The sun sank toward the gray waters, and darkness crept over the Isle of Evervault. Snow crunched beneath Nahlia's boots as she made her way through the courtyard of an ancient stone fortress.
The tents cast long, sharp shadows across the clearing. Campfires crackled and spat, and the low roar of conversation echoed all around her. They were safe here, but there was no laughter or song that night. Not after all they'd lost.
Nahlia surveyed the scene and the familiar faces she'd come to know over the past month. Elias, Yimo, Relyn, and the rest of Wolfe Clan. They all gathered around the fire, speaking of everything other than war. Scents of woodsmoke and spiced sausage wafted through the air, mixing with the salty wind of the sea.
The Raider army never found Ciena, but they also never found her body. Elias guessed that the Templars took her as a hostage as they fled. After Aaron Cole seized control, the enemy army broke into separate groups, fleeing in every direction from the sea to the snowy planes beyond the mountains.
Nahlia continued along the top of a snowy ridge, stopping when she finally reached the command tent that overlooked the camp. The front flap opened, and Casella Raider emerged.
"Lady Raider!" she called out, falling into step beside her.
"Yes Nahlia, what is it?" The older woman made no effort to slow her pace.
"Any news of my father?"
"Anything else?" She had to jog to keep up. "Where is he?"
Lady Raider stopped and drew in a sharp breath. "Let me be blunt with you: I'm not sharing privileged information with a known Templar informant."
The scorn in the Seeker's voice nearly made her cringe but for all she had been through.
"Please," Nahlia said. "He's the only family I have."
"Which is why I gave you the courtesy of telling you he's alive." Her voice was rich and calm as ever. "But consider all the families who died at Whitecliff. Ten Seekers, forty-five soldiers, twenty-three battleclan students, nine instructors, and three council members. Think of how many lives you could have saved if you'd have come forward sooner."
Nahlia forced herself not to look away as she bit back a dozen retorts. No one listened to me even when I told the truth. Zidane's the one who gave away the enclave's location, not me.
Her arguments were as useless as her apologizes now. Zidane had escaped the tomb, and he was nowhere to be found. Ciena was the only person besides Nahlia and Thane who'd seen evidence of his betrayal, and she was missing as well.
"Elias told me you helped him," she continued. "And Master Marwyn has vouched for you as well. If not for them, you'd be sitting with your friend Solidor right now."
"I did more than 'help' your son," Nahlia said. "I brought him back from the dead. You told me Ethermancy was a myth, but I did it anyway."
Of course, there was no evidence for that either. The physicians all claimed that Elias's wounds were old. But Nahlia didn't care about their skepticism anymore than she did before.
"Keep your voice down."The other woman glanced around them.
Nahlia drew in a breath. "I'm not asking about your strategies, Lady Raider. All I'm asking is where my father is right now."
She paused. "According to my informants, he's on his way to Dragonshard. That's all I can tell you."
"Thank you," Nahlia said. When nothing else was forthcoming, she asked, "What's going to happen to Thane Solidor?"
She gave an exasperated sigh. "I don't expect him to leave this island alive. He's too dangerous to keep as a hostage. The Templars learned that lesson the hard way."
And with that, Lady Raider turned to leave, her crimson cloak and golden hair billowing in the wind. Her message was clear: The Aeons of Whitecliff had no place for her, or her Ethermancy.
Nahlia was an outsider, just as she'd been in Northshire. She'd learned so much this past month, and yet nothing had changed.
Not unless she took action.
She returned to her tent and began filling her travelsack with rations of food, medical supplies, flint and tinder, and a spare change of clothing.
Satisfied that she had everything she needed, she crept under a stone archway into a darker, more restricted section of the fortress. It was chillier here, far away from the campfires and the torches.
It didn't take her long to find the tent she was looking for. Two Raider men stood guard, but Nahlia snuck around the back, pulling a dagger from beneath her cloak and cutting through the canvas
Inside, she found Thane chained to the center support. He sat upright but looked only half-alive. His skin was pale despite his usual dark complexion, and his hair hung disheveled around his face.
Hadn't they given him medical attention?
No... of course not. With so many others wounded in the camp, they wouldn't have the resources or manpower to spare on prisoners. Especially not for one they intended to execute.
She stepped around the wooden pillar and whispered, "Thane?"
His eyes remained shut, visible by only a thin sliver of sunlight creeping in through the tent's opening. She knelt in the snow in front of him and was relieved to find him still breathing.
Nahlia raised a waterskin to his mouth. He drank, but even that seemed a struggle. She set it down and pressed both hands to his chest, infusing life back into his frigid body.
Thane's opened his eyes wider and he took several deep breaths. "So ... the rumors about you are true."
Nahlia ignored him so as not to break her concentration. A few moments passed as she chased away his fever.
"You said my father was taking control of the Templar Order. If he's still alive, does that mean he succeeded?"
"It would seem so," Thane murmured. "The Raiders didn't have the men to force the Templars out on their own. Not unless the Knight Commander ordered a retreat."
Nahlia nodded, realization settling in. "I'm not going to see him again, am I?"
"It'd be difficult," Thane agreed. "But he did this to protect you. And to redeem himself for what he did before."
"I know..." The tent grew darker as the sun sank deeper below the horizon. "And what about us? Are we going to redeem ourselves?"
"You might." Thane shrugged, giving his chains a shake. "But something tells me I won't get the chance."
"And what if you did? What if we could leave this place?"
"Let them do what they want with me. I deserve it." His face was unreadable in the near-darkness, but she heard the grief and pain in his voice.
