88

Everything was chaos in her chest. So much so that it was hard to know what to feel first. Elation that it hadn’t been her who had been chosen to be the Greywalker Rhyshladlyn made made her head swim. Something almost like jealousy wrapped barbed hands around the throat of confusion that blossomed alongside her elation. A twisted sense of fear whispered across her shoulders and pooled at the top of her skin because for all that Shadiranamen and Xheshmaryú had said the rules that dictated how a Maestrelan could make a new Greywalker didn’t apply, they were wrong, they had to be.

She could feel that Rhyshladlyn was only riding the wave of godlike power, straddling the line that separated mortality and divinity, listing precariously towards the latter. Knew, though she couldn’t say how if asked, that for all that he swayed back and forth like a spinning top that hadn’t yet decided whether to fall or not, he hadn’t fallen and he didn’t intend to.. Which meant that he was still Maestrelan enough, still mortal enough, that the rules of only one of shared bloodline could be made fully into a Greywalker applied. So if it hadn’t been her who was chosen, Nhulynolyn was already a Greywalker thanks to Fate’s latest machinations, and Anis was still dead, that should have meant that there had been no other options to pick from because the four of them were the only Dhaoine of their father’s bloodline who remained. And everyone who had shared blood with Azhuri had either died during and because of the war or had crossed the River long before Rhyshladlyn had Awakened.

Yet despite all of that, Alaïs stood with one hand covering her mouth, watching as Eiod threw back his head and roared, the sound of Eyrdo City raising its voice in an echo of the male, the crimson glow of it pulsing in a heartbeat rhythm that she’d bet all her silvers matched Eiod’s own. She stood and watched as he was made into a Greywalker, as the same pulse of power Rhyshladlyn had given off from Shiran City flowed from Eiod. Listened as the Anglëtinean-Sinner cried broken sobs that rattled in her ears, terrifying because it reminded her of the day she’d cried when she’d felt Rhyshladlyn’s power, his signature, the ever-present weight of his existence vanish from the Worlds centuries ago. It made no sense how Eiod was the one Rhyshladlyn had chosen, how it even successful took for that matter but–

Eiod’s eyes snapped opened and she knew. With his hair whipping around his face in the vortex made by his power and Rhyshladlyn’s, all black waves and soft curls, those gold eyes with their undertones of amber and orange flashing in the sunlight, it was so obvious she was surprised she hadn’t seen it sooner. Because the Ka’ahne familial resemblance was in the way Eiod’s eyes looked like Anislanzir’s had the few times she’d seen them in direct sunlight, caught at just the right angle to see that Rhyshladlyn’s eye color hadn’t actually come from their mother but rather their father. But where her father’s, and apparently Eiod’s, eyes were a base hue with smudged star bursts of similar shades and undertones, Rhyshladlyn’s were all those colors mixed. And from the eyes Alaïs traced the similar bone structure that surrounded them, the way his eyelashes swept his sharp, high cheekbones when he blinked, the way his jaw was sharp and squared just enough to hold the classic masculine cut and bring his face from beautiful to startlingly handsome. Saw it in the way he held his shoulders, the way his body curled to protect its core, hands all long sure fingers and wide palms. By the Sands and Sky, how did none of us see it sooner?

*Rhys did,* Nhulynolyn’s voice was soft, subdued in a way it rarely ever was and she looked passed Eiod to where her stood staring at his twin with naked shock and something that tasted like disappointment but not as spicy. *He may not’ve realized what he was seeing until the moment he had to chose who to make into a Greywalker like us wit’out fuckin’ up everythin’, but he knew.*

Her hand dropped away from her mouth and she blinked rapidly as her vision blurred and her knees gave out entirely, only kept from falling when a pair of strong arms encircled her waist. She didn’t fight that hold, even when the sigh of the magickal signature behind her told her it was Relyt who had caught her. Just sank back against his body, studiously not thinking on how easy it was to do so, how familiar he felt, and swallowed hard.

Nhulynolyn was right, Rhyshladlyn didn’t miss much and while he may not have realized what he’d noticed until it was too late, or just the right time depending on how one looked at it, he would have known that Eiod was their brother. But the implications of that were too much. Meant that he’d known that shit for centuries. Had known consciously enough that when presented with the perfect moment to kill Eiod when the male had tried to stop him from wiping Lulphé out of Existence in response to her hand in Azriel’s first death, he had stayed his hand. He’d always given Eiod something he’d never given any of the rest of them: a few seconds head start. And now she knew why. Shit, now they all knew why, including Rhyshladlyn.

That jealousy from before suddenly flipped its barbs around and sank them into her throat, making her choke on the air that whistled through her nose and passed her teeth far too fast to be safe. Felt the way her mouth filled with saliva, the telltale burn of bile at the back of her throat telling her she was mere seconds from vomiting. Gods, they’d had an older brother this entire time, one who had been right there, and it took a war, chaotic upheaval in who ruled the Worlds, a complete loss of Balances Worlds-wide, a mind spell that rivaled anything history had ever recorded, and…

She shook her head despite the risk inherent in it and sighed heavily, the sound as shaky as she felt. It had taken too much and not enough to learn that the Ka’ahne line didn’t end with her, Nhulynolyn, and Rhyshladlyn. Gods, but she was so fucking tired of learning important shit so late. Was even more tired of it happening only as a last ditch effort to save her little brother, to save her family, to save the Worlds. Hadn’t they given enough? When would they finally be the ones who got to sit back and watch as someone else did the saving?

