Thane could only watch as Rhia flung the poisoned dagger. It didn’t pierce Relyn’s nightsilk, but it didn’t have to. Yuchani could pierce any fabric.
Relyn staggered at the last second before her jump. Thane shouted her name, diving forward to grab her hand. Their fingers touched, but he was too late. Her eyes widened in horror as she fell, but Thane didn’t hesitate. Without a second glance at Rhia, he kicked off from the ramp and pushed himself toward the street below.
By now, Relyn was halfway to the ground. A vision of her broken body flashed in his mind’s eye.
No. He would not lose her like he lost Kira.
Sparks erupted behind him as he released bursts of heat and kinetic energy. The wind tore past him like a hurricane. Too fast to see. Too fast to think. Thane stretched out his arms. Every muscle in his core shook as he tried to keep himself facing downward.
His hands found Relyn’s waist, and he pulled her close. Then—less than ten feet from the ground—he shot an explosion of raw power at the earth. The blast carried them over a stone wall and toward the canal. Their bodies spun through the air and the world blurred in a mix of water, stone, and sky.
The river swallowed them like a hungry seadragon. Icy water stung his face, racing into his open mouth and nostrils. His muscles went numb, and he lost his grip on Relyn.
Thane reached out and found her arm in the darkness. She was still poisoned, and she wouldn’t make it on her own. From there, he kicked his legs and pushed them back toward the surface.
His eyes shot left and right as he emerged. No immediate danger. If there were guards nearby, they were too distracted by the airship above. He had no doubt Rhia Vassaj would follow them, but only seconds had passed since they’d fallen. Even a Justicar couldn’t move that quickly.
Relyn squeezed his arm as he treaded water. At least she still had some control of her muscles.
“You alright?” he asked.
Relyn coughed several times and managed a quick nod.
A nearby drain caught Thane’s eye, and he kicked off in that direction. Footsteps thundered on the street above, and bird-like shrieks echoed in the distance.
Aegon. They were supposed to be long gone before the dragonriders showed up.
Thane crawled into the drainpipe and pulled Relyn in after him. The water was less than a hand span deep, but not nearly as cold as the canal had been.
“Can’t move,” she muttered through chattering teeth
Thane propped her up against the curved stone wall.
“Your sister hit you with your own blade...” He leaned her forward and examined her back. “Any pain?”
She forced out a smile. “I’ll let you know in five more minutes.”
Thane pulled a burst of heat from his Etherite and forced it into Relyn’s muscles. The water hadn’t felt cold enough to be deadly, but you could never be too careful with Yuchani flower. The poison wouldn’t slow down her heart, but it might force it to overexert itself while it pumped blood to the rest of her body.
“Thane Solidor,” Rhia’s voice shouted from the street above them. “I know you’re hiding down there.”
Thane closed his eyes and let out a long breath. Even if they snuck away, Rhia Vassaj was the only person in Tongshan who could identify them. But if he killed her now, they might still get away without Trelidor finding out.
Besides, he was still itching for a good fight.
“I have to go,” Thane said.
Relyn gave a barely controlled nod. “Be careful...”
Thane leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
She squeezed his hand with a surprising show of strength. “...and don’t hold back.”
He turned around, stepping out of the drain and climbing a narrow staircase. Rhia stood farther down the seawall, and a dozen guards met him as he crested the top of the stairs. A few pointed crossbows in his direction, standing with the sort of foolhardy bravado that only guards could muster.
Thane opened his right palm and a flame burst to life. That sent them scurrying back like squirrels.
The shrieks continued from the air as the dragonriders attacked his airship. Thane didn’t spare an upward glance as he moved toward Rhia. They had their battle, and he had his. Besides, The Raptor’s Claw was built to fight dragons.
The road was narrow between the canal and the Ashmount’s outer wall. Narrow spaces weren’t good against a Justicar. She could nullify Thane’s fire, and her Ironblood made her more resilient to physical attacks. Meanwhile, Thane had no real defense against her blades.
Icy rivulets ran down every inch of his skin, and his clothing seemed to weigh twice as much. Worst of all, the water filled his socks, and his boots squished as he walked.
Rhia smiled as he approached. “There you are, brother-in-law. Nice airship.”
Her face resembled her sister’s in many ways. But while Relyn’s jade eyes were soft and round, Rhia’s were hard and narrow. She also had a yellow falcon tattoo that ran horizontally across the center of her face.
Rhia spun her blades in lazy circles. “I told him, you know. I told Trelidor it was you who stole it. He wanted proof, and here we are.”
Aegon, she must love the sound of her own voice. None of this would matter once he finished her.
“Shame about your sister though.” Rhia’s lips curled up at the edges. “But don’t worry. Trelidor won’t execute her. We have other plans for that one.”
Thane took several deep breaths—in through his nose and out through his mouth. She was trying to make him angry, but anger would only make him more predictable. He couldn’t think about Ashara now.
Rhia held Thane’s gaze, looking like she might speak again. Instead, she darted forward with unnatural swiftness.
Thane moved on instinct, throwing an explosion on the stone pavement and lurching himself toward the prison’s outer wall. From there, he kicked upward with another burst of energy and attacked his opponent from above.
Rhia stood as still as a statue, absorbing the pillar of flame as it left Thane’s hands.
By the time Thane hit the ground, she was on him again—a whirlwind of black cloth and silver steel. Thane continued his attacks, but she absorbed them all. Trelidor had trained her far better than any of Thane’s cousins, and her will was like a block of solid iron.
The world spun as they circled each other on the empty street. While Thane shot fire, Rhia threw hidden daggers and poisoned needles. Every movement was a blur of motion, and only his instincts kept him alive. More than once, a blade or needle ricocheted off his draconscale vest—only inches from piercing flesh. He even came close to sharing Relyn’s fate as her own dagger flew past his face.
