Everything hurt. Gods it hurt. And for all that his jaw ached with how wide it was around a sound that never hit the vocal register, all he could do was grip the table hard enough that it creaked in protest before the wood splintered and gave way. He didn’t even feel when his face hit it. Barely even heard the crunch of his nose breaking. Hardly tasted the copper tang of his own blood as it poured down his face and into his still open mouth.
All he could feel was the way it felt like his skin was being ripped from his muscles and bones. The way every nerve in his body rang with urgency and agony and something he had no name for in any of the languages he knew. Even when his vision swung and Bayls suddenly filled it, her hands cupping his face, her hazel eyes wide and urgent and overflowing with worry, he couldn’t feel her. Couldn’t focus. Couldn’t even sense the fledgling growing in her womb. Couldn’t hear anything she said even though her lips moved at twenty miles a minute. Couldn’t even feel Alaïs despite knowing she was thundering at their link because the hallway that connected their consciousnesses trembled with the force of her attention.
And then everything went still as the air shook before it loosed a sound that was more felt than it was heard as Rhyshladlyn returned, flapping all eight wings just once to keep his balance. Not that he saw his twin do that, only knew by the way the wind buffeted his face, the way feathers the color of blood soaked steel and dust and shadows and sparks of light fluttered around his mate’s head that it had happened. Between one breath and the next Rhyshladlyn’s orange-amber eyes replaced Bayls’ hazel ones and the moment his twin touched his face all sound rushed back in and he could suddenly hear the noise that had been falling passed his lips. A noise that chipped off pieces of itself as it slapped against his teeth, cut his tongue as it cartwheeled out of him, drained his lips of moisture as it scraped at them in a desperate attempt to remain inside him. A noise that made Rhyshladlyn tense, almost flinch, but he controlled the response at the last second so only his eyes narrowing gave it away.
Then his twin’s rich, deep voice pierced that noise, scattering it into silence like one kicked at a pile of leaves on the ground, “You’re feeling the Worlds’ response to the Balance being skewed seven ways to the River, my brother. Breathe. It’s alright, I’m here and I’ve got it and you.”
He did as the Qishir told him, though not right away. Not even quickly if he was being honest. Didn’t even try to because he knew it was pointless. This was all still too new and he hadn’t been reborn for that long. Not nearly long enough to have given a cursory glance at the information about the race he now belonged to. A race his twin had spent centuries learning about, growing into, accepting. Instead he’d maybe had a handful of hours, tops. It wasn’t enough time. No amount was, not really. And sure as fuck not if he was this finely attuned to the Balance of the Worlds that whatever they felt in its upset or outright lack, he felt a thousand fold. And on the heels of that came a thought that stole whatever calm Rhyshladlyn’s voice, words, and presence had given him.
If I’m this affected, what does Rhys feel given he’s ten times as powerful as me?
“I’ve got it under control. You just focus on breathing, Nuls.” It was like Rhyshladlyn knew exactly where his head had gone. And after eight hundred years in each others’ heads, he likely had. Probably read it on his face, some micro-expression that even Bayls would have had difficulty catching the meaning behind.
Nhulynolyn took as deep a breath as he could and tasted the scent of Rhyshladlyn’s grief on the back of his tongue and felt tears spring to his own eyes. Frowned at his twin because who the fuck had they lost now? What had even happened, for that matter? All they’d known was one moment everything was normal, just them discussing the Shiëtzirs and Lílrt’s bullshit and so forth then… then Rhyshladlyn went rigid, blinked twice, and was gone with a sound like air itself could feel pain and his twin had shattered every bone in its body simultaneously. Whatever had happened between that moment and when Rhyshladlyn had returned was fuzzy. Let that breath out again and it trembled though less because he didn’t know what to feel or how to process what he did feel and more because his body had started to shake.
Rhyshladlyn’s gaze softened as he cupped Nhulynolyn’s neck, fingers tangling in the hair that fell down his back before pulling him forward to press their foreheads together. And for a brief moment it was like they were back in the Palace gardens what felt like ages ago but was barely a month, if even half that. Was like if Nhulynolyn concentrated hard enough he could tumble through Rhyshladlyn’s Shields and Barriers and wards and dance and sing with the Self the Qishir kept so buried it was hard to hear its music sometimes. His own hands came up and gripped Rhyshladlyn’s shoulders over his shirt, sticky with blood that hadn’t been there when he’d left, something powerful flaring white-hot at the contact, making them both cry out. But it wasn’t the same connection they’d had as Other and kè, not even close. It was more, better, as though he hadn’t sacrificed their link so much as just traded up. And with it came so much more than what he’d had before he’d given his life for his twin and come back as a Greywalker just like him.
