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The wedding passed in a blur the following afternoon.

The ceremony was held in Khalor’s Chapel—the same place where the Templars had gathered before the Battle of Dragonshard. As far as royal weddings went, this wasn’t a large or expensive affair. Every stone pillar lay bare, and only a fraction of the seats had been filled.

Even so, the chapel was an impressive sight on its own. Sunlight streamed in through the stained glass windows, painting the marble floors in shades of yellow, red, and violet.

As with all Aeon weddings, each of them dressed in their own clan’s colors. Thane wore a black linen tunic with white trim. Relyn wore a pale yellow dress that touched her ankles. Jade stones decorated her bodice while a thousand smaller pieces cascaded down her skirt. Dozens of silk flowers had been woven into her hair, contrasting her crown of intricate black braids.

If he and Relyn had married during peace times, guests would have traveled in from the countryside, including Clan Solizhan and all the nobles they commanded. Twenty years earlier, and those numbers would have been larger still. Invitations would have gone to the imperial family, along with the ruling clans of Tregarde, Vauldenport, and Raidenwood.

As it was, the Solizhans remained in their own villa. Nahlia was still unconscious, and the others—Cole, Elias, and Ciena—were all dead as far as Trelidor knew.

And so the two of them stood alone, surrounded by enemies on all sides. Despite this, Relyn smiled at him as they recited her vows. Thane hoped it was genuine. She deserved to be happy.

After the ceremony, they walked in a procession through Hightown, passing under the palace’s front gates. Hardly the safest choice for a city under martial law, but Trelidor had wanted witnesses to the union. He’d claimed it would send a message, not just for Dragonshard, but for all of Revera.

Resist and be destroyed. Surrender, and you can still prosper.

Thane told himself it was for the right reasons. But as he gazed out at the crowd, he couldn’t help but wonder—how many of his subjects cursed his name behind closed doors? Just as he silently rebelled against Trelidor, how many of them silently rebelled against him?

There was no feast when they returned to the palace, which suited Thane just fine. He could only deal with so much pretending for one day. Bowing to his father’s killer had been bad enough. Sharing a table with him would have added insult to injury.

The sun was low on the horizon when he reached the safety of his bedchamber. He was changing out of his dress tunic when someone rapped on the door.

“You decent in there?” Ashara’s voice called out from his sitting room.

Thane glanced down. “I’m wearing pants if that’s what you’re—”

“Good enough.” The door opened, and Ashara burst inside. Her handmaid Lucia was with her, and so was their cousin, Dazen.

“We’ve got a problem,” Ashara said.

“I can see that.” Thane glanced toward Dazen. The broad-shouldered man wore a serious expression.

Ashara and her handmaid were also looking at Dazen as if they both expected him to do the explaining.

Dazen cleared his throat and gestured to Lucia. “Two of Trelidor’s guards found her sneaking out of the library with stolen documents. Lucky for you, they didn’t recognize her, but I did.”

Thane shot a glance at his sister who patted her leather satchel. This wasn’t a threat, then. Ashara wouldn’t have brought Dazen all the way up here if it were.

“I know what you’re doing,” his cousin continued. “You’re getting the airship before Trelidor does.”

“He knows,” Ashara spoke up before Thane could deny anything. “He told Trelidor about it more than a year ago.”

“Damnit,” Thane cursed under his breath. “Then what the hell are you doing here?”

“I want to help.” Dazen glanced down at his boots before meeting Thane’s eyes again. “My mother told me what happened at the Clansmeet. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the same reason your father turned on Trelidor.”

Thane clenched his jaw. After the battle, Trelidor claimed Thane’s father had broken their alliance and attacked him. That was technically all true, but Trelidor painted the king’s last moments as a form of madness. As if mere greed had motivated the attack.

Unfortunately, this only enhanced Trelidor’s reputation. It demonstrated his power, but also his fair-mindedness. As far as Dragonshard knew, the king had brought about his own downfall and no one could prove otherwise.

“You were living in Trelidor’s enclave for over a year,” Thane said. “It shouldn’t have taken you that long to figure this out.”

“Hindsight’s clear as glass,” Dazen retorted. “I believed in him before. He talked about empowering Aeons—taking the realm back from the Templars. But then, how many Aeons did he kill during the Etherfall?”

And those numbers were nothing compared to the human rebellions, which Trelidor had also started. But this was never about humans or Aeons. This was about tearing down the old world so he could take control.

His cousin should have seen it coming. Then again, he was far from the only one Trelidor had deceived.

“The point is,” Ashara broke in, “Dazen could have gone straight to Trelidor with this. He came to me instead. That’s worth something.” She turned to her cousin. “Now tell him what else you told me.”

Dazen crossed his thick arms. “Like I said, Trelidor knows about the airship, including the hangar’s location. He already sent a battalion of troops to secure it.”

“We can outrun them by dragon,” Ashara told Thane, “but you have to leave tonight.”

Ashara reached into her satchel and pulled out the stolen documents. She placed the papers on the table near Thane’s bed and then pulled out a map of the peninsula. “The airship is at Farseer Falls.”

Thane frowned. “Which is…”

She placed her finger on the map. “Right here, on the northwest side of Searingthorn.”

