Thane opened his eyes to a rifle at his throat.
Aegon, not again.
He raised his head against the prickling rain to find a dozen more firearms trained on him. Kira knelt at his side, and they each had steel manacles around their wrists.
Damnit. She should have run when she had the chance. Things were going to get complicated now.
Lieutenant Gallow sauntered through the line of Templars. HIs balding head stood out like a full moon in the night air.
"Evening, your majesty." He knelt down so they were face-to-face. As usual, his breath smelled like smoke and ale. "How's the escape going?"
Thane felt for his Etherite necklace and ring. They'd both been removed. Next, he looked around for a fire. A torch, a lantern, anything he could use to burn that satisfied smirk off Gallow's face.
When nothing was readily-available, he locked eyes with the Lieutenant. "I want to see the Knight Commander."
Gallow smiled like a shark. "'Course you do. I'm sure a quick talk in his office could sort this mess out." He turned back to the squad of rifleman who chuckled in agreement. "Unfortunately for you, he's not here."
"Stop wasting my time," Thane said. "Where else would he be?"
The Lieutenant's smile widened. "Mason's doing what we came here to do."
"What? The enclave? You're full of horseshit. He has no idea where that is."
"Wrong again, Solidor." He wiped his forehead dry with a gloved hand. "Turns out you're not the only one who can betray your race."
The Valaysian man from last week? So he was part of the enclave? Maybe even one of the White Council members. If what Nahlia said was true, The council were the only ones aside from the Raider family who knew the enclave's exact location.
Thane took a few deep breaths to calm his rising panic. Even if Saul Mason had taken the army north, the poison he'd put in their wine would take effect tonight as planned. That would give him enough time to warn Nahlia and the others.
"By the way," Gallow stood and retrieved a wineskin from a nearby officer. "Care for a drink, your majesty?"
At Thane's silence, Gallow threw the skin into a puddle at his knees. The men chuckled again.
"You'd have poisoned us all under Mason's watch, wouldn't you?" He seemed to address his men more than Thane. "But Mason's not here anymore, boy. It's just you and me."
Thane kept his expression passive. He wasn't about to give this fool one ounce of satisfaction.
Gallow shrugged and turned to his men. "Put his majesty in the dungeon. And take the princess back upstairs..." His lip curled upward as he turned back to Thane. "To my chamber, this time."
Thane rose to his feet, anger flaring in his chest. "If you have a problem, then take it up with me! Leave her out of this."
Another officer backhanded Thane with a gloved hand. He staggered into the alley wall.
"Thane!" Kira screamed. He looked up to see Gallow hauling her by the arm.
"You bastard," Thane struggled to find his voice. "Let her go, or I swear I'll kill you."
"I'm sure you will." Gallow held Kira by the back of her neck, stroking her dark hair. "I've seen your parlor tricks, Solidor. They aren't half as impressive as you think."
Thane gritted his teeth, struggling to break free as Gallow's men held him back. He tried to summon a fire, but there wasn't a single torch or brazier within a hundred yards.
Gallow licked his lips, continuing to stroke Kira's hair. "Might not know it, but I have very expensive taste."
"So do I." Kira raised a knee and moved to kick the Lieutenant between his legs.
Gallow hunched over, and the blow took him in the stomach instead. "Oh yes," he said with the same self-satisfied smile. "You and I are going to have fun tonight, Princess."
Thane rushed forward, but Gallow's men tightened their grid. Someone hit him in the chest, and he toppled over.
He felt another hit on the back of the head, and everything faded to darkness.
"Solidor," a rough voice echoed.
The voice repeated his name a second later, followed by a blast of cold water across his face.
Thane cursed as he opened his eyes, blinking away the blur. At first, all he saw was blackness. But as his vision cleared, he recognized Nahlia's father standing beside him. His face was dirtier than it had been, and his beard was several weeks longer.
Thane groaned as he took in his new situation. His hands hung from a chain, connected to the cell ceiling. He was barefoot and shirtless, and every part of him felt either numb or bleeding or frozen. The only warmth came from a trail of blood trickling down his neck.
"Gallow—" Thane struggled to speak through his barren throat. "He took..."
"Here." Cole raised a waterskin to Thane's mouth. "Drink"
He forced himself to swallow. "How—how long since they brought me here?"
"Maybe fifteen minutes."
"Damnit..." Thane tried to pull free from his chains but they didn't budge.
"Easy now." Cole laid a firm hand on his shoulder. "You're not going anywhere until I stitch you up."
Thane turned to regard him, and he saw the other man readying a needle and gut.
"Why do you think the Templars let me in here with you?" Cole asked. "I told them you'd bleed to death otherwise."
Thane tried not to wince as more cold liquid ran down the back of his head. Alcohol, judging by the smell of it.
Cole moved behind him as if to begin stitching him up, then he paused. "I can't do this with you shivering, Solidor. Bad enough I'm working in the dark with no decent anesthetics."
Thane clenched his teeth. "I'm willing to move somewhere warmer if you are. Preferably by a fire."
