"It might be best if I do the talking," Elias told his sister outside the Master Physician's lab.
"Fine by me," Ciena said with a shrug. Her brother had always been the diplomat in the family. Besides, Marwyn never seemed to like her that much. Probably because she was to blame for most of the infirmary's business.
Elias rapped on the door and a voice beckoned them in.
Inside, they found the Master Physician standing behind a large stone table. He wore a pair of dark-tinted goggles as he tinkered with various burners and tubes
"Ah." Marwyn nodded up from his work. "Elias. Ciena. Here about the trial?"
Straight to the point, that one. Got to give him credit for that.
Her brother stepped forward, tall and formal as ever. "Yes, Master. We—"
"Disagree with the Council's decision," Marwyn answered for him. "Understandable. But came to me, not Master Vash. Why?"
"Nahlia Cole is still a valuable asset to this enclave," Elias said. "She's been in contact with our enemies for over a month now, and she was willing to turn on them."
Marwyn continued his tinkering without comment.
"Don't you think it's suspicious," her brother went on, "that the others sentenced her so quickly? You could have offered her a deal in exchange for information."
Again, Marwyn didn't reply, but his lips betrayed hints of a grimace. As if he agreed with them, but refused to speak ill of his peers.
For Aegon's sake, Ciena thought. We're at war, and everyone's a bloody politician.
Just then, one of the contraptions let out a high-pitched screech.
Ciena jumped in surprise, then crossed her arms in annoyance. "What the hell is that?"
"Tea." Marwyn moved to another table where he lifted a metal urn from atop a coal burner. "Relaxing. Calms the nerves. Should try it sometime."
Her brother followed, undaunted by the interruption. "We have to do something, Master. Before it's too late."
"Do what?" Marwyn raised his goggles. "The council's verdict was final. As for the Templars, already have spies in Kyroth's estate. Scouts outside the enclave. Will be warned of attack days in advance."
Ciena stepped around her brother. "And what if someone did give away our location here? Couldn't that same person do the same to our scouts and our spies?"
"Regardless." Marwyn blew on his own tea before taking a sip. "Haven't answered my question. Why come to me?"
Elias shot her a glance before continuing. "You still have Nahlia's Etherite necklace, don't you? What if we gave it back to her? She could use it to contact her accomplice in Dresteo—to find out where the Templars are, and how much they know."
Marwyn shook his head. "Too risky"
"How? She already had it this whole time anyway. Nothing's changed."
"You mean aside from the fact that the council wants her dead?" Ciena offered.
Her brother gave her a flat look.
She shrugged and took a sip of her own tea.
"Voted against execution." Marwyn threw up a finger. "Outnumbered three to one. Nothing I could do for her."
"You can help us," Elias said. "If you disagree with the other masters, then don't go along with them."
"No, Council made their decision. May not agree, but not my place to question. Nature of democracy."
"You also trained Nahlia to use Ethermancy against their will," her brother pointed out. "Correct me if I'm wrong Master, but she's the only one you ever taught."
"Yes..." Marwyn sank into a stool by his desk. "She was a good student. Regrettable. But also a spy."
"You're right. She made mistakes, and now we all know why."
"Did it to save her father," he mused.
Elias nodded. "It was wrong, and it was stupid, but it wasn't treason. She made the deal with Thane Solidor long before she came to the enclave. Before she met any of us. Does she really deserve to die for that?"
"I see." Marwyn set his cup on the table. "Not only planning on giving her the necklace. "Planning on breaking her out." He regarded them both, but his gaze seemed to fall on Ciena, and the keyring she held as a student guard.
Ciena stiffened but didn't break his gaze."It's the right thing to do."
"Interesting." Marwyn held his chin as if genuinely perplexed. "Wouldn't have expected mercy from you, Ciena Raider."
Of course not. Everyone thought she was merciless. And it was partially true; she would have killed Nahlia on the battlefield without a second thought if it meant protecting her home. But execution? No... that was motivated by fear and politics. It accomplished nothing.
"I care about justice," she replied. "Nahlia Cole may have been a spy, but the council knew that all along, didn't they?"
Elias raised his eyebrows at that.
