70

Normally the frigidity of his fury came slowly. Normally it hit in waves that slowly grew in size until he blinked and the entire shore was flooded well up passed the beaches and the sand dunes erected to protect what lay beyond. But this wasn’t a normal situation. And the lack of normalcy saw the rules that governed his control tossed to the winds. Brought his fury from banked one moment to consuming him the next.

It had been three hundred and forty-one years since his cold fury hit so hard and so fast that he was blinded by it. And part of him knew that he should get the fuck out of the hall, to leave Sheieh alone, to let anyone else handle this interrogation because when he was blinded by his fury he got sloppy. He either came perilously close to breaking several Laws or outright broke them. It made him drop bodies and fell Cities in his wake without so much as a blink’s worth of consideration for the consequences. This level of all encompassing rage was what guided his hand when he killed Azhuri. When he pulled Mallacht in the Great Temple in Shiran. When he sank Shiran. When he hunted Lulphé down and waited until the Taking Ritual had concluded before wiping that cunt off the face of Existence entirely in front of every single dignitary possible to have gathered in one place.

The last time he had been this furious had been the day he’d confronted Relyt in the Steward’s Corps camp and allowed Azriel to separate them, to send him for a walk to clear his head. And he’d ended up collared and at the mercy of the Anointed One without restraint, without back up, without a way out, for three hundred fucking years and now…

Now he knew that event had been orchestrated centuries beforehand. And by the gods it made his skin so hot he could smell the steam it gave off as his power swirled to the surface in a molten maelstrom that should worry him but didn’t. Because by the Hourglass, Scythe, and Scales, he was so sick of the lies, of thinking he had all the answers and that everything was settled only to find out there was yet more betrayal. Only to learn that for all that he was ten steps ahead, he was also twenty steps behind. And if the rage that realization brought bubbling to the surface made him sloppy? So be it. He was tired of hiding who he was, what he was, of restraining himself in the face of impossible circumstances that netted him nothing but new scars and nightmares.

So he blinked across the hall and turned the Soul Healer away from his chair to face him. He cupped Sheieh’s face with a smile that was all teeth, barged past the Soul Healer’s mental Shields and Barriers until he was free floating in the male’s mind. Hovered for a moment, debating whether he was acting rationally, whether this could be done any other way, one that didn’t pose such a high risk. Watched as hope flared in eyes the color of winter skies at his hesitation.

Fuck you. You don’t get to hope for anything but a swift, painless death that I will ensure you never get.

He dove. Broke through the surface of the beneath and kept going. Swam down until he saw Sheieh’s Self tucked in a cave of darkness so thick it was impenetrable, glowing the color of moonlit ice. Stood in front of it watching the light it threw off in ripples across the walls and ground that were there but weren’t, that bounced off that darkness that had an almost living weight to it. Stood there with every intention of reaching out and touching that Self, of pushing into it and rooting through it for the answers he needed but didn’t, not right away. Knew that if he did that there was no going back, that the damage he’d do in the state he was in would be permanent in a way no Healing could fix. So for all that every instinct, every want, told him to do it anyway, he waited.

This was a line he had sworn he would never cross. One his sire had done countless times to attempt to break him, to render him weak enough to no longer threaten the Lord King’s position of power. It was something Lílrt and his cohorts had tried time and time again. It was shit he’d seen done way too often during the war to war criminals, political prisoners, enemies and allies alike. But for all that he had escaped Anislanzir, for all that he had survived Lílrt, for all that the war had ended centuries ago, he wasn’t truly free, it wasn’t finished. Not yet. Those bastards and the battles he’d fought yet lived in moments just like this one where he hovered at the edge of past and present staring down a future he couldn’t see clearly anymore. Adrift and drowning, wondering where shore was and if he’d ever feel it again.