"You've made mistakes," she said. "So have I. But we can still find a way to redeem ourselves. Whether we deserve that chance isn't for us to decide. Or the Raiders, or the White Council."
They sat in silence for another long moment, and then a question rose up inside her. Something that had bothered her ever since their confrontation in the tomb two days ago.
Nahlia reached inside her cloak and pulled out the silver pendant Thane had placed in the door. "Where did you get this?"
Thane looked up as if to take in the full sight of her. "Your mother gave that to me."
"But that's impossible," Nahlia tightened her grip around the silver chain, causing the crescent moon it to shake back and forth. "My mother was killed ten years ago. She was wearing this the night she died."
For a long moment, all she heard was the howl of the wind outside the tent as Thane remained still and silent.
Nahlia let out a sharp breath, struggling to keep her voice quiet. "After everything you put me through this past month, you owe me an explanation. Tell me—how did you get this?"
"Your mother is alive," Thane finally said. "She's a member of my father's court in Dragonshard."
For a moment, the space around them seemed to hold its breath, and a chill darted through her.
"Don't you dare lie to me," Nahlia said, her whisper growing harsher. "Not about this."
"I haven't lied to you once," Thane retorted. "I made you one promise when this started; I told you that your father and I would escape Dresten together. Have I not kept my word?"
"But what you're saying now is impossible. I was there when she died. I saw it happen."
Thane shook his head. "I swear to you, Lyraina Trelian gave me that necklace the day I left Dragonshard, six months ago. She told me I could use it to communicate with her daughter—with you. That's the reason I was there that night in the Moonstone. It's why I chose you to infiltrate Whitecliff."
"You're wrong," Nahlia said. "You have to be. I watched her get stabbed by Saul Mason. I saw her laying dead in the grass."
"I believe you," Thane said. "But I've seen what you can do. And I've heard the way they whisper about you around the camp. The way they talk—you'd thinkTreluwyn herself were here among us. Is it true that you brought Elias Raider back from the dead?"
"Yes." She narrowed her eyes. "Are you saying someone did that to my mother?"
"No. Not someone. I'm saying you did."
Nahlia opened her mouth to protest, but Thane spoke first. "You did it for Elias Raider; is it so crazy to think you might've done it once before?"
"Of course it's crazy."
"Tell me," Thane said, his voice uncharacteristically gentle. "What did you do the night your mother died?"
"Nothing," she shot back. "My father carried me and we ran for miles. We left her there with the Templars."
"And after that?"
She paused, remembering how she'd spent the night praying to Aegon to bring her mother back. The memories were a blur now as she'd done her best to forget them. She remembered powerful emotions, but she'd always thought it was her grief. Maybe it was something more?
Nahlia shook her head to clear it. "I was a child then. I didn't know anything about Ethermancy."
"That's not how it works," Thane said. "Practice leads to mastery, but it's not the only path to success. You've read Aeonica. You've heard the stories of children who had more faith than their masters. How they performed feats their masters couldn't. And Zidane was right about one thing: we've lived in peace for centuries, but war is changing our race. We're becoming stronger, and this is only the beginning."
"If what you're saying is true, then why didn't she come looking for me?" Nahlia held up the necklace again. "Why didn't she contact me?"
"She told me she couldn't dream ever since she died," Thane admitted. "As for why she couldn't come in person, I don't know. Maybe she was afraid. Maybe she thought you and your father were dead as well. All I know is that she's alive."
Feelings of hoped flooded through her. Memories of being truly safe and happy. Now more than ever, Nahlia wanted to feel that way again. Perhaps it was a foolish dream; it was hard to have a peaceful house on a hill when the world was burning and crumbling around you
But then ... this world had been at war for as long as she'd been alive. Despite that, her family had found several years of peace. Was it so much to hope they could be together again? Even if it wasn't like before, she'd settle for a sliver of that.
Regardless, she would never know if she sat here at the edge of the world. Her parents would both be in Dragonshard so that's where she needed to be too.
"Alright," Nahlia finally said. "Then take me there."
"To Dragonshard. If you're telling the truth, then I want to see her for myself." Nahlia opened her travelsack and pulled out the Codex she'd taken from the tomb. "I want to find out what this really is, and do whatever we can to stop this war before it happens."
Thane inclined his head, eyes widening at the sight of the ancient artifact. "I take it you can get me out of here?"
She nodded again, kneeling down in front of him. "I can get us both off this island, but you have to take it from there. I've never been south before ... I don't know the way."
"Alright," Thane said.
"And we need to be honest with each other from now on," she said. "No more secrets."
Thane nodded. "Agreed."
"Swear it to me then." Nahlia reached out and grabbed his forearm.
A few heartbeats passed, then Thane returned her grasp, meeting her eyes. "I, Thane Solidor, swear by the blood of my fathers that I will lead you to Dragonshard. I swear in Aegon's name that I will protect you along the way, and be worthy of your trust. I will do this, or I'll die trying."
And so Nahlia freed him from his chains and the two crept down the hillside toward the coast. They stole a small unguarded boat, sailing out over the waves and into the blue darkness.
Nahlia knew they would be hunted. Thousands of Templars and humans stood between them and their goal. And a few hours from now, the Raiders send an army of spies, soldiers, and Seekers to bring them back.
But still, they sailed. They sailed toward answers and uncertainty. Toward clear skies, calm waters, and a promise of freedom.
They sailed for Dragonshard, and a chance for redemption.