"People say my Mother never makes mistakes," she continued. "We've had dozens of spies try to infiltrate this enclave over the years, and not one has gotten past yet. She wasn't tricked by some backwater barmaid. Neither was the White Council. You all knew she was a spy. But instead of helping her, you used her as bait to catch Thane Solidor."
This was all speculation on Ciena's part, but Marwyn's grimace confirmed it.
"Didn't find out until today," he admitted. "This was their plot. Elveron, Vash, and Zidane."
Ciena crossed her arms. Those blind, bloody hypocrites. Three days a week, Elveron stood at the front of the chapel, preaching against violence and Ethermancy. Then, not only did he try to fight Thane Solidor in secret, the others condemned Nahlia Cole for something they could have prevented all along.
Aegon, what a mess. And to think, they held the fate of over two hundred Aeon lives in their hands.
Ciena didn't even share her worst fear; with this level of incompetence, it was almost like someone on the council wanted the Templars to attack. Why? She had no idea. But It was the only the logical explanation for such an absurd series of plans.
Marwyn stood up from his stool without another word. He strode across the room and opened a locked chest, pulling out a brown leather bag. The necklace.
He held it out between them, eyes stern behind his spectacles. "Anyone catches you with this, I tell them you stole it. Understand?"
"We understand," Elias said. "Thank you."
Why bother with a headsmen when you can die of hypothermia instead? Nahlia thought as she shivered in her frozen cage. At least her morbid sense of humor was still intact.
She curled up on the stone bench without so much as a blanket for comfort. Darkness covered the rest of her cell, and the only light came from the crack under the door. The only people she'd seen since her trial were the student guards and servants who brought her food.
Her world emptied of everything except for her mistakes over the past month. If she'd only been stronger, braver, wiser. She might have prevented all of this. But seeking strength only brought more pain, and following her conscience only made things worse than ever.
Heavy boots echoed in the corridor outside, interrupting her thoughts.
No... Nahlia sat up, her heart-rate doubling in her chest. It's not morning yet. It can't be time.
The door opened with a sound like metal on glass, and Ciena Raider stepped inside. Only this time she carried a lantern instead of her steel manacles. And—to Nahlia's surprise—she shut the door behind her.
"W-what do you want?" Nahlia asked through chattering teeth.
"Relax," Ciena said in a harsh whisper. "I'm not here to give you more infirmary time."
Nahlia only stared at the other girl. The angles of her face were made even harsher by the light of her lantern.
"I have a proposition for you," she began. "But first I need to know something. During your trial, you mentioned using your necklace to contact Thane Solidor?"
She twitched her head up and down.
"What if I gave the necklace back to you now? Can you contact him again and find out what the Templars know?"
"I..." She tried to speak, but her lips were half-frozen.
"Oh for Aegon's sake..." Ciena rolled her eyes, unfastening her black cloak and tossing it to her.
Nahlia didn't hesitate before wrapping it tightly around her shoulders. The warm fur felt better than climbing into bed on a winter night.
"I don't understand," she finally said. "Why would you help me?"
"This isn't about you, Half-blood. It's about this enclave. About cleaning up this mess you landed us in. Now, can you contact your accomplice or not?"
Nahlia met the other girl's eyes, judging her sincerity. Thane had already played her for a fool once; she couldn't let it happen again. And after everything Ciena had done to her ... but no, Ciena Raider may have been callous and violent, but she wasn't deceptive. Besides, the Council had already condemned her to death. What did you have to lose now?
"Yes," she forced conviction out her trembling lips. "I can do it."
"Good." Ciena pulled out a dark leather pouch and shook it empty.
Nahlia's eyes turned to slivers against the blinding light of the Etherite. It lit up every corner of the cell, chasing out the darkness. The icy floor cracked under its impact.
She leaned forward and curled her numb fingers around the white crescent moon. Its touch brought her an even greater sense of warmth and hope, like the Ethereal itself.
"How long do you need?" Ciena asked.
Nahlia hesitated, feeling for Thane's presence on the other side. He was there, but whether or not he'd be willing to speak with her was another story. Still, she had to try. "An hour, maybe."
"Good. I'll be standing guard outside. Call me the second you know something."
She looked up to regard Ciena, but the other girl was already turning to leave.
Nahlia let out a breath, then she closed her eyes and concentrated.