Fine. Once his army is dead, his friends and family tortured before his eyes, and his home taken, I will put him on a little boat and let him row to the Crescent Continent and live there, Victor offered.
“So long as he lives.” Vhalla reached out a hand, her fingertips hovering just over Aldrik’s cheek. She didn’t dare touch him.
Vhalla crawled out of the tent and started alone down the Great Southern Road. She took nothing but herself, Lightning, and her armor. All she had left behind was a few wet spots on the Emperor’s pillow where the last of the woman he married had broken at the hands of a psychopath.
Rain. Of course it would rain—it was the mountains in the summer. The fine mist that coated her cheeks stuck her hair to her forehead barely thirty minutes into her ride. Vhalla shivered in the saddle, gripping the wet leather of the horse’s reins.
“I’m sorry, Lightning.” She patted the horse’s side, barely a dark shadow in the overcast moonlight. “I can’t say I know what they’ll do to you when I get there. But no matter how horrible it is, I won’t be long after you.”
Vhalla focused grimly on the road ahead. She put Aldrik behind her. He will be safe there, she knowingly lied to herself. The more distance she could put between her and him, the better he would be. Her emotions had become too wild and barely controllable in Victor’s wake.
The trees served as silent sentinels to her lone march. She could barely remember what they had looked like the last time she had so peacefully travelled this road. It had been that long. She’d travelled it as a soldier on the run, and now this. It had been just two years since she’d met the prince. Two years that encompassed more events in her life than the seventeen before it. Vhalla was fast approaching twenty, but she doubted she’d live through that birthday.
Two years ago, her dreams had only been of sorcery and roses—of a garden that she doubted she’d ever see again. But there had been a madman in their midst. Someone who had known who she was and, one way or another, Vhalla’s relatively peaceful life would’ve ended.
A twig snapped behind her. Vhalla’s head shot up, and she turned, heart racing, just in time to see another horse dart from the trees in her direction.
She was faster, and Lightning surged into a full sprint when spurred by her heels and a snap of the reins. The other rider cut onto the road, giving quick pursuit. The hooves were like thunder in the quiet forest, and Vhalla tried to make out the rider through the misty rain and darkness.
“Vhalla!” Jax called. “Tonight is an awful night for a ride!”
She clenched her jaw. He, out of all people, would be the only one able to make jokes at a time like this. “Go back! Don’t try to stop me!”
He determinedly closed the gap between them, and Vhalla could see he’d left his tent in haste. His long dark hair was heavy with water, and it flapped in chunks behind him. He wore nothing but chainmail, without even a shirt under, from the looks of it. Vhalla couldn’t imagine the metal chill or pinching links as he bounded down the road for her.
“I want to ride with you! Isn’t that my job?” He grinned madly.
Vhalla cursed under her breath. Why couldn’t she have broken like him? She could’ve pushed her madness into being entirely different and detached from the world.
“Go back!” she shouted.
“Don’t do this. You don’t want to do this!”
He was pleading, she realized. He’d seen the growing insanity in her over the days, insanity that was now written as panic on her face. “Go, Jax!” Her cry had a whine to it. She didn’t want him to force her hand. She didn’t want to fight her friend.
“You know I can’t—I won’t do that!” he swore.
Vhalla’s hand cut through the air. She telegraphed her move clearly, making the sweep of her arm as obvious as possible. She had never attacked one of her friends in malice or frustration, and she knew it would break her if she did so now.
Jax wasn’t afraid to do what needed to be done. Fire crackled under Lightning’s hooves. Short bursts, barely enough to burn the wet steed but more than enough to startle. The horse reared, trying to stomp out the flames that had already vanished. Vhalla was thrown off with a large crash of armor.
The hooves of Jax’s horse stilled, and his boots clicked across the stone of the road. Vhalla rolled, pushing herself off the ground, fighting for her feet. She clenched both her fists, showing her Channel was open.
“Vhalla.” Jax held out a hand. “Stop, this isn’t you.”
“You don’t know me!” she screamed.
“I do!” he shouted back, his voice full and deep. “I’ve watched over you for more than a year. Don’t act like I haven’t been there to bear witness to most of the misfortune that has befallen you. Don’t act like I can’t sympathize with half of it!”
“Stay away.” Vhalla took a step back, her breaths ragged. Her heart raced like a cornered animal, and a dangerous beat was starting against her eardrums.
“Vhalla, what do you think you can achieve alone? You have a whole army!” He threw his hands up in the air. “You went from nothing to an army. Hold on a little longer. Two days more, and we will all be there together. I will kill him for you if I must.”