Vhalla released it all. And when her throat was raw, her nose a waterfall, and her eyes burning, she finally stopped. Jax’s arms loosened, and she pulled away, looking him in the eyes. His palm clasped around her neck, the other on her shoulder.
“Now, will you come back?”
“Don’t let him get the better of me again,” she whispered. Vhalla didn’t think Jax could do anything, but just asking made her feel better.
“What can I do?” He clearly wanted to help but didn’t know how.
Vhalla didn’t have any idea either. “Treat me like a friend again?” She needed her friends. She needed them to be her friends, to trust and not fear her.
Jax seemed taken aback, but he recovered quickly. He gave her a nod and a tiny smile. They headed back for camp together, and, come the dawn, neither spoke of her early morning ride.
Her heart began to race the moment the capital city came into view. As the army ascended the road, they began to see the destruction Victor had wrought. Where previously there had been small towns leading up to the capital, now only stood ransacked and destroyed remains. Trees and foliage looked wilted and weak, and then she noticed they had taken on a greyish hue.
Vhalla realized the taint was infecting the very earth. The closer they got to the capital, the less vegetation grew. Everything was still and deathly silent.
The night prior, the majors had gone over the plan of attack, preparing the Imperial company’s ascent. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much strategy. An army of their size couldn’t exactly sneak into the city, and Victor already knew they were coming. Once inside, they would divide into a two-pronged attack, half of the army taking the main roads, the other half marching in parallel a few blocks away. That way, if Victor trapped the main road, they had more chances to reach the castle, while still being close enough to assist each other.
But how to enter the city, that was the question that hovered in all the majors’ minds. When they neared, only about an hour away, Vhalla gathered her magic and said a small prayer to the Mother. She turned her eyes toward the overcast sky and swept her fingers through the air. Vhalla envisioned gusts of wind cutting through the clouds, pushing them away, dispersing them.
Vhalla assessed her work. She hoped it looked like a wing. But even more, she hoped Grahm was still alive to see her signal.
They proceeded with their march, and Vhalla maintained their signal in the sky. They began to hear a clamor rising from the capital. The horrid cry of a crystal beast tore through the sky, and far ahead, the drawbridge of the capital of the Solaris Empire began to open.
It had worked, and they had their war.
As soon as the bridge was down, as soon as they were within distance, the charge was called. There was no turning back now, and Vhalla’s head seared from temple to temple. Victor was already trying to worm his way into her consciousness, to dissuade her from her attack.
Vhalla clenched her fists multiple times. This was it, the precipice of her destiny. She would lay it all down here. Her eyes swept to her left, meeting Aldrik’s. They both looked terrible. Waterlogged, haggard, filthy, and exhausted. But flames were already lighting the air around his face. The wind was in her hair. They would burn and howl together.
Victor’s tricks started just on the other side of the gate. A wall of crystals had been erected, cutting off all paths from the gate. Vhalla held out her hands, unleashing his power, the power of the crystals. She would let him in, but only to use his strength against him. The crystals darkened and fractured, collapsing under their own weight the second she rendered them useless.
Fritz, Elecia, and Sehra led a portion of the army down the main road. Vhalla, Aldrik, and Jax headed right. The majors wanted to see Vhalla and Aldrik split, to double the odds of one of their sovereigns making it through alive, but the couple had refused. Splitting them now would only hurt their chances.
Vhalla waved her arm through the air. Aldrik’s magic rode the back of hers to create a curtain of flame suspended over them, blocking the ice and fire attacks from the sorcerers on the roofs above. Vhalla pulled on Lightning’s reins.
“Archers, rooftops!” she cried.
Fighting had already broken out in the streets before they’d arrived. Vhalla saw blood staining the ground ahead. Spread lifelessly before sorcerers were men and women with silver wings painted on their breasts and backs.
Vhalla drew her sword and threw it. Directing it with her pointer finger, it sliced across sorcerers’ throats, felling two before she summoned it back. Aldrik’s fire burst forth at her left, and Vhalla brought her attention to where it burned, helping it with her winds.
The Imperial army made steady progress into the city, until the first monster descended upon them. The beast had a clear path, all talons and gaping jowls. Vhalla tried to suck the wind out from under it, but a searing pain from the back of her mind caused her magic to falter at the last moment.
She narrowly dodged, tumbling off Lightning. Gripping her head, she rolled to her feet and tried to find her sword. The monster had taken out Lightning, and half the army with him.
The horse had taken her to the end of the earth and back. Its death hit her in the chest, as hard as the death of any dear friend. Rage built in her throat. She didn’t care if it was Victor’s emotion or hers. She hoped it was both. She hoped she could feel his anger at knowing that her army was upon him. That they were not backing down, not now, not after they’d come so far.