Raidenwood had changed. Whether it was the siege, the Templar occupation, or the passage of time, Ciena couldn't say. Either way, she felt like a stranger in her own home.

"We're too exposed here," she muttered as she trailed Elias down Marketbridge. With every step they took, they passed a dozen more faces in the crowded thoroughfare.

How many of them were spies for Cladius? How many could recognize their faces?

"We'll be fine," her brother said.

"We should have worn hoods," she continued. "I see plenty of them around." Before they entered Raidenwood, Elias had mentioned social stigmas against covering your head within the city. It meant you had something to hide. Apparently, that simple act was enough to get you held for questioning.

"Right," Elias said, "and notice how the guards are watching them and not us?"

Maybe, but it still seemed like a stupid rule. Especially when the northern winds blew down through the Bloodrift. If being cold was a crime in this city, then the stockades must be bursting at the seams.

Her boots splashed through puddles as they walked, and rivulets ran between the cobblestones. Everything was tinged gray in the morning fog, but Highbridge shielded them from the bulk of the rain. They continued past the various shops and stalls, none of which Ciena recognized. At one point, Elias stopped to buy several loaves of bread, and the baker had to retrieve them from a locked cabinet. No surprise there, considering the beggars outnumbered the grocers two-to-one on this street.

Eventually, they passed the last pair of stone pillars where the staircase and lifts connected to Highbridge above. Raiden's tomb was only a block away now.

Ciena only had hazy memories of their destination. She'd been ten years old the last time she’d stood outside those sealed stone doors. And like many ten-year-olds, she’d been more concerned with the present than the distant past.

What was the point of standing around a dark, damp tunnel when there was blade practice that needed to be done? After all, the tomb wasn't going anywhere. The doors had been sealed for over a thousand years.

"Sealed" was also an understatement in this case. Usually, when a door was sealed, that implied ordinary impediments such as iron bars, or steel locks. Enough to slow folk down, but no match for time or modern-day tools.

But Raiden's tomb was different. Raiden's tomb was built entirely of twice-tough stone. This looked like regular concrete to the naked eye, but it was strengthened from within by Justicar sigils. Nothing in the world could break it. Not pickaxes, not black powder, and not even Etherite.

However, she and her brother had already encountered another sealed door like this beneath Whitecliff. And like Palatine’s tomb, Raiden's tomb had a key.

She and Elias stopped walking when the bridge met the canyon's western wall. Twelve years ago, there had been a tunnel here, wide enough for three people to walk side-by-side. Now, there was nothing but a wall of solid rock.

"This doesn't make sense," Elias whispered. "The entrance should be right here."

Ciena grimaced at the wall. They'd expected complications—guards, or iron gates barring their path into the tunnel. No one in the Onyx Company even knew where the tomb was despite its location being common knowledge before the Purge. That fact alone proved their mission would be difficult.

But this?

"Maybe we have the wrong place," she said. "It's been twelve years..."

Elias shook his head. "I've researched this. Raiden's tomb is beneath Highbridge on the eastern side of the canyon. There was a tunnel right here..." He pointed to the ceiling of the bridge above them. "There was a staircase in that tunnel that was supposed to lead up there."

Ciena squinted at the wall, but she didn't dare step closer. This part of Marketbridge wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t empty either. Anyone could be watching from the shadows.

"That wall is man-made," she noted.

Elias nodded. "So are all the canyon walls within the city. It's to prevent erosion."

"Sure, but does this one look ... newer to you?"

"I can't tell for sure, but it's possible." He shifted his head to face her. "You think Cladius filled in the tunnel? "

Ciena shrugged. "I'm not saying I'm happy about it, but it's something we need to consider."

"Lady Raider?" a gravelly voice asked from behind them.

They both spun around to face an ancient-looking man sitting at the base of a nearby bakery. His beard was like a storm cloud around his thin face, and his brown eyes were distant. He was looking vaguely in Ciena's direction, but not quite meeting her gaze.

"Lady Raider?" he repeated in what sounded like a northern accent. "You're alive?"

"Sorry." Ciena cleared her throat, trying to sound less noble-born this time. "You must have me confused with someone else."

The man hummed in consideration, squinting in her direction. So, he wasn't entirely blind then, just nearsighted. She took several slow steps in his direction.

