Lyraina Trelian climbed up the snow-covered path toward Redcliff Enclave. The guards shouted demands from the battlements above. Who was she? What was her name? What was her business here? Even as they trained their crossbows on her, two more men scrambled to close the wooden doors.
Lyraina ignored them all. Her daughter was in danger, and she didn't have time to indulge these fools. She'd felt the disturbance through their soulbond, growing steadily over the last hour. Something had happened with the Masters.
She felt Nahlia's fear, her struggle, and the pain of a betrayal. Lyraina quickened her pace, each breath escaping her mouth in a puff of white smoke. She could have formed a clearer connection through their bond, but that would take too long. Nahlia's need was dire, even more so than her previous battles.
"Fire!" the officer ordered from the battlements, and a shower of metal bolts fell from the sky.
Lyraina didn't break stride as she released a burst of Moonshard from her right hand, shattering the bolts and knocking her attackers off their feet. With her other hand, she conjured a dome between the closing doors, blowing them apart in a burst of wooden splinters.
She hurried into the enclave proper, forming a protective sphere around herself. More guards shouted to one another while the noncombatants took cover in their homes.
Lyraina closed her eyes, letting the bond guide her as she walked.
Where are you?
She'd never set foot in this place before today. And how could she? The Masters—her former classmates—thought she was dead.
The scene was dark but for the lamplight pouring out windows and doorways. The wind blew flurries of snow from the north, thrashing her red braids across her face. A pair of dragons roared to her right, still mourning the riders they'd lost in Vauldenport.
Lyraina kept her eyes closed, feeling the world with the structures and the elements stripped away. Her attention shifted to the west—a building that reminded her of Whitecliff’s training dojos. More than a dozen guards stood watch around its mouth, but none moved to attack her.
Truly, they must be guarding something important. Or someone.
She jogged in that direction, feeling her soul ache as the urgency grew.
As expected, the guards mustered their courage for a joint attack. If they'd been Ethermancers, they might have even posed a challenge. As it was, they lasted little more than a few heartbeats.
The corridors were dark beyond the doorway. Lanterns hung on the walls and ceiling, but someone had drained their light. She passed several empty dojos until she reached the doorway at the far end.
There, she emerged from the darkness into a training yard bathed in moonlight. The space had a circular stone floor and high pine walls with a dozen benches and weapon racks scattered around the edges.
Nahlia lay on the floor while Elveron and Vaulden loomed above her. Marwyn stood a short distance away, looking concerned but making no move to stop his peers.
Anger flared in Lyraina's chest as she approached.
"Enough of this!" She waved her hand and released a wave of crystal light. The blast connected with the three Masters. They lost their footing and slammed into the walls. Lyraina took another step forward and threw back her sapphire hood. "Step away from my daughter."
"It can’t be." Elveron was the first on his feet. He fell into Sunform, as if his martial prowess were enough to save him now.
Vaulden climbed to her feet more slowly, gasping for breath. "You were dead."
"I was." Lyraina knelt down and placed a hand on her daughter's cheek. Her face was as cold as the surrounding snow, but she was still alive. In one hand, Nahlia clutched her pendant in trembling fingers. The edges of her soul were strained as if someone had intentionally tried to overload it with energy.
Nearby, a black orb lay on the ground. Snowflakes gathered on its smooth surface like stars in the night sky.
And with that, the pieces fell into place at last.
"Unfortunately for you, death isn't as permanent as it seems." Lyraina looked up and met their eyes. "How dare you attack her like this?" She snapped her head to look at Marwyn who had been the last to stand. "How dare you betray her trust? I knew you three were blind, arrogant, and foolish, but I never saw the extent of it until today. I knew you were hypocrites, but I never thought you'd fallen so far."
As she spoke. Elveron gathered power in his own soul, preparing to attack. Vaulden did the same a second later.
Lyraina ignored them for now. Let them bide their time.
"Nahlia came to you in good faith, asking for help to end this war. But you saw only opportunity there. You speak of peace and restraint, then you overwhelm her. And for what? A bloodline she had no knowledge of? Would you have me cast judgment on you for the crimes of your ancestors?"
Elveron opened his mouth as if to retort.
"And do not speak to me of Whitecliff's fall," Lyraina snapped at him. "An enclave's safety rests with its Masters, not its students. And make no mistake, you deserve what the Templars did to you there. If you had spent this last decade training Ethermancers, you would have survived. If you had listened to me from the beginning, it wouldn't have been so easy for Trelidor to rise to power."
"Listened to you," Elveron echoed her words as they were poisonous. "I heard rumors you were alive—allied with him. I didn't believe them until now."
Lyraina looked down to where her daughter lay on the stone floor, eyes half-lidded. Why did she even bother explaining? She wanted them to understand. She wanted to best them in more ways than just raw power or skill. But they would never listen to her. They'd never cared about evidence before—why should they now? She only knew one other man who had fallen so far, and that was Alexel himself.
Lyraina took a deep breath and continued more softly this time, "The night of the Etherfall, two Palatines fought in the Battle of Dragonshard. One sought power at all costs, and he didn't hesitate to burn the world for it. Even his own followers.
“The other bided her time, knowing her inaction cost countless lives, but doing little to stop it. The fact was, I'd lost any chance of becoming an Ethermancer the night I died. More than anything, I wanted a second chance. I told myself Trelidor was beyond my control. I told myself I couldn't stop him, even if I wanted to."
She glanced up and met Marwyn's eyes. "I was like you. I saw the waste of life, but I turned away, and told myself I wasn't responsible."
Elveron and Vaulden watched her like birds of prey, ready to attack at any moment.
"But there was another Palatine in Dragonshard that night." Lyraina glanced down at her daughter. "She was ready to sacrifice herself to save others, and she did. She took control of the comet herself. In doing so, she held more power than any living Aeon."
Even to this day, Lyraina didn't understand how she'd done it. She suspected it was a combination of Redeemer, empath, and Ethersmith abilities, culminating together in one desperate moment of need.
Such power would have broken her daughter, just as it broke her old apprentice. Such power would have left her as an empty shell, devoid of all compassion.
"Aeonica claims Palatines are ruled by ambition— that none of us can turn away from such a prize." She looked back to Nahlia, speaking only to her now. "But you defied fate itself. You thought your soul broke when you died, but you were wrong. You broke it yourself, before Alexel's blade ever pierced your heart. It was all you could do to turn away from the temptation."
Lyraina rose to her feet again. Her heart quickened, and her rage drove her to act. "So yes, now you know the secret of our bloodline. Two-hundred years ago, a clan of Palatine's descendants left Palavar, turning their backs on war. Do you think they found allies here in Revera? No. This nation was as fearful then as you are now, striking at shadows where no threat existed. Our ancestors had no choice but to hide, and they founded Whitecliff Enclave."
She took several steps forward, gathering power within her soul. "Congratulations. You were right. Your theories were all correct. Do you think this is some earth-shattering revelation? This changes nothing. I've walked the path of a pacifist before, and I've held the world by its throat. For good or ill, the choices were always my own. Just as my daughter chose to turn away from power. Just as I judge you for your choices today."
Her laugh came from deep in her throat as the energy gathered in her palms. "Unlike bloodlines, choices come with real consequences. This is for the lives you've wasted, the lies you've told, the pain you've caused."
Moonshard formed in dozens of small daggers around her hands, striking forward like a volley of arrows. The blades tore through their skin, severing muscles, and cracking bones. Their bodies hit the ground, and she forced Moonfire into their veins, pulling away what passed for life.