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Ciena raced over the city skyline, struggling to catch up to Rhia. Smoke and ash stung her eyes as she navigated steep rooftops, vaulted narrow alleys, and tore through abandoned buildings.

One second, Rhia was running along a stone wall, defying gravity with her speed. The next, she dove through an open window, barely two feet wide.

Bloody hell. Ciena wasn't cut out for this. She was a warrior, not some assassin princess. She could probably beat Rhia in a straight fight, but she had to catch her first.

Fortunately, those Sile'zhar in the dungeon all carried Etherite, and she'd used that energy to refill her blade. If a window was too small, she made a bigger one.

Up ahead, Rhia cleared a two-story building in two perfect jumps, using nothing but a wooden sign as her stepping stone. Predictably, the sign collapsed in her wake.

Ciena gritted her teeth and summoned her weapon as a chain-whip. She flared her Ironblood and leapt up the front of the building, barely reaching the second-story window. Steelbreaker lashed out to grab the stone rooftop, flexing its chains and pulling her along. By the time she reached the top, Rhia had already crossed two more alleys.

Ciena staggered for breath, but she could barely feel her legs as she ran. Killing princes was exhausting work. And while Varion's rings had healed her wounds, it wouldn't help tired muscles.

Meanwhile, Rhia looked as fresh as a bloody sunrise.

All around them, the city burned. To the north, Freebridge had already collapsed, sending hundreds of people to the bottom of the canyon.

Her city, her home—the place they'd worked so hard to save. Trelidor had taken it, just like he took everything else.

But still, Ciena ran, scaling one rooftop after another.

Trelidor couldn't get his hands on that Codex. If he learned Ethersmithing, he'd be truly invincible.

A gust of wind blew past her face as an airship sailed overhead. It slowed to a crawl, then flew downward until its top became level with Highbridge. Rhia took a sharp left to intercept it.

Ciena clenched her fists and ran faster. Cobblestones slapped beneath her boots, and only her Justicar abilities kept her upright. Her surroundings became a blur of fire and ash, but she only had eyes for her target.

Rhia stepped up to the stone parapet and leapt off the bridge, falling several feet and landing on top of the ship. From there, she vanished into an open hatch along the back of the vessel.

They climbed toward the sky a second later, but this wasn't over. She could still—

The ship pivoted in midair, facing Ciena head-on. She dove forward and hit the ground as a pair of wagon-long harpoons tore past her head. They struck a nearby building, erupting in a burst of dust and stone.

When Ciena finally found her footing again, the airship had gained altitude—too high to jump.

"Ciena!" a man shouted her name.

Disoriented, she spun around, looking for the source of the voice. Then the smoke parted in front of her and Thane Solidor rushed down the street, flanked by two Onyx Guards. He looked as bad as she felt—shards of metal stuck out from his dragonscale armor, and lines of red covered his face.

"Let's go!" he said as he closed the distance.

Ciena drew a deep breath and prepared herself. They'd already practiced this move several times in the Ethereal. It usually ended with one of them dead, but now wasn't the time for caution.

Thane stepped within her reach, and she pulled Steelbreaker into her soul, grabbing his wrist. Thane shot an explosion into the ground, and they flew several dozen feet into the air.

Still, that was only halfway to the airship.

The pair spun their bodies through the air until Ciena hung between Thane and their target. They reached the apex of the jump and Thane let go of her wrist, cupping her boots in his hands.

Ciena flared her Ironblood, strengthening her legs and kicking off. At the same time, Thane released a second explosion between them.

She flew higher, but it still wasn't enough.

Ciena formed Steelbreaker into a crystal chain whip. The weapon leapt skyward like a snake, plunging its hooked end into the ship's hull.

The ship climbed higher, pulling the chain taut. Ciena gritted her teeth, feeling gusts of night air soar past her cheeks, tugging her braids like banners behind her.

Bloody hell. This would be so much easier with two hands. Ladders were hard enough these days, and those were made for climbing.

Once again, she mentally flexed the chains of her whip, closing the space between her and the ship.

A dome of Moonshard appeared below her dangling boots—probably hoping to knock her off.

Perfect timing.

Ciena let go of her whip and kicked off from the crystal barrier, vaulting herself on top of the ship.

The dome vanished, and the ship picked up speed.

Damnit. Ciena tumbled back on the dragonbone hull. With nothing else to grab onto, she formed Steelbreaker into a claw and drove it into the hard material.

The ship accelerated faster and dove toward the ground. Wind currents caught her feet, and her knuckles turned white around the claw's handle. The rest of her went numb. Steelbreaker's energy faded. Her Ironblood left her muscles, and the Serenity Trance felt as distant as her own body.

Aegon. The propellers were only a dozen feet away. One slash from her blade and she'd slice them up like paper. The ship would fall, and she could get her Codex back.

Ciena stretched out her right forearm and tried to form a second claw. The shape came as easily as the first, but she couldn't attach it to her arm. Even if she pierced her own flesh, nothing would hold it in place at this speed.

The airship chose that moment to spin on its side. Ciena's claw broke free as she fell, and the world spun around her in a blur of darkness.

Her back struck the earth a second later, shattering her spine for the second time that night. Her Moonfire rings chased away the pain as quickly as it came, and flames like ice surged through her veins.

Ciena reached out and grasped a handful of cool wet grass. Her chest rose and fell with rapid breaths as she blinked up at the smoke-filled sky.

It was over. Rhia had escaped. She had the Codex. And in the distance, Raidenwood burned.

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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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