“Eiod…” Rhyshladlyn’s voice rippled at the edges, overflowed with an emotion she couldn’t name. Lilted around the half-syllables of the Anglëtinean-Sinner’s name, giving it the proper pronunciation it deserved. “Allow me to formally announce you as part of the Ka’ahne Family; no longer illegitimate, no longer lost to time and memory, known and acknowledged and welcomed.”

“Holy…shit,” Nhulynolyn hissed, hands curled over Bayls’ shoulders, his mate bracing him so he remained on his feet, the Sinner utterly at ease. Alaïs envied Bayls’ steadiness because the Old Ones only knew she didn’t feel close to steady. If anything, she felt more like she had been shattered into a million tiny, jagged pieces and stuffed into a bag that was ripping at the seams as each one of her pieces tore at it over and over while her World shook all around her.

*I didn’t think he’d announce that shit so publicly an’ so soon at that.*

*You should have known he’d do that, Nully. He’s the Grey Qishir, he’s the most powerful Maestrelan in the Worlds. He has a duty to right wrong and bring justice and Balance to all things.*

*True but fuck… this is a lot.*

She snorted but said nothing else, just fought to keep her shit together. Because she didn’t have time to break apart, not yet. She’d do that later in private when she and Thayne finally had a chance to themselves. When things finally calmed down enough that she could grab Rhyshladlyn by the front of his shirt and shake him because they were both too old for him to be pulling this shit anymore. But right now? She had a duty to her people, to her new brother, and those two things came first. Even if she wished vehemently that they didn’t.

She took a deep breath and tapped Relyt’s arms in a silent order for him to let her go. Tried not to think too hard on how it felt just as familiar, just as soothing, as him wrapping her in his arms and keeping her on her feet had. How suddenly the World wanted to fade away and shift to show her the inside of her old rooms in Shiran’s palace when Relyt had first held her exactly like this. She pushed those thoughts and the memories that came with them aside roughly, letting anger burn away the flashback they tried to bring.

Some things just didn’t need to be looked at that closely. Not right now and not ever if she had a fucking say in it. The past needed to stay there, especially where Relyt’s traitorous ass was concerned.

“Are you certain, my Lady?” The Soul Healer’s voice was gentle, reminding her of how it had been in Shiran City before he’d lost whatever sanity, civility, and kindness he’d had; back before he’d broken in a way that saw him trying to permanently damage all those who hadn’t broken the same way he had. It wasn’t the right title, not by a long shot, but she wasn’t going to correct him. Not that it would have mattered if she did; he would always call her that just like he would always call Rhyshladlyn your majesty. Even when they had all outgrown those titles, even when he wasn’t close enough to them to take the same liberties he had when he’d given them those titles.

Again she pushed back the tide of memories and fought not to let her anger get out of control as Nhulynolyn’s attention swung over to them, gold-blue eyes narrowed and heavy. She would fight later, would have that discussion later. Just like she’d do everything else that wasn’t difficult as shit and painful with it.

So rather than answer verbally, she instead just nodded her head. Mercifully Relyt let her go without her having to voice it, without argument, thank the gods. She had one shot to speak and she needed to save it. Needed to be able to stand before Eiod and speak the old words that only she could speak. As Relyt’s arms opened and she stepped out of them, her stomach swooped and then dropped to smack against her already too weak knees. Like it knew that what she was about to do would change a shit ton more than what Rhyshladlyn’s actions had and that she was apprehensive as fuck about it.

*You have to, Al, it’s only right an’ proper that you do.*

She glared at Nhulynolyn who shrugged, smirked, and pulled Bayls closer to him, the Sinner female looking up at him with a confused frown that darkened her eyes and scrunched her forehead. Alaïs rolled her eyes and kept walking, looking back at Eiod and Rhyshladlyn as she did so.

The Old Ones aplenty See and Keep her, she didn’t think she’d be able to go through with this. Not because Eiod wasn’t worthy, not because she was pissed that no one had told her before this moment. It was for no other reason than the fact that she felt such anger that had Anislanzir claimed this son as his first born, had taken Eiod’s mother for his Queen and Azhuri as his second wife, then maybe, just maybe, all that she and Anis and Rhyshladlyn had suffered at the hands of their sire could have been avoided. Couldn’t help but think if things had been different that they would have been free of Anislanzir sooner. Because where the Ancients had been willing to let the mistreatment of their Queen-heir go unchecked in order to keep a shaky alliance with the Sinners, the Anglë race would have never let such shit go on. Even if Lulphé herself had been too spineless to do anything herself.