"I see," he muttered, more to himself this time. "You only sound like her."

That sent goosebumps down her arms. Perhaps she was uneasy that a stranger had come so close to identifying her. Then again, perhaps it was something more. Ciena should have been proud to inherit her mother’s voice. Instead, her stomach twisted with guilt. Two years had dulled the pain of the Clansmeet massacre, but she still carried the memory wherever she went.

Elias said he forgave her, but that didn't make their family whole again. She'd been the one to destroy it. Perhaps Alexel would have killed their parents anyway, but that wasn't the point. She'd killed them. That—even more than her lost hand—meant she would never be her brother's equal again.

Elias pulled out a loaf of bread and knelt down beside the old man. "You knew the lord and lady of Raidenwood. Personally?"

"Aye." The man gave a weary nod. "I was a steward in the palace before the Templars came. I remember Lord and Lady Raider, and their children. Elias was a good lad. And Ciena—she was always getting into trouble ... always climbing that statue of Raiden when she thought no one was looking."

I get it, I've never been subtle. But that was beside the point. A steward? Ciena knew all the palace stewards, and none had been gray-haired or bearded like this. Then again, time could change people, and often quicker than they'd like.

Elias handed the man the loaf. "We've been out of the city for several years, but..." he glanced back at the stone wall at the end of the bridge. "I could have sworn there was a cave over there."

The man murmured his thanks as he accepted the bread. After a moment of chewing, he spoke again, "You're right. It used to lead to the outer chamber of Raiden’s tomb. There was a tunnel, some stairs that led up under Highbridge. Ten or eleven years ago, I'd say."

"What happened?" Elias asked.

"Cladius Raider happened." His brow furrowed, shifting the web of cracks on his wrinkled forehead. "The other Raiders fled through a hidden tunnel beneath the palace. No one knew about it except for family and the guardcaptain. We only know because we found the captain's body near the trap door."

Ciena nodded along as the old steward spoke. She'd relived that particular memory many times in her dreams.

"After they fled the palace, Cladius had every passageway caved in. Said it was to prevent the others from coming back."

Elias gazed over his shoulder at the wall behind them. "And ... the tomb?"

The steward shrugged as he took another bite. "Same reasons."

Ciena frowned. There were no hidden passageways in the tomb. Someone would have found them by now if there were. More likely, Cladius had done this to erase Aeons from history.

Elias gave a slow nod. "So he collapsed the tunnel, and there's no other way into the tomb."

"Ah, I didn't say that now, did I?" The steward swallowed his last bite, then he pointed a wrinkled finger skyward. "Look above you."

Ciena glanced up, but there was nothing obvious to see. Just the bottom of Highbridge, cast in shadow from the rising sun.

"Do you see it?" the man asked. "Between the rafters in the middle. My eyes aren't what they used to be, but I remember..."

Ciena squinted. Like most of the city's central bridges, Highbridge was about a quarter-mile wide, and dozens of stone rafters ran along the length of it. One of those rafters used to be hollow, and that was the passageway her family had taken during the Purge.

But then ... what was that along the center? It looked like someone had built a walkway between the rafters. The work was crude—just planks of wood. Nothing so subtle as the tunnel her family had used to escape. Her eyes followed the crude path from the side of the cliff to ... somewhere. The nearby rooftops obstructed the view.

"Where does it lead?" she asked.

The man shrugged his thin shoulders. "All I know is that it stops at the center of Highbridge. You can walk down the road and see for yourselves."

"The palace," Ciena muttered. A path from underneath the palace into Raiden's tomb? But why? Why would Cladius cave in one tunnel just to build another? It wasn’t as if he could open the sealed door once he was inside.

The old man nodded. "No one knows why Cladius built it, but he did. If you need to enter Raiden's tomb, you’ll have to do it from the palace."

Elias chuckled as if it were a particularly good joke. "If only it were that simple."

"Simple? No. But there are many in this city who would support a revolution. People who see Cladius's betrayal for what it was. People who are ready for a new leader."

Ciena turned around and narrowed her eyes at the old steward.

Elias remained silent as if processing the words. The only sound was the raindrops rolling off the rooftops.

The man looked up and met her eyes with a nod. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. "Go, Lady Raider. Bring your uncle to justice."


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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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