“So you want to drug me?” The words could have been sharp, but they were only tired. She didn’t see the point in fighting any more. “You’ll knock me out because I’m too much of a hassle.”
“That isn’t what this is.” His mouth said one thing, his eyes said another.
“I know what they’re saying, Aldrik. I know this is easier for you.” Vhalla reached for the vial. His hands clasped over hers, gripping her fingers fiercely. Vhalla hid her wince. Victor’s magic and the crystals continued to increase their hold, and Aldrik’s sorcery was becoming a searing pain every time they touched.
“I want you well,” he insisted. “Please, Vhalla.”
“If you insist,” she reluctantly agreed.
When the host stopped for the night, a vial was forced into her hand. Food was shoved in her face, and she was watched carefully while she ate. Then she was told to drink.
Her friends had become her keepers. Her husband was now her overseer before being her lover. They were reduced to handlers, pushing her from one place to the next.
She felt stronger after getting rest each night. But darkness grew on the edge of her mind. It itched and beckoned to her. It told her that she was certainly still dreaming, the Deep Sleep just made her oblivious to it in the morning. She had a nagging sensation of forgetting something important, but she also bore the burden of that forgotten something.
Her improved strength proved to be more than useful at the next crystal barrier they met. Set up where the Great Southern Road forked with the path to the East, Vhalla barely exhausted a thought to dismantle the crystals that were attempting to inundate bolts of pure magic upon them. But once again, she couldn’t recall the ensuing battle with Victor’s forces. All she knew was that she had to swallow that sickening liquid the second the sun hung low in the sky.
Victor had guessed her game, and he began to haunt her during the daylight since he could no longer reach her in dreams. Unlike his prior efforts with direct attacks on her mindset, he now inflicted chatter—bored chatter—upon her. As if she was no longer even fun to toy with.
You are getting closer to me, dear Vhalla, Victor hummed across her consciousness.
“Don’t call me that,” she mumbled under her breath, swaying with Lightning’s slow steps.
I can feel you, he continued. Can you feel me?
Each day, his assault became more relentless than the last. As the mountains rose higher around them, Vhalla’s head slowly began to clear. She was certain it was the last stages of exhaustion and mental psychosis setting in, her body and mind finally throwing in the towel.
Does it not feel better, being closer to me? Closer to that other part of you you’ve been missing?
Come to me.
I have use of you. I had to kill you before—but now, now you are more. I can use you.
Each time she tried to fight against him, it only resulted in another mental assault. So Vhalla learned to keep quiet. She only had to endure a few days more. A few days that would feel like years.
Deep Seep was a finite resource, and they finally ran out. Elecia didn’t have the means to make more, and they were so close to the capital that it seemed unnecessary to spend precious time trying scrape together the ingredients. Without it, Vhalla was terrified to close her eyes. So she lay awake, fighting sleep, fighting thoughts of anything.
Vhalla, Victor whispered across her mind. Aldrik had long since fallen asleep, his back to her. Do you want it to end?
“It will end,” she breathed. “With your death.”
Still so confident? Victor’s amusement reverberated across the edge of her mind. Fine, then come to me.
“I cannot kill you.”
“You did not; I know how Bonds work.” Vhalla was not playing his game.
I will destroy the Bond.
Vhalla brought her hand to her mouth to clamp with a sob. Those words were sweeter than any she’d ever heard. It was a lie; she knew it was. But she wanted so desperately for it to be true.
“Why?” Her voice was barely audible to her own ears.
So I can kill you, he snarled.
That much she did believe.
Come to me, Vhalla. Set aside your army, and I will set aside mine.
She sat up, looking at Aldrik. His brow was furrowed, and his sleep did not look particularly restful. They had been married for little more than two months, and only one day of it had been happy. She wondered if he regretted taking her hand.
Come to me, Vhalla, the voice called.
“Just you and me?” She began to clip on her armor, painfully slow as to not wake her sleeping husband and Emperor.
Just us. Let us finish what was interrupted in the caves. Victor’s voice held a promising tone.
Vhalla looked back to Aldrik. She ached in the spot where her heart used to be. But that woman was gone. She had been worn down and drugged away.
“One thing,” Vhalla breathed. “If I come to you, you will kill me.” She was hopeless before the monster she saw sitting on the throne in his memories. Vhalla knew it to be true.
That has been my plan from the beginning, Victor said simply, his words twisting a number of ways.
“If I come to you now, like this, spare Aldrik,” Vhalla pleaded weakly.
Why would I spare the man who threatens my throne? Victor sounded amused.
“Because he will be of no threat once you break him with the horrible way in which you will kill me.” Vhalla thought back to the Commons’ screams. She would just be another voice pleading for an end.