Book 2.5: Sky Pirates
Dragonshard lay broken—stone and steel torn in two by the Etherfall’s wrath. For over a thousand years, Thane’s palace had stood as a symbol of his clan’s wealth and power, a clear message to any foe who might oppose them.
Now, the top half stretched across the city like a fallen tree, crushing every structure in its shadow. The bottom remained as a broken stump, no more than thirty stories tall.
This sent a different message to the world. Unfortunately, that new message was just as clear as the first.
After landing their dragons in the courtyard, Thane and Ashara climbed the limestone staircase and passed through the palace’s arched doorway. The cool air was a welcome relief after an hour of riding in the hot sun.
His grandfather had warned him not to come here, but Relyn had assured him it was safe. Thane thought he trusted her. Now, that trust felt more fragile with every stride forward.
The fact was, Trelidor could dispose of them both if he wanted to. By returning home, Thane and his sister put themselves at the tyrant’s mercy.
We’ll be fine, Thane told himself. Trelidor has more to gain from an alliance.
Besides, Relyn wouldn’t betray him. She may have been a turncloak in the past, and she may have omitted certain things from him, but that was different. They’d begun their journey as enemies, and they’d slowly become friends. Perhaps they’d even sown the seeds of something more.
But then … Trelidor could have deceived Relyn too. What if he controlled her now, the same way he’d controlled Ciena Raider?
Aegon. That line of thinking wouldn’t get him anywhere. He’d made his choice, and it was too late to turn back.
They climbed another staircase into the throne room, passing through a tumult of guards and milling courtiers. Apparently, Trelidor wanted every highborn in the city to witness Thane’s surrender.
The crowd fell silent as the heralds announced their names.
King Thane Solidor, they called him. Even after three days, the title felt strange on his ears. A part of him still thought of his father as king, but Trelidor had killed his father in this very room. If Thane closed his eyes, he could still see the burning banners and mutilated corpses.
The marble floors had been scrubbed clean of blood, but other signs of the massacre remained. Most notable were the broken windows at the room’s far end, letting in drafts of salty wind from the Ember Sea.
Alexel Trelidor sat back on his throne of dark obsidian. The very throne where Thane’s father had sat for almost three decades. Two dozen Palavan soldiers stood around the dais, armed with swords, spears, and crossbows. Others carried no weapons at all.
Sanctifiers, no doubt. Perhaps he even had a few more Redeemers in his service.
Several members of Trelidor’s enclave stood to his right, including Thane’s cousin, Dazen Solizhan. Relyn stood there too, along with her sister, Rhia, and her parents, Zirrik and Rakoja.
When Thane reached the base of the throne, it was Relyn’s father, Zirrak Vassaj who spoke. “You stand in the presence of Alexel of Clan Trelidor. Sovereign Ruler of Palavar, Grandmaster of Sanctuary Enclave, and High Emperor of the New Reverian Ascendancy.”
Aegon have mercy. Was conquering one city enough to make someone an emperor these days?
Apparently so. And Thane and Ashara only legitimized the tyrant’s claim as they bent their knees on the marble floor. After all, who did a king bow to if not an emperor?
Trelidor held Thane’s gaze for several heartbeats, and his pale blue eyes were hard and cold. The last time they were this close, the silver-haired man had forced Moonfire into Thane’s body and tried to suck away his life.
A few more seconds, and he would have succeeded.
“Thane Solidor,” he finally said. “You’ve made a wise choice today. Unlike your father.”
Thane suppressed a shudder at the memory. Aegon. None of this felt real—kneeling to the man who’d killed so many, half-pretending that none of it had happened. But that was war. If people couldn’t surrender and make peace, the alternative was fighting to their last breath.
Of course, this wasn’t real peace. Thane knew it, and Trelidor knew it too. They were nothing but actors in a play, each one of them speaking his own lines for his own gain.
Trelidor’s eyes darted above their heads as if he expected to see someone else there. “Did the Solizhans not join you?”
Thane shook his head, keeping his own expression blank. “The Solizhans send their regards, but they’re still recovering from their injuries.”
“It’s true,” Dazen spoke up from the right side of the throne. “My mother’s wounds were grave when I left her. So were my grandfather’s.”
Well, that was interesting. Dazen’s family was healthy as far as he knew. Nahlia had healed Avelyn before she left the tower, and Dazen hadn’t left until she’d opened her eyes again.
But still, he vouched for them.