In the white-hot flush of power and connection he could hear Rhyshladlyn’s mantra of stay calm stay calm don’t let them know, could feel the terror and shock and worry that never even touched his face. He felt Rhyshladlyn’s power, his real power, for the first time in their lives and it left him breathless with a mixture of fear and wonder. Could feel the way his scars pulled at his skin, they way they ached and twitched and burned and were so cold all at once. Could feel the way his twin could hear the humming of the lanterns, the soft music of Xefras’ qahllyn’qir, the warm rush of Jerald’s Bond, the barbed echo of Azriel’s and Relyt’s. Realized that there was so much more to the Worlds than what most Dhaoine experienced with their normal senses and wondered if one day he would feel all this on his own instead of through his twin. My gods, Rhys, have you been dealin’ with this shit since you first learned what you really were? No wonder your temper has never been a smooth thing.
“What is that?” someone whispered with breathless awe. It might have been Thae’a but he wasn’t sure. “I thought they weren’t Other and kè.” The unspoken anymore made his heart hurt. But not as much as it would have before Rhyshladlyn’s reality had engulfed him.
“They are something more,” that was definitely Xefras. “They are living Greywalker mirror twins, a phenomenon that hasn’t walked the Worlds since well before the Original Races began to go extinct.”
“By the Eternal Fires,” Shadiranamen hissed and he didn’t blame her.
He stopped listening to the surrounding conversations because he realized that Rhyshladlyn’s inner mantra meant something was very, very wrong.
“Why are you fightin’ to… to stay calm?” His voice was soft, barely above a whisper but the words carried like he’d shouted. Because he hadn’t read his twin’s body language and his scent didn’t give anything away beyond that taste of grief. It was all Self-deep emotion and the thoughts birthed from it.
Rhyshladlyn went stone still, like if Nhulynolyn wasn’t holding onto him for dear life that the Qishir wouldn’t be there anymore. He hadn’t done that since they were fledglings and hiding in plain sight from Anislanzir. And if his mere presence and his touch hadn’t cleared the hazy feeling from his head, that sure as fuck did.
“Nuls…” the tone of that single word made him pull back with a breath that shook more than he wished it would, pieces of that horrible noise from before tumbling out at the edges but he ignored it. There was nothing he could do about it but right now. And even if there was it and the reason behind it wouldn’t be a priority anymore. Instead he met Rhyshladlyn’s eyes and realized what no one else had yet. Saw the truth hidden behind a mask that had always fooled everyone but him.
“Where did you go?” It came just as softly as his previous question, almost timid. His fear from before shifted direction and with it his stomach dropped out because Rhyshladlyn pulled away without moving. Just sank into himself as the attention of both Courts fully settled on them both and gods aplenty See him he wished he could still talk to the male mind to mind because it felt like this conversation shouldn’t be so public. But there wasn’t any other option right now. “When you split the air an’ left… where did you go?” Nhulynolyn pressed even though it was a horrible idea but he had to know. “An’ why is the Worlds’ Balance so fucked right now?”
Rhyshladlyn opened his mouth just as the meeting hall doors flew open with so much force they bounced off the walls, bringing every one of them swinging round on the runner who stood holding them back from hitting em back into the hallway, chest heaving with eir rapid breaths, face flushed, eyes too bright and not in a good way, hair a mess of curls that formed a vibrating halo of orange and black around eir head and face.
“Qishir Thayne!” ey huffed, eyes so wide there was more sclera than iris, like when a horse was spooked. “Three Lines in southwestern Ansyen Lontän snapped ten minutes ago.”
“Fucking what?” Alaïs barked and the runner’s eyes widened further and ey flinched but his sister didn’t retract her words or the tone she’d thrown them out on.
“That’s where I went,” Rhyshladlyn said to no one in particular, voice quiet. “But I was too late.”
“Too…late?” Azriel asked sounding like he had the first time he’d spoken to Rhyshladlyn alone after being assigned to Shiran City. Not green about the jaw when it came to being on the Fields but rather in other ways, ways that could see him getting them all killed if Rhyshladlyn wasn’t careful. Which was ironic given that in the end, the only person to die by Anislanzir’s hand had been the Anglëtinean.
It was disconcerting as fuck to hear it again now, hundreds of years later with everything that had happened. He felt more than saw the way Rhyshladlyn shuddered in reaction before he answered.
“The Shiëtzir in the safe house Lílrt had there went fully sentient and broke free from his control. I arrived just as the first Line snapped under its first shrug.” His voice sounded wrong, off. It took Nhulynolyn a heartbeat to realize it was because the Qishir had gone cold in more ways than one. Only a fury so hot it was frigid to the touch, leaving nothing in its wake but the whisper of the life it had consumed drifted off his skin like steam; played in the ripples of magick that his twin naturally gave off as though to make up for the aura neither of them had. “I tried to repair it–“
“I’m sorry, you…you tried to do what?” Ishmariel spluttered, clearly still not used to how powerful Rhyshladlyn was.