He’d sparred with Relyn and Ciena before, but this was like fighting both of them at once. Half-Justicar, and half-Sile’zhar. Even if Thane were a gambler, he didn’t like these odds. He’d already blown through a brick wall today. And while he’d drawn on the airship’s power supply instead of the Etherite in his belt pouch, the effort had left his willpower half-spent.
He’d have to be more creative.
With his back to the canal, Thane kicked off with a blast of flame at his feet. He flew through the air and landed on a natural stone island, barely big enough for two. Rhia wouldn’t be able to resist the chase. As a close-quarters fighter, small spaces favored her.
She got a running start and leapt more than a dozen feet toward the island. Thane waited for her to get close, then he blasted the island hard enough to send them both flying back into the water.
He altered his trajectory with another blast and landed back on the island. Rhia hit the water and sank below the surface.
Thane didn’t wait for her to show her face again. He conjured a bolt of lightning in his palm and struck the spot where she’d fallen. By now, the sun had dipped below the horizon, and the lightning chased away the darkness.
Rhia resurfaced a second later, unharmed. Even underwater, she must have absorbed the energy before it hit her body.
Oh well. That was a cheap trick anyway. He could do better.
Thane reached out to the surrounding water and pulled away the heat. Technically, any Ethermancer could turn liquid water into ice with enough time. Sanctifiers just happened to be the quickest.
The water crystalized everywhere within a dozen paces of his opponent. She’d been swimming forward at the time, and only a part of her head broke the surface.
Thane smiled. Rhia could resist fire and lightning all day, but Justicars lacked the skill to melt ice.
The river’s heat burned inside his soul, demanding to be used. Thane obliged, and he launched more fiery missiles toward his opponent.
Even now, Rhia resisted. Her will pressed against his, and he felt his attacks dissipate as they reached her. The ice cracked around her frozen prison as she strained against it. Finally, she broke free, sending frozen shards in every direction.
Thane let out a burst of fire and kinetic energy over the canal. Several shards slammed into his opponent, forcing her back on land. Her face sported several angry burns, and she’d lost her weapon in the river.
Thane pressed his advantage and flung himself toward Rhia, throwing more flaming projectiles. He landed on the street close to her. She charged toward him again—quicker than before—landing a kick in his ribs.
Thane gasped in pain, holding his side as he rolled to the ground.
She’s getting desperate, he told himself. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have dropped her guard for such a reckless move.
Rhia struck again, but Thane launched a pillar of flame toward her as he rolled away. Steel glimmered nearby, and he almost landed face-first on a fallen dagger.
Relyn’s poisoned blade.
Thane snatched the weapon and sprang to his feet. His muscles were shaking now, and his mind and soul felt like wrung out rags. Thankfully, Rhia didn’t look much better.
He shot several more projectiles from his left hand, but they were only a feint. With his right hand, he lunged toward her with the poisoned blade. Rhia caught his wrist and pushed back with the strength of two people. The blade twisted until it was angled toward Thane’s throat.
Thane’s arms shook as he pushed back. If not for his mental opposition, Rhia’s push would have been strong enough to break an iron bar.
He considered his remaining options as he struggled. She would expect more fire, so that was out of the question. Kinetic energy was far more difficult to oppose though. Few Justicars were skilled enough to slow themselves down once they were airborne.
Thane conjured a blast of raw force behind him. It hit hard enough to snap bones, and the two of them flew into the prison’s outer wall. Rhia took the brunt of the impact as her head and back slammed into the brick. Thane felt warm blood running down his fingers. He looked down and saw that the dagger had pierced Rhia’s tunic several inches below her heart.
She gritted her teeth in pain, and her body slowly went limp from the Yuchani poison.
Thane yanked the blade free and brought it to her throat.
Footsteps sounded behind him before he could strike the killing blow. He spun around on instinct, expecting to see more guards. Instead, Relyn stood there holding a crossbow.
Thane slowly rose to his feet. If she wanted to strike the killing blow herself, he wouldn’t stand in her way.
Relyn stepped closer to her sister, aiming the crossbow between her eyes. Rhia remained slumped against the brick. The skin around her left eye was red and blistered, and blood and ran down her cheek.
Neither sister spoke for a long moment. Relyn’s eyes were a silent threat, and Rhia’s were a silent plea for mercy. Thane understood her reluctance. He didn’t like killing an unarmed prisoner anymore than she did. A part of him wished he hadn’t hesitated before. At least then, they could both sleep peacefully knowing he’d killed her in the heat of battle.
Relyn’s finger hovered near the trigger, and her eyes glistened.
“I can’t do it,” she whispered. “She’s still my sister.”
“Your sister threw a knife in your back,” Thane said.
“I know.” Her voice hitched, and she moved the crossbow closer to her sister’s forehead. “Why?”
Rhia held her gaze, struggling to keep her breath steady. If they waited any longer, she might bleed to death on her own.
“You’re the one who betrayed our family,” she finally said. “Twice.”
“If we let her live,” Thane said. “She’ll tell Trelidor we were here. My sister’s innocent—she’ll be the one who pays the price.”
After a short pause, Relyn turned to Thane. “She already shouted your name once. This prison has never had a break-in before. People will talk no matter what we do.”
Thane felt his shoulders sag. Not with relief, but with the crushing weight of the conflicts to come.
Relyn lowered the crossbow, wiped her eyes dry, and turned away. “Let’s go.”
The airship landed over the canal, and they stumbled up the ramp together.
Now it’s official, he thought. We really are wanted on all three continents.