By his namesake, he was so tired of drowning, of struggling just to survive. Of wondering when the next blow would fall and why let alone who would deliver it. Felt the already frayed mooring lines of his control snap when a lick of pure fear drifted off the Soul Healer to spice the air between them. And even though he knew he shouldn’t, Rhyshladlyn stepped into that Self and pulled the past from the depths Sheieh had buried it. Flexed his power just so and sent it blasting out to touch every Dhaoine magickally connected to him. Waited until he had the undivided attention of every last one of them and then, with a smile that pulled at the muscles of his true face and blew apart the glamour that kept it hidden behind his Dhaoinic mask, Rhyshladlyn let go.

Because this time he wasn’t going to be the only one who drowned.

He ran down the Line in Relyt’s wake, even though it was a death sentence to do so, he had no other choice. His g’agsha already had an hour’s head start, less if Sheieh was really lucky and by the Many’s ten cocks, he needed to be lucky. Ran so fast and so hard that the sound of his footfalls was like explosions, going as fast as possible without using his magick to boost his speed all the further. Didn’t slow down even when his feet began to protest, when his calf muscles began to burn. He had to get to Ryphqi City, had to get ahead of Relyt.

The Line heaved as power so old it made his vision go black touched the Worlds. He fumbled for the two-way mirror that had gone off only two hours ago, only slowly down enough to ensure he didn’t dro–

Rhyshladlyn growled so low it was like trapped thunder in his chest, more felt than heard. “Give me what I’m really after, Sheieh. Not this half-assed bullshit.”

The Soul Healer cried out as Rhyshladlyn side-stepped and turned, plucking another memory from the depths of that moonlit ice-hued Self with its tinkling wind chimes melody and hint of winter’s first cold snap on the wind. Rolled his eyes as Sheieh fought against it even though he’d volunteered for this; given up himself to prove that his words held truth. Made weak, half-aborted taps against Rhyshladlyn’s forearms like the Soul Healer was trying to get him to let go. As though Rhyshladlyn needed to touch him to be able to root around in the motherfucker’s mind, to burrow deep into his Self and know every single secret and hope and dream and fear and nightmare and loss the Soul Healer had ever or currently had.

If he wasn’t so furious, he’d feel bad about what he was doing. Would worry about the repercussions he faced when he stopped and those in the hall with him could move against him. But Rhyshladlyn wanted answers, he needed answers, and he would stop at nothing to get them. Not anymore. So he just chuckled at Sheieh’s pathetic attempts to get him to let go, to fight him, and flexed his power again and got what he was after.

The house was quaint, perfectly sized, beautiful with its sweeping lines and many windows. But in that moment he saw none of the architecture that made it beautiful for it was filled to bursting with a magick that he hadn’t felt in centuries. A magick that was all death and destruction and promised pain and delivered nightmares wrapped around a love so strong it burned. He knew before he even got close enough to see in the windows that he had gotten here too late. Knew before the air shifted and screamed around an attend that made him dry heave where he stood, had him gripping the banister of the stairs that lead up to the porch tight enough he could hear his bones grind in their joints, that he had failed. Knew before the taste and sound of Rhyshladlyn’s magickal signature reached him that the price of his failure was a permanent one for the Grey Qishir was free and would spare nothing in his search for answers, for retribution.

For Greywalkers rarely sought vengeance but when they did, whole Worlds could be lost to a power that was the closest any Dhaoine would ever get to wielding divinity. The Many See him, he never should have listened to Lílrt, should have walked away when he still had the chance. Should have done everything in his power to sever Relyt’s ties to the Anointed One before things had gone this far.

He caught his breath and looked between the porch balusters at the front window as Relyt knock Alaïs aside and lunged for Lílrt, moving as though time had slowed down, as though Sheieh had more than enough of it to get inside and stop him. But something wasn’t right. His g’agsha would never have touched the Lord Queen in such a manner, not with how he felt about her. That couldn’t be Relyt. But he needed proof? Where was the proof.

Gods something was wrong. Very, very wrong. As his mind struggled to figure out what was wrong, to provide the proof he needed, he moved for the porch, hands curling around the balusters as though they were the bars of a prison cell. And watched as the male who wore his g’agsha’s face ran in slow motion across Thae’a’s kitchen and living room while everyone else stood by and made no move to stop him.

