A burst filled Thane like water in his veins, pushing the pain away. The heat of the burns evaporated and smooth skin formed over his red blisters.
Was this a dream? Some trick of the Ethereal? But then he opened his eyes and saw Nahlia crouched behind the stone pillar. She was doing what no other living Aeon had done before.
She was healing him.
"There's no use resisting." Zidane strolled through the doorway, smoke swirling around his cloaked form.
Thane put some distance between himself and the other man, all the while reaching out with his mind to siphon the last bit of light from the crystals. Darkness shrouded the room now but for the glow of Nahlia's pendant. The tips of his fingers grew warmer as the flames threatened to burst.
"Why don't you take a look around?" Thane said. "Your guards are all dead."
Zidane let out a long sigh. "Your arrogance isn't unfounded, boy, but you've never faced a true Ethermancer before." He nodded to the corpses between them. "Those were half-bloods, chosen to blend in with the Templars. Not for their martial or mental prowess."
"I killed your Headmaster," he retorted. "I'd say that counts for something."
"Elveron?" His grin widened, and he waved a dismissive hand. "He was no Ethermancer. The old fool spent time in the Ethereal, to be sure. But he lacked the resolve to light a candle, much less ... destroy a city."
Thane suppressed a shutter as the realization sunk in. He backed up as Zidane continued forward.
"That's what the Knight Commander told you, isn't it? That Elveron 'destroyed his village and started this war'? He was gravely mistaken. I told him that story, and you killed an innocent man."
Thane continued to circle the tomb, keeping a safe distance between them. A chill ran through his blood that no flame could chase away
"What do you even fight for now, Thane Solidor? Your family? Your job was to deliver the Trelian necklace, and you've done so. Dragonshard will be rewarded for the part you played."
Thane's eyes darted to Nahlia again. "No. That's not true."
"Your father sent you here with that pendant," Zidane replied. "And he told you to retrieve the Codex. Do you deny that?"
"My father would never serve a foreign ruler," he shot back. "He would never get involved in a plot like this."
"The Purge nearly destroyed Dragonshard," Zidane noted. "Your family, your culture—centuries of history and knowledge. Your father did what he had to in order to protect it. He chose to serve, and in return, your family will become more powerful than you ever were under the old Imperium."
Thane felt the anger flare in his chest, and he raised his hands in an offensive stance.
Zidane only shook his head. "You can't defeat me, young prince. I will break you if you try."
What could this man possibly want now? He couldn't hope to capture them both without his lackeys. And if he wanted to fight, why not make the first move?
"I ask you again, Thane Solidor, what do you fight for?"
More than anything, Thane wanted to reply with something noble. He wanted to say he fought for Dragonshard. To protect innocents, or to save lives. But Clan Solidor had always been a clan of conquers, ever since the days of Kalazhan. They would crush anyone to achieve their goals. Kira... the hundreds of innocents who died here at Whitecliff.
Did he fight for himself instead? If that were true, he was no better than Zidane.
Did he fight to protect Nahlia and keep his promise to her parents? But no ... his attacks were as likely to harm her as they were Zidane. Fighting would only cause more destruction now ... more war.
And in the face of that realization, the passion bled out of him. The flames extinguished from his hands, and he couldn't summon them back. Ethermancy required strong emotion, and he had nothing left now. Nothing to fight for.
He tried to run, but his legs didn't respond. A chill crept through his body as if the other Ethermancer were siphoning the heat from his blood.
A red flare erupted from Zidane's hand. Faster and brighter than anything Thane had ever seen in the physical world. It took him in the chest. Waves of intense heat consumed him as he fell back into darkness.
Nahlia remained crouched behind a stone pillar, watching from a distance as the Chronicler's flames tore through Thane. He flew backward several feet, landing in a pile of stone rubble.
Zidane stepped closer as if to finish him.
"Stop!" Nahlia called as she emerged from her cover.
He continued forward with slow determination, giving no indication he'd heard her.
Nahlia pulled the silver necklace from her pocket—the one Thane had placed in the door. She slid it over the smooth stone floor until it hit Zidane's boot. She felt his consciousness connect with hers between the two shards of Etherite.
Not wasting a second, Nahlia shut her eyes and focused on the Ethereal, pulling Zidane with her just as she had done with Marwyn. Just as Elveron had done with Thane.
For one hopeful moment, it seemed to work as the Chronicler fell to his knees. Nahlia continued to concentrate, focusing on her breath and the current of thought, following it to its source as fast as she dared.
But then she felt a barrier there as if her mind were colliding with a stone wall. Her own thoughts recoiled as if she'd been shoved back into her own body. Her chest ached from the force of it.
Her eyes shot open, and now Zidane was the one on his feet.
"Clever," he said through several deep breaths. "I admire your courage, but that won't—"
Nahlia ignored him as she returned to the wall around his mind. This time, she didn't throw herself against it; she knew she'd be outmatched in a contest of raw resolve. Instead, she melted into it, becoming a part of it and claiming its strength as her own. It was no different from conquering other thoughts or sensations during meditations. No different from fear, anger, or pain.
Don't fight resistance, her mother's journal had said. Doing so only gives it more power. Acknowledge it, and let it fade away,
Nahlia's own mind expanded and she felt the room around her. The tomb that held the unnamed Archaeon. Thane's unconscious body, still smoking from the flames of Zidane's attack. The bodies of Zidane's followers as life left them. Just as their bodies returned to the earth, so would their thoughts fade into the Ethereal and their souls to Eternity.
She felt the mingled chaos of battle as the Aeons struggled against the Templars in the tunnels beyond. She felt her father up above as he fought Saul Mason for the title of Knight Commander.
And then she had another moment of true clarity as she saw all the conflicts at once. Not only the minds and emotions, but the infinite connections between them all. It was as if someone had orchestrated this entire war like a symphony. Moving pieces like a game of Crescendo.
Was it Zidane? But no ... he was nothing but another piece on the board.
She followed the connections back like a current of water, like links in a chain. She saw the Sovergen Palatine, heir of the Fallen Redeemer. He controlled a great current in the Ethereal with half the world bending to his will.
She saw Zidane's own memories as he donned a gilded-helmet and burned Saul Mason's hometown.
He did it. Twenty years ago, he started this war under the orders of his master. He did it so the humans would rebel and begin destroying Revera from the inside.
Even as Zidane resisted her, images of his childhood flashed in her mind. Men from Palavar had burned his own home in Valaysia. He's survived, and Palatine had taken him into his court, offering him promises of power.
Everyone was a part of the chain serving Palavar's leader unknowingly. The Templars slew Aeons in preparation for his arrival in Revera. Thane's family served him, working to retrieve this Codex. Even Nahlia had done his bidding unknowingly as she worked to free her father. Just one more piece on the Cruscendo board. One more link in his chain of deceit. But just as Palatine caused war, she too had the power to stop it. Not now, but someday. Someday, this could all end.
The Chronicler had asked Thane what he fought for. In doing so, he'd broken his will to fight. Nahlia had an answer though. The Redeemers didn't fight against individuals, factions, or nations. They fought against war itself. Against all the fear, anger, and hatred that poisoned this world.
Zidane continued to strain against her. Harder and harder until his wall shattered like brittle steel.
Nahlia sent his thoughts into the Ethereal then, and his body hit the stone floor.