Nahlia watched as Thane broke rank and charged their enemy. General Ozel followed, and the two men surrounded him.
Palatine continued to fight them back. Blades of crystal light speared from his outstretched hands like bolts of lightning. No sooner did one strike its mark than he conjured another. Then another.
Aegon. Nahlia had practiced Ethermancy for the better part of a year. For all that, she could barely even reshape her barriers, much less make them sharp enough to pierce flesh. Palatine made it look so effortless.
Thane and Ozel dodged his attacks, striking back with bursts of flame. The Templars fired their rifles, but Palatine stopped the bullets with constant shields.
With the enemy distracted, Nahlia lowered her own barrier and turned to face the sea of injured Templars. At least half of them had fallen, sporting deep punctures through their heads or chests. Even the two Sanctifiers lay on the ground unmoving.
Nahlia felt each man’s neck for a pulse, but there was nothing to be done. She continued on beyond the line of riflemen.
There, she spotted Thane’s aunt Avelyn.
Her blue eyes were wide open, and her breaths came out in ragged gasps. Blood splattered her cheeks, and her tunic had been split open across her stomach. More blood drenched the surrounding blue fabric, staining it a deep shade of violet.
She’d seen wounds like this one before. There were too many layers to stitch back together, and most victims died after several painful hours.
Fortunately, Ethermancy made things far easier.
Nahlia grabbed Avelyn from under her arms and dragged her behind the nearest exhaust vent. Five months ago, she would have struggled with the effort of moving another person. Now, the older woman felt surprisingly light.
Avelyn gritted her teeth as Nahlia lowered her back down on the smooth stone. She moved her lips, but the words came out muffled between the explosions of black powder.
“It’s alright,” Nahlia said. “Just hold still.” She pressed both hands to the edges of the wound and forced Moonfire into Avelyn’s body. Slowly, her insides knit back together.
Black wings cast a shadow over her vision. A gust of wind blew back her hair as a dragon landed at the platform’s edge.
“What are you doing?” a male voice demanded.
“Dazen.” Avelyn tried to turn her head, but she closed her eyes again as the pain stole her strength.
Several Templars—including Nahlia’s father—broke away from the fight and trained their rifles on the dragonrider.
“Wait!” Nahlia rounded on them, then back to the man she assumed was Avelyn’s son, Dazen Solizhan. “I’m healing her.”
Warily, Dazen dismounted his dragon and moved forward. Half his face lay hidden behind his flight helmet and goggles. His skin was about as dark as Thane’s, but he was built more like Elias.
Nahlia turned her attention back to Avelyn’s wound. If she didn’t finish this now, the muscles would separate again and she would have to start all over.
Dazen loomed over her as she worked. Nahlia’s father stood even closer with a pistol in his hand. It wasn’t pointed at the other man, but it might as well have been.
The skin on Avelyn’s stomach healed over as Nahlia forced more energy into her body. She was still breathing now, but her eyes remained closed.
“If the wound is healed,” Dazen began, “then why’s she still—”
“Blood loss,” Nahlia interrupted. “She was like that for several minutes before I found her.” Then Nahlia glanced over at the waiting dragon. “You should take her with you. Bring her somewhere safe.”
Dazen nodded and gently slid his forearms beneath his mother’s back and behind her legs.
Nahlia followed him over to his black-feathered dragon. It was a larger breed than the dragons Thane and Ashara rode. At least as large as the one that took Ciena Raider from Starglade. In fact, judging by what Thane had told her about Ciena, it was probably the same one.
Dazen set his mother on the back of the leather saddle. He grabbed one set of padded straps to secure her torso in place. Nahlia fastened a second set around her legs.
Neither spoke as they worked, and Nahila fought down a pang of guilt. Less than an hour ago, she’d killed two of this man’s cousins.
Then again, she still hadn’t heard from Elias and Relyn. What if...
No. Don’t think about that now.
She and her father stepped away from the dragon as Dazen climbed into the saddle.
