Gallow took out his knife and held it to Kira's throat. The metal was sharp and cold—enough to make her wince. She screwed her eyes shut, too scared to breathe despite her ever pounding heart.
"Not so brave without your brother, are you?"
Kira opened her eyes but didn't meet his gaze. She had a better chance of escaping if Gallow saw a helpless victim.
Slowly, she worked the pin back and forth behind her, working open the lock that bound her wrists. Any minute now, and her hands would be—
A distant shout echoed from the courtyard below, and the warning drums sounded.
Gallow turned toward the window, and that was all the distraction Kira needed.
Her manacles fell to the floor, and she grabbed the pistol from Gallow's holster.
He rounded on her, and she scurried back, aiming the weapon at his chest.
"Don't move." Kira held her arms straight, curling her finger around the trigger. She wove her way between the furniture to keep space between them.
Gallow charged her, vaulting over tables and chairs. Kira tried to pull the trigger, but nothing happened.
He grabbed her wrist, squeezing so tight she feared her bones might snap.
"You little bitch," he sneered, his other hand wrapping around her neck. "Drop it."
Kira tried to struggle free, but he was too strong. Instead, she dropped the pistol, letting her head fall back as if she'd passed out. Gallow toppled over her, pinning her to the floor.
He loosened his grip, and her eyes shot open again. With her free hand, she grabbed the dagger from the Templar's belt and plunged it into his gut.
Gallow let out an angry yelp, but he still didn't let go of her. His hands pressed down harder until she couldn't breathe or make a sound.
She kicked him, but he squeezed harder. Her neck burned, and the world became a blur.
Her fingers found the dagger hilt in his stomache, and she twisted.
This time, Gallow released his grip to defend himself.
Kira crawled away, watching the Templar fall to the floor, coughing up a fit of blood.
Everything around him was red. She tried to look away, then she saw the blood running down her own hands like warm, slippery worms.
"Guards!" Gallow called out in a dry, raspy voice.
Come on, Kira thought. Just die already
"GUARDS!" he repeated.
Heart fluttering, she bolted for the door. It was already locked, but that would only keep them out for so long.
"Lieutenant?" a voice called out from the other side. The wooden frame shook as he tried to force it open.
"Bitch tried to kill me!" Gallow yelled back, struggling with every breath. "Get in here. NOW!"
The pounding continued, and Kira whirled around in a desperate panic.
Any time now, Thane...
With no other options available, she began piling chairs up against the door. She even slid over a small table, knocking over several strange metal canisters in the process. One of them erupted with a dark, powdery substance. Another rolled over toward Gallow.
Wooden splinters exploded from the door as metal axes crashed through. The lock broke, and half a dozen Templars burst inside.
Kira dashed from the solar and into the bedchamber. For all the good that would do her. She'd taken Gallow by surprise, but the others would make quick work of her in a real fight.
"She went that way," Gallow shouted to his guards. "Kill her!"
Thane charged through the lower levels of the keep. He was unstoppable now. A force of nature. His blasts knocked over tables, blew through doors, and slaughtered anyone who stood in his way.
He had stopped sparing the soldiers who ran or surrendered. Kalazhan's rage stormed inside him now. It pushed him on, giving him strength, demanding death and destruction.
They continued through the castle, down empty hallways and past silent ballrooms. The fortress was dark at this hour, but his fires lit the corridors with primal red flames.
Thane and Cole sprinted up all five flights of stairs, knowing Kira's life could depend on it.
They reached the top level and found the door to Gallow's chamber wide open.
"Kira!" Thane shouted.
"In here!" an urgent voice called back.
He drained the corridor's lanterns and burst inside the room. It was as big as a house, more fit for a king than a military officer. Wooden splinters and furniture fragments covered the stone floor, but still no sign of Kira.
Instead, he saw Gallow sprawled on the stone floor with a gaping wound in his stomach.
"Kira?" Thane called out again.
No answer this time. They made their way through the main area and toward the bedchamber. Darkness filled the room, and smoke rose from the hearth as if someone had just snuffed it out.
Thane passed through the doorway and met half-a-dozen silhouettes inside. Gallow's personal guard.
These weren't the common soldiers he'd met in the courtyard. These were fully fledged Templar Knights. They'd fought and killed Aeons before—perhaps even Ethermancers.
Cole was at his side a second later, sword drawn. Thane gave him a nod, then he stepped forward, hitting the Templars with a flurry of red flames.
He expected them to scatter. Instead, they clumped together with their shields overlapping.
The fire broke against their barrier like water on rocks. Thane was left drained of energy, and the Templars charged the doorway.
He and Cole broke up, each going to an opposite edge of the room.
Three Templars swarmed around Thane, shields raised and swords extended.
They tried to force him back. To trap him in a corner. Thane couldn't let them. He used the darkness to his advantage as he dodged their attacks. Leaping over broken chairs and ducking under fallen bookshelves.
