Thane waited in the dark cell, his arms and shoulders still numb from the chains lifting his wrists. Aaron Cole lay on the stone floor before him, ostensibly injured and unconscious.
Come on. Thane gritted his teeth, counting down the seconds until Edwin and Conner walked by on their next patrol.
He told Kira he would kill anyone who hurt her. That day had come sooner than expected, and now he couldn't wait any longer.
Another ten seconds passed. Then thirty. By now, he practically shook with anticipation. Sweat ran down his back despite the cold.
Finally, footsteps came clopping down the corridor. Thane tried to self-satisfied when they took in the sight of Cole's blood-covered body.
"Damnit, Solidor." Edwin stepped closer, wrapping a gloved hand around the iron bars. "The hell did you do?"
Thane pulled his lips into a dark grin. "You should have known better than to stick a human in my cell."
"Shit," Conner muttered under his breath. "Knight Commander wanted him alive. He's gonna—"
"I know," he said. "Just shut up and get him out of there."
Conner fumbled to find the right key in the darkness. Edwin eyed Thane warily, sliding his dagger from its sheath. "You try anything, I take out one of your eyes."
Thane smiled again. "Nice to know you're still afraid of me. Here I thought these cursed chains were ruining my image."
The iron door groaned against the stone as they pushed it open. Once inside, Conner leaned down to check for a pulse. Edwin was still pointing his dagger at Thane.
"Still breathing," Conner said. "Come on, help me get—"
Cole's eyes shot open, and he grabbed the dagger on Conner's belt. There was a flash of steel as he slashed the blade across his throat, releasing a red geyser of blood.
"What—" Edwin whipped around, but Thane swung his body forward. He coiled his legs around the other guard's neck, and he squeezed.
Cole was on his feet in a heartbeat. He plunged the dagger into Edwin's chest. Thane released his grip, and the Templar's body hit the floor with a thud.
Once Thane was free from his manacles, it only took them a few minutes to find their equipment. Cole relieved Edwin's corpse of his arms and armor, and Thane found his own effects piled in the dungeon's common area.
Unfortunately, his rings weren't there, and neither was the Trelian necklace. That complicated things.
"Come on," Cole said. "If we hurry, we can get across the courtyard before—"
"Prisoners loose!" a voice bellowed down the corridor. "Solidor and Cole! They're escaping!"
Cole took out a throwing knife and sent it whirling through the air, into the boy's retreating back.
Too late. The warning drums sounded up above.
"Well then." Cole retrieved his knife. "So much for subtlety. You better be everything they say you are, Solidor."
Thane rummaged through the cupboards until he found a sulfur match. "Just help me get these braziers burning. "
"You've got to be kidding me," Cole said.
"I told you." The match flared to life, bathing the room in sharp red light. "I can't do this without a source of heat."
They set to work preparing logs and kindling. The drums continued to beat up above, accompanied by the shouts of officers and the thunder of a hundred footsteps.
Once the fires were burning, Cole offered his arms in a be-my-guest gesture toward the surface.
Thane took the lead as they climbed the stairs into the castle's main courtyard.
Outside, an entire legion of Templars stood waiting between them and the keep. Swordsmen and spearmen formed ranks amongst the snow covered buildings. Riflemen stood on the battlements above, their silhouettes gleaming in the pale moonlight.
Beyond them, half a dozen bodies hung from the gallows. The Raider spies. Mason's informant must have given them up too.
And of course, there wasn't a single fire in sight Despite the chains and the iron bars, Gallow had planned for all of this.
"Get back, Solidor," one of the sergeants called out.
Thane took a step forward. He reached out with his thoughts, binding the energy of the dungeon's braziers to those in the courtyard. Flames flickered to life all around them. The lanterns and torches under the cloister, the braziers in the center. Each fire grew larger and hotter—ready to bend to his will.