After Trelidor’s initial questions, the whole arrangement went just as they’d discussed. Thane swore an oath of fealty to his enemy, and Ashara agreed to go with Trelidor as a hostage. Contracts were signed and read aloud while hundreds of the city’s nobles stood in silent witness.
Once the others had spoken their lines, Relyn stepped forward. She wore a jade green tunic that was tight across her chest and flared out into a skirt below her golden sash. Her black braid coiled around her head like a crown, adorned with golden pins.
“King Solidor,” she began, “to secure your loyalty to the new emperor, I propose that we join our two clans.” Her words came out forced, and the volume of her voice made her accent even more prominent than usual.
She took a deep breath before continuing, “I Relyn Vassaj, offer you my hand in marriage.”
They’d agreed on this all beforehand, of course. Half the palace likely knew of the arrangement by now. Still, the courtiers gasped in surprise, playing their own roles just as Thane played his. No doubt they all wondered the same thing—had their king truly given up, or was this a secret act of rebellion?
Thane wished he could tell them the truth. But even after Trelidor left the city, Thane still wouldn’t know who to trust. It might be years before he could fight back again.
He stepped forward and gave her a shallow bow, the sort that southern kings reserved for their foreign equals. “I accept your proposal, Lady Relyn, and I’d be honored to join our clans for the good of the Ascendancy.”
Thane’s stomach twisted as they climbed the stairs to their new quarters. In many ways, the last hour had been just as terrible as the battle three days before. He’d sworn an oath to this new emperor, and every word of it was a lie. Now, even if they defeated Palatine, history would remember him as an oath breaker.
Yes, it was war. People understood that. But where was the line? At what point did every oath lose its meaning?
What about his marriage to Relyn tomorrow? Was that real, or was it just another lie on top of the pile? Was it just another oath he could break when it suited him?
Thane had never wanted to rule Dragonshard, but he’d always known the day would come. When it did, he’d told himself he would be a better king than his ancestors.
What an amazing plan that was.
Their escorts stepped out of the stairwell and led them down a corridor of hollowed stone. The floors were simple limestone tiles rather than the mosaics found on Kingsview and Lastlight. The artwork was also far more sparse—nothing but the occasional bronze sculpture or oil painting.
They stopped at Ashara’s new room first, and she slid open the bamboo door. It may have been tiny compared to their old rooms, but it was still larger than Thane had expected. In addition to the bedchamber, there was a sitting room with several leather couches and a small covered balcony.
Dozens of wooden chests sat in the room’s opposite corner. Had the stewards already salvaged their belongings from the fallen tower? That was good news, but Thane didn’t envy the ones who had to carry those chests up twenty flights of stairs.
His sister’s handmaid emerged from the bedchamber, and she threw herself into Ashara’s arms.
“Lucia,” Ashara hugged the girl back, relief plain in her voice
The girl was either a human or a half-blood judging by her dark eyes. Short and slender, she had bronze-colored skin and a black braid that fell to her lower back
Several seconds passed before Ashara pulled away. “The others? Eva? Azula?”
“Alive,” Lucia said. “We fled during the Etherfall. We were getting on a ship to Vaulenport, but I turned around when I heard you were coming back.”
“Is this room secure?” Thane asked her. Kira had once said that all of Ashara’s handmaids were trained in basic spycraft. Any spy worth her salt knew how to keep the competition away.
“Yes, sir. I double-checked this room, and your own. Both are free of holes, and all the surrounding rooms are empty. The stewards made sure of that.”
The use of “sir” rather than an honorific was strangely comforting. It meant she didn’t consider the war over, despite the farce they’d put on downstairs.
“Anything to report?” he asked.
“Several more rebellions over the past few days,” Lucia said. “A few raids on Palavan squads in the streets, and at least five people have tried to assassinate Trelidor.”
Five assassins in three days? Aegon. He needs us more than we thought. Hopefully his people would stop throwing their lives away now that Thane was back on the throne.
Either that, or the assassins would come for him next.
Ashara met Thane’s eyes before turning back to her handmaid. “We have a job that you might be able to help with.”
“It’s dangerous,” Thane broke in before the girl could reply. “If you’re not willing to risk your life, now’s the time to let us know.”
Lucia straightened. “With all due respect, sir, I wouldn’t have come back if I wasn’t prepared to fight Trelidor. Whatever you’re doing, I want to help.”
“Good,” Thane said, “because we’re going to steal an airship.”