You are no descendent of mine. Treluwyn’s words echoed in her mind like thundering war drums, but Nahlia struggled to process their meanings. The words were too absurd. It was like saying the sky was green.
Nahlia glanced to Marwyn, then back toward the Archaeon in her deep blue robes. “Of course I am. My mother’s clan name is Trelian. I’m a Redeemer, and so is she.”
“No,” Treluwyn said with an air of finality. “Perhaps you have some of my blood, but it’s not enough. Above all else, I sense Palatine in you.”
“Palatine?” Aegon. This encounter was getting stranger by the second. The Raiders hadn’t mentioned anything like this when they first met Lucan. He hadn’t questioned their bloodlines once.
A part of her began to wonder if this was really Treluwyn’s Codex or just a mundane dream. Could she have fallen asleep and imagined this world? As unlikely as that seemed, it still made more sense than the alternative.
“There must be some mistake,” Nahlia replied slowly. “My father was a human though. Is that the problem?”
“There is no mistake,” Treluwyn replied in a voice like cold iron. It was nothing like the way Nahlia remembered her. “Human blood is irrelevant. You are a descendent of Palatine. That is why we won’t train together.”
Sweat prickled Nahlia’s palms despite the shiver running through her. She clenched her hands into fists and stepped forward. “It’s been over a thousand years since you died. How could you possibly know this?”
“All Ethermancers draw their power from Codices,” the Archaeon replied. “When you learn Ethermancy, you stand on the shoulders of those who came before you. You take a portion of our memories from the Ethereal, and those memories allow you to learn the skills we created. A Codex is the source of those memories. You are a Redeemer, but your power didn’t come from me. Everything you know has come from Palatine.”
Treluwyn turned toward Marwyn with a frown. “You didn’t know?”
Marwyn shook his head, looking grave. “The others suspected it. Thought they were wrong.”
Suspected it? But how? The Masters didn’t even know her. Today was the third time she’d seen Elveron, and she’d barely spoken to Vaulden at all, even back in Whitecliff.
Nahlia stepped back, feeling like she’d been punched in the stomach. Her heart rate doubled, and her knees shook like saplings in the wind. What if Treluwyn was right about her bloodline? Aegon. Were her parents even her real parents? She looked too much like her mother for that to be true. But ... was Aaron Cole really her father?
No. She refused to go down that road. No pureblooded Aeon had eyes as dark as hers. Besides, she knew her father as sure as she knew her own name. He wouldn’t have lied to her about this.
Still, something was wrong, and this was all too much to process. Chains tightened around her lungs, and it grew harder to breathe.
“Now.” Treluwyn looked back to Nahlia. “Leave this place, and don’t return.”
“Wait!” In one moment of clarity, Nahlia pushed aside her own problems and focused on her assignment. Palatine’s Codex. She had to destroy it, and this was her only chance to find out how. “Please, wait. I need—”
No sooner had the words passed her lips than darkness shrouded her vision. Her body spun and twisted until she was lying back on the dojo’s stone floor. When she opened her eyes again, she saw a pair of crescent moons in the night sky. Her clan’s sigil.
Just a nightmare. It’s over now.
She propped herself up and looked around. Marwyn was still sitting cross-legged in front of her while Elveron and Vaulden loomed above them both.
Nahlia avoided their eyes as she forced herself to her feet. Her vision blurred, and her knees continued to shake. Her blood felt like ice, but it wasn’t the cool rush of Moonfire. It was more like someone had siphoned the heat away from her body.
“So it’s true?” Elveron held up a hand as if to stop her.
Nahlia stepped around him, ready to pull a burst of power from her pendant. Only ... she couldn’t feel her pendant there. A fresh wave of panic ran through as she put a hand to her chest. Had she lost her powers again?
But no ... her pendant was gone, chain and all. And so was the pouch of Etherite on her belt. They must have taken them while she was unconscious.
“It’s true,” Marwyn replied.
Nahlia glanced down to see him clutching her pendant in his thin fingers. She didn’t see her belt pouch, but she suspected one of the others had hidden it beneath their robes.
Aegon, this was all a trap. And just like that, the nightmare returned in full force.
“She’s a Palatine then,” Vaulden said in her thick Ember Islander accent. “And this means her mother was as well. You were wrong about her, Marwyn.”
