Elias charged the enemy, clutching his steel katana in his right hand. In his other hand, he held Bloodsong’s empty hilt. The blade itself churned like a storm inside his soul, yearning for release. Varion might have heard rumors of Ethersmithing, but he hadn’t seen it yet.
No sense in spoiling the surprise.
Fire closed in as the three Sanctifiers struck in unison. Walls of crystal light broke the flames, and Varion rolled forward to grab his staff.
Oh, no. You’re not separating us again.
Elias struck with his katana. At the same time, Varion raised his sigil-covered staff and pointed it straight toward him. A storm of glowing Moonshard crystals shot out from the tip.
Elias tried to dodge, but it was like weaving through raindrops. He tried to banish them with his will, but there were too many to comprehend. Instead, he flared his Ironblood and endured the assault. A thousand needles shredded through his armor, breaking skin and muscle.
But even as the crystals drew blood, his skin reformed. Icy Moonfire chased away the pain. Nahlia was behind him somewhere, giving him the strength to go on.
He stumbled, but he didn’t slow. He swung his katana again, and Varion twisted his staff to parry. Steel rang against steel as their weapons met in a jarring clash. But that was only a distraction. Elias raised Bloodsong’s hilt in his offhand, releasing the power from his soul. The red crystal dagger took shape as he thrust the hilt into his opponent’s staff.
Elias used his Ironblood this time. The energy flowed through his body, and he struck with bone-breaking force. Varion’s staff broke into two pieces, each one flying in a different direction.
Elias was still following through on his swing when Thane drove a burst of flame into Varion’s right shoulder, searing through the man’s armor, leaving a red crater in its place.
Dejan and Jasna attacked from the opposite side. A hundred tiles exploded from the floor, and the blast sent their enemy into the air.
Thane kicked off from the ground, leaping for the kill. The other two Sanctifiers continued their bombardment from below. Even as Varion fell, he shrouded himself in layers of Moonshard. But instead of holding his defense, the shields shot out in every direction, taking the fire with them.
All around the room, the walls exploded into blasts of broken stone. Cracks formed in the domed ceiling above, threatening to rain down shards of bronze.
The ground shook beneath Elias’s boots, and the sounds of battle left his ears ringing. A marble pillar crashed down behind him, and he leapt to the side.
No sooner had he landed than a piece of the stone wall broke free. No time to dodge. Elias dropped his blades and caught the wall in his hands.
Stone struck his chest as his arms gave out. Aegon. The thing must have weighed ten times as much as him. He flared his Ironblood, forcing energy into his arms, and legs. He tried to move, but the wall would crush him if he budged an inch. Even the Etherite reserves in his pouches were fading.
Varion landed behind him and picked up Bloodsong from the ground.
Oh no, not good.
Elias tried to pull the crystal back into his soul, but the lapse in focus almost broke his arms.
More fire swirled around Varion like an orange whirlpool. He countered with more walls of Moonshard, and the impact destroyed more of their surroundings. Ceiling fragments slammed into the floor. Rain poured in through the opening.
Jasna stumbled forward, and a bronze fragment crushed her legs a second later.
Varion slashed Bloodsong in Thane’s direction, but Thane had the sense to retreat. Varion spun around after that, defecting a blast from Dejan, slashing the dagger across his chest.
Nahlia can still heal them, Elias thought. It’s not—
Dejan stumbled forward, and Varion slashed again, taking the man’s head off his shoulders. A second later, he spun back around and drove the blade through Jasna’s spine.
Elias struggled to hold the wall, and he felt his bones breaking as his Ironblood failed. More fragments of the ceiling fell around him. One piece missed his head by a hair’s breadth.
“Elias!” Nahlia’s voice shouted from nearby. “Let go.”
Elias met her eye and saw determination there. He used the last of his strength to push the wall back, then let himself drop to the ground. The wall fell behind him, but a barrier of crystal light caught it in midair. He rolled out of the way, feeling a dozen fractured bones all over his body. They all screamed at him like needles in his flesh.
Nearby, Thane had re-engaged the enemy. Their attacks lit up the room like strikes of lightning.
Nahlia jumped over the fallen wall and leaned over Elias. A barrier formed around them to keep out the debris.
Elias blinked up at her. Her lip was bleeding, and another cut ran from her hairline to her eyebrow. Nahila pressed her hands to his chest and healed him instead. More pain followed as his bones clicked back into place. But Moonfire was a good pain, and he felt his energy return.
A few seconds passed, then Nahlia’s eyes fell shut. Her body went limp, and she rested her head on his leather jerkin.
“That’s all I have,” she murmured.
“It’ll be enough,” Elias said as he moved her aside. She felt so fragile in his arms—a stark contrast to the power she’d unleashed. Even with a broken soul and no weapon, she’d gone toe-to-toe with the second-strongest Ethermancer they’d ever faced.
Elias leaned her against the wall and rose to his feet.
This is up to me, he realized.
Nahlia’s skill was protecting, and Thane was more suited for large-scale destruction. But Elias was a Justicar, and the Justicars’ original purpose was to keep the other Orders’ in check.
