“Rhys? Can I chat with you real quick?”

She glanced at the doorway to the bedroom at Nhulynolyn who stood with one hand gripping the jamb as though he needed it to help keep him on his feet. Which likely wasn’t inaccurate given that he still looked pale around his eyes and mouth and the color that normally filled his darkly tanned face hadn’t filled back out yet. Rhyshladlyn reacted to the sound of his twin’s voice internally more than he showed bodily. She narrowed her eyes at him, caught up in the way his emotions tipped into a shadowed area of his mind she didn’t know had been there until the Worlds had broken free of Lílrt’s memory spell. But she hadn’t been with the real Rhyshladlyn for the last three hundred and forty years, so maybe it had shown up after he’d been ripped from them? Or maybe it had more to do with the fact the oldest of his Others was now a living, breathing Dhaoine as vulnerable as himself? And that didn’t even touch on the fact that Rhyshladlyn was finally faced with an adversary that there was no winning against. One that stood to best him no matter how powerful he was.

It was certainly enough to make any Dhaoine have a dark swirling spot of unpleasant emotions in their mind.

Her eyes slid back to Nhulynolyn who was watching Rhyshladlyn with blue-gold eyes that had a sharpness to them that hadn’t been there before his sacrifice. She stared at him and wondered if his mind mirrored his twin’s now in truth. Wondered if Rhyshladlyn’s unconsciousness echoed Nhulynolyn as he was the reflection of the Otherborn-Greywalker’s reality. Felt homesick in a way she hadn’t anticipated for the way things had been. Realized that she had gotten so used to being able to read them both on a level that went deeper than body language, micro-expressions, and scent and now she had lost half of the whole they made.

Which explains why I knew not to let Rhys go alone. The thought settled her somewhat but not entirely because on its heels came a too recent memory that hurt more to remember than it had to witness it firsthand.

Rhyshladlyn sighed heavily and pushed out of the chair and pinned Thayne with a look that Shadiranamen had only seen a handful of times when her had stood up to Anislanzir. It was the look of a young who had never gotten the chance to know what it was like to be the a normal young, to be that free, to explore and grow and laugh with abandon, with not a single ounce of fear that only the adults felt with regards to life and its twists and turns.

“Warn the World, Thayne. But you need to do more than that, we need to do more than that,” he rubbed at his face, the sound of his fingertips and palm scrapping across and through his facial hair almost painful. But what was more unsettling was the way the action sent flakes of blood that had dried among the course auburn hairs spiraling through the air to fall on the floor and the table. Rhyshladlyn made a disgusted face at them briefly before he looked back at Thayne. “Call them to either come here if they can do so safely or join a conference two-way mirror call. But they need to all be present, some way, somehow.”

“And when they are?” Thayne asked, the anger and fear that had filled her voice and her eyes moments ago gone. Replaced by the cool collectedness that reminded them all why she had been named a General of her mother’s entire army before she was even one hundred namedays.

“Send someone to come get me. I’ll handle breaking the news and all of that. Until then I’m gonna go get cleaned up,” he held his arms out in a just look at this fucking mess gesture and made another face before shaking his head and making for the door.

“Why?” This from Y’adtrik before Rhyshladlyn had taken more than a handful of steps across the loudly silent hall. “Why would you take point on that conversation? Should it not be my Qishir as highest ranking in the Worlds to do it?”

Shadiranamen was impressed more than she was upset that Honorable Steward had caught that then she was that he was questioning her . She looked at Rhyshladlyn, watched him stop mid-stride, standing just between Xefras and Jerald. She saw just enough of his profile to know that the words that would fall from his mouth would make her scared for him. Knew, too, before he took a deep breath and let it out shakily and slow, that she wouldn’t be the only one his words would concern.

“Because, Y’adtrik,” he answered, tone light, not quite conversational and nonchalant but close, “when things go wrong, because they will go wrong, it’s better if it’s me who shoulders the blame for that failure than your Qishir.” He turned enough to show one faintly glowing orange-amber eye and Shadiranamen felt more than saw the way the emotion in that single iris sent a ripple of unease and worry and something that was like grief down every one of their spines.

