Azriel looked like he’d been in a fight and lost badly was an understatement. The bags under his eyes were darker, like they were more bruises than shadows made by sleep’s evasive movements; not unlike the real bruises that were a stark contrast to his qahllyn’qir tattoos. Bruises that swept along his jaw and cheekbones and curled around one temple in a road map that told Relyt without asking who the Anglëtinean had thrown fists with. That blood-red iris with its black, cross-shaped pupil and that gold iris that encompassed even the sclera with its silver sheen and lack of pupil stared at him with a mixture of shock and disgust so strong they carried their own scent that made the air stale where it hovered between them.

But it wasn’t just the physical signs that told Relyt that Azriel had been fighting and that he had struggled to survive that fight, that he had lost, that he had taken a hit to more than just his pride and his ego and his skin. It was the way the Anglëtinean’s Self screamed for attention, begged for salvation, demanded a forgiveness Relyt wasn’t capable of providing. It was in the way those orange-amber tattoos hummed with the after shocks of a Bond that no longer existed. It was in the way they held a presence that spoke to how they were now truly a lamentation of the Qishir they had both lost. It was in the awareness Azriel had of them again, how he remembered why they were there and that the only way to rid himself of them would be to die.

Azriel hadn’t been fighting just anyone and he hadn’t been fighting for just some random reason either. He’d been fighting Rhyshladlyn. He had lost the Bond that made him the Grey Companion. And it had sparked an argument that had come to physical blows and Relyt’s heart broke for him. Because no longer could he feel the echo of his own qahllyn in the male before him. That echo still lived just not in the Dhaoine who was as much of a stranger to him now as he’d been the day Relyt had seen him brought before Lulphé on charges of rape.

“Get to Shiran City,” mismatched eyes that were striking in their uniqueness, breathtaking in the proof of the Touches placed upon the Anglëtinean’s Self by the High Ones, pleaded with him in ways those words could not. “Find Rhyshladlyn and protect him. No one else will listen. Please.”

“Why ask me?” he retorted, genuinely curious. He’d already intended to do just as this random male was asking of him. From the moment this Azriel of House Veratone had cursed the Eighth Qishir and demanded she live up to her promises, to her Oaths, and spoken Rhyshladlyn’s name, Relyt had felt the tug of his Key, of Fate. “You do not know me. How can you trust that I am not enemy of you and yours?”

Those eyes narrowed but the intensity of them softened as the Anglëtinean’s expressive mouth split in a smile that lit up his entire face and took Relyt’s breath away.

“Because I can feel the same pull in you that I feel in me. He is your future as much as he is mine,” Azriel answered. “So promise me.”

“I do so promise,” Relyt answered without hesitation and saluted with a fist pressed over his heart as the guards dragged Azriel out of the hall.

“By the Many…” he croaked, voice barely there, torn out around the forearm slowly crushing his windpipe and the larynx that lived behind it. Tried to say more but he couldn’t get enough air to form the words. So he implored with his eyes instead I am so sorry. You didn’t deserve to lose him like I did.

Azriel growled and leaned in, teeth bared in a snarl that made his tattoos jump and twitch as though they had a life all their own. “Why the fuck did you come back when you’d gotten away clean, Relyt Greymend? Huh? You’re a master strategist and for all that you have your moments, you really aren’t that stupid, yet here you are. Why?”

If he didn’t know any better, Relyt would think that why was referencing a lot more than whatever the fuck Azriel was talking about. But that wasn’t important right now. Getting Azriel’s arm off his throat so he could breathe properly was. Among other things.

“What are you talking about?” he pressed against the Anglëtinean’s chest, dislodging him just enough to gulp down a hearty lungful of air. Not that it was enough but it was a start. “I only got h–” he groaned when Azriel pulled him off the wall and slammed him back again, adding more pressure to his throat, effectively cutting off his ability to speak entirely.

“We know you murdered Eshere, you piece of shit. You were seen fleeing the scene.” If poison could take the form of a Dhaoine’s voice, it would have been Azriel’s in that moment. “What I can’t understand is why you came back. So I’ll ask one more time: why the fuck did you come back here?”

It took a lot for a the qahllyn between a Qishir and their Court to be severed with such finality as what he felt from Azriel. And whatever the other male had done, it weighed heavily on his Self but not in the way one would expect. It was like Azriel was sorry not for the damage he’d caused or what he’d done, but rather that he’d gotten caught. What the fuck did you do this time, Az?

He slapped at Azriel’s chest and arm even though he knew realistically that it would get him nowhere. But he didn’t want to really try and dislodge the Anglëtinean because while he was in danger right now, that danger didn’t carry the weight of death behind it. Should he actively utilize his strength and get the upper hand, it would faster than he could blink. There were only two Dhaoine in the Seven Worlds he knew better than to pick a fight with: Azriel and Rhyshladlyn. At least… if he was thinking clearly he knew better. But the close proximity was setting off his race’s natural instinct to read and Heal a Dhaoine’s Self and Azriel’s was in turmoil the likes of which Relyt hadn’t seen since he’d first interacted with Rhyshladlyn outside a random shop in Shiran City’s merchant district. And the longer that contact went on, the deeper Relyt would fall into that maelstrom until they were both lost.

Then there was the matter of him being accused of murder which was insane. He was a monster and a coward but he still had some honor. He didn’t kill another without good reason. But Azriel didn’t let up enough to let him get a word in, to try and explain that. Just stood there pressing against his throat with one arm, the other’s hand pressed against his chest just below his sternum, fingers half curled in the fabric of his dirty tunic, mismatched eyes full of an emotion Relyt recognized the feel of but didn’t have a name for. Azriel was livid and looking for a fight and it was Relyt’s misfortune that the first Dhaoine Azriel had encountered was him. If the stubborn shit would just let him explain, Relyt thought he could clear this mess up, even if only a little. But that would require Azriel to let him go.