Varion slammed Thane into the wall with another burst of power. Elias stepped toward the man, unarmed, and barely able to walk. He’d drained his own reserves in this battle, just as Nahlia had.
Fortunately, he had one more trick.
He set his jaw and charged Varion. As expected, his opponent raised Bloodsong.. Elias didn’t slow. Varion remained still at first, then his stance shifted as he prepared to strike. Finally—when Elias was mere inches away—the other man slashed Bloodsong in an upward lunge.
Elias concentrated and separated Bloodsong’s crystal from its hilt, pulling the energy into his soul.
Varion’s eyes widened in shock. It was one thing to hear about Ethersmithing. Quite another to feel the weight of a weapon leave your hands.
Elias didn’t have his hilt, but that didn’t matter. Bloodsong became a dagger in his right hand, and he grasped it by the crude crystal handle.
The two of them slammed together. Varion tried to form one last shield, but Elias opposed it. Bloodsong leapt for his opponent’s right arm, severing the limb at the elbow.
Varion stumbled backward. With his left arm, he formed a blade of Moonshard that pierced Elias in the ribs. A second blast sent him falling back into a bronze ceiling shard. This time, Elias had no energy to strengthen his body, and the impact hit him harder than before.
Varion stepped over to where his arm had fallen into another pile of rubble. He leaned down and picked it up from the floor, placing it against the bloody stump of his elbow. Muscle, bone, and skin reformed around the breaking point and Varion flexed his right fingers once again.
Anger flared in Elias’s chest. Not just for this battle, but for Ciena. When she’d lost her arm, it had crippled her for life. Even Lyraina had claimed she couldn’t restore it. But here this man was, healing the injury in seconds. If Ciena had recovered her own arm, could things have been different?
Elias shook his head, wiping blood and sweat from his brow. That chance was gone now.
Besides, he recognized that look in his opponent’s eyes. Desperation. Varion might be more powerful than them, but every Ethermancer had limits. Healing his arm had cost him a great deal.
Thane and Nahlia stumbled from behind another fallen pillar and moved to guard the other doorways. They’d probably drained their own reserves a long time ago, but Varion didn’t know that.
Slowly, Elias forced himself to his feet and moved to stand in front of the remaining doorway. His ribs screamed in pain, and his legs shook beneath him. His vision blurred, but he did his best to show a strong facade.
To his surprise, Varion turned and ran toward the broken window.
A gust of wind blew through the open roof, and the sound of propellers drowned out the rain. No sooner had Varion reached the window than The Raptor’s Claw flew down in front of him. The back ramp opened, and Lyraina Trelian stepped out in her hooded blue robe. She raised a hand, and Varion collapsed on the floor, clutching his throat.
Elias gaped for a moment, expecting Varion to oppose her attack and fight back.
“Don’t kill him,” Thane shouted from across the room. “He said he was Trelidor’s son.”
“Indeed?” Lyraina stepped down off the ramp, examining the silver-haired man as he thrashed on the ground. She seemed surprised, but not incredulous. She also didn’t stop choking him.
“Lyraina,” Thane repeated.
“He’ll survive,” she said in her usual condescending manner.
A second later, Varion stopped moving. Presumably, he was unconscious.
Elias limped over, and Moonfire filled his veins as Lyraina turned her attention toward their injuries. The opening in his ribs began to heal over, and he saw the cuts shrinking on Nahlia’s face beside him.
The Onyx Guard emerged from the ship, armed with rifles and crossbows. Some turned their weapons on Varion, while others moved to secure the room’s exits. There was still no sign of Relyn, but Thane didn’t appear worried. She must have mentioned the cannons through their soulbond. Otherwise, the airship wouldn’t have known to land.
Hankrim was the last one down the ramp, carrying the collar of black Etherite from Villa Solizhan. This was the same relic they’d used to detain Ciena after the Battle of Dragonshard. It would prevent a prisoner from pulling energy into his soul, restricting any sort of Ethermancy.
At an order from Thane, Hankrim stepped forward and secured the collar around Varion’s neck. Another Onyx Guard worked to bind his hands and feet.
With Lyraina still focused on the prisoner, Nahlia took a slow step toward Elias.
“The staff,” she whispered. “The pieces are behind this pillar.”
Elias took several deep breaths, wishing someone had brought him a canteen of water. “You should take it,” he said. “As a Redeemer, you can probably...” He trailed off as Nahlia shot a wary glance at her mother. “What?”
Nahlia met his eyes again. “Can you get it on the ship without her seeing? Keep it hidden until we’re back in Raidenwood?”
Elias was about to ask why, then realization dawned on him. They hadn’t beaten Varion today. Lyraina had. Until now, they had no way to gauge her power, but now it was clear she was the strongest one among them. She might even be stronger than all of them combined.
Lyraina was their ally for now. She’d helped Nahlia heal her broken soul, and she’d given Thane valuable advice for the war effort. Not to mention her timely arrival, which might have saved their lives if Varion had brought back reinforcements.
But how long would that last? How long would their goals align?
Elias gave Nahlia a slow nod to show he understood. Lyraina might not know about these Redeemer staves. And if she ever turned against them, they would need every surprise they could get.