Aldrik grunted, and Victor’s laugh followed, drawing her attention from her own struggle. Her head whipped around, hair sticking to her sweaty cheeks as she saw him, armor caught on a glowing crystal point. Aldrik grit his teeth, clearly not wanting to grant Victor the satisfaction, but it was a battle he was losing.
With a scream of her husband’s name, Vhalla cast aside instinct for self-preservation and swung at Victor from a distance. One of the crystals upon his chest exploded with a satisfying pop and spray of dark blood. The man gave a welcome cry of agony.
Aldrik heard her unsaid words and pushed out his magic. A blaze encompassed Victor, drawing another satisfying scream. He backed off Aldrik, letting the Emperor free himself from the crystal point that had been trying to penetrate his plate.
Free of the flame, Victor moved. A short sword appeared in his palm, a sword made of ice so white it almost shone like metal. Vhalla tried to catch her breath, crossing over to the two men fighting, but Aldrik was closer to their enemy.
Fire burned brightly around Aldrik’s body, keeping the edge off Victor’s icy blade, but that was about all he could do. With crystal magic sustaining the sword against Aldrik’s flames, the two men danced in fire and ice. Every move Aldrik made was toward Victor’s face, and Victor moved to jab a spear of ice between Aldrik’s plate. They had fought before. Each knew the other’s tricks and favorite methods, resulting in a stalemate.
Vhalla shattered the even-footing with a kick to Victor’s face. She’d been trying to throw the crown off his brow, but it was embedded into his body as much as the other crystals. Victor reeled, but Aldrik was forgotten as the false king spun and grabbed her, throwing her into the wall.
She gasped in both pain and surprise as a crystal jabbed the side of her head; a little lower and it would’ve taken off her ear. The crystal’s magic overwhelmed her. It felt like it was trying to eat her whole.
Victor used the moment to turn back to Aldrik, gathering his strength. Dark veins pulsed outward from the crystals embedded into his skin. Pure magic zapped from his fingers straight into Aldrik’s chest, sending the Emperor flying.
Vhalla screamed. She had to keep moving, she had to fight. Her fingers closed tightly around a crystal point at her side. It seared beneath her fingers, as though it had its own consciousness and was rejecting her. Vhalla forced every ounce of her mental strength to command it to bend to her will. It resisted, but bend it did.
Hearing her footsteps nearing, Victor turned his attention from Aldrik. His sword of ice held up against her sword of crystal. Vhalla panted, and he bared his teeth at her.
Daniel. Her friend, he’d been brought into her life for a reason, and that reason had not been to be her lover. Vhalla’s feet moved as he taught. They were light, as though she was still back in that tiny clearing between the houses he had made into his little patch of East. Vhalla parried, reposed, spun the weapon, and twirled with the wind.
Victor had never had the luxury of learning the sword from one of the greatest swordsmen alive—if the Golden Guard status meant anything—and it lived on in her training. Vhalla saw an opening and took it. The crystal sword embedded into his jaw, taking out a chunk.
Aldrik joined his magic with her assault. Startled, Victor couldn’t shield himself as he had last time, and his flesh bubbled with horrible burns along one side. He lunged for her, giving Aldrik no choice but to call off his flames or incinerate them both.
Vhalla kicked him off her, tumbling overtop the sharp points of crystals. Grabbing one again, she repeated the process as before. But this time, she could only manage a dagger—her magic was weakening. She didn’t need much more. They were close, and this fight would soon be over.
Straddling his chest, Vhalla held up the wicked sharp point. With both hands, she brought it down onto the man’s face—and hit an invisible wall. Her muscles locked, and time felt like it froze. Vhalla tried to push the blade down further into Victor’s mangled visage. But, try as she might, she couldn’t strike the death blow.
He rasped through his shattered jaw and mangled lips. Victor was laughing at her. Because she realized it at the same time as he did—a simple rule about Bonds: one cannot kill the person they are Bonded to.
The truth that had drawn her to Aldrik, that had assured her all those months ago that there was more to the prince than met the eye, that he wasn’t lying about his every intention with her, was now keeping her from her kill. She wanted to scream at the injustice of it all. Victor was hers, hers to kill. He had taken everything from her, and now he was going to take this, too.
“Do it,” Aldrik encouraged. “End this.”
“You do it, Aldrik.” Vhalla eased away. It physically hurt to do so when she wanted so badly just to drive the dagger through Victor’s eye again and again.
“He won’t do it.” Victor’s eyes darted between them. The crystals in his skin were beginning to glow again, drawing strength from the magic in the room. “Not when he fought so hard to get you.”
“What?” Aldrik hissed, instantly defensive by the subconscious notion of what Victor was implying.
“She didn’t tell you? Well, let me say—”
His nose crunched as Vhalla screamed, cutting off Victor’s sentence. She had leapt on him, flipping the dagger in her palm to smash the hilt against his nose, shattering it. Before the man had a chance to catch his breath, Vhalla brought the crystal onto his purpling flesh again. She hit him again and again, twenty-three times in total.