Her words failed. Despite what she had just told him, the hurt had yet to vanish from his expression. Vhalla suspected she could’ve said she traded his watch for the entire Crescent Continent, and Aldrik would’ve still been pained. Tonight, she hadn’t paid the price for her choices. Aldrik had.
“It’s my fault . . . I wanted you, so I stayed. And because I stayed, I was where Victor could get me. All the people who have died, Erion, Craig, Raylynn, your father—it’s all because of me. All the pain is my responsibility. With this, with my magic, I can right what I wronged. I can beat Victor at his own game. He thinks he can kill or force all Windwalkers into hiding. But I will stand against him. I will do what I must for our people before I do what I want for myself.”
He was as still as a statue. Vhalla took the weight of his gaze upon her shoulders as well. She was carrying the world, and he was but one point upon it. Everything was lost if she did not make her vow a reality.
“I wanted to make things right. I hurt you while doing so, and I’m sorry. I never wanted to. But I . . .”
The heat of his palm on her lower abdomen silenced her. Vhalla stared at the man who was to be her husband. A storm raged just behind the darkness of his eyes.
He sighed. “What have I done to you?”
“Nothing I didn’t ask for.” She’d asked to be Empress. She’d chosen it the moment she’d chosen him. She’d been so busy surviving that she hadn’t accepted what that really meant. Now it wasn’t just about her survival, but her people’s.
“You should sleep. Your body needs to heal.”
Vhalla leaned forward, pressing her forehead into his sternum. Aldrik shifted to snake his arms around her. “I lost him,” she breathed.
“The son of your dreams—” she tried to continue.
“Was not this child.”
Vhalla wished she could make him understand. His dreams had been scattered to the wind. Their future, the red lines of fate he had looked forward to, had been interrupted. But Vhalla didn’t try to make Aldrik comprehend the truth that was filling the hollow within her. Only one of them would have to bear this truth, and that would be her.
“We will try again.” He kissed the top of her head. “When we are wed, when I have my throne. That is when our child will be born. And when that day comes, this night will be nothing more than a forgotten nightmare.”
She needed his optimism. Her head was thick and heavy. Vhalla suspected the potion Elecia forced down her throat had been laced with Deep Sleep, but the cleric knew best. She closed her eyes, and Vhalla gave herself to that welcoming blackness.
The bed was cold, and dawn hovered in the morning air when Vhalla finally stirred. She heard Aldrik’s voice from the adjacent room, the sound pulling her the rest of the way from sleep.
“How did you find her?”
“She just appeared in the night,” Elecia responded.
Vhalla blinked groggily, the Deep Sleep slow to release her mind.
“She said she went to a curiosity shop. Jax, I want every last one in this Gods forsaken city turned up-side-down with the most discretion you can manage. If even one confesses any knowledge, I want to know everything. And—” Aldrik’s voice dripped acidic malice off his tongue. “—should you find one that laid a finger upon her . . .”
“No one will ever find the body,” Jax filled in the blank with methodological viciousness.
Vhalla shook her head, pulling herself into a seated position. Vi was long gone. Whatever that woman was, it was nothing like any of them had ever seen, and there was no way she had remained. Still, there was little point in trying to call Aldrik off on his demands. Vhalla was happy to concede to them if it pleased him and eased his pain.
“Now, Fritz, she claims this is a vessel.”
“It-it does feel like her magic,” Fritz confirmed with evident surprise.
“I already told you that.” Elecia’s eye roll was heard by Vhalla from the other room.
“You will help withdraw the magic so her Channel can be restored.”
“I am not asking you, Fritznangle, I am telling you as your Emperor.”
Vhalla rubbed her abdomen. She needed to get up and call off her protective love before he made an ass of himself to their friends.
“But not yet,” Elecia said firmly. “I see what you are doing.”
“Elecia—” Aldrik warned.
“No. You are trying to fix it all and force it back to where it is comfortable for you. But you cannot force her. Her body is healing. This isn’t a battle scar, and it’s not going to be fixed when we don’t see blood anymore. You are healing, too.”
“Aldrik,” Vhalla called.
“Vhalla, what is it?” The doors were thrown open, and he rushed to her side. “What hurts?”
“I woke, and you weren’t here.” She tried to force a small smile.
“I was only taking care of a few things, my love. I’m here. I’m with you.”
“Stay,” Vhalla demanded.
Aldrik’s hair was a mess, and his eyes looked sunken. Somehow, his face had become gaunter in one night. Elecia’s advice to Aldrik hit Vhalla’s heart. They were both hurting, and that hurt would only be soothed by being together and letting themselves be sad.