“What isn’t right, Sheieh? Tell me,” Rhyshladlyn urged and tightened his hold on the male’s head and the Self he swam in. “Show me.” It wasn’t quite an attend but it wasn’t far from it either.

And show him Sheieh did. He had no other choice.

Relyt’s throat wasn’t bruised and it should have been because Sheieh had watched it start to color from where he’d slammed the stubborn male against a wall not even an hour ago. At the realization, his skin broke out in sweat as horror dawned and he looked at Lílrt, covered in blood, pieces of his scalp missing, and agony dripping off him in waves so strong Sheieh could practically taste them. Saw the telltale markings of bruising at the front of his neck, bruising that matched the outline of his own forearm.

When the Anointed One had managed to switch them with enough time to weave a mind spell that was powerful enough to convince the entire Grey Court at once, Sheieh could only guess. Only knew that he had to get inside had to stop Lílrt from killing Relyt, to stop Rhyshladlyn from killing the wrong Anointed One.

He pulled himself up over the porch railing because there was no time to take the stairs. Made for the window the second his feet touched the porch, right fist cocked back, power swirling up his arm with the full intention to punch his way inside and stop the impostor wearing his g’agsha’s face. But he never made it more than two steps before Lílrt made it to Relyt. Watched in half-frozen terror, mouth falling open on a defiant scream, as time returned to normal. Watched as Lílrt cupped Relyt’s face, lips moving around the words, “I’m so sorry. I don’t have any other choice,” and then snapped his neck.

Sheieh’s fist touched the window and shattered it just as Balance returned to the Worlds and drowned them all.

Rhyshladlyn loosed a sound that made the air burn and reality whine around them as he resurfaced from Sheieh’s Self-memory. He let the Soul Healer go and watched dispassionately as the male collapsed to his knees and hunched over himself, arms wrapped around his abdomen. Looked up at Jerald and Alaïs who were staring at him with eyes so wide it looked painful. Glanced around and saw that Eiod was on his feet, sword hanging at his side in a grip so tight his entire hand had lost color; the Anglëtinean-Sinner wisely didn’t so much as twitch that sword when he saw Rhyshladlyn was looking at him. Movement by the doors brought his head swinging around to see Xefras and Shadiranamen standing just inside and to the left of the doors with Bayls, Xheshmaryú, and Thayne blocking the exit entirely, all sporting looks of varying degrees of horror and disgust and shock and something he didn’t have a name for. But that wasn’t the movement that had caught his attention.

No it was the face that looked so much like his own and the body that carried it standing not three feet away. He rocked back on his heels before taking a slow step towards his twin, feeling weightless as his emotions altered course from pure cold fury to the closest thing to guilt he’d ever be able to feel.

“Nully…”

“Chit chat later, twin o’ mine. Right now, you gotta decide what we’re doin’ with this piece of shit.”

He closed his eyes and let the rich baritone of Nhulynolyn’s voice wash over him before he nodded and met ice blue eyes that had more gold to them than he remembered. Knew that Nhulynolyn was really telling him that while what he’d done to the Soul Healer broke at least two Laws and came dangerously close to breaking several more, his twin didn’t judge him for what he’d done. Knew that Nhulynolyn was telling him that whatever happened next was his choice and that they would all follow his lead. Even if they know had an even unhealthier fear of him and what he was capable of doing.

*We will always support you, my , even if you terrify us,* Shadiranamen murmured gently across their link.

He glanced at her and nodded again, thankful to have her, to have Xheshmaryú. Took a deep breath and ignored the way Xefras was trying to catch his eye. Ignored, too, the way Thayne looked paler than normal but steady on her feet, the way Bayls was smirking with appreciation. He ignored them all and turned to face the Soul Healer again. Squatted in front of the male and drank in the fear and grief that saturated the air around him for a moment. Fed off it in great pulls that filled him up in a way the Riverbank Arena fights never had because the Dhaoine he’d fought there had known they were dead no matter what happened; Sheieh still had a modicum of hope that he’d make it out of this situation alive. And it made his fear, his grief, all the sweeter.

