Vhalla didn’t have the strength to tell him he was hurting her. She would be gone soon; no matter how much she struggled, death was a siren, and she’d fully heard its call. She missed any reply, her eyes fluttering closed once more.
“We’re almost there,” Aldrik reassured frantically. “Elecia will fix you. I know she will.”
The balmy summer hit her skin, and it was a breath of fresh air. Vhalla tried to place where she was in the palace. There were over a hundred gardens and a thousand possibilities. But chance didn’t work randomly in her world. The moment her nose picked up the faint scent of roses, Vhalla knew the Gods didn’t play games.
“Elecia’s in the hall, just here,” Aldrik said frantically. Vhalla realized he was talking to her. “She’s coming. She’ll be—”
The door to the greenhouse opened suddenly. “Let me see her,” Elecia announced.
The woman’s fingers were on Vhalla’s face and neck. They ran down her body and back. They ghosted over her wound, unafraid of the gore, and paused at her breast over the fluttering beats of her heart.
Elecia pulled her hands away, and no one said anything for a small eternity. Vhalla cracked her eyes open, turning to the Western woman. She tried to smile. She tried to be strong. Nothing was about her anymore. It was about them, those who would inherit the world they’d fought so hard for.
“I don’t know what to do,” the healer confessed.
“I know,” Vhalla whispered.
“You’re going to die.” Elecia fought for her clinical detachment, but a whimper of emotion betrayed the facade. “Aldrik, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I don’t know—”
“Start with the wound, ‘Cia. Please, please try,” Aldrik spoke with utter desperation.
Elecia obliged, and Vhalla felt the other woman’s magic pouring into her. She felt it seeking pathways that had been broken and strewn to the winds, unable to knit the broken flesh and muscle. Her magic had been too damaged by the crystals. It would have to be fixed before any other healing could be done.
The woman must have realized it in the same moment as Vhalla, because she stood suddenly. “I’m going to try to find Sehra!”
Elecia had bolted out the door before any of them could react. She left silence and death in her wake. Vhalla blinked intensely. She wouldn’t leave now without saying goodbye.
“Aldrik.” He was at her side in an instant. His long fingers scooped up hers, blood smearing across his gauntlets. “I’m so glad I saved you, back then.”
“Don’t say goodbye, please.” He was close to breaking. He was fighting the obvious.
“I don’t regret it. I don’t.” She could only hope he understood, that something she said would be enough for him to continue on without her.
She was crying, Vhalla realized. The shining points of light of her memories illuminated the dark and tumultuous road that had taken her to this moment. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to give up everything she’d fought for.
The door opened again, and both of their eyes looked at the lone figure. The princess floated over to the two Imperials, looking much more rested than the last time Vhalla had seen her. Two emerald eyes looked between Aldrik and Vhalla.
“Sehra,” Aldrik pleaded. “Save her please, your magic, can it—”
“I understand,” she whispered. The princess kneeled next to Vhalla. Her focus was only on the Empress. “You did well.”
Vhalla was struggling to see. The princess faded, vacillating between her normal visage and something different. Hazy blurs and lines that didn’t quite connect. Long fingers, almost like Aldrik’s, cupped her cheek thoughtfully. The gesture was more forward than the princess had ever been.
“The crystals’ magic is diminishing. They were never meant to be used as they were, manipulated for man’s greed. They weren’t left with that intent.”
“What?” Aldrik asked Vhalla’s question.
“You saw them.” Sehra spoke to both of them, to no one. “They turn brittle and shatter under their own weight. They will be gone by dawn.”
“Princess, we need to act quickly,” Aldrik urged. “She’s dying.”
“I know,” Sehra said without hesitation. “Vhalla Yarl, after all that you have been through, do you still want to be upon this earth?”
“How can you ask that?” Vhalla opened her eyes. “Of course, I do.”
“Of course,” Sehra repeated softly. “Very well. I will grant you the power of Yargen one more time. I will change this fate set before you.”
The princess had a gently, almost motherly—familial—smile. She placed both hands on Vhalla’s face. Her whole palm tingled, and Vhalla felt the same light she’d experienced every time before.
No, it wasn’t the same. Sehra’s power before had been like a battering ram, forcing its way into her. This was familiar, like it complemented her. It flowed through Vhalla’s veins with palpable force. Her heart beat in time to it. Her flesh mended with it. Vhalla blinked, the red dawn flashing a moment in the woman’s eyes.
Whatever Sehra did, it worked. And when she pulled her hands away, Vhalla’s whole body felt warm, as though she’d been laying in the sun for hours. Her eyes fell back into focus, her breathing strengthened, her heartbeat regulated once more.