Relyt looked Azriel up and down carefully, slowly, and sighed heavily. Azriel wasn’t going to let him go any time soon, if at all. It was clear in the way he stood with his feet shoulder width apart, left foot slightly ahead of the right, knees bent just enough that toppling him would be difficult. It was the male’s classic I am going nowhere fast and you can’t make me pose. It meant he was ready and able and more than willing to settle in for the long haul until he got what he wanted. And it meant nothing good for Relyt. Fuck. I’m going to have to turn this into a physical fight just to get him to let me breathe.

It was the last thing he wanted to do, besides face off against Rhyshladlyn right now, but it was either that or suffocate.

Closing his eyes with a prayer, he curled his fingers around Azriel’s bicep just above his elbow, pulled his left leg up slowly until his foot was pressed solidly against the wall behind him. Opening his eyes, he watched Azriel frown, smiled when the Anglëtinean’s eyes widened as he realized the pose Relyt had taken and what it meant. But it was too late for him to do anything to stop it.

Relyt’s left hand popped up to push-slap against Azriel’s chin just as he jerked down with his other and pushed off the wall with his foot. As Azriel overbalanced and went down backwards in a perfect tip over, Relyt rode him down until the impact made Azriel let him go. Flipped up and over him, twisting mid-motion so he landed facing the Anglëtinean, expecting to have two hundred plus pounds of pissed off warrior coming at him. But Azriel was still on the floor dazedly staring up at the ceiling as though wondering how he’d gotten there and when.

“Like I was trying to tell you,” Relyt grumbled, rubbing at his throat testily as he rose to his feet, warily watching the other male as Azriel’s eyes rolled up and back enough to look at him, “I only got here a couple days ago. I haven’t seen anyone before you just now and Rhys right before you rudely pinned me to the wall. And I don’t know who the fuck this Eshere is so I have no reason to want him dead.”

Azriel rolled onto his stomach and pushed to his feet. He said nothing, just stared back with a quiet that unnerved Relyt because he was never quiet, not like Rhyshladlyn was. And for the roles to be switched like this was… unsettling wasn’t a strong enough word. He took a careful, deliberate step back, shifting his weight so that if the Anglëtinean lunged at him, he would be ready. Because either they were going to have a civilized conversation or he was going to get out of here before Azriel could do more than just bruise his throat.

Like we were ever able to have a civilized anything when he was in a mood.

For a long moment they just stood and stared at each other. Relyt said nothing else, just waited while Azriel worked through it in his head. Knew that whoever had murdered Eshere was likely either Lílrt himself or someone the Anointed One had trusted to wear Relyt’s face to help perpetuate the lie that it was Lílrt who had died in Thae’a’s house forty years ago. Not that anyone really remembers that event or the three hundred years that precede it… He sighed heavily again. He was tired of hiding, tired of running, tired of waiting most of all.

“Az, look. I don’t know what you remember, what you know,” he started only to cut off with a yelp as the Anglëtinean moved with a speed Relyt had only seen Rhyshladlyn possess. Grunted when he became acquainted, face first this time, with another wall.

“I don’t know who the fuck you are,” Azriel growled in his ear, “but I have the feeling you have answers to the important question of who the real Relyt Greymend is.” Okay, and we’re just going to shelve the ‘who murdered Ehsere’ thing for now. Neat.

I am the real Relyt Greymend, you deaf, pompous–” he hissed as Azriel slammed his face into the wall with enough force to break his nose. Cursed at him wetly in Gretlök as he did his best to stem the flow of blood so he didn’t start to choke on it. Not that it mattered, nosebleeds were always the worst and before he could take two rattling breaths, his tunic and the lower half of his face was soaked.

“Be careful, motherfucker,” Azriel warned, voice all base and threat, “I’m not in the mood to deal with rudeness.”

“But directing it at others is perfectly fine?” He spat a large clot to the floor and swallowed a scream as Azriel twisted his arms behind his back until his shoulder joints protested, loudly. “You always were a hypocrite.” And I’m an idiot who never learned to not antagonize you.

“Who are you?” Azriel asked, sounding calmer than he had the entire time they’d been doing this back and forth.

“I told you, I am Relyt Greymend, Acknowledged Grey Steward to Grey Qishir Rhyshladlyn Ka’ahne,” he answered. “Read my damn signature, that shit doesn’t lie even if words do.”

“See, that’s the problem,” the conversational tone to those words made Relyt’s skin crawl. “Your signature is right but where are your scars? Where’s the touch of your qahllyn? Why don’t you feel as familiar as you sound, as you look?”

He didn’t answer because those answers weren’t ones Azriel was ready to hear. At least, not here in this random hallway in the bowels of the Eighth Palace when he was looking for a victim to take his frustration and anger out on. Never mind that it was his place to provide those answers.

“That’s fine, don’t answer. We’ll find out soon enough.”

He didn’t fight as Azriel pulled him away from the wall after binding his hands with a strong shackling charm, turned him and began to walk him down the corridor, no doubt heading for the audience hall and the one Dhaoine more than capable of prying answers out of him. The irony that it looked like the decision on when to reveal himself to Rhyshladlyn had been made for him just like it had been nearly eight centuries ago was not lost on him. At least some things never change. He just wished it would happen under better circumstances.

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