Earth's End Page 2

“How is Aldrik?” Vhalla asked the one thing they could easily discuss.

“No.” Elecia shook her head. “I will ask the questions.” “Excuse me?”

The other woman had succeeded in catching Vhalla mentally off-balance and seized the moment. “How did you and my cousin become Bound?”

Out of all the questions Vhalla would have guessed Elecia would ask, that one she wasn’t expecting. Vhalla choked on her words, blindsided. “H-how?”

“I would have expected you not to tell me,” Elecia sneered. “But him?” The woman tugged on her dark corkscrew curls, overcome by doubt. She recovered quickly, turning the emotion into rage. “What did you do to him? What did you threaten him with to make him keep silent?”

“How dare you!” Vhalla wanted to claw the other woman’s accusatory eyes out. She wanted to tear her limb from limb. “If you think I would ever do anything to hurt him ...” She could barely form a sentence she was so angry.

“Both of you, stop.” Fritz had never sounded so commanding, and both women startled at the sudden interjection. “You’re not each other’s enemy, you fight the same fight.”

Vhalla scowled at Elecia, and the other woman mirrored the expression.

“Elecia, you know Vhal wouldn’t do anything to harm Aldrik.” Fritz turned to Vhalla. “And Vhal, you must know how worried Elecia has been, for the prince and for you.”

Elecia pointedly glared at a corner of the tent, clearly frustrated she’d been outed by Fritz.

“How did you know?” Vhalla swallowed her prior frustration. “I wouldn’t have, if I wasn’t healing you both. Most clerics, sorcerer or otherwise, wouldn’t have.” Elecia didn’t miss an opportunity to brag. “But I noticed that as you improved, he did as well. His magic was also different when I inspected him closely with magic sight. I’d seen it at the Crossroads when I was healing him, but I thought it was the effects of the poison; his strength masked it when he was well. So, I wasn’t sure until Fritz confirmed it for me.”

Vhalla glared at Fritz, and the Southern man suddenly became very obsessed with the dirt under his nails.

“How did it happen?” Elecia took a deep breath. “I know it wasn’t from the Pass. This is a deeper connection, an older, more stable one.”

Vhalla sighed, rubbing her eyes with her palm. She wanted to see Aldrik. But if that couldn’t happen, Elecia was her best chance at learning the truth about his condition. If finding out that truth meant appeasing the frustrating noble, then Vhalla would do it. “I was the one who formed the Bond ...”

The story wasn’t new for Fritz. Vhalla had confided in him and her now-dead friend, Larel, months ago. But there were details she’d never shared with him, and he listened with interest. Elecia regarded Vhalla skeptically, as if only half believing the tale of the library apprentice who created magic Vessels that formed a connection—a Bond—with the crown prince and saved his life in the process.

Once she began, Vhalla found she couldn’t stop. The weeks and months poured from her and she told Elecia and Fritz everything. The Bond, the Night of Fire and Wind, how she and Aldrik had widened the Bond with the Joining; how his magic could no longer harm her. Vhalla bore it all before them. They were secrets she’d held so closely and now would give them all up just to confirm he was alive, just to regain the trust of the one woman who held that information.

Elecia raised her thumb to her mouth, biting her nail in thought after Vhalla finished. “Well, that explains a lot,” she mumbled.

“Now tell me.” Vhalla repeated gently, “How is Aldrik?” “Not good.” Elecia shook her head.

Vhalla noticed the other woman’s tired hunch and braced herself.

“He shouldn’t be alive.” Elecia sighed heavily. “But now I understand why he is. As I said, the Bond you share is a deep connection between you both. I’ve never seen anything like it, though, I’ve not had much experience with Bonds ... Either way, I have little doubt that you are keeping him alive.”

“What?” Relief gave way to a new fear.

“Being the one who created the Bond, your magic is serving as an anchor. I told you, as you improved so did he. As you grew stronger, you had more to give—”

“So he’ll be all right?” Vhalla interrupted, too eager to let Elecia finish.

“I didn’t say that.” The other woman’s words were a knife to Vhalla’s chest.

“But, I-I’m better,” Vhalla sputtered uselessly.

“No, you’re far from it.” Elecia spared no truths. “You’re barely healed, and sustaining him put you out an extra day—at least—compared to what your body truly demanded to mend. One person can’t sustain two: you’re not strong enough.”

“He will be fine.” Vhalla wouldn’t believe anything else.

“You haven’t seen him!” Elecia spat. “I’m doing all I can, but our supplies are diminishing. He’s weak and fading—at best, I’m maintaining his stasis. But he doesn’t wake. He lost so much blood and the wound to his head was substantial.” The other woman’s clerical demeanor was beginning to crack under the strain of truth. “I don’t know if when he wakes he will even still be Aldrik.”

Silence settled upon the three of them as they all processed Elecia’s words. Vhalla gripped her shirt over her stomach. The world was cruel, too cruel.

“No,” Vhalla whispered. She refused to believe the Gods would allow him to live only to have her watch him die or have him return a different man. “What is the next course of action?” It didn’t take a military expert to know that lying prone in the heart of enemy territory was not a good idea.

“I don’t know yet. The Emperor was still discussing it with the majors last I heard. He’s not telling me anything.” There was genuine offense in Elecia’s tone.

Vhalla’s mind began to move faster than it had in a long time. She felt as though she was once more processing the depths of knowledge housed by the Imperial Library. Her thoughts whirred, focusing on a single instinct; to save the man she loved.

“What do you need to save him?”

“More medicine, clean bandages, real nourishment—even if I’m forcing it down his throat—a place for him to rest where we aren’t constantly worrying about being attacked.” Elecia didn’t say anything Vhalla hadn’t already come to assume.

“The Northern capital, Soricium.” Vhalla knew the army had settled in for siege months ago. It was one of the first things the Emperor had announced when he returned to the Imperial Capital, before Vhalla was even known as the Windwalker.

Elecia nodded. “But that’s the problem, we can’t move him as he is. He needs to be more stable for that. And when we do move him, we don’t have enough men to fight off attacks as we’ll be moving slowly.”

“Then we need to get better medicine here to heal him; medicine and more soldiers, for protection when he’s moved,” Vhalla thought aloud.

“What are you thinking?” Fritz finally noticed the expression on Vhalla’s face.

“Someone has to go deliver the message.” Vhalla didn’t know why she even bothered saying “someone”. “How long does he have?”

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