The first thing she saw when she dropped from the Line into the meeting hall, the wards giving a soft warbled greeting, was Azriel on one of the smaller tables, one kneecap a bloody mess of skin and bone pieces. Thayne and Alaïs trying to hold him down while he screamed that he needed to find Relyt, that he didn’t need a Healer, snarling at the the two females to let him up. Neither acknowledged the demand. As she landed beside the main table, the tension in the air slapped her in the face as her lungs burned like she was trying to breathe through a steaming hot, soaking wet blanket that had been wrapped around her head. No one reacted to her arrival, too caught up in their own heated arguments or focused on the drama with Azriel.
If she hadn’t traipsed down memory lane with everyone else courtesy of Rhyshladlyn she would wonder what the fuck had happened. But she didn’t have to wonder. She knew. Could read it in the way Nhulynolyn was leaning down next to where Bayls sat in one of the chairs at main table, one hand gripping the back of the Sinner’s chair, intently focused as he listened to his mate talk in hurried, hushed Sinxhët. Could read it in the way Sheieh stood with his hands braced on the other side of the table from her, eyes closed, face pinched as he struggled not to let his emotions show through his mask. Eiod and Jerald stood together, as inseparable as ever, the former watching Azriel and Thayne and Alaïs, the latter watching Sheieh with naked hostility.
Apparently she’d returned to an absolute shit show.
“One would think that centuries of life and one rebirth would have been enough to teach you patience,” the Healer snapped, tone saying ey knew him well and was no more inclined to handle his shit now than ey had been across their acquaintance. “But clearly that is asking too much.”
“Careful, Chebnir,” Azriel growled. “Just because my knee is fucked doesn’t mean I can’t still kick your ass.”
The Healer snorted. “Of course you could,” ey replied and she heard eir eyes rolling in those words, “now stop fighting me and let me Heal you so that you can actually kick the ass of the Dhaoine you are after and not go after innocents.”
She covered a giggle with a cough and tossed her satchel onto the table, bringing all eyes in the hall swinging around to her; their weight a physical touch against her skin. But it was Azriel’s who struck her the most. They were filled with so much pain and confusion and resentment. Pinned her to the spot even as she rocked back on her heels as that emotions slapped at her face, as the emotions that made those already striking eyes harder to look at. Made her frown because something was off about the look he gave her, about the feel of him; like he felt familiar but she couldn’t pinpoint how or why.
And when it clicked the World tilted and she felt light headed as the blood drained from her face.
“You’re not qahllyn anymore,” her voice was loud in the silence of the hall. The moment Azriel’s eyes narrowed and his expression hardened then shut down, she regretted speaking. But there was no taking it back. Not now.
Not that it mattered if she hadn’t spoken given that she could tell by the way Thayne and Alaïs were glancing at the Anglëtinean and at her that the Court collectively remembered enough to see the tattoos that covered every spare inch of Azriel’s body. That they knew, too, why he’d gotten them. But now they weren’t a living memorial to the Qishir Azriel, that they all, had thought lost to them, they were something worse: a constant, barbed reminder of what he no longer had, that he had done something shameful.
By the Many, and here I thought Rhys finding out the truth from Sheieh was the most fucked up thing to happen while I was gone.
“Welcome to the shit show, Snaky,” Nhulynolyn quipped, the false cheer in his voice making her teeth itch. “Better late than never, I suppose.”
“I think at this point never would be better,” Bayls muttered and a smattering of giggles ricocheted around the hall.
“Speaking of being late to shit — where the fuck have you been?” The press of a qahllyn ten times stronger than her own, than what even Azriel’s had been, told her that it was Jerald who had spoken.
She took a deep breath and let it out slow before turning to meet the Alphenian’s narrowed eyes, ignoring the comments that whispered all around them. Ignored, too, the looks that made her feel like she was on trial and had no chance of winning.
“I was gathering intel for our Qishir,” she replied evenly, sounding way calmer than she felt.
It wasn’t technically a lie but it sure as fuck wasn’t the full truth. But she wasn’t about to tell anyone in the Court that she’d hauled ass the moment she realized Relyt wasn’t the real Relyt, that despite being Oathed at least halfway, he didn’t have qahllyn’qir anymore. And she definitely wasn’t going to tell them that she had initially only shown herself to the Court in an attempt to get closer to Rhyshladlyn, to learn what was going wrong in the Worlds, so she could determine if Lílrt’s mind spell was failing.
“Uh huh…” Bayls scoffed. “And I’m actually a Hound. Wanna try that again?”
“An’ this time try not to lie,” Nhulynolyn added.
Okay the tag teaming shit is rude.
The hall doors slammed open before she could open her mouth to answer. The gust of wind that blew in nothing but a frigid cold that left heat in its wake. And then came a power she’d recognize even without the magickal signature that sang through the air on its heels. Grief and loss and betrayal and a thousand other emotions she had no verbal names for breathed in from the corridor and time slowed to a crawl. As though the World knew that what would happen next needed to be prepared for. Even if there was never any way to properly prepare for dealing with a Qishir on the war path. Especially not one of Rhyshladlyn’s caliber. Even if the culmination of centuries‘ worth of plots and betrayals finally coming to light could be prepared for.
A very small, still cowardly part of her wished she hadn’t come back. Even if she knew it was either she’d come back or risk being driven mad by her persistent qahllyn’qir.
She turned slowly to face the open doors, feeling the collective focus of everyone else in the hall shift as they did the same. All of them drawn like moths to the flame, unable to do anything else but look. Struck wide eyed and stupid in the face of the natural disaster and apex predator rolled into one humanoid form that was Rhyshladlyn Ka’ahne.
