“Do you think Victor scares me?” Jax scoffed.
“He should!” She hated she was defending Victor’s skill, but she wasn’t about to have someone make light of the man who had succeeded in scrambling her brain for weeks.
“I will kill him even if it means my life. I vowed I would see you through this alive!”
As if she could have forgotten. They were all tied together so closely now. Knots in their lines of fate binding an Emperor, a library apprentice, a commoner Waterrunner, a noble Ci’Dan, a fallen lord, and a Northern princess. Her hand cut through the air, trying to push him away. Jax wasn’t expecting the gale, and he was pushed off his feet, tumbling down the road.
“You can’t kill him without killing me!” she shouted.
“What?” Jax struggled back to his feet, determined.
“If he dies, I die. If I die, he dies.” Vhalla took a step back. Lightning had finally calmed down just a little further up the road. “Don’t you get it? I-I’m trying to do you all a kindness! Aldrik won’t make that decision, and he won’t let me make it myself once he knows. If I go now, I can absolve you all of having to make that choice!”
“That’s what this is?” Jax matched her retreat with advances. “A funeral march? You’re going off to die like some wounded animal because you don’t want to deal with finding an alternative?”
“I—” the words coated the inside of her mouth and tasted like bile. Was that all this was—a coward’s suicide?
“Vhalla, come back, please,” Jax dropped his voice, and it suddenly became gentle. “We can figure this out still. The sun isn’t up yet. We’ll call this a bad dream.”
“My whole existence has become one bad dream!” She sent wind at him once more.
Jax was ready this time, and a burst of flame pushed against her wind. Vhalla was startled and was forced to blink water from her eyes at the sudden heat. He tackled her, head on, running through the flame. Chainmail clanged loudly on armor, and they rolled on the road. Vhalla struggled against him, throwing a punch.
The heartbeat was threatening to take over, and Vhalla didn’t know how to regain control. She didn’t want to kill Jax, and she knew the moment she gave Victor a hint of control, he would force her hand.
“Stop, Vhalla!” He was like a sea monster, long arms came out of nowhere every time she thought she’d wiggled free, pulling her down again and again.
“Let me go!”
“I won’t!” Something new took over him—hurt. “What about Aldrik? Tell me! What will you have him do when he wakes and his bed is empty? What would you have me tell him? His love, the only woman—the only person—I have ever seen him truly devote himself to has gone to end her own life?”
“My life will put an end to this nightmare!” she screamed, even though his face was inches from hers.
“I don’t believe you have to die for him to.” He shook his head violently. “Did he tell you that? Or did you invent it on your own? Either way, it’s horse shit.”
Vhalla finally stopped fighting. He eased himself off of her and let her gain a seated position. He still held her by the wrists, ready to restrain her once more.
“This isn’t just about Aldrik,” raw emotion cluttered his frantic words. “What about the rest of us? What about Fritz? Elecia cares for you too now; you can see that, right? Oh, Mother, I know that woman has a crooked way of showing it. But she does, I promise you.” Jax leaned forward, struggling to see her face. “We all believe in you two. We are all fighting for you. Do you know why?”
She shook her head. She didn’t have the faintest idea.
“Because you two represent something, something more than you do individually. You are the impossible dreamers. The two who took on fate to be together. No one believed you could be anything. More than once, you both strove for more, for dreams that you should’ve never dreamed.
“So when you say you fight for peace, people believe it. Because you have cheated death and fate. Compared to that, finding peace will surely be easy.”
Vhalla bit her lip. Her shoulders quivered, but she struggled to keep her tears in. Even if he was lying, it was a nice lie to believe.
“What about you?” she whispered.
“Pardon?” His grip went slack in surprise, but Vhalla didn’t take the chance to run.
“What about you, Jax? You mention Fritz, and Elecia, and Aldrik . . . What about you?”
His face relaxed into something she’d never seen before. His eyes were heavy and sad, so wide Vhalla could see her reflection in the dark irises. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her to him.
Vhalla was too startled to move. She had always initiated contact with Jax. He had never been this friendly with her, and, in a perfect role reversal, it was her turn not to move. She didn’t have the foggiest idea of how to react.
“Well, let’s see. You are the one Baldair told me to protect. You are the woman who gave me my freedom. Vhalla Solaris, I was never here for the Emperor. I’m here for you. You are my sovereign. And I will fight in your name until my last days because it is the only thing I have ever believed in other than Baldair’s Golden Guard.”
Her hands came to life, and Vhalla clung to him. The tears flooded from her, and she nearly howled with sobs. Her friend, her sworn guard, held her as she let out the pain she’d held in for weeks. He said nothing further; he let her mourn and unleash her cries to the sky.