Thane opened a chest and pulled out a fresh black tunic as his sister spoke. A meteor had struck near that location, and he already had the Onyx Company scavenging the area for Etherite. Several vague plans began taking shape in his mind as he dressed. It would take days for Trelidor’s troops to cross the jungle on foot, but Thane could be there in two hours by dragon.

Getting out of the palace would be more complicated, but not impossible. There were more secret passages that lead toward the caves. If Thane wore a disguise, he might be able to steal a dragon without being seen.

“Even if I go tonight,” Thane said, “where would we put this thing? We can’t just park it in the courtyard and hope nobody notices.”

“It’s all here.” Ashara leafed through the papers and handed one to Thane.

He glanced down at the paper. This particular note was written in a cipher that only the royal family knew. It referred to one of the hundreds of small islands that Dragonshard controlled in the Ember Sea. His father had planned to store the airship there just as soon as it was flyable.

Thane’s respect for his father grew as he read. The king knew he’d be able to fly the airship after the Etherfall, and he’d also assumed others would reach the same conclusion. He might have even suspected Trelidor of stealing it, despite their alliance.

And if the king had left this note in the archives, that meant he’d wanted his children to carry out the plan. Even after his death.

You always did play the long game, Father.

Alright.” Thane’s voice came out calm despite his pounding heart. “This might work.”

He didn’t like trusting Dazen with so much, but his sister had a point—their cousin gained nothing by betraying them. It wasn’t as if their enemy needed to gather evidence against them either. They’d been at war less than a week before. Trelidor had no illusions this peace was real.

Thane turned to Ashara. “Contact Grandfather after I leave. He can have the Onyx Company meet us at Farseer Falls. Tell him I only want people we can trust. Fang, Ilsa, and Fang’s bodyguards. No one else.”

Now the only problem was Relyn. They were supposed to be consummating their marriage tonight. He couldn’t just disappear without letting her know. What’s more, he might need her to cover for him. It wouldn’t do to have a missing airship and a missing king on the same night.

 


 

“Everyone out,” Thane told Relyn’s servants as he entered her bedchamber. The five women complied at once, though several of them stared daggers when they thought he wasn’t looking.

Relyn had already begun removing her elaborate yellow dress, and Thane had a clear view of her bare back. He only stared for a few heartbeats, but it felt like leering. Was it possible to leer at your own wife?

“Sorry for bursting in,” Thane said, “but this is—”

Relyn turned around, giving Thane a clear view of everything else.

“...important,” he finished after several embarrassingly long seconds.

Relyn stepped out of her skirt and took her time wrapping a white robe around her shoulders. She’d acted shy last night, but not now. Now, she moved with complete confidence, as if she knew exactly how good she looked.

“Don’t worry,” she finally said, lips curling up in a grin. “We’re married now. You’re allowed to burst in.” She must have noticed Thane’s grim expression because her smile faded. “What is it?”

“I need to go somewhere,” Thane said. “Tonight.”

“Where?”

“I can’t say.” Thane made a subtle gesture around the room. Unlike his own chambers, Lucia hadn’t checked all the walls for spyholes.

Relyn nodded once. “I understand.”

“You do?” He studied her face, but she seemed sincere. Well, this conversation wasn’t going nearly as badly as he’d expected.

“Wherever it is,” she said, “I’ll come with you.”

Relyn dropped her robe, which stunned Thane into silence yet again. In less than ten seconds, she went from wearing nothing to wearing a full set of dark leather armor. Thane had never seen someone dress so quickly, and that included soldiers on a battlefield.

She pulled on her leather belt, attaching a sheathed dagger and several pouches of poisons and antidotes. She went to grab her quiver next when Thane stopped her.

“I need to go alone,” he said. “And I need you to cover for me.”

She raised an eyebrow. “It’s our wedding night. Wherever you’re going, wouldn’t it be stranger if we weren’t together?”

Aegon. She had a point there.

“I’m on your side,” she said. “You know that, right?”

“I know,” Thane said. “But I can’t explain things here.”

“Then explain on the way.” She sat on her bed and slipped on her black leather boots. “I’m ready now.”

Thane hesitated, and all his fears from the previous day rose back to the surface. If he misjudged her, Ashara and his kingdom would be the ones to pay the consequences. His instincts told him to trust her, but how many times had he been wrong before? How many people had Trelidor deceived?

Even if she had no intention of betraying him now, Thane had to play the long game too. Any plots he shared with Relyn now, Trelidor could use against him someday.

“You don’t trust me,” Relyn blurted out. “After all this time, you still think I’ll betray you.”

“I trust you,” Thane said. “But you know things aren’t that simple.”

“They’re not,” she agreed. “But I’ve been trying to be honest with you, and our vows today meant something to me. I’m loyal to you before anyone else. What else do you want?”

That stung, especially because it was true. She’d been open and honest with him, while he’d been selective with his secrets, only sharing the things that came easily.

A few more excuses kindled inside him, each one weaker than the last. Relyn specialized in stealth, so he couldn’t argue the risks of escaping the palace with her. Thane could have argued that her lack of combat Ethermancy made her a liability, but that would have been an outright lie. Especially if he was bringing Fang and Ilsa along.

He might not be in love with Relyn yet, but he respected her and enjoyed her company. Last night was proof of that. If they wanted a chance of working together, they had to start somewhere.

Thane let out a breath, praying to Aegon he wasn’t making a mistake.

“Alright,” he finally said. “We’ll go together.”

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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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