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A note from David Musk

A few readers have mentioned that the "one chapter per week" format wasn't working at this point in the story, and that things can get depressing when we go for several weeks with constant struggles. That makes sense because I wrote this to be read as a traditional novel where you could read several chapters in one sitting.

So I've decided to release couple more chapters this week. This might result in a longer wait later on, but we only have 6-7 chapters left until the end of the series, so we should be okay!

"Yimo!" Cole shouted over the battle. "You're with me!"

To his left, an undead Templar swung its blade in a lazy arc. Cole raised his own saber to parry, then drove the tip through the creature's eye.

Three more undead closed in from his right, faster than he could pull the blade free. Cole lined up his pistol and blasted the first one between the eyes. His guards killed the next two with shots of their own. Blood sprayed his face as they fell forward.

Yimo rushed to Cole's side a second later, releasing blades of Moonshard from the fragments of his metal staff. The lad was still a novice as far as Redeemers went, but that weapon gave him abilities that might have taken years to master otherwise.

They pushed through together, even as the others struggled and died around him. He'd learned a long time ago that he couldn't save everyone.

Cole had one goal now: disconnect the power source and lower the shield for Nahlia. The sooner he succeeded, the sooner he could end this fight.

His sappers made swift work of the bank's outer doors, and they proceeded through with caution. The Raider twins had Trelidor distracted for now, but there might still be more Ethermancers inside.

Yimo led them through long corridors, taking down the guards with more blasts from his staff. But where was the power source? His spies had narrowed it down to this structure, but no one had entered the bank until now.

Cole took cover behind a stone pillar, even as the bullets and Ethermancy techniques soared around him. He closed his eyes, reaching out with his new mental senses. Even as a human, he'd been able to sense Etherite. Despite the crystals' light physical weight, it had a force like gravity that drew things in.

Now that Cole was an Aeon, that pull was stronger than ever. It was coming from ... the upper levels?

Yimo released another blast spearing a masked Sile'zhar through the chest. Cole grabbed the lad's shoulder to get his attention, pointing to a nearby stairwell.

"Up the stairs," he shouted. "Go!"

Yimo didn't object as he raised a crystal shield that extended from wall-to-wall. Blasts of fire broke against it in flashes of white light.

Cole took the chance to head up the stairs, and the rest of his soldiers followed. The enemy guards became more sparse as they approached the bank's upper levels. When they finally reached the top floor, it was completely deserted.

Still, the pull grew stronger with every step they took. Yimo must have felt it too because he led the way with no help from Cole.

Their route took them through several more rooms until they reached a vault in the center of the floor. Cole's blood turned to ice when he saw the stone door blocking their path.

"We can still blow that open," one of the Templars said from behind him. Cole thought his name was Mason—probably named after the Templars' founder.

"No." Cole stepped forward and pressed a hand to the door. There were no handles or visible hinges. Nothing but a single keyhole in the door's center. What's more, he felt pulses of energy inside the door itself.

"This is twice-tough stone," he told the soldiers. "Like the doors around Raiden's tomb. We won't get through without the key." His eyes fell to the single hole. "And I'd bet my life Trelidor has that key hidden behind the shield."

"What about the floor below this one?" Mason suggested. "There must be wires connecting it to the shield."

"Might as well check," he said over his shoulder. "Take a few soldiers with you."

The lad jogged off at once. But even as his footsteps faded down the hall, Cole knew what he would find. Trelidor hadn't built this shield, or the systems that supported it. Like so many things in Sunfall, these were relics from the days of Clan Reverius.

The old emperors wouldn't have put the vault here without a way to protect the wires. They would have built twice-tough stone pillars to support the vault, then ran the wires through those pillars.

We never even had a chance. They could have dropped a bomb on this building, and it still wouldn't have been enough.

"I can try picking the lock," Yimo suggested from the doorway behind him.

"I doubt that," Cole said. Lockpicking had been a hobby he shared with Lyraina. As children, they'd gotten through many locked doors in the palace, entering many places they shouldn't have.

In all that time, one lesson stood out above the others: the more important the door, the stronger the lock.

No ordinary tools would break this.

"I think I'll try anyway," Yimo said as he stepped forward, looking surprisingly confident under the circumstances.

Cole stepped aside and let the lad try. it wasn't like the door could get any more locked than it already was.

"Did I ever tell you the story of how I met your wife?" Yimo asked as he reached the keyhole.

Cole grimaced. "What are you talking about?"

"I had just escaped from prison in Valaysia," he said. "Nahlia and Relyn got me out, but no one had a key for my manacles. But when I boarded the airship, guess who picked the lock with her bare hands?"

Cole pivoted around to face the Crelan. He knew Lyraina could pick locks, but he'd never heard of her doing it without tools. "How?"

"Moonshard," Yimo said with an air of mysticism to his voice. "I told myself, 'Yimo, you've got to learn how to do that. Even if it's the only technique you ever learn.'"

He pressed his palm to the keyhole, seeming to take several deep breaths. "Nahlia started teaching me Redeemer techniques a few months ago. Honestly, I haven't gotten far. Without this staff, I wouldn't be half the terror I am today. Although..."

Yimo stuck out his tongue in concentration. There was a flash of pale blue light from within the keyhole.

