But, like before, light exploded within her, bright and brilliant. Vhalla’s mind cleared, and awareness surged through her, momentarily free of Victor’s weight.
Sehra was held tightly in Za’s arms, the archer shaking her sovereign, trying to wake her.
“Sehra . . .” Vhalla sat. “Sehra!” she joined Za’s call.
The princess opened her eyes weakly. “That was the last time . . .” she breathed weakly.
“I understand.” Vhalla nodded. “We won’t need it again.”
“Sehra use too much of her power.” Za began angrily. “Sehra in danger. She can no more—”
“I know, Za.” Vhalla boldly rested a palm on the archer’s shoulder. “Take her away, go, hide. If you can, flee.”
When Vhalla expected Za to be relieved, her scowl only deepened.
“You think North listen to South command with no Sehra, no Za?” She shook her head. “North is proud. North finish our fight.”
Vhalla stared in awe as Za stood and helped the exhausted Sehra to her feet. An explosion of fire shook the ground nearby, jolting them all back to the battle. Vhalla looked between the two Northerners and the exit of the alley they were currently hiding in.
“Stay alive, both of you,” Vhalla demanded before returning to the battle at Jax’s side.
With Victor’s magic shut off, Vhalla could no longer disarm crystal traps or slay beasts from the sky. The army was forced to complete the final push to the castle gates using only traditional means—magic and steel. Vhalla and Jax returned to a thin, disorganized host. She scanned for majors, for any leadership, and found none. It had devolved into utter chaos.
“Jax,” she spoke from the outside edge of the fray.
“This may be where we die.” She faced the truth openly.
“No.” He shook his head. “You’ve never done things the easy way, Vhalla. And death now would be the easy way out.”
“You’re insane,” Vhalla laughed quietly and spurred her feet into a run.
She ran toward that dream that had lingered in her heart since the Night of Fire and Wind. A dream of peace, of freedom, of a tomorrow without fear. The streets were littered with bodies to be vaulted over or step upon. Bodies that could have been a friend. Or could have been a soldier she’d trained under. Or one she’d eaten with on the march. But she wouldn’t grieve for them now. She wouldn’t collapse before the overwhelming titan known as fear and worry. As long as one of their army lived, all their hearts beat as one. She’d want the same if it was her face-down in her own blood.
Soldiers locked in combat all around her, but Vhalla only had one focus. It stretched beyond the man in white and gold armor wielding flames—flames that didn’t burn nearly as bright as they once had. Her eyes locked with her current foe—the locked gates of the palace.
“Those for Solaris, with me!” she screamed painfully.
“What’s the plan?” Aldrik cried, seeing her running head-first through the chaos.
The only obvious one, Vhalla thought. She may no longer have Victor’s magic, so there was only one option when it came to opening the crystal encrusted gates. It was dangerous and reckless, and it was something she’d avoided doing since the sandstorm in the West. Since Aldrik had cautioned her about throwing herself into her Channel.
But desperate times called for desperate measures.
“Hold your ground here!” she directed, keeping the soldiers away from the gates.
Wind already howled through the streets. It spun under her feet, nearly lifting her into the air with its force. She wanted to do this as brutally and forcefully as Victor had when he had wrenched the fragile peace that so many had died for under the previous Emperor’s hands.
The wind rushed in her ears, but it was not enough. She needed every ounce of air the sky had left to give her. This was not a summer breeze or a mountain gale; she would be the wind, unstoppable and untamable.
And Vhalla let go.
She relinquished herself to the wind. The world faded away, and she lost sense of her corporal body. Muscles and bones popped and stretched with the force of the twister as her body was flung toward the doors, riding on the wind.
The air refused to let her be harmed while in its embrace so it was left with only one option—break down the gates before her, or smash her into them. They splintered. The crystals around them came crashing down, shattered with the brute force of her magic. Vhalla rolled across the ground, her magic failing the second she realized her mission had been accomplished.
Everything hurt. Everything was stretched past its limit, so far it couldn’t even break. Her bones were too tired to even do that much.
She dug into the recesses of her magic and her will with determination. Vhalla raised her head, drawing herself to her knees. The doors to the ceremonial throne room began to open before her, no doubt thanks to the Wings. Far beyond, Vhalla could see a throne glittering with crystal, a place where she knew Victor had sat and sown horror.
It was a throne she would reclaim before the day was done.
They pushed upward through the palace, fighting against Victor’s every resistance. The soldiers who could still conjure a flame or hold a sword reclaimed the palace, one floor at a time. Sorcerers seemed to materialize from the stonework itself to resist them. But the Imperial army continued, determined. They all hoped that, should they put an end to Victor, the rest would fall.