“Get with the program, Ishy,” Nhulynolyn quipped in a pathetic attempt to lighten the mood, “y’know Rhys is stupid strong. Keep up.”
“–but didn’t have time,” Rhyshladlyn continued as though he hadn’t been interrupted. “The cursed thing fully shook off its chains minutes, at most, later and my Protector pulled me out of harm’s way at the last possible second because I wasn’t going to leave without being forced to.”
“Your Protector?” Shadiranamen asked though judging by the look on her face she knew who it was. Shit all of Rhyshladlyn’s Others knew who among them had that title, as terrifying as it was to know that even Rhyshladlyn, as powerful as he was, still needed one.
“Not important right now, Shadi,” Rhyshladlyn replied with a shake of his head and just like that the topic was dropped. Though no one forgot it, it was just shelved for other shit that was more important.
“Ferjik,” Thayne addressed the runner after giving them all a narrow-eyed look that clearly said she had questions but wasn’t going to voice any of them for now because she knew better, “give warning to all Qishir in the Worlds that a Shiëtzir has gone off in that area of Ansyen Lontän. Tell-tell them to be on alert in their own Worlds and Provinces for its mate.”
Ferjik saluted, turned and ran out the doors, the whisper of eir magick pulling them closed in eir wake.
“It won’t matter, Thayne,” Rhyshladlyn muttered and pulled Nhulynolyn’s chair back towards the table from where he’d apparently tossed it after ripping pieces out of the table and then chopping it with his face and all but bonelessly collapsed into it.
“We have to do something!” the Honorable Qishir hissed. “We cannot just sit here!”
Rhyshladlyn thawed then and as those orange-amber eyes looked passed him, his face with its riot of scars twisted into something not remotely Dhaoinic, Nhulynolyn wished vehemently that he hadn’t. Wished more that they were fledglings again, having just learned about each other’s existence, hidden behind Azhuri’s meddling spellwork. Back when things had been so much fucking simpler. When the only thing they had to survive was Anislanzir’s latest fuckery. When it was merely about preparing for the war to wrestle Shiran City and the Sinner Demon race from that tyrannical fuck. Not this complicated, no action was the right one nonsense. Not this no road they took, no choice they made, didn’t see no one dying merely just a few versus a fuck ton bullshit.
“One of them, and a tiny one at that,” his twin growled, voice like someone had poured a glass of Ysborogh-distilled whiskey with gravel as ice and then drank it like a dumbass, gesturing vaguely behind him towards the hall’s entrance, “literally shattered three Lines before it fully engaged. And then when it did engage fully? It ate four Provinces and blurred the boarder line between Ansyen Lontän and Txiwteb!”
Thayne paled so fast and so hard even her eyes lightened and she weaved on her feet but stayed on them. And that is why you were your mother’s heir.
“Why the fuck else would Nully be touched so strongly by the Balance’s lack?” Rhyshladlyn rolled his eyes and slumped back in his chair, all the fight draining out of him. “A Greywalker who hasn’t reached their second Awakening, fuck who ain’t even fully settled after their first, will only feel the disturbance in the Seven Worlds’ Balance that strongly if its majorly fucked. Like, all the Greywalkers keeping it even and shit are gone gone, majorly fucked. Did you think it was a no big deal? Honestly, Thayne. Think.”
The silence following those words was loud and oh so thick. But no one said anything for a while. Judging by the looks they all sported, Nhulynolyn guessed they were feeling equal parts like there was nothing adequate to say and also like their father had just scolded the fucking shit out of them and they really didn’t want him to focus on them individually when that was what he did to the most senior among them.
“What do we do then?” Ahdyfe asked slowly, carefully, like she knew that to do otherwise would make her the perfect target since some of the blame for all of this fell at her feet just as much as it did Lílrt’s.
“To clarify,” Relyt added, just as carefully as the Snake Shiftkin had, “if we cannot warn the Qishir, if warning the Worlds themselves won’t do anything… what can we do?”
Rhyshladlyn sighed and looked at the Soul Healer but it had no heat, no emotion. Not even a hint of the past they shared or the history with its betrayals and nightmares that yawned between them as deep as the Cliffs were tall.
“We wait,” he answered after a heartbeat or two, “and we pray that the mate goes fucked sideways quickly and that it’s fucking isolated.”
“And if it isn’t?” Sheieh asked, looking like he had swallowed something especially sour and the fact that the Soul Healer was showing that much emotion told Nhulynolyn just how fucked everything was. “What happens then?”
Rhyshladlyn rubbed his face with both hands and his hair-bells gave a handful of distressed, discordant chimes before falling silent again. He dropped his hands to his lap and stared at something in the long distance though what it was, Nhulynolyn couldn’t say. “Then we are looking a Worlds-wide catastrophe that will rival the day Amèl was Rejected by my older brother.”