A pair of crossbowmen turned their weapons on Relyn when she entered the chamber.
“Who are you?” the Palavan officer demanded in his accented voice.
“Lady Vassaj,” she replied. “I’m the one who ordered you here.”
The soldiers didn't move their weapons, but she snapped a command in Palavan and they quickly withdrew.
The officer cleared his throat and stood straighter. “Apologies, Lady Vassaj. We didn’t know you—”
“Enough, Lieutenant.” Relyn stepped forward and shoved the bound Ilsa between Thane and Fang. Thane was still on his knees with his fingers laced behind his head. Ilsa tripped over him, nearly hitting the stone floor before Fang caught her.
Relyn continued addressing the enemy soldiers in their language, pointing and snapping commands.
She speaks Palavan too? Aegon, did he ever really know her at all?
Thane’s palms prickled with sweat, and he balled them into fists. Everything Relyn shared with him—it was all an act to gain his trust. She’d looked into his eyes and sworn her loyalty to him. And like a fool, he’d believed it. He saw what he hoped to see and nothing more.
Avelyn and his grandfather had seen through the scheme the moment Relyn proposed the marriage. They’d warned him not to believe her, but he didn’t listen. Relyn’s priority was regaining her honor in her family’s eyes. Thane’s rebellion was hopeless, and Trelidor’s reign was inevitable.
“Have your men bind the prisoners’ hands,” Relyn told the officer in Reverian. “And get the king’s Etherite. He should have a ring on each hand.”
Thane felt numb as his captors fastened the steel manacles around his wrists and ankles. They yanked off his gloves and rings next, pulling so hard it felt like they’d take his fingers with them.
“I told my sergeant to contact Trelidor,” the lieutenant said to Relyn.
“Don’t bother with that,” she replied. “Trelidor’s already on his way here.”
Thane’s blood turned to ice. None of this made any sense. He’d been at Trelidor’s mercy back in the palace, and his enemy knew about the airship from the start. Why would they let Thane get this far? Was it a game? A test for Relyn to prove her loyalty?
Relyn met Thane’s gaze, and he saw something in her jade green eyes. An Apology? Pleading?
A third possibility hit him then. What if Relyn hadn’t deceived Thane at all, but the real deception was happening right now? She could have held back before they entered the hangar—not to capture Ilsa, but because she caught some sign of the ambush.
But then ... why would she wait until now to reveal herself? Why would she bring Ilsa here, and remind them about Thane’s rings?
Thane broke Relyn’s gaze after several heartbeats. There were too many unknowns to make an educated guess. All he could do was focus on the next step.
That meant getting out of this mess before Trelidor arrived.
By now, the entire crew was secured in steel fetters and Relyn was giving orders to the crossbowmen. Several of the Palavan soldiers led the airmen into a chamber at one end of the hangar. They led Thane, Fang, and Ilsa into another room that seemed like a glorified supply closet.
Relyn followed them inside and wrapped another chain around a metal pipe, sliding it through each of their manacles in turn.
“I’m still on your side,” she said in Valaysian. Her tone came out harsh, but she spoke the words slowly. Unmistakable.
Thane shot a glance at the two soldiers on either side of the door. Neither man gave any sign of recognition. No surprise there. Palavar had been isolated in recent decades, engaging in limited trade outside the Ember Isles. As a result, the average soldier would probably know some Reverian, but little to no Valaysian.
Thane took several deep breaths, and Relyn continued in her native tongue, “Trelidor’s not coming. That was a lie to buy us time.”
“Then let us out of here,” Thane replied in her language. If she was telling the truth, then fighting their way free would be much easier now that they weren’t surrounded. And with the airship’s crew held in a different room, that meant fewer potential casualties.
“They have two dragonriders outside,” Relyn countered as she fastened their fetters to the pillar. “If you escape now, they’ll fly away and tell Trelidor everything.”
“Or maybe you’re full of shiban,” Fang spat to Thane’s left. “You let my men die—brought Ilsa in here with a knife to her throat—and now you expect us to trust you?”
The two crossbowmen at the door raised their weapons at Fang’s outburst.
Thane couldn’t see Ilsa’s face from where he sat, but the older woman didn’t speak up to defend Relyn.
Not a good sign.
Relyn knocked her fist on the back of Fang’s head, ostensibly to keep up appearances.
“I’ll take care of the dragonriders,” Relyn replied quickly. “And I’ll start thinning their ranks outside. Once it’s safe to let you free, I will.”
“The hell you will,” Fang said.
Relyn ignored the mercenary leader and circled around to tighten Thane’s chains. “If you get out of here before I’m back, wait until you hear struggling.” She paused and lowered her voice further. “Do you trust me?”
Thane gave a quick nod. Whether it was true, he hadn’t decided yet. She might intend to help them, or this could be a ploy to keep them busy before Trelidor arrived. Still, Thane had nothing to gain by making her suspicious.
Relyn stood a second later and left the room. The crossbowmen followed, and the door bolted shut behind them. The room was dark but for an orange glowcrystal on the ceiling, no brighter than a candle.
“Pins,” Fang whispered to Ilsa.
To Thane’s left, Ilsa craned her neck, using her teeth to pull out a pin from her braid. Somehow, she dropped it from her mouth into Fang’s hand, and the chains rattled around the copper pipe.
“You have more fire?” Fang asked Thane. “Some piercings we don’t know about?”
“Energy,” Thane corrected. “And yes—a pair of toe rings. One inside each boot.”
