Relyt knew he wasn’t always known for making the best decisions, especially on the fly while forced between a wall and sword-point, but kicking Azriel was pretty high up on the list of decisions I didn’t think through before making. But he couldn’t bring himself to regret it as he felt his left heel connect with the Anglëtinean’s knee and heard the wet pop of it dislocating. Didn’t even hesitate as he pivoted and ran back the way they’d come as the itch under his skin to get away, to get outside, to get away from Azriel and do it now reached a fever pitch and made his skin crawl. Azriel’s scream of pain and anger followed him down the corridor and around the far corner, smacked into his back with the force of a punch but it wasn’t enough to make him do more than stumble.
The sound of Azriel yelling his name, for him to stop, to come back, didn’t fade until he’d lost track of how many hallways he’d run down, how many turns he’d taken. Until he no longer felt the heat of the Anglëtinean’s fury.
Realistically, Relyt probably didn’t have to run, definitely shouldn’t have run, and most certainly shouldn’t have attacked his once-fellow qahllyn but being bereft of his Qishir, of his family, of anyone he trusted at his side had done one good thing: it had taught him quick and hard that Rhyshladlyn had been right all those centuries ago about following one’s instincts. They never lied and the louder they were, the more one should listen to what they had to say.
He ran through the Palace at a blur, blindly taking corners, his hands still magickally shackled behind his back and making his balance absolutely miserable, dodging staff and guards and visitors alike. Had no clear goal in mind except to get outside and work on weakening the shackles that bound his wrists. Took a turn too fast and knocked a table tucked against the wall down when he slammed into it with a crash that turned heads. He just rolled to his feet among the splinters and shrapnel and took off again before anyone could do more than blink. Picked up speed when tension thickened the air like humidity. Passed a bank of windows that overlooked what appeared to be gardens. Skidded to a stop and doubled back to a door tucked among all the windows and shouldered it open just as Rhyshladlyn’s cold fury plucked that tension like one would a fiddle string, the twang of it piercing and discordant.
The moment his feet cleared the stone patio and he took a deep gulp of fresh air, heart a pounding beat in his chest and behind his eyes, that tension snapped and Rhyshladlyn’s magickal presence touched him for the first time in three hundred and forty years. He didn’t have enough time to enjoy the euphoria it brought before Rhyshladlyn drowned him in the past along with everyone else magickally attached to him.
Relyt sank to his knees in the thick grass and loosed a chest-constricting sob as he relived the night he died from Sheieh’s eyes. Felt the invasion of Sheieh’s mind and Self as though it were himself who was being searched. Sobbed harder when he learned right along with Rhyshladlyn, with everyone else, the role Sheieh had played. Felt betrayal just as keenly as Rhyshladlyn did but for a different reason though that didn’t make it any easier to bear.
The one Dhaoine Relyt had trusted when everything else had fallen apart, after the loss of his Qishir, shunned by his family and the Court they made up, had been placed in his life by his older brother. By the very bastard who had convinced him to embark on the foolhardy mission to get Rhyshladlyn to sit still and listen to him, to his grievances. A lie that had been centuries in the making. The Many See and Hear him, if he hadn’t felt the Truth of it, he wouldn’t believe it. If he couldn’t flex his hands and feel his Guardian’s face beneath his fingers and palms, an echo of the touch Rhyshladlyn shared with them all, he would think it a nightmare. But it wasn’t. Sheieh had been party to his Qishir being inked with gretluos and given at least one gretkewq. Was instrumental in everything and the entire time he had been playing as though he was on Relyt’s side. Even gone so far as to take an Oath of Guardianship. It felt like someone was holding a wet blanket to his face, like for all that he could still breathe he only inhaled water; like he was dying and no one heard his screams, he ple–
The connection closed so abruptly Relyt rocked on his knees, throwing his head back with a cry that was equal parts loss and demand for that touch to return. His Qishir’s magickal touch had always been a drug Relyt could never get enough of. Worse even than the g’hitshé root Sheieh had helped him stay addicted for centuries in an attempt to numb the pain and hide the memories Lílrt’s mind spell had failed to cover up. A drug that was only so powerful for the double-edged blade of his qahllyn and the fact that Rhyshladlyn was also his Key. And the desperation born of the need to have as much of that touch as possible, of an attention that brought a whisper of magick and power every time Rhyshladlyn looked at him, had driven Relyt to do things he’d have never done if he’d been in his right mind.