“Palatine’s the one who almost killed her,” she told him after a round of gunshots faded. “That’s who you’re serving. Just remember that you still have a choice.”
Thane attacked from a dozen angles, forcing Trelidor to put his back to the line of Templars. Ozel’s explosions tore apart the ground and Thane lurched over the craters. He fought harder than he’d ever fought before, dodging spikes of sharpened Moonshard, knowing each second might be his last. Heat and smoke choked the air, making it difficult to breathe.
Despite everything, Trelidor held his ground. A few bullets broke through his defenses and drew blood. However, the skin around these wounds closed almost immediately.
Aegon. Even when they hit him, it wasn’t enough.
They knew next to nothing about Alexel Trelidor, but he knew them. He’d spent decades training for this moment, preparing to fight Sanctifiers like Thane and his father. All the while, Clan Solidor had trained to fight Templars. They’d fought a war this man had crafted to keep them busy, and that war had made them complacent rather than stronger.
Throughout the exchange, their enemy remained as still as a stone pillar. His sword hung in his scabbard, but he never bothered to draw it. As if he had all the time in the world.
In that instant, Thane saw the truth of it.
Even if they’d brought every Ethermancer they had ... even if Thane’s father had lived, and his cousins hadn’t betrayed him, it still wouldn’t have been enough to stop this man.
But why was he holding back? That didn’t make sense. He couldn’t control the comet and fight them back at the same time.
You’re too late.
The words echoed in Thane’s mind from when the fight began. They’d come here to distract Trelidor and prevent him from completing the ritual. But what if he was telling the truth before?
What if he already had control of the Etherfall?
Light streaked the sky as two meteors fell toward the horizon—two shards of glowing crystal, almost too bright to look at.
Nahlia sank to her knees, and realization struck her like a block of ice.
One meteor sank toward the Searingthorn Jungle where the bulk of her father’s army had retreated. Fang and Ilsa were there too, along with the rest of the Onyx Company.
The other fell toward the northeast where a pinprick of light shone on the coast.
If those targets were true, they couldn’t be natural breaks in the comet. Those two factions were Palatine’s biggest opposition on the peninsula.
Aegon. It’s already happening.
Nahlia felt their power as they fell toward the earth. As she spread out her senses, each falling shard was like a physical weight against her chest.
Ashara’s earlier predictions had all been accurate. Somehow, Palatine had absorbed the Codex’s knowledge in a matter of hours. He’d chosen these courses carefully, and this was only the beginning. If left unchallenged, he would go on to destroy the other human cities as well. Vaultenport, Raidenwood, and Dresten...
All Ethermancy can be opposed. She recalled Thane’s words from their first sparring session. Since then, she’d seen evidence of that fact in a hundred duels and battlefields. Why not here?
She closed her eyes and pressed her palms together, clearing her mind of any doubts. That wasn’t easy, considering the enormity of the task.
Aegon, give me strength.
Was he even listening? If he was, did he even care?
Nahlia forced the thought away. Instead, she focused on the burning white orbs that edged closer to the horizon.
Only seconds away from impact.
If that happened, then thousands would die. Everyone she knew in the Onyx Company ... Thane’s grandfather, and all the innocent townspeople of Villa Solizhan. For all she knew, even Elias and Relyn were still back there.
Nahlia stretched out further with her senses, feeling the storm of energy around her. She followed that energy back to its source. Even in her mind’s eye, the meteors were fountains of white light.
These falling fragments were Ethermancy made manifest. It was like the fire she forged inside her friends as she mended their wounds. It was the shards she formed in the air when she conjured shields.
If I can feel them, then why not control them?
Whatever Palatine had learned in the Codex, it had given him the power to do so. It was supposed to take months to learn, but he’d defied that idea. That meant it wasn’t only possible to control those meteors, it meant that power was within reach.
Thane dodged another attack, and something seemed to catch Trelidor’s eye as they fought. He circled around his opponent, and followed his gaze. There, at the platform’s edge, Nahlia sat on her knees and faced the falling meteors.