Rhyshladlyn reached out and hooked a finger under the Soul Healer’s chin and lifted his head to meet eyes that were nearly as dark as Relyt’s now. Smiled gently, almost serenely as those glazed eyes blinked and focused on him, as the mind that drifted behind them worked to recognize that this was reality. Waited until a splash of clarity lightened those irises before he spoke.

“How early in the plot to collar me were you involved, Sheieh?” He leaned in until he was close enough to feel the Soul Healer’s breath rapidly puffing against his face. “And be sure to choose your answer wisely because it will determine whether you stand trial properly or if I just decide to invoke my god-Marks and deal with you right where you kneel.”

Sheieh stared up at him and Rhyshladlyn knew the answer before he opened his mouth and spoke it. Saw it in the way the Soul Healer’s face went blank and tears dropped down his cheeks. Smelled it in the scent of regret and poor choices that wafted up from skin shiny with sweat. Felt his own face shut down and lose all emotion as he prepared himself to hear the verbal confirmation of what he saw in Sheieh’s eyes and body language. Felt the way all those magickally connected to him took a deep breath and held it, terrified not of the answer but rather of what his response to it would be.

Not that he blamed them really. He had committed an atrocity with all of them as front row seated witnesses. There wasn’t much else worse than that that he could do. And once one crossed that line, all the others just seemed inevitable.

“I was recruited one hundred years prior to you being collared,” Sheieh whispered but his voice carried in the death-silent hall. “I was the one who provided the ink Relyt used to try and give you gretluos. I showed Lílrt where to find the strongest gretkewqi to use for your stones. Relyt met me only after you had been successfully collared and only after the Anointed One spent twenty years watching his little brother slowly waste away under a failed mind spell that hadn’t anchored the way it should have.”

It felt like someone was holding a soaking wet blanket to his face. Every breath he took was agony and filled his lungs with water all while allowing him to continue to draw air. He felt his legs go numb in sections starting with his feet and crawling slowly upwards until it reached his hips. He dropped his hand from Sheieh’s face because he didn’t trust himself to keep touching the other male and still be able to do the right thing. Could sense Nhulynolyn reaching for him only to stop when Rhyshladlyn tensed hard enough to rock on his feet. Was keenly aware of the way Xefras watched him with no small amount of awe and fear, the way his Others were smiling but doing their best not to show it physically. The way the hall was filled with tension just waiting to snap.

Taking a deep breath he rose slowly to his feet and took a step back. And another, and another. And another.

He kept stepping backwards until the urge to tear Sheieh’s face away from his body and force feed it to him wasn’t as strong. Kept going until that numbness stopped climbing up his body. Then he turned and made for the hall doors. Gave no explanation as he walked through the opening Thayne and Xheshmaryú and Bayls hurried to make so as not to draw his murderous attention to them. Turned down the hall with no destination in mind except to get the fuck away from Sheieh and the implications his confession brought, scattering guards and Palace staff and visiting Dhaoine alike with a single glance at his face.

But he didn’t care. Was too furious, too numb, too heartbroken to give even a sliver of a half of a shit. Merely aimed for the nearest door that took him the fuck outside. Hit it at a near-run, slapping it open hard enough that it banged off the outside wall and slammed closed behind him with a gust of wind that pulled impatiently at his tunic and tossed his hair soundlessly. Closed his eyes and turned his face to the mid-morning sunlight and let out a shaky breath.

For all that he had put distance between them, the itch, the desire, the need to kill Sheieh was still there. A pull under his skin, a demand that whispered so sweetly it was hard to ignore it. But ignore it he would because Sheieh wouldn’t die at his hands, not today. No, he would die only after Rhyshladlyn had gotten his hands on Relyt and saw if bone really was as wet as it looked when there was nothing standing between it and air.

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