But that didn’t excuse his actions. He was an addict, yes, craved something he would never have enough of, but that didn’t absolve him of the responsibility for what he’d done, of the consequences of the choices he’d made. Even blind male’s could choose which turn to take.
It was because of his lack of trust in Rhyshladlyn, in the Qishir he was qahllyn to despite death and betrayal and the centuries of misdeeds that stretched like a great canyon between them, that they were here right now. If he had been stronger, if he had been smarter, he would have sought counsel with Thayne and gotten a message to Rhyshladlyn by any means necessary the second Lílrt had met with him that first time on the edge of a field riddled with the dead and dying. But Relyt hadn’t been stronger, hadn’t been smarter. Hadn’t been worthy of the qahllyn that writhed beneath his skin — though somehow more worthy than Azriel who had lost his — and he had done the very thing he’d sworn he’d never do.
It is only right that Sheieh betrayed me as he did. The Many works in mysterious ways and pays for grievances dealt thrice-fold.
A gust of wind brought the scent of sandalwood and desert wildflowers and cold sand around a fire and all thought ceased as he froze. He would know that scent anywhere. Had dreamt of it for the three hundred years Rhyshladlyn had been lost to Lílrt, for the forty years he had wandered the Worlds trying to get to the Qishir who didn’t know he’d actually died, didn’t remember anything that had happened since the war. Took a deep breath and filled his lungs until he couldn’t breathe in anymore with that scent. Let it out slow, carefully, reluctant to let it go again. Afraid if he didn’t hold onto it that he’d lose it again. That when he did, it would be for forever this time.
Slowly Relyt looked around, fear and elation warring for control in his chest with ever-increasing heat and vehemence when he saw Rhyshladlyn standing a few yards away, head tilted back, eyes closed as he basked in the early morning sunlight, hands resting on his hips. He looked resplendent in a loose white cotton shirt with billowing sleeves that ended in snug cuffs just above the god-Marks on his wrists left untucked over black breeches that hugged the muscles in his legs. He was darker than Relyt remembered like the Qishir had spent four decades under the sun. His face appeared older not just in looks but in the experiences that lay behind it in the form of shadows. His hair was long enough to touch his shoulders, hiding his shaved sides. The hair-bells woven into the auburn locks that looked like captured fire in the sunlight were silent even as a light breeze picked up the fine strands they were scattered amongst and tossed them about. He stood straight-backed, lips slightly parted, chest heaving, the god-Mark that spread across his chest glittering silver-white in the sunlight, somehow darker than the white of the cotton shirt that gaped open up top just enough to show those looping, slanted runes.
Seeing him in the corridor outside Bayls and Nhulynolyn’s rooms was nothing to seeing him in the sunlight, surrounded by fresh air. Was nothing compared to tasting his power on the wind, to seeing it fill his darkly tanned skin with light so it looked more bronze than brown. And then Rhyshladlyn opened his eyes and Relyt sucked in a breath that burned in his lungs and made him cough as more tears streamed down his face. Knew he should be terrified when those orange-amber eyes swung their incredible weight around to him, but all he felt was relief. Because finally he had a taste of the fix he’d craved for centuries.
But that relief shattered like glass when his Qishir, his Key, the male he’d been searching for and chasing and loving for seven hundred and ninety years, opened his mouth and loosed a war howl that blew out the windows that lined the gardens. Took a two steps as his Dhaoinic mask blew apart and then he moved with the same power that had burned the air that day in Thae’a’s house.
Relyt didn’t have time to even think of screaming or trying to get away before Rhyshladlyn was tackling him to the grass, his shackled hands digging painfully into his lower back, shoulders pulling at their sockets, sending clods of grass and dirt flying as they skidded several feet. Rhyshladlyn growled at him from inches away as the Qishir straddled his waist, the sound a vibration that turned every bone in Relyt’s body into a tuning fork that were struck simultaneously. Long fingered hands curled into the front of his tunic, lifted him up and then slammed him back down.
“Are you really him?” If he hadn’t just traipsed down memory lane at the Qishir’s insistence, Relyt wouldn’t have understood the question. But he had and he did and it made his heart break just a little more.
“Yes, Rhys, I’m the real Relyt.”
Orange-amber eyes burned as Rhyshladlyn pulled him off the ground and so close to his face that Relyt nearly went cross-eyed in the attempt to keep track of him. The Qishir’s mouth spread in a smile, the corners nearly touching his ears, and Relyt swallowed on a dry throat at the sight of fangs nearly as long as his index finger. Fangs that a long, pink tongue licked slowly, before a voice that sounded and felt like it was seven octaves lower than it had been seconds ago wove around two words, “Prove it.”
