“Do you think if you give it to regain your magic, he will vanish from your side?” She gave a thin smile.
“Will he?” Vhalla pressured.
“No more insights; I cannot afford it. You have your choices: leave as you are and be trapped in the vortex that threatens to consume this world. Or give that which is most precious to you, the future you carry, for something far greater than you or I.”
Vhalla’s whole body trembled. She wanted to leave. Every inch of her screamed for her to run back to the bed she should have never left. She wanted to pretend she had never heard Vi’s words. Vhalla urged her mind to pretend that the woman was no more than a hoax.
But her heart knew. Even if her mind could not comprehend everything that was happening, Vhalla knew somewhere deep within her soul that what Vi said was true. She ached at the sight of the watch, at the thought of her magic once more.
“Let me come back,” Vhalla attempted. She wanted Aldrik; she wanted to at least discuss it all with him.
“No. The next time you come you will not find me. There is only one more time I can come to you.”
“So I’ll make my decision the next time we meet.” It was foolish, but Vhalla would be the hopeful fool.
“Choose now. It must be your choice alone.”
Vhalla couldn’t handle the woman’s eyes as her hands began to move. She couldn’t bear a witness on what she was about to do. Vhalla’s fingers closed around the clasp of the watch that she had hardly removed since Aldrik had promised his future with it.
“Tell me one thing.” Vhalla paused, just shy of handing over Aldrik’s token. Vhalla remembered the princess’s words, that it was a vessel holding his magic. “This will not be used to hurt Aldrik, will it?”
“I did not use this to hurt you.” Vi twisted her hand and dangled the watch with two fingers. “I could have sold this at a great price to the man who sits on the Southern throne.”
Vhalla looked down at the watch Aldrik had given her, unable to argue. Its once polished surface was scratched and beginning to tarnish from never-ending wear, but she loved it more now than the first day he had given it to her. Aldrik had said he had made the watch at the Crossroads. There was a dark poetry to losing it here as well.
With a trembling hand, Vhalla held out her most precious possession.
Just like that, it was gone. Vhalla looked on as the Firebearer curled her fingers around Aldrik’s gift. The thing he had put so much love into was gone. She had given it up.
Vhalla looked at the blank watch in her hand. It was a clean slate, perfect and unblemished. She had traded Aldrik’s gift for power. Was she any better than Victor?
The flame extinguished, and Vhalla’s head snapped back up, startled. The darkness pressed upon her, pushing at her chest.
“V-Vi?” Vhalla took a step backward to where she knew the door to be. “I-I changed my mind. I can’t give it up.”
Silence was her only reply.
“Please, I didn’t.” Vhalla’s neck already felt barren. “I don’t want to lose that. I’ve lost so much, not that. Our Bond is gone; the watch is the only part of him that I can carry with me.”
The darkness was oppressive, setting her ears to ringing. Vhalla clutched the blank watch tightly in her palm. A chill swept through the room, and Vhalla no longer felt that she was alone. The hair-raising feeling of being watched set her on edge.
Vhalla turned and fled as fast as her feet would carry her.
Stumbling into the street, Vhalla looked back frantically, with the feeling that something terrible was about to pursue her. The moon stared down at her, time continuing as normal. Vhalla felt dizzy and sick, looking back into the perfect blackness of the shop.
Her feet felt like lead. Her brain swam in her skull, and the world swayed. Vhalla struggled back to the hotel as fast as she could go. She was certain she was going to be sick. Just when another step was going to be too much, Vhalla was plunged into the bright light of the lobby.
“My lady!” The woman behind the desk blinked in confusion, startled to her feet. “What are you doing out? Are you all right?”
“I-I, yes.” Vhalla raised the back of her fist to her head, the watch still clasped within. She was clammy and cold. “I just need to lie down . . .”
The woman nodded but was clearly biting her tongue at the state of the Empress. Vhalla gripped at her shirt above her stomach. She hurt all through her middle, a strange and growing agony. Vhalla looked upward. She would feel better once she was with Aldrik once more. Once she could pretend everything that had just happened wasn’t real for a few hours longer.
Vhalla’s foot slipped on a step, and she fell with a cry. Something shattered within her as she hit the stairs. Vhalla hardly registered the woman rushing to her side.
“I will go fetch the Emperor.”
Vhalla forced her eyes open through the pain, staring at the watch in her hand. A wave of nausea hit, and Vhalla swallowed hard. “No. G-get Lady Ci’Dan. I need Elecia.”
The woman was off and running, leaving Vhalla to struggle to catch her breath alone. Wrapping her arms around her middle, Vhalla curled into a ball. Something was very, very wrong.
“Vhalla?” Elecia’s voice quickly cast aside the groggy tones of sleep as she knelt down before her. “What are you doing at this hour?”
“Help me,” Vhalla beseeched the Groundbreaker, one of the best clerics in the world.