“I was wrong,” Marwyn said with a grave nod. “But Nahlia isn’t her mother. She didn’t know about her bloodline. Maybe Lyraina didn’t know either.”
Of course. That was the simplest answer—her mother had known this all along, but she’d lied to her.
But then, had Lyraina truly lied? She’d told Nahlia the truth that night, two years ago, in the Dragonshard palace.
’Alexel Trelidor shares a bloodline with us.’
At the time, Nahlia thought her mother had been deceived. She thought Trelidor was a false identity, and Lyraina had fallen for the lie along with everyone else. But her mother hadn’t been deceived. She’d been the master, not the apprentice. She’d trained Alexel, and she’d known his secrets from the beginning.
She’d trained him because she sought to prove that a Palatine could be a good and noble ruler. Why would she be so desperate to prove this? The answer was simple now. The White Council had suspected this secret years ago. That was the reason they’d cast her mother out. Not for her interest in Ethermancy, or even because she was a Redeemer. They’d suspected her of being a Palatine, and all they needed was proof.
“This girl is not innocent,” Elveron said to Marwyn. “Solidor may have murdered my brother and led the Templars to Whitecliff, but she was his accomplice. It was she who took Palatine’s Codex from the tomb. It was she who delivered it to Dragonshard.”
“She never paid for crimes,” Vaulden said. “Instead, she rose to power, above judgment. Such is Palatine’s way.”
Nahlia’s chest tightened further as she took a step back. Aegon. They acted like she wasn’t even here. She tried to make her way toward the door, but her legs felt like blocks of ice. A thousand needles pricked her hands, and her fingers went numb.
This wasn’t natural. This was Ethermancy. Elveron and Vaulden were both Sanctifiers, and they’d spent the last few minutes pulling away her body heat. They’d probably started while she was unconscious. Now, she could barely stand. Even her thoughts felt cloudy.
“This is too far,” Marwyn said.
“She will feel no pain,” Vaulden replied, “but we must do this. Her soul has been broken before. I can feel the fragments, held together by her soulbonds. If we can break it again, we can take her power permanently.”
Those last words shattered the ice around her thoughts. If her soul broke again, there was no Etherfall to heal her. She would be helpless. Helpless to complete her task, helpless to heal her friends when they were wounded. Without her soul, her bonds would break, leaving her as an empty shell.
Without her power, she could do nothing but watch her friends die. That was a pain she couldn’t heal or even flee from. She’d already tried.
Nahlia gritted her teeth and pushed back against the Sanctifiers’ assault. It was no use. They’d already dug their claws into her, and it was two against one. Perhaps she could have beaten either of them in a straight fight, but not both of them combined.
Think, Nahlia, what else can you do?
Without Etherite, her other attacks were off limits. They hadn’t bothered to light the torches in the dojo, so there was nothing else to draw upon.
She tried to call out to her friends, but that was no use either. Only her soulbond with Lyraina was strong enough, and her mother didn’t respond. Besides, they were all miles away in Raidenwood. She didn’t have that long.
Her resistance caught Elveron and Vaulden’s attention. Now, instead of focusing on Marwyn, they doubled their efforts against her.
Nahlia tried to resist but lucidity left her. She looked to Marwyn, begging him with her eyes. He looked away, facing the two Sanctifiers, but making no move to stop them.
Coward. He could talk about peace all he wanted, but those were empty words when it mattered most.
Her gaze fell to the pendant in his hands. Unfortunately, she couldn’t draw its power as long as he held it.
But no ... that wasn’t true. That was normally the case, but the rule didn’t apply to Ethersmiths who had bonded a weapon. Elias had taken his dagger back from Varion, and she was an Ethersmith too.
Darkness closed in around her for the second time that evening. Nahlia abandoned her resistance and focused on the pendant in Marwyn’s hands. It vanished, appearing in her soul as a source of warmth. She released the crystal into her own hand but held a fraction of the energy inside her.
Nahlia didn’t hesitate after that. She released two blades of Moonshard toward her assailants. The first attack sliced through several of Vaulden’s braids as she leapt to the side. The second left a bright red line across Elveron’s cheek.
Her instincts told her to stop, but hesitation could mean death. Nahlia released several attacks in rapid succession. This time, her opponents were ready, and the blades vanished before they reached them. Elveron and Marwyn backed up toward the door while Vaulden stepped in the opposite direction.