Rhyshladlyn stood framed in the doorway with his arm outstretched, power a visible whirlwind that slowly circled him, all oranges and golds and the barest tinge of grey. His face was striking in a way she’d never seen it before, filled with fury so strong it was like it were her who was feeling it, not seeing it in someone else. The scars on his face were thrown into stark relief, looking bone white against his dark skin. He jerked as if something had slammed into him, the muscles in his back and legs rippling with the effort to remain on his feet, noticeable even through his loose shirt and skin-tight breeches.
“Remember when I told you that I don’t give second chances, only consequences?”
She shuddered from head to toe as that voice saturated the hall, booming and commanding attention even though she knew the Qishir hadn’t done it on purpose. Swayed at the way Rhyshladlyn’s power wrapped around those words, the intensity of it making sweat drip down her spine, feeling empty and too full all at once. Swallowed at the way his voice sounded discordant and harmonious all at once, a testament to just how close to the edge of control he was.
“Oh shit,” someone said breathlessly as Rhyshladlyn pulled his arm back to his body, bringing none other than Relyt into view as he did so. Her heart was suddenly pounding in her chest, the rush of her blood in her ears making them ring. Whatever else Rhyshladlyn and Relyt said to each other was lost to that white noise. Was lost as she struggled to make sense of why the Relyt Rhyshladlyn held by the throat without an ounce of strain felt like home, why she heard an echo of the pull that lived behind her breastbone from the Soul Healer, only softer. Like a whisper caught from across a room.
Rhyshladlyn tossed his Steward into the meeting hall like he weighed nothing instead of the nearly three hundred pounds of muscle he actually was. Relyt slammed into the stone floor with a sound that made her flinch and flipped, limbs akimbo, before landing again with a sickening crunch and the sound of wet paper ripping that told her before she saw the damage that he’d broken a bone and that it had torn through skin. Felt her heart skip a beat when Relyt screamed, short and loud. She snapped her fingers to disengage the restraints on his wrists on instinct alone just as Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú took form on either side of the Soul Healer, but she didn’t care or pay any attention to them. Merely swallowed hard as his body settled more fully on his back, arms dislocated at the shoulders, at least one elbow broken, nose broken and bleeding thick red blood over his face to pool on the floor beneath him. Felt her qahllyn’qir writhe under her skin as she fought against the conflicting vows she’d made: one to the Dhaoine laying broken and bleeding on the floor and one to the Qishir who had put him there.
The vow that won out in that moment was the one she’d discounted, the one she’d made as a Dhaoine born to the Healer caste. She was halfway to the Soul Healer before she’d even registered that she was moving, but she never made it there. Stopped short when a pair of arms curled around her waist, lifting her fully off her feet and swinging her around. She snarled, fangs dropping from the roof of her mouth as she unhinged her jaw and whirled on the Dhaoine who’d stopped her. Froze when she saw winter-sky grey eyes staring at her. Sheieh gripped her shoulders with hands that shook. The horror in his eyes told her he knew exactly who she was and the part she’d played in Lílrt’s machinations. A horror she could read despite the emotionless façade all Grey Soul Healers had, one he was a well known master of.
“What are you doing here, Ahdyfe?” the Soul Healer snapped. “Are you insane?”
“I’m the Acknowledged Grey Healer, Sheieh,” she replied, surprised that she didn’t vomit all over him in the process like she desperately wanted to. Even more surprised that he didn’t know that information already. After all the Sheieh she’d known forty years ago had been able to find information no one else in the Worlds could. It was one of the reasons Lílrt had recruited him.
Was even more surprised given that Rhyshladlyn had been fully submerged in the Soul Healer’s mind not an hour ago and yet, Sheieh hadn’t taken that opportunity to learn everything he could. Did you switch sides, too?
“The Many See us, that was you? Fuck.” he whispered, showing a rare blip of emotion as he cursed before his stoic mask snapped back into place. His grip tightened until she flinched and her own hands came up to curl around his forearms with the full intent of pulling him off her. “You need to leave. Now that Rhyshladlyn has gotten his hands on Lílrt, you aren’t safe here. The Grey Qishir remembers everything and he will kill you, regardless of your qahl–“
She pushed at his chest, anger making her reckless. “I don’t give a fuck, Sheieh. I have every right to be here. More than you do, actually. Now let me go.”
Sheieh growled and shook her. “Are you that stubborn or just fucking stupid?” he snapped in Gretlök and she raised her eyebrows both at the curse and his tone.
She cried out as that order thrummed across her qahllyn’qir, only avoiding falling down when her knees gave out because Sheieh still had his hands on her shoulders. Forgot about the argument they’d been having, forgot about Lílrt on the floor bleeding, forgot about her vows and the struggle to figure out which one to remain to true to in the face of everything she and the Anointed One had built, had worked so hard for, crashing down around her and looked passed Sheieh to Rhyshladlyn. Watched him walk into the meeting hall, hair whipping around his face in the whirlwind of his power, Xefras walking behind him, brown-gold eyes tracking the Qishir’s every movement. Watched him stride over to the table, pull out the chair at its head and sit down with all the ease and nonchalance of someone sitting down to dinner with friends. But the way his eyes flashed, the way his fury lapped at her skin told anyone within eyesight how he really felt. Shattered the illusion that he wasn’t a walking danger to every last one of them in the room.
Reminded them all that Greywalkers had been feared for a reason and that forgetting that was a death sentence.
“Everyone take a seat.” He waved a hand at the table with a smile that didn’t touch his eyes. Crossed one leg over the other, propped his elbows on the arms of the chair, and laced his fingers under his chin. Looked at each of them until they all squirmed, that smile widening, darkening, with each Dhaoine he looked at. “We have some shit to discuss.”