"My quarrel isn't with you," Thane said to the army. "Step aside. Give me Lieutenant Gallow, and no one else needs to die."
The officer remained stiff and resolute. "This is your last warning."
Thane gave them no such warning. He'd spent half a year restrained, and now he yearned for release.
He raised his arms, and a dozen flames leapt from their braziers. As massive as ocean tides. As deadly as snakes devouring their prey. Fire collided with armor and flesh, and men cried out in pain.
"Fire!" the sergeant bellowed amongst the chaos. Several squads of riflemen pulled their triggers.
Thane and Cole broke off at the sound of the explosions, dashing for cover.
Bullets soared past Thane as he ran, one grazing his cheek. He pressed his back against a brick building, hands shaking. His cloak had a few holes, but his body was free of wounds.
The officers barked out commands, and the remaining bulk of the army charged forward. Even after what they'd seen, fifty against two must have seemed like good odds.
Thane emerged from his cover. He extended his palms again and the flames obeyed, erupting like torches in his bare hands.
As the enemy soldiers closed in around him, he countered with a wave of fiery projectiles. One by one he struck them, blowing holes in their armor, turning their faces into craters of smoldering flesh and skin.
Cole emerged from his cover again, and the two of them fought back-to-back against the endless waves. The world became a blur of flame and steel, with swords and spears swinging in every direction.
"More gunmen!" Cole called out, raising a shield toward the new line of soldiers on the battlements.
A Templar closed in on him. Thane's fingers dove forward and broke the man's windpipe. Blood shot out, drenching his hands like hot soup. He ducked behind the body and used it as a shield. It shook under the force of a dozen bullets.
The gunshots ceased, and he countered with another blast of fire. Bodies and debris erupted on the stone wall.
Thane and Cole pushed forward, cutting down every Templar in their path. Their ranks were broken now, and most died or retreated with no real challenge.
At that moment, Thane understood just how powerful a skilled Ethermancer was on a battlefield. To these men, he was like an Archaeon risen from legend, wielding powers that were supposed to be long gone.
This was the reason his race was feared. This was why they'd ruled over humans for a thousand years.
Smoke rose into the air as the smaller buildings burned. They had a clear path to the keep. But the drawbridge... they were raising it.
Thane made a mad dash across the courtyard, ignoring the remnants of the army.
The drawbridge was already half-up when he reached the precipice, leaving a fifty-foot gap between him and the keep. It was too far to jump, and the cliffs were too steep to climb.
"Cover me," he told Cole.
The other man nodded, spinning and opening a Templar's throat with a sweep of his sword.
"You better be quick about this," Cole hollered back.
Thane closed his eyes and concentrated. First, he focused on the fires in the courtyard, then on the iron chains that held up the drawbridge. He transferred the energy from the burning buildings into two of the chain links, hoping to Aegon that he had enough heat.
2800 degrees to melt iron, he remembered from his science lessons. It seemed like such an impossibly large number now.
A burning building wouldn't have half the heat he needed. 1100 degrees at best.
No. Thane gritted his teeth. There was no room for doubt. The chains would break—they had to.
Even as the courtyard dimmed, Thane calmed his mind further, chasing out his own thoughts, channeling everything at his disposal. The screams of the Templars as they died on Cole's blade, the speed of the bullets as they soared through the air. It all gathered into those two chain links.
Finally, he thought of Kira, and his mind expanded out farther, touching upon the infinite energy of the Ethereal.
Thane didn't have his rings or the Trelian necklace, but he was still a Solidor. Like all Aeons, Etherite ran through his veins. A constant connection to the realm of dreams.
When he opened his eyes again, the chain links shone a bright orange against the night.
Finally, they snapped.
Thane let out a sigh of relief, nearly falling to his knees as the wooden drawbridge fell before him with a crash, more satisfying than any sound he'd ever heard.
Cole hauled him to his feet at once.
"Move!" he shouted.
Thane regained his footing, and they charged into the castle.