"What?" He couldn't see Cole's face, but his tone was unamused. "Did your Ethermancy run out or something?"
Thane sighed. "Like I said, there's no source of heat. If there were, Gallow and his friends would be dead already."
"Hmmm..." Cole began his stitching again. "Makes sense I guess. But it makes me wonder how my daughter does it...".
"Your—what?" He tried to turn around, but Cole grabbed his head and held it still.
"Damnit Solidor, do you want to bleed to death?"
"Sorry," Thane said. "It's just—Nahlia's an Ethermancer too?"
There was a moment of silence, and the needle poked his scalp several more times.
"She was only five years old, the first time I saw her do it. We were walking in the woods—Nahlia and I—when she started running down a hill, chasing after a squirrel or something. She tripped over a fallen tree, fell, and cut her chin on a rock. It was a deep cut, and she was bleeding everywhere. What's worse, we were at least five miles from home with no decent medical supplies."
Cole fell silent as a pair of guards strolled by the cell.
Once they were out of earshot, he continued. "I've seen people injured before. In battle. But it's worse when it's your own daughter. I wrapped her chin up with a piece of my shirt and carried her home as fast as I could. She was so calm the whole way back..."
He stopped stitching. "When we finally got back to the house, her cut was completely closed up. No blood, no scar. Like it never even happened."
Thane grimaced. It wasn't the ending he'd expected. "You're saying Nahlia's a healer?"
"That's what I'm saying. I've seen her heal herself a dozen times since that day. On top of that, she's never gotten sick. Not once."
Well, It certainly wasn't impossible. Members of Clan Trelian were said to be descendants of Treluwyn, the founder of the Redeemers. They were renowned for their healing abilities, although the last of that order died out centuries ago. Still, if what Cole said was true, it might explain what happened with her mother.
"You think she ever realized what she was doing?" Thane asked.
"Probably," Cole said. "She's a smart girl. Smarter than you, that's for sure."
Thane's lips curled up at that. It was hard to argue, given his current predicament. "But you never told her she was special?"
"I told her being an Aeon made her special. That was true enough, considering we were surrounded by humans."
"But you know that no other Aeon—"
"Yeah" Cole interjected. "And you think I should have told her that? You think I should have handed her to over to Whitecliff's academy so they could spend a few years training her, only to stick her on a battlefield?"
"I already lived that life," he continued. "I wanted to keep my daughter out of it."
"I'm sorry," Thane said. "If it wasn't for me, she might never have gone to Whitecliff."
"Maybe..." Cole shrugged. "Or maybe I was just delaying the inevitable by keeping her in Northshire. We could spend all night debating whose fault this was, but that won't get my daughter back... or your friend."
Cole finished weaving the last of the stitches, then Thane turned around to face him. It hurt to lift his head from his numb shoulders.
"That's right." The other man leaned against the cell's iron bars. "I can tell you care about that girl. But she's not Ashara Solidor. She's not even an Aeon."
"You're right," Thane said, forcing himself to maintain a calm expression. "She's a human. But contrary to popular belief, Aeons give birth to human children all the time."
"Sure," he agreed. "Good enough to fool the others. But I didn't grow up in some backwater village like Saul Mason and his officers. I grew up in Sunfall. I knew your parents and your grandparents... You know what I remember about them?"
Thane shook his head. "I have a feeling you're about to tell me."
"Bright green eyes," he gestured toward Thane. "Eyes like yours. And while your friend might have your clan sigil tattooed on her back, I also saw her scars. No princess would have scars like those."
Cole took a step closer, lowering his voice. "If I had to guess, I'd say this girl is a decoy, and that the real Ashara Solidor is safe in Dragonshard."
Reluctantly, Thane looked up. This was a dangerous secret to share, but there was no point in keeping it from him now. Not when all of their lives were already in danger.
"Her real name is Kira," he said. "She's my sister's handmaiden."
Cole scratched at his beard. "So she was meant to be expendable? To let the Templars think they were in control?"
"That was my father's thinking." Thane let his head fall again. "For all the good it did."
"Aye," he replied. "You care about her."
"I love her." It felt strange to say the words, but Kira was right. There was no sense in being afraid when they might not make it until morning. Thane clenched his teeth at the thought of her locked in a room with that monster. "I promised her I'd keep her safe, but now—"
"Enough," Cole said. "Are you going to keep sulking, or are we going to get her back?"
"Yes." Thane stood straighter despite the chains. It was time to show these Templars what happens to the enemies of Clan Solidor.
"Where did Gallow take her?" Cole asked.
"To the top of the castle ... it's across the courtyard, five levels up."
"And how many Templars can we expect to find on the way?"
Thane paused. "Depends on how many the Knight Commander left behind. It could dozens... or it could be hundreds."
He nodded. "Let's assume hundreds then. If I get us out of this cell, can we take them?"
Despite everything, Thane smiled. "You get me out of these chains, and I promise you: I'll kill every last Templar in this city. And Gallow..." His eyes narrowed and he balled his hands into fists. "Aegon will weep when he sees what I've done to that man."