“Good,” he said. “I’ll have us free in two minutes.”
And if Relyn is telling the truth?
What if Trelidor had no idea they were here? If that were the case, they might still pull off their plan. Not just escaping with their lives, but with the airship too.
Thane glanced over his shoulder at Ilsa who had been quiet this whole time. “Did Relyn say anything to you before?”
“She told me to trust her.” Ilsa’s voice was heavy with regret. “Not that she gave me much of a choice.”
Fang muttered more Valaysian curses under his breath as he worked.
“Could she be telling the truth?” Thane asked.
“I can’t say,” Ilsa replied. “I may be a skilled empath, but Trelidor was too good of a liar for me to see through. Your wife might be as well.”
“None of this is your fault,” Fang said, and his voice was softer than before.
“Of course it is,” Ilsa replied. “Catching traitors is my job. My instincts are usually right.”
Thane gritted his teeth. “And what do your instincts tell you about Relyn?”
“I trusted her at first,” Ilsa began, “She sounded sincere while we were outside. But once we were in the hangar, I felt like she really would have killed me. Either she was telling those Palavans the truth, or she made herself believe, deep down, that she was one of them.”
Damnit. He was afraid of that. Relyn had trained with the Sile’zhar—some of the best spies and assassins in the world. Of course she would believe her own lies. That was the only way to deceive an empath.
The question remained—who was she deceiving? The Palavans, or him?
Thane’s own instincts said she was lying—that it was foolish to put his life in her hands. After all, he’d never truly trusted Relyn the way he trusted his other traveling companions. Nahlia was a terrible liar which had made her a terrible spy back in Whitecliff. And as annoying as Elias was, he didn’t have a deceitful bone in his body.
But Relyn was complicated.
Something clicked as Fang broke the lock that bound all three of them to the copper pipe. Thane looked over and saw Fang moving the pin back and forth in his own manacles.
Think, Thane told himself.
Lies and deception came naturally to Relyn. Before, he hadn’t considered how someone raised by assassins would emerge so scarred and broken. He hadn’t seen it when they first met, nor had he seen it in all the months they’d traveled together.
Relyn put on a calm facade, but her problems ran deeper. She had parents who didn’t love her or trust her, and now he didn’t trust her either.
Aegon, but he wanted to. Relyn wasn’t perfect, but she was trying to change. The person he saw last night was someone he could love someday. She’d grown tired of lying, just as he’d grown tired of killing. She’d told him her vows meant something—that she wanted this to be real.
It was far from convincing evidence, but this wasn’t a problem he could think his way out of.
Fang was already free by now. He knelt in front of Thane, breaking the locks on his hands and ankles. He did the same for Ilsa.
“Alright,” Fang whispered, “let’s go.”
Thane raked in a deep breath, glancing at their faces in the faint light. “We’re going to wait.”
Fang rounded on Thane, and his face was a storm of rage. “What?”
“You actually believe her,” Ilsa said.
“I do,” Thane replied.
“She let my men die,” Fang snapped. “She could have stopped them, but—”
“This is war,” Thane broke in. “I’ve lost as many friends as you have, but Relyn’s not responsible.”
“You know something I don’t?” Fang demanded. “Because two minutes ago, you didn’t believe her either.”
“I have to agree,” Ilsa said. “Why the change of heart?”
“I don’t have any evidence,” Thane admitted. “But I refuse to believe she’d betray us.”
Sure, there was the fact that Relyn’s betrayal seemed far too convoluted to be true. But then, so had Trelidor’s betrayal at the Clansmeet. So had the entire Purge, and this war with the Templars. Alexel Trelidor had deceived them, and the echoes of that betrayal stretched farther than they’d ever imagined. Now, they were fighting each other instead of fighting him. It was the same thing they’d been doing for the past twenty years.
“If we want to fight back,” Thane said. “We have to stand united.”
“Doesn’t answer the question,” Fang said. “What if you’re wrong about her?”
“Then I’m wrong,” Thane said. “But my father was willing to die for what’s right, and so am I.”
“Fine.” Fang rose to his feet. “Stay here and die. We’ll take our chances with the guards.”
“Stand down, soldier.” Thane glanced up to meet the Valaysian man’s eyes. “You want to be my general? You want to be a lord of Dragonshard? It’s time to decide right now.” Thane shot a glance in Ilsa’s direction “Both of you. Are you loyal to me, or not?”
The mercenary leader towered over Thane, narrowing his eyes to chips of onyx. Thane knew better than to break away from a look like that.
Fang might not like his plan, but he needed Thane as much as Thane needed him. The Onyx Company had done well under the Templar’s reign, but life wouldn’t be so easy for a group of human mercenaries under Trelidor’s rule. Humans in Palavar were forbidden to take up arms, except in service to an Aeon. Soon enough, it would be the same here in Revera. If they wanted to fight for their freedom, they needed Thane’s help.
Fang turned to Ilsa, and the two shared an incomprehensible look.
The silence stretched between them until it was deep enough to drown it. Finally, the tension left the mercenary’s shoulders, and he turned back to Thane. “How long do we wait?”
“Until the fighting starts.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
Thane hesitated. If Relyn failed to thin the enemy’s ranks, they couldn’t wait all night to find out.
“Ten minutes,” Ilsa suggested. “Then we go no matter what.”
“Done,” Thane agreed.
Fang gave a curt nod as he stepped away from the door. “You better be right about this, Solidor.”
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the screaming to start.