“Is it because you think she is not strong enough to shoulder it?” Ishmariel asked, tone just as light as Rhyshladlyn’s but his words held the barest whisper of a growl under them. An Oathed Warrior detecting the smallest hint of an insult to his Qishir.

Rhyshladlyn laughed and shook his head. The sound had her standing up and moving around the table to meet him at the doors. Because the last time she had heard that sound was right before he’d gone into Shiran City for the last time and came out damaged in a way she knew he would never recover from. And she’d be damned if she let him face the cause of that sound alone again.

“Not even close to what I was meaning, Ishmariel,” her answered as he started walking for the door again. “More that I am not fit to rule and I’ve taken harder hits than the entire Qishir caste in the Seven Worlds coming for me at once for a cataclysmic failure that plunges the Worlds into a period of darkness to rival the Neodrach Wars.”

“And what if they kill you?” Azriel quipped, not sounding as angry as his expression looked. She had to give it to him; he may be a cheating piece of shit at the absolute best but he still loved Rhyshladlyn and in that moment, that one question, reminded every one of them of that fact more than the tattoos that would forever remind them of what he’d had, squandered, and consequently lost.

“The Worlds will survive. After all, I’m not the only Greywalker anymore.” Rhyshladlyn walked out of the hall before anyone could reply, Shadiranamen right on his heels.

“If it’s something that’s going to make me not be able to take this shower, then shelve it, Nuls. Because if I don’t get this blood off me right now I’m gonna get violent,” Rhyshladlyn replied, grabbing the front of his blood caked shirt and ripping it from his body with a deft flick of his wrist. It fell to the floor in a flash of coldfire that burned it to ash before it even fell below his waist.

“You can still shower while I talk, my twin. Ain’t no worry ’bout that,” Nhulynolyn replied, sounding far more nonchalant than Shadiranamen was sure any of them believed. But sometimes when things were as fucked as they were right now pretending was the only way one stayed sane so she didn’t begrudge him that.

“I shall give you two privacy,” she said and pushed off the sink counter, gripping Nhulynolyn’s shoulder in the closest thing she could do right that moment to offer support, to say she was sorry, to say she was glad he was back, before she stepped into main room.

She leaned against the wall outside the bathroom door, marveling at the yawning emptiness that existed where she’d once felt Nhulynolyn’s presence both inside her and against her skin. Marveled that for the first time since she had been assigned to Rhyshladlyn she felt only the mirrored echo of Nhulynolyn’s reality. It made listening in through the link she had with her and what she could hear through the door that Nhulynolyn closed softly but pointedly behind him as he stepped inside feel like an invasion of privacy even though the twins both knew that she wasn’t going to go far. Not after the way Rhyshladlyn had reacted to the news of the destruction in Ansyen Lontän World, not after the way his magick had gone so very still when he’d spoken of the potential damage to the Worlds should the other active Shiëtzir activate in an even remotely populated area.

It was either her or the Protector and everyone, even Rhyshladlyn, had agreed that having that Other posted as the Qishir’s personal guard was not something any of them wanted to deal with. Not until the moment they absolutely had no other choice. So Xheshmaryú had remained in the meeting hall as a way to pass information quickly to Rhyshladlyn through her and she had stayed at Rhyshladlyn’s side as he’d gone through the Palace back to the set of rooms he’d once shared with Azriel but now shared mostly with just himself.

There was the barest feeling of fingertips trailing across her right shoulder blade diagonally from shoulder to spine before ghosting down her spine to stop at the swell of her buttocks, pulling her out of her thoughts with a jolt. She shivered because she knew Nhulynolyn was the one that touched belonged to. Shivered not just because of the knowledge that Rhyshladlyn was keeping their link wide open and receptive enough that she felt what he did but because her ‘s response to that touch was three-fold and none of those folds were ones she expected. Even though she should have.