But that wasn’t fair and it certainly wasn’t realistic, Fate had intended things to go exactly the way they had, and no matter what order things had gone in the outcome would have been the same. But knowing that didn’t make it easier. Knowing the illogicality of it didn’t stop her from feeling that way. And it sure as shit didn’t make swallowing those thorny emotions any easier. But she swallowed them anyway because she had to. The what ifs and buts and if fucking onlys could wait.

She stopped in front of the kneeling male who looked up at her with a face slack with regret and apology, golden eyes with their whispered undertones, so much more subtle than Anislanzir’s had been, sincere and wide and glistening with tears. She reached out a hand as that vortex of mixed power fell apart, and swiped her fingertips through the blood that still gleamed wet and shiny on his chin. Kept eye contact as she brought her fingers to her mouth and licked them clean. Shuddered at the zinging twang of his magick, of the power made him nearly equal in standing to Rhyshladlyn. Picked apart the various flavors until she got to the base, to the foundation and confirmed what Rhyshladlyn’s divinity-backed Working had already known: Eiod shared their blood, specifically through their sire’s line.

That was all the confirmation she needed.

“Blood of my blood,” she whispered but her voice carried, clear as mid-winter air and just as unquestionable, “welcome from time forgotten and memories unformed.”

The ancient Sinxhët felt weird on her tongue, too heavy, clunky almost, but flowing just as naturally as the modern form of her native tongue. It wrapped beautifully around phrases of incredible power that altered bloodlines and accepted illegitimate and adopted fledglings into Families, regardless of where they were on the social ladder. Phrases she pulled from the depths of her memory, ones learned in secret alongside her twin what felt like eons ago. Ones that could only be spoken by the living head of the family or by the ruler of the race and only when that Dhaoine did so with just motives and a clear conscience. They weren’t words spoken lightly because much like the Blood Oaths that bound qahllyn to Qishir and vice versa, so, too, did these ancient words.

Had been passed down from head of Family to head of Family, Lord King heir to Lord King heir for countless eons, and because of that they had never been translated to any other language before. Had been kept in their earliest forms until today, until she felt the brush of Rhyshladlyn’s magick like a calm to her frayed nerves as he did so for the benefit of those gathered. Didn’t have to share a link with him through Nhulynolyn to know he did it because something this profound needed to be understood with absolute clarity and full transparency.

“Rise to your feet with the knowledge that you now carry the weight of generations behind you, ever watching. You are part of something greater, a piece of a whole that is now more complete for your finding.” She held out the hand stained now with his blood, offering it in an acceptance that went beyond her words. “I, Alaïs Ka’ahne nóh Firesbane, Lord Queen of the Sinner Demons, oldest known living Dhaoine of the Ka’ahne Family line, do formally welcome you among our ranks. And in doing so, I name you as eldest son, first born among us, and offer you all the rights inherent in that title, including that of Lord King. Be welcomed well, brother, and know that you are home at last where you belong.”

Eiod’s shock, disbelief, and amazement were touchable things, his eyes getting so wide she half wondered if they’d fall out of his face. She smiled kindly down at him while he processed her words. Laughed when he took her hand and scrambled to his feet, dropping it the moment he gained them and hugged her tight with a sob that made her heart ache. She held him just as tightly, still smiling as tears fell down her face, catching Rhyshladlyn looking at them both with an unreadable expression but not because he was hiding his emotions more than his face wasn’t able to show Dhaoinic expression well. His focus terrible and heavy but calming despite that.

How long they stood there, she couldn’t say but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was the way Eiod’s shook when he finally spoke. All that mattered was the way the air trembled with a sound she felt more than heard when he did. Because it felt right, felt more right than anything had in centuries. And for all the heartache, loss, horrors, and pain it had taken to get to that moment, hearing him whisper four soft, tearfully sincere words into her hair made it worth it, even if only a little bit.

“Thank you, little sister,” he swallowed loudly and held her tighter. “And I am honored that you would give up that title but,” he pulled back, hands curled around her upper arms, thumbs brushing her collarbones where they swept into her shoulders, “I am no longer of Sinner blood, not technically. So I cannot in good faith claim my birthright title. You’ve always been the best fit for the role anyway.” Eiod winked and she laughed.

“Fair point on all counts,” she replied.

He pulled her in for another hug, this one for different reasons; unspoken apologies and thanks that had nothing to do with the last few hours and everything to do with the way they had kept each other safe during the war before Lílrt had collared Rhyshladlyn and the acknowledged missed opportunities for escaped hardships and painful memories neither deserved nor wanted. She held him back just as tightly while Thayne’s magicked voice began giving orders directing Dhaoine back inside the Palace, while Rhyshladlyn’s rumbling bass shook the air as Shadiranamen helped him ground out the remaining divinity that filled him to bursting. Held her brother while the World returned to normal around them and fervently prayed that this was the last major upset the gods had for her family.

Even if she knew as well as they all did that they would never been that lucky. After all, Ka’ahne didn’t mean “endures tragedy” for nothing.

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