David Musk

Book 1 - Chapter 64: Strength and Fortitude


The Raider twins fought back-to-back in the narrow tunnel, forcing the enemy to pour through in groups of two or three.

Alone ,Ciena was but one fighter against an endless horde. But with Elias at her side, they were a force to be feared. Every movement was as precise as a dance routine. Her every thought flowed in perfect synchronization with his; his dual blades and her quarterstaff spinning in harmony with one another.

They'd split up from Demeron and the others, but that didn't matter. As long as her twin fought by her side, she had hope for survival.

"Down!" Elias shouted.

Ciena dropped to the cavern floor just as a volley of bullets soared passed. The water beneath her flowed red with the blood of their enemies, so thick she could taste it.

The bullets were followed by a trio of attackers who emerged from the darkness. Elias rushed them, dual blades spinning.

Ciena sprang to her feet just as another pair appeared from the opposite tunnel.

The bodies continued to pile up in that narrow space. The sights and smells of battle were more than her training could have prepared her for. She slashed the first man across his belly, and he struggled to keep his insides contained. She thrust her dagger into the another man's eye, and he writhed and twisted on the ground.

War was nothing like Ciena imagined, and now her first kill seemed like a lifetime ago. How many lives had she taken since this battle began? Fifty? A hundred?

But Ciena wouldn't let it break her. She wouldn't back down. Her ancestors were killers, from her parents to Raiden himself. It was the way of the world. Unavoidable. Inescapable.

Elias finished the last of his opponents, and silence followed their dying screams. Hollow and empty as a winter night with no moon.

Their eyes met, and her brother wiped a layer of sweat from his brow.

The silence was broken as a pair of metal canisters rolled down the tunnel, splashing into the narrow river.

Ciena jumped back. "What the hell are those?"

"They can't be explosives," Elias said. "They won't burn underwater like that."

"Either way," she said. "We should move out."

Ciena took the lead in the opposite direction, trudging through the knee-deep water. They barely made it ten yards before a squad of shieldsmen blocked their path.

"Damnit." Ciena spun around, reconsidering. By now, dark smoke crept out from the canisters. It rose to the ceiling, clouding their vision.

She tried to feel her way forward, but her limbs were leaden, and the earth pulled her down. Elias called out to her, but the sound of her heartbeat drowned out his words.

The smoke... it's poison.

The realization tore Ciena from her senselessness, and she raised her scarf up to cover her nose. Then, with a surge of strength, she pulled her quarterstaff from the water and crawled from the darkness. A few breaths of clean air helped her regain her senses. Still no sign of her brother though.

Smoke continued to fill the surrounding cave. A blade sailed passed her cheek, missing her by mere inches.

Ciena ducked and spun her staff wildly against her assailants. She drained the nearby crystals of their light, letting the Ethermancy guide her blows. She'd be dead without that to guide her

Howls of pain sounded through the smoky darkness. Still, she couldn't stay here. There were too many Templars, and her scarf wouldn't keep out the poison for much longer. She had to—

"Ciena!" Her brother's voice called out from further up the tunnel.

She staggered forward, flailing her arms to ward off the thick haze. Gunshots echoed from behind her, and she quickened her pace.

Ciena tripped over a Templar's corpse in her retreat, and the cavern floor rose up to meet her. Red water clouded her vision. She looked up in time to see a burly Templar raising his sword.

She kicked his shin, hoping he'd topple over. He still managed to drive his blade into her thigh.

Ciena kicked again with her good leg, and he fell back into a stalagmite. She leapt on him a second later, pulling a sharp rock from the water and driving it through his eye. Ciena repeated the motion several times until he stopped moving.

"Elias!" She broke into a panicked sweat. The poision's effects grew stronger, and her wound left her vulnerable. Could she even walk?

Ciena tried to stand, but with nothing to steady herself, the effort seemed futile. She was about to give up when someone took her arm.

"I'm here," Elias said.

A sigh of relief escaped her lips, and she leaned on him for support. The two of them stumbled through the darkness toward the light.

After several excruciating minutes, the haze grew thin enough to make out the walls of the tunnel. The narrow passage widened into another expanse of cavern, nearly as big as the harbor.

Her body still felt heavy and despondent, as if she were pushing someone else along instead of herself. When they stepped into the clearing, Ciena drew in a breath of fresh air, free from poison and blood.

Elias glanced down at the gash in her leg.

"I'm fine," she said. "Let's just—"

Ciena jumped at what sounded like cannon fire. She felt the impact in her chest, and she dropped to the floor behind a cluster of rocks.

She ran a hand over her torso, expecting to find a bullet wound. Her parka was intact, thank Aegon. But when she turned to her brother, she saw the bullet lodged in the left side of his chest. A dark pool of red formed around the hole, running down his jerkin.


His eyes rolled in his head, and he started to fall backward.

"No." Ciena gritted her teeth. "NO."

She grabbed him by the arms, digging her fingers into his leather armor. "Come on, get up. We need to get out of here."

His weight was too much for her, and he continued to sink back until his head hit the stone floor.

Ciena crawled over. Then, for a second that never seemed to end, she held him, numb as the realization set in.

Elias? She mouthed his name but no sound left her lips.

Ciena took his hand and squeezed. No pulse, no sign of life.

Her heart clenched with a loss she'd never felt before, and hot tears ran her cheeks. Ciena couldn't even remember the last time she cried before this. Now her body racked with wave after wave of heavy, silent sobs, worse than any physical pain.

They would never spare again, never eat together in the mess hall, never return to their parents' home in Dresten.

Her brother... who had been through everything with her these past twenty years. The only person in this world who had never left her side. Now he was gone like all the others.

"Take her," a deep voice ordered.

Footsteps echoed through the cavern as the Templars rounded the corner.

If Ciena were stronger, she would have risen to her feet and fought them off. She would have picked up her brother's sword, called on her Ethermancy, and avenged him.

Strength and Fortitude. Those were the words of Raiden. The words of the Justicars, and her clan.

More than anything, Ciena wanted to believe those words applied to her, but it all seemed so meaningless now. She wanted to believe she could keep fighting, but war was nothing like she'd imagined.

A note from David Musk

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About the author

David Musk

Bio: Hey everyone. I'm a web developer and fantasy writer from Grand Rapids, MI.

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