He reacted like a lover who knew what that touch was really capable of, like someone who had been starved of the calming touch of a beloved for years longer than was safe, and ached in a way that was all the grief of one having lost someone unimaginably close to them that was so much more than what she expected of a and their Other.

“Does Xefras know?” Nhulynolyn asked and if Shadiranamen hadn’t felt the way Rhyshladlyn had responded to that touch, caught the flashes of memories associated with that reaction, she would have thought the question utterly apropos of nothing. How did none of us know?

“Yes, because I told him outright while I was with the Anointed One,” Rhyshladlyn answered, voice soft, calmer than it had sounded in days. She settled against the wall, arms crossing under her breasts if only because she didn’t trust what she would do with her hands otherwise. Probably something incredibly stupid like opening the door. “I felt that he deserved to know the type of Dhaoine he was putting his faith in. Not that what you and I did with each other was wrong, but I know some races don’t see it the same way the Laws do.” He shrugged one shoulder but it wasn’t nearly as nonchalant as the gesture was intended to be.

“Does Feather Duster know?” Nhulynolyn’s voice was deeper, held a hint of edge to it that made Rhyshladlyn twitch before he laughed, low and rumbling, full of promises and things remembered, things that had never seen daylight but didn’t need to because they weren’t hidden only private. Nhulynolyn laughed with him, hands curling over Rhyshladlyn’s shoulders, squeezing once before he let go and leaned against the sink much like she had been while Rhyshladlyn moved to turn on the shower water.

“Does Bayls?” Rhyshladlyn countered.

“Not outright but I ain’t need to say it that way. She’s a Sinner, like us… well, like we were born to… fuck that’s confusing,” the Otherborn-Greywalker waved his hand impatiently as though to disperse that wayward thought process and refocused. “She’s a Sinner so she knows that the relationship between twins is often closer than what mates will have. That it’ll cross lines that toe the line of breaking the taboos and Laws of the Worlds but not quite.”

“And she’s okay with that?” The Qishir shooed Nhulynolyn away from the counter and to sit on the closed lid of the toilet while he carefully washed his face before running his fingers through his blood-soaked hair as best he could, hair-bells letting out sharp, short notes of annoyance at either his fingers’ disturbance or the blood or the conversation or everything, it was hard to know for certain.

Nhulynolyn shrugged in the mirror, arms crossing as his left leg started to bounce. Not quite a nervous habit or even one that said he was upset. Just needed to move but couldn’t either because space didn’t allow for the movement or because he would run from whatever he needed to say. Shadiranamen closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall, shifting quietly until her charms didn’t dig into her scalp. She settled in and waited, grateful that Rhyshladlyn was either too tired to notice she had a front row seat, didn’t care to hide it anymore, or trusted her enough to let her see this intimate moment between them when he never had before.

“Wouldn’t matter if she wasn’t,” the Otherborn-Greywalker answered after a moment, “it ain’t like either of us need that kinda companionship anymore.”

“But if we did?” Rhyshladlyn pressed, meeting his twins eyes in the mirror’s reflection, his own orange-amber eyes so very intense, expression wary.

Nhulynolyn met that gaze unflinchingly, falling still as he answered with no hesitation, “She knows that even though I ain’t your Other in truth anymore that above anyone an’ anythin’ else you are my ultimate priority. An’ if you need me? Regardless of in what way or why, I will be there for you. The Worlds an’ every last Dhaoine an’ creature within them be fuckin’ damned.”

Her took a deep breath and let it out slow with a nod before he pulled off his pants and loincloth, burning them in a flash of coldfire like he had his shirt before he stepped behind the shower curtain and tilted his head back into the spray. The tension fell out of his shoulders slowly as the hot water hit them, loosening the muscles as the steam built up and spilled over the top of the curtain and into the rest of the bathroom.

“And to answer your question about Azriel,” Rhyshladlyn said after he dragged his wet hands over his face and rubbed at his eyes, releasing each wing one at a time to clean them, “no… he never knew. His culture would have seen it as blasphemous at best, something to be prayed and forgiven out of me,” her ‘s eye roll was painful and Nhulynolyn’s snort made her own nose twinge in sympathy, “an abomination that shouldn’t be allowed to live at worst.” He trailed off with a sigh that was loud enough she could hear it even without their link being so wide open.

