But one force gave birth to another counterforce. Before the Inquisitors departed, they gave one more interesting piece of information—the Silver Wings. The name was not lost on Vhalla, and it filled her with memories of the Tower sorcerers, proudly wearing their silver wing pins when she returned from the war. The description of the secretive group and the fierce loyalty among its members confirmed her suspicions. The Inquisitors said that those in the capital saw the Silver Wings as the only possible way to fight the false king’s tyranny.
This information improved their spirits on the following day’s ride. Knowing that Victor’s strength was wavering and the people were beginning to create organized forces against him put them all in a good mood. It was the most hope they’d dared to feel since leaving the South, and it was needed more than ever the next day.
An innkeeper had warned the group of what was waiting for them at the Western border, but nothing could prepare the group for what they actually encountered.
The border had been completely closed. A massive crystal gate stood over the road with walls stretching endless in either direction. Perched atop it were two winged beasts, the kind that had attacked Hastan. Vhalla stared at the shimmering, unnatural structure. All she could think about was Aldrik’s and her request for more soldiers from the West.
It didn’t matter if they’d sent all of the Western soldiers if those men and women couldn’t reach their destination.
“This looks a lot like Victor is compensating for something,” Jax appraised the size of the gate with a snigger.
“Now isn’t the time,” Elecia muttered from the other side of the Westerner. Her eyes were fixed forward.
“How are we going to get through?” Fritz asked outright. Their horses had slowed to a walk as they stared at the ominous and impenetrable barrier.
“I doubt they’ll just let us pass,” Elecia stated as she eyed Victor’s guards. She pointed to the small collection of structures built by and out of the crystal. “I also doubt that Victor would put just anyone here. They’re likely half-mad with taint, and even if they’re not, they’re certain to be the most loyal.”
“It doesn’t look like the walls stop, either.” Vhalla raised a hand to her brow, squinting in both directions. Even if they could go around, it would take them days in either direction. Time they didn’t really have.
“So what do we do, Emperor?” Jax asked.
“We watch,” Aldrik decided, pulling his horse to a stop.
They followed their sovereign’s orders, setting up on the edge of the road. They squinted in the distance, staying among the tall grasses of an unkempt field. Vhalla absentmindedly brushed out Lightning’s mane with her fingers.
“Why did Victor even make a gate?” she said suddenly. Her comrades jumped at the sudden break in the silence. “He wants to keep the East and West from helping each other. I think we can be certain about that. Split up the continent, break it down one piece at a time until everyone kneels.” No one argued with her. “So why make a gate at all? Why not just a wall?”
“That’s a good point,” Fritz agreed.
“He needs to move his men as well,” Vhalla continued her logic. “If he crushes the East by pouring all his forces here, then he’ll need to get them to the West, which explains why it’s on the main road.”
“Why wouldn’t he just destroy it when he needs to?” Fritz mused.
“Management of troops, being able to control entry points; maybe it exhausted him too much to build the wall that he didn’t want to take it down.” Now that was an interesting thought, one she shelved to muse over later. “So if he wasn’t planning on returning, his forces would need to be able to move themselves.”
Vhalla squinted at the gate, putting her thumb on the uneasy feeling that had surrounded her from the moment she saw it. It reminded her of the Crystal Caverns, the one Victor had forced her to open using Aldrik’s magic. Vhalla couldn’t keep herself from seeking out her Emperor, her heart aching dully at the thought of their lost Bond.
Then another thought came to her. “Aldrik.” She waved him and Elecia over from where they had been talking. “I know how to get in.”
“You do?” Elecia sounded surprised and impressed, but not skeptical.
“He’s tuned the gate to his magic, to open and close it, like—” Vhalla swallowed hard. “Like the Crystal Caverns.”
“It’s possible.” Aldrik’s jaw was taut at the mention of the caverns.
“It’s the only way to open them; he’s the only one with enough power, immunity, and crystal knowledge to do it.” Vhalla couldn’t stop herself from wondering if she would’ve been able to help open the gate if she still had her magic. But she didn’t dwell. Her magic was gone, and there was no possibility of getting it back now.
“So are you saying there’s no hope of opening them unless Victor decides to stroll by?” Jax asked.
Vhalla shook her head. “That wouldn’t make sense. Because if he was going to come back and open them himself, why make a gate at all? Fritz is right, he could’ve just destroyed it then. He must’ve left a key, a crystal vessel with the essence of his magic in it that the gate will respond to, allowing the troops to move back and forth as needed.”