“Your majesty, you mustn’t fall asleep,” he whispered, putting the same urging behind the words now as he had the first time he’d spoken them what felt like lifetimes ago. Watched as Rhyshladlyn blanched, as recognition flared and then bloomed in those battle-bright eyes but it wasn’t strong enough. For all that Relyt’s words held Truth, Rhyshladlyn still didn’t believe him. Oh, Rhys… on my gretluos all I had ever wanted to do was take care of you.
He took a deep breath as the World slowed down around him. As every sense heightened, bringing with it a clarity he had felt only one other time in his life: the day he’d followed a desperate Call for aid to a seedy back alley of Shiran City. With a surge of power, he shattered Azriel’s magicked shackles and brought his hands up to cup Rhyshladlyn’s jaw, fingers spreading down the sides of the Qishir’s throat, and let his own power sigh out around them, the touch of a cool spring breeze that softened the edges of Rhyshladlyn’s own natural scent. Knew what to say to prove who he was, to make his beloved Qishir believe him.
“Stay awake, your majesty,” he murmured, shifting one hand to trace the long scar that curved from the tip of Rhyshladlyn’s right ear down to his mouth which was no longer spread in a gruesome smile. Barely noticed the way the coldfire that dripped from that old scar, from the wound that existed only in Rhyshladlyn’s true face fell over his fingers and left clear skin in its wake. “Do not be alarmed, your face is badly damaged, your cheek is split open from your ear to the corner of your mouth on your right side, but it does not appear to have gone through the muscle. I need you to focus on breathing for me and staying awake.”
It was what he’d said when he’d found Rhyshladlyn in that back alley in Shiran halfway across the River and only alive by the grace of the gods aplenty and by virtue of his own stubborn refusal to die by his father’s hand. No one but the two of them and Rhyshladlyn’s Others knew what he’d said before more help had arrived. It was not the best memory but it was the best choice to ensure Rhyshladlyn believed it was him.
Rhyshladlyn closed his eyes tightly and Relyt felt sick as tears slipped down his cheeks and splattered on his chest. A flare of hope, barbed as it was with the millions of things unsaid between them, lit in his chest when Rhyshladlyn nuzzled his hand before the Qishir let him go rolled to his feet in a move that was all liquid grace and rippling muscles. But that hope died when Rhyshladlyn opened his eyes and they were harder, more closed off, than he’d ever seen them before.
“Restrain him with something that can’t be broken,” Rhyshladlyn barked, tone just as hard as his eyes while he stared down at Relyt. “Bring him to the meeting hall. I want to speak to him and that worthless Guardian of his. Together.”
“As you will, my Qishir,” a voice that was like living fire replied and Relyt arched his neck to see a Dragaen standing a foot or so away, brown-amber eyes empty of emotion except when they flicked to Rhyshladlyn as the Qishir walked passed. Knew that look because he’d seen it in Azriel’s millions of times over the years. You’re his new Companion. By the Many! Whose idea was it to keep the two of you in the Palace at the same time?
Relyt didn’t resist when the Dragaen pulled him up by his hair and kicked him to his knees before shackling his hands again with a magick that was far stronger than Azriel’s. Didn’t struggle or say anything when Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú took form on either side of him and dragged him to his feet before following the Dragaen. Merely moved as they directed, too focused on what had just happened, on what it meant for his future, for him and Rhyshladlyn’s collective future. Remembered vaguely thinking that he wanted, needed, answers forty years ago when he’d activated the wards on his rooms at the Grand Palace and left for Ryphqi City knowing his entire Court planned to kill him for his crimes when he got there.
Only he’d never gotten his answers back then. Instead, Lílrt had gotten to him first and the rest was history. At least now he would. It almost made dying worth it.
“I finally know what you had to be guilty about,” Shadiranamen quipped with a sibilant laugh that made him shiver as she and Xheshmaryú marched him down the corridors after the Dragaen.
“As if you didn’t know the entire time,” he snarked back for all that doing so was stupid idea, never mind a suicidal one.
“Fair point,” the Phuri replied. “But do you know the difference between me having suspicions and me having proof and why it posses a unique threat for you?”
He sighed heavily. “Just get to the fucking point, Shadi, before I die of old age.”
Shadiranamen leaned into his view and snapped her too many teeth inches from his face, making him yelp and jump into Xheshmaryú who just grunted and shoulder checked him away. Shadiranamen’s laughter was a touchable thing that slithered around the hallway.