“So it was safer alla ’round to just not say shit,” Nhulynolyn said with an ahh yes makes sense tone. “I still think that’s fucked but whatever, ain’t like he’s got much of a say in matters of your life anymore so…”

Rhyshladlyn hummed noncommittally and the two sat in silence while the Qishir finished cleaning his wings, washed and rinsed his hair and lathered soap over his body. Neither of them said anything else until Rhyshladlyn shut the water off and Nhulynolyn stood and moved back to lean against the door while his twin dried off and began to braid his hair in front of the mirror.

“About what I wanted to chat with you about…” Nhulynolyn began haltingly, clearly not wanting to say what he had come there to discuss but the need to speak it was great enough that it added a hint of twangy spice to his scent where it drifted through the cracks around the door on the steam from the shower. Shadiranamen’s instincts chittered out a warning as her nostrils flared wide, taking that scent deep into her lungs.

“I was wondering if you’d ever get around to that or if I’d have to drag it out of you,” Rhyshladlyn teased with a smirk.

“Fuck you,” Nhulynolyn rolled his eyes and the Qishir snickered. “But.. so you know how every Greywalker ties themselves to a City when they Awaken?”

Rhyshladlyn’s mirth disappeared and he was all business as he turned to face his twin fully. He was instantly alert and fully engaged in the conversation, all other issues shelved in the face of this. She frowned slightly and opened her eyes to see Jerald sitting on the couch by the low table a few feet away, having slipped inside silently enough that she’d not even known he was there until she’d breathed deep of Nhulynolyn’s scent. The Alphenian waved at her and she tipped her chin to him in a silent reply but didn’t pay him much more attention beyond that.

“Yes…” the Qishir replied and she could feel the way his eyes narrowed, the scar tissue on the right side of his face tugging and bunching with the motion. “Unless you’re like me and end up draining the life of the City you would have been tied to in order to simply survive your Awakening. Why?”

Nhulynolyn nodded and ran a shaking hand through his hair before his eyes unfocused and he stared into the distance, seeing something only he knew about. Shadiranamen felt her heart clench at the sight and the knowledge that Nhulynolyn was truly alone in a way he’d never been in his entire long life. Though, yes, he had an Other of his own now in Alaïs, just as he’d had since the day he’d saved her life in Shiran City’s palace, it wasn’t the same. The Lord Queen hadn’t been there the entire time, only a part of it. And right now, the Otherborn-Greywalker needed the connection he’d once had with his twin. Not the one they had now, so different, stronger, and better; no he needed the one they had had. The one they’d never have again. Not until the day they both died, for good.

“I was tied to Shiran City,” Nhulynolyn said just as Rhyshladlyn had decided to move forward, to reach out and coax him to speak. Her flinched so hard that the towel wrapped around his waist loosened and fell to the floor around his feet. He kicked it impatiently back towards the shower stall. “An’ what’s worse?”

“Oh it gets worse, naturally,” Rhyshladlyn hissed but it had no bite, not any that was directed at his twin at least.

The moment those golden-blue eyes cleared and locked on Rhyshladlyn’s orange-amber ones Shadiranamen felt the blood drain from her face as her knees went weak. Was shaking her head before Nhulynolyn even opened his mouth and said the words she’d never thought she’d ever hear and had still hoped despite that that she never would, “It was risen and reborn right alongside me.”

“It fucking what?”

“Shiran City lives,” Nhulynolyn repeated. “An’ I’m the Greywalker tied to it.”

Rhyshladlyn cursed in a language that made Shadiranamen’s skin tremble and break out in shiver bumps at the same time that her nerves screamed in pain and her eardrums felt like they were breaking. Anything else that was said after that she didn’t catch as her knees gave out and Jerald called her name at the same time that Rhyshladlyn slammed the doors on their link closed and filled her head with deafening silence.

Worse doesn’t even begin to cover this, Nuls.

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