Then the stone split into two pieces, each one pivoting inward. The remaining Templars let out cheers of excitement behind him.

Cole felt his own lips curl up in a broad smile. "The others don't give you nearly enough credit."

"See?" Yimo threw up his hands. "That's what I've been saying this whole time!"

A steel pillar filled the vault, extending from the floor to the ceiling. Etherite shone from the seams, as bright as the sun peeking through cracks in a door.

A series of shrieks echoed from somewhere down the hallway. Damnit. The undead were inside—probably heading this way.

"Let's get this apart," Cole told his sappers. "Move!"

They set to it, prying off the sheets of metal around the bottom.

Cole glanced out the window behind him to see the palace's shield glowing above the skyline.

Not for long.

The shrieks grew louder, and footsteps thundered down the corridor. Yimo positioned himself near the doorway, readying his staff to defend them.

"Got it!" one of the sappers called out.

"Good work." Cole knelt down at the base of the pillar to see five metal wires extending into the floor below. He pulled out his belt knife, severing the wires one at a time.

Once he'd cut the final wire, he glanced up at the skyline.

The shield still shone as brightly as before.

Cole slammed his fists into the pillar, forcing all his frustration into the blow.

The undead reached the vault, and he heard the sounds of gunshots as Yimo and the others engaged them.

Cole continued to lean against the pillar, breathing hard.

He'd been so focused on his own mission, he hadn't dared to worry about his spies in the palace.

What if they'd encountered resistance as he had, and they didn't have an Ethermancer like Yimo to help them?

What if they'd met an unbreakable door like this one, but they'd lacked the skill to open it?

Now, for all he knew, Nahlia and Thane were standing outside the palace now, waiting for the shield to vanish.

Thane had talked about other ways to oppose the shield, such as finding a weakness in the sigils. However, those were all vague ideas at best. Even if they had potential, they would need time. Nahlia and Thane might not have time, especially if they were fighting for their lives.

How could he help them, right now, at this moment?

You will do as you've always done. You will shatter walls and barriers.

Cole leaned down and placed his finger on the wire. Then, using his mental senses, he followed the trail of its power, all the way to the palace.

 


 

The shield hadn't budged by the time Lyraina reached the palace's northern gate.

When she was a child, this construct had been nothing but a dream. The realm had turned against her bloodline in those days—fearing what they might become. But Emperor Reverius had been eager to get the shield working, and he'd summoned her parents to the palace in secret. Here, they'd worked on the sigils, preparing for the day when more Etherite fell from the sky.

Now, her husband and daughter worked to disconnect the power sources. Alexel himself had met the Templars in the northern district, leaving the Codicies unguarded inside.

Now ... how to get in?

She couldn't oppose the sigils. Trying to push her will against this shield would be like staring directly into the sun, praying that it looked away first.

She knelt down against the cobblestones, using her gloved hand to brush back the blanket of snow. Wires ran deep below the streets. And even if she severed those wires, there were redundancies everywhere—a hundred rivers converging on a single ocean.

Those rivers could only be broken at their sources. The first source was the palace vault. The second was the bank in the northern district.

Still, Lyraina reached out with her mental senses, feeling the lines of power that ran through the city, flowing like the blood of some massive creature.

Except ... no power flowed from the north. Had the Templars succeeded there?

She closed her eyes, focusing deeper on the web of power. She felt something. Not raw energy, but a presence. Someone she hadn't felt since after the Battle of Dragonshard.

'Aaron?'

'Lyraina?' a whisper of his voice echoed inside her head.

Despite everything, her lips curled up into a smile. If her husband could do this, he'd done what no Reveran had done for over a thousand years.

But then, Aaron Cole had never been ordinary. She'd known that from the day they'd met.

Their thoughts wove together like two partners in a dance, following the wires' path past the shield, to the source of its power. A vault lay in the heart of the palace—a room she'd seen as a child.

Lyraina closed her eyes, visualizing the room in her mind's eye. A woman lay dead on the floor. Relyn's sister, Rhia Vassaj. She'd betrayed her master to break the shield, but she'd failed.

And where Lyraina had expected to see five wires connected to the pillar, she only found one.

No ... Rhia hadn't failed at all. She'd given them a chance. Five wires would have been too much to stop. One might as well stop water from flowing through a net.

But one wire? That might be possible.

Every battle of Ethermancers came down to a series of focal points—single moments that could shift entire wars. This was one of those moments, and that wire was a chance to turn the tide

She and Aaron focused the pillar's power on that single spot. Lyraina wasn't a Sanctifier, and such feats would normally have been beyond her. But her husband had become something different. It was as if he'd been reforged for this very moment.

He understood her intentions, and she his. It was as if they'd never been apart.

Their dance continued as Lyraina pulled more power from the crystal pillar. At the same time, Aaron blocked the flow of energy. Now, instead of following the path of least resistance, heat gathered in the wire itself.

Lyraina left her body behind, the same way she did when she entered the Ethereal. She poured every ounce of her mind and soul into the effort, and she knew Aaron did the same.

Finally, the focal point shattered, and the battle shifted.

Lyraina opened her eyes to see the shield flicker and fade. The once-unbreakable wall of crystal light became the dark silhouette of the palace.

She took several breaths to center herself in her own body once again. Then, blinking back the dizziness and waves of nausea, she climbed to her feet and strode forward.

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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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