He could sense the necklace nearby, he just had to find it.
The clash of steel rang out as Cole met their blades with his own.
A Templar swung his sword in a wide arc toward Thane, and he stepped forward. One hand caught his sword arm while the other drove a fist in his stomach.
The Templar kicked and fought back, using his strength to his advantage. Thane finished him off with a gouge to the eye, and the sound he made was something inhuman.
Another guard closed in. Thane knelt down, feeling through the darkness for the fallen man's sword. The leather hilt slipped against his skin, slick with sweat and blood.
The Templars attacked in several quick bursts.
Still kneeling on the floor, Thane raised his own blade sword to block each strike.
Shouts echoed from the solar as more Templars joined the fight.
He needed that necklace. Now.
Thane found his footing and backed toward the bed. He'd be cornered here, but he knew the Ethereum was close.
Still parrying their attacks, he backed into the nightstand. he didn't need to touch the necklace, he just had to be close enough.
Another step back and the Ethereum filled him with what felt like unlimited power.
He dropped his sword as flames sprang to life in his hands. No shields could save them now. Not against this.
Heat collided with armor and flesh, and their lives were over in the blink of an eye.
Cole was still engaged with the other two guards across the room. Thane waved his hand, and the pair erupted in flames.
More soldiers charged in through the doorway while gunmen formed ranks outside.
Good. The storm churned inside him now, and each kill was a sweet release. Thane waved his hands, drawing on the strength of the Ethereum. Fire met flesh in a pandemonium of light and shadow
After a few seconds of this, the remaining Templars retreated. Squealing like animals, their clothing in flames. His nostrils filled with the scents of smoke and burning hair.
As the dust cleared, he finally heard Kira's voice again. "Thane!"
She crawled out from under the bed and ran into his arms. She was warm and shivering and covered with blood.
"Are you— are you hurt?" He was breathing so hard, he could barely talk.
"No." she shook her head, eyes clouded with tears. "I'm fine. You?"
Thane looked down at his own clothing. He too was a mess of blood and ash, but there were no serious injuries. He smiled and pulled her closer, kissing her forehead. "Let's get out of here."
"Not so fast, Solidor," a raspy voice said from the doorway.
Thane turned to see Lieutenant Gallow struggling to stand. In one hand, he held a pistol. In the other was a small metal canister.
"You." The necklace was drained now, but Thane pulled the room's remaining fire to his palm.
Cole ran forward. "Thane, wait!"
No... no mercy. He had waited far too long for this already. Gallow had to die for what he'd done.
The Templar raised his firearm as if to shoot.
Thane was quicker. He hurled his projectile across the room, taking Gallow in the chest.
The Templar's body went up in flames. He dropped his pistol, but still clung to the canister.
There was a glowing brightness, and a blast of heat. The room shook as shards of metal flew in every direction.
"GET DOWN!" Cole bellowed.
Thane moved to put himself between Kira and the explosion. He forced her to the ground, then pushed the fire away from them, blasting a hole through the ceiling.
Bits of ash and debris wafted down from the opening, revealing the moonlit sky above. The dust cleared, but Thane couldn't hear anything but his own breathing. His vision was dark and blurred. He felt Kira beside him, still breathing and in one piece.
"Thane..." she muttered, barely above a whisper.
"It's alright," Thane said, his voice sounding muffled. He reached out and took her hand. "We're alright."
"Th—" she tried to speak again, but the words caught in her throat. Thane followed her gaze down...
And then he saw it. A sharp piece of metal lodged in her chest.
"Cole!" he called out, squeezing her hand tighter.
The other man emerged from his cover and ran over.
"There's an infirmary one level down," Thane stammered. His voice came out more like a panicked child than his own. "I need antiseptic and—and linens."
Silence followed as the night wind blew in through the ceiling's opening, scattering the debris.
Thane looked up, and he saw the uncertainty in the other man's eyes.
"It's too late," Kira whispered beside him.
"No," Thane shook his head. "No. You're going to be fine."
"You came for me," she said, eyes falling shut. "That's all that matters."
"Just try to stay still," Thane told her.
Kira nodded, not opening her eyes.
Thane leaned down and kissed her then. Her lips were trembling, and he tasted blood and tears. He just wanted to hold her close and tell her everything would be alright.
"Kira!" he cried out her name, but she still slipped away. He tried to heal her then. Like in her song, the way the Archaeon Treluwyn had healed her dying mother. If Nahlia had done it, that proved it was possible. That proved that it was more than mere legend.
He put a hand to her wound, feeling her heartbeat grow slower and slower.
Aegon, please let me heal her. Please... don't let her die.
The remaining flames in the room sputtered and shook. Thane's eyes burned hotter than any fire he'd ever conjured.
He tried so hard to have faith, but deep down he knew the truth. He couldn't help her now.
Aegon had only given him the power to destroy.