Nahlia fell into a defensive stance, pulling the last of her pendant’s power into her soul. Her position had improved, but they’d still trapped her in here. To make matters worse, they had her surrounded.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Nahlia gasped between breaths. “Please—I just want to leave peacefully.”
“You will not leave here,” Elveron’s voice echoed through the dojo. “Not with your power.”
Nahlia held the energy in her palms, ready to conjure more Moonshard blades at a moment’s notice. As long as she held that, they couldn’t hurt her again.
Elveron took a slow, deliberate step forward. “You claim Treluwyn gave you a vision. But now we know that vision was a lie. Treluwyn is not your ancestor.”
Nahlia gritted her teeth to stop from shivering. “It doesn’t mean that vision wasn’t true.”
“More likely,” Elveron said, “it was your real ancestor, Palatine, you saw. Marwyn claims you seek to destroy his Codex, but a Codex can not be destroyed. People have tried before.”
“People didn’t have Ethersmithing before,” she said.
“You aren’t the only one with a task,” Vaulden broke in. “Whitecliff’s previous Headmaster predicted all of this. He studied the texts of Aeonica, and he knew the way history repeats itself—the way fate influences our actions. He predicted that the next true Palatine would be a student from Whitecliff Academy. He claimed the only way to stop this person was to seal away Palatine’s Codex, and to erase all records of Ethermancy from the enclave.”
“Your restrictions didn’t matter,” Nahlia said. “Alexel Trelidor was never part of Whitecliff. You only made things worse.”
“Alexel Trelidor wasn’t the one he warned us of,” Elveron said. “It was you.”
“You’re insane,” Nahlia said. “Trelidor’s the one who caused the Etherfall. Not me.”
“The Archaeon Palatine did more than seize control of an Etherfall,” Vaulden said. “He tried to overthrow Aegon. Aside from the comets, there is only one way to pass between realms.”
“The Codices,” Nalhia realized. She didn’t know how, but that seemed to be the implication.
“You were the one to take it,” Elveron said, “and you were the one who brought Ethermancy to Whitecliff.”
“The others learned Ethermancy on their own,” Nahlia said. “They would have done it without me.”
“You’re wrong,” Elveron replied. “Ciena Raider spent her whole life training. But it was only that day in the Gorge—when she fought you—that her powers truly awakened. The same thing has happened with those who traveled you—Elias, Relyn, and Yimo.”
“This was another power of Palatine’s,” Vaulden said. “He and Rivian were leaders, and they could awaken the strength in others, creating perfect servants. They could break their wills and dominate them.”
Aegon, she couldn’t deny the reality of that. Every Aeon she knew eventually became an Ethermancer. Alexel empowered his own followers, and Nahlia’s mother had empowered her. The three of them were all the same.
“And now fate leads you back to your Codex,” Elveron said. “Ethersmithing gives you powers we haven’t seen since the Age of Archaons. You manipulate those around you. They would die for you, helping you achieve your goals.”
Nahlia opened her mouth to protest again, but what could she say to that? The Masters had already made up their minds. They only cared about their patterns and predictions. They didn’t see their mistakes before with Whitecliff. Why should they see them now?
Worst of all ... what if they were right about her? Compassion had always been hard for her, but ambition had always been so easy.
What if she really was manipulating her friends? She’d never had any friends back in Northshire. Not one. Everything had changed when she’d come to Whitecliff—the same time she discovered her Ethermancy.
The others were all nobility. Only Nahlia was the odd one out.
She knew she’d never deserved Elias, but he’d always seemed to care for her. He’d been patient with her when she rejected him. He’d forgiven her when she betrayed Whitecliff. He’d believed her about Treluwyn, and he never doubted she would return from Valaysia.
A part of her had always known he was too good to be true.
Just then, a blast of flame erupted from Vaulden’s palms. Nahlia spun around and raised a shield of Moonshard to defend herself. Elveron attacked from the opposite side, and she expanded the shield into a full dome.
She gritted her teeth as the attacks closed in, and her opponents stepped closer. Worst of all, her pendant was almost empty.
The shield broke a second later, and so did the flames. The stalemate was over, and the heat fled from her muscles. Her legs buckled beneath her as she doubled over, barely catching herself with her wrists.
Her arms gave out next, and her cheek hit the stone floor. Vaulden knelt down and pressed a hand to her chest, preparing to break her soul again.