Ciena's vision blurred as the battle raged around her. Templars clashed with the undead, and screams sounded from both sides. The gunshots left her ears ringing, and the coppery scent of blood filled her nostrils.
In the center of it all, Elias fought Trelidor on his own. They moved in streaks of silver and crimson, too fast for anyone but a Justicar to see.
Deep in the Serenity Trance, Elias reminded her of that night in Dragonshard. But he was far better now than she'd been two years ago. Bloodsong shifted faster than an ordinary man could blink. One minute, it was a sword, slashing and parrying. Then it became a dagger as the distance closed. Trelidor knocked Elias back, and the weapon split into a spear and shield. The distance closed once again, and Elias met him with a pair of swords. All of this happened over the span of a few heartbeats.
Ciena tried to focus on the fight rather than her lost hand. Varion's rings had healed the wound, but the phantom pains screamed at her, insisting something was wrong. She'd dealt with a similar sensation when she'd lost her right hand. That pain had dulled over the years, but she still felt each finger as if they'd never left her.
And now—in the most important battle of her life—she had no way to help her brother. Invisible chains bound her to the street, but no manner of strength would ever shatter them.
Ciena glanced up once again. Elias fought beautifully, but it wouldn't be enough. Maybe if she'd started with both her hands, they might have had a chance at victory. Even with one hand, they'd put Trelidor on the defensive, forcing him to fight with a desperate ferocity.
Now, every swing came like the next line in a song—inevitable. For all her brother's experience and skill, Trelidor was going to win. He fought as if he knew it in his bones. As if this were all a game, and nothing really mattered.
In that moment, the sky grew darker as the pale blue glow faded around them. Confused, Ciena glanced back at the palace.
Despite the battle, several cheers sounded from the Templars. They all looked to the south, thrusting their fists skyward.
The shield, Ciena realized. Cole actually did it.
Trelidor quickened his pace again, putting Elias on the defensive. Bloodsong became a single blade as he parried his opponent's blows.
Patterns had always been her brother's weakness. Vash had once criticized them both for that. Ciena could be unpredictable when she had to, but not Elias. As always, her brother was like Raidenwood itself—strong, but predictable.
Ciena saw the strike a split second before it happened. She'd already seen her brother die once, and she knew the feeling all too well.
Trelidor swung low, and Elias moved to parry, just as he'd done several other times over the course of their duel. But of course, their blades didn't meet. Trelidor's blade vanished when it should have clashed with Bloodsong. Then it reappeared just as quickly.
The blade cut through Elias's leg at the knee, severing muscle and bone in one smooth strike. Elias fell backward, still slashing with Bloodsong as he hit the ground.
Trelidor raised his blade for the killing blow, but a group of Templars rushed forward to defend him. A dozen riflemen fired a volley, forcing Trelidor to raise a shield. Others charged in from the sides, striking with nothing but their steel sabers.
Despite their efforts, Trelidor ripped them to pieces. He didn't even raise his Etherite sword. One wave of his hand, and they died to phantom blades of Moonshard.
Her brother lay back in the snow, unable to fight with his severed leg. Even so, the Templars threw themselves at Trelidor. They died without Ethermancy or legendary weapons. They died fighting for what they believed in.
They died to give her a chance.
Get up, Ciena told herself. If they can do it, then so can you.
Blinking back tears, she pressed her forearms into the snow and forced herself to stand.
She wasn't the girl she'd been two years ago in Dragonshard. Back then, she'd thought her sword hand had defined her, but she'd beaten Varion without that. She'd beaten him with her entire spine crushed beneath a brick wall.
No hands. Just Steelbreaker.
The last Templars fell, and Trelidor stepped forward to strike down her brother. Ciena clenched imaginary hands into fists as she took another step forward. She couldn't see her hands, but she still felt them there.
Ciena took another step, passing the spot where Steelbreaker lay in the snow. She drew in a breath, shattering the weapon and filling her soul with a familiar rush of power.
Another step, and she released the energy from her soul, forming two crystal constructs at the end of each forearm. Over the past few weeks, she'd read every anatomy textbook she could get her hands on. She'd spoken with physicians and memorized the details of actual skeletons. Now she drew on the wealth of knowledge she'd gathered, putting every second of it to use.
Trelidor swung his sword, and time slowed to a crawl. Ciena closed her eyes, letting the Serenity Trance light her path. She didn't think about her brother, or the surrounding battle, or the fate of the world if she failed. She might be a warrior, but she was also an artist.
Now it was time to craft her masterpiece.
The crystal constructs continued to take shape in her mind's eye. Twenty-seven bones each. One by one, they formed out of the crimson mist in front of her. First the wrist, then the fingers. Each one had to fit together perfectly, from their sizes to their placement. One mistake, and the whole thing would fall apart.
Ciena braced for the pain as she attached the constructs to the bones of her forearm. This was the part she'd dreaded the most, and the only part she'd never practiced. Still, it had to happen. It was the only way to make the constructs stable.
Ciena gritted her teeth as she released the last of Steelbreaker. The crystal bones pierced through skin and muscle before merging with her real bones. Explosions of pain raced up her arms, far worse than the loss of her hands. The skin and muscle re-healed themselves, using the last of the energy from Varion's rings.
Ciena didn't wait for them to finish. She kicked off from the street, flying forward to put herself between Trelidor and Elias.
Finally, she reached out and caught Trelidor's blade in her crystal fingers.
The look on her enemy's face was everything she could have hoped for. Ciena adjusted her grip, wrapping both of her red crystal hands around the blade, twisting it away. She couldn't feel it the same way she'd felt with her original hands. There weren't actual nerves in the crystal itself. Rather, she got the impression of grabbing her enemy's sword.
Trelidor's blade vanished, and he jumped back. She did the same, wary of another trap.
She snapped her head around to where Elias lay in the street. Her brother lifted Bloodsong and tossed it toward her. Ciena caught it by the blade in her left hand, then spun the weapon to catch the hilt in her right.
Aegon. It might not be her original sword hand, but she felt stronger than she'd felt in years.
Trelidor closed in, and Ciena smiled as their crystal blades clashed once again.