Ozel took advantage of the distraction and charged Treidor’s left flank.
In one fluid motion, Trelidor reached out a hand as if he would throw more spikes of Moonshard.
Nothing appeared. Instead, the general stumbled forward and lost his footing. The older man gritted his teeth in pain. His leg twisted at an unnatural angle.
Trelidor rounded on Thane next. He felt the Moonfire enter his body, like a black cloud roaming through him, attacking every trace of life. This was how Nahlia had beaten Faidon and Elvira. It was how she’d killed that Sile’zhar on the Black Steppes.
Thane fought back on pure nerve and desperation. His skin grew dry and his chest tightened. His vision blurred as he dropped to his knees.
At a rational level, he knew this was an easy attack to oppose. And Thane tried to resist, but Trelidor attacked his mind as well, filling him with fear and hopelessness. Each wave of mental Ethermancy weakened his resolve further.
Thane gritted his teeth. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the general extending an open palm in his direction.
A roar of energy blasted Thane away, smashing the air from his lungs.
The last thing he saw was a spike of Moonshard piercing through Ozel’s chest.
The sounds of gunfire ceased all around her. From the corner of her eye, Nahlia saw Palatine approach. What did that mean for Thane and Ozel? Where was her father?
Aegon. She couldn’t think about that now. The meteors needed her full attention. Palatine could hurt her if he wanted, but he’d promised her mother he wouldn’t kill her. Anything else, she would recover from.
Besides, even if he did kill her, what was her life compared to thousands?
All Ethermancy can be opposed.
Nahlia repeated Thane’s lesson in her head, drowning out the whirlwind of fear and doubt.
Etherite made up the comets and the shards that fell. Etherite was energy crystalized in physical form. It was thought to be indestructible, but that wasn’t true. Her necklace had been reshaped into a moon. Thane had even claimed to see Ciena Raider carrying an Etherite sword.
If something could be reshaped, it could be broken.
Nothing physical could break Etherite, but what if...
Nahlia bore down on the meteors with all her mental might. The task felt as hopeless as trying to control nature with her bare hands, but it was possible. She poured every ounce of strength and willpower into the task, leaving nothing left for herself. She lost all sensation in her physical body as her mind stretched out to the horizon.
Finally, she pulled, the same way she pulled on Moonfire to break bones.
There was a flash of light, visible even through her eyelids. A loud crack sounded as if the universe were being split in two. The sound was more deafening than a hundred gunshots. Nahlia felt the explosion in her skull, and in her chest.
She opened her eyes to see the meteors burst apart into clouds of white dust. Even brighter than the sun. Debris scattered in a hundred directions, but they hadn’t hit their targets. The Templar army was safe, and so was the villa.
Nahlia slumped forward and barely caught herself before her face hit the ground. Her arms shook as they struggled to support her weight, and her vision went dark around the edges.
Still, she’d done it. She...
Footsteps echoed behind her, and something pierced through her spine. At first, the pain was nothing more than a dull ache. Then a blade emerged from the center of her chest, drenched in a coat of crimson. The pain became an intense heat, then a crippling inferno.
Nahlia opened her mouth in a silent scream, but the blade had driven the air from her lungs. Tears filled her eyes. She lost all feeling in her legs. Blood spilled from the hole, wet and warm down her stomach. She fell forward and her cheek hit the stone floor of the roof.
Someone grabbed her by the back of her neck, pulling a handful of her hair and clothing. Her assailant took several strides forward, dragging her with one arm toward the edge of the roof.
No, she thought. You can’t. You promised my mother.
The hand held her over the precipice, and her legs dangled over the dark abyss. Nahlia couldn’t move—couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t even think straight through all the pain. Even Ethermancy wasn’t possible now. Not after she’d given the last of her strength to stop the meteors.
Palatine paused for a moment as if hearing her plea.
Finally, he spoke into her ear, and his voice was sharp as a shard of glass. “I’ve changed my mind.”
His hand loosened from around her neck, and he dropped her over the edge.