Crystal Crowned

Page 85

“My Emperor, there will be ample time for such things at a later date.” Vhalla rolled her eyes, hunting down clothes substantial enough to go under her chainmail. Vhalla paused, staring at the bangle Tim had given her.

Take it. From him. Listen.

Vhalla stilled, trying to logic through what Tim’s presence had really meant. Her emotions cooled, and her mind spun. She had clearly been trying to deliver the bracelet to Vhalla. Listen; that could mean that Tim wanted Vhalla to pay attention to her. Unless, it didn’t.

She was a blur from the room, not even bothering to put on her shoes.

“Vhalla!” Aldrik called after her, confused.

Fritz had been at the wedding with Elecia, but the castle was now in utter chaos. Still, she had to start somewhere, and it seemed just as likely if she could find one of them she’d find the other.

“Where’s Elecia Ci’Dan?” Vhalla demanded of a guard between panting breaths. “Have you seen her?”

“My lady?”

“Elecia Ci’Dan?” she repeated.

“I’ve not seen her . . .”

Vhalla muttered a curse under her breath and started for the Westerner’s room. They weren’t there, and they weren’t in Fritz’s either. Vhalla finally found them on the training grounds helping organize and prepare.

“Fritz!” Vhalla practically tackled the man as she tried to pluck him out of a stream of people walking in the opposite direction.

“Vhal? Vhal, what?” Fritz teetered and regained his feet. “Are you all right? I heard what happened and—”

“We need to listen to it.” Vhalla held up the bracelet.

“Is that?” Fritz recognized it instantly, but he didn’t believe it.

“It is,” she insisted.

“How can you be sure?” He looked skeptical still.

“I know one way we can find out.” Vhalla pressed the bracelet into Fritz’s hands. “We need to listen to it again.”

“Nothing will have changed.”

“Fritz, please,” Vhalla pleaded.

He finally obliged, and they went to the nearest vacant guest room, stealing the washbasin from within. Aldrik caught up with them along the way, and Vhalla offered a short explanation as to the importance of the token.

“This may not be the best of ideas.” The Emperor was suddenly uneasy as Fritz placed the bangle into the water. “It may be from Victor. There could be magic within it that will activate when it is tampered with.”

“No,” Vhalla insisted. “If Victor was going to attack me with it, he would have done so when my hand first came into contact with it. I know what crystals feel like, and that does not feel like crystal magic.”

Though, if one of Vhalla’s two theories were correct, they might hear Victor’s voice.

“It will be fine.” Fritz’s words were braver and more certain than he sounded. “Larel would never hurt me.”

Before any further objection could be made, his fingers dipped into the bowl. The water rippled, and they all held their breath as Fritz drew the words out from the vessel. Listen—that had been Tim’s dying wish. Vhalla braced herself for what she was about to hear.

First, a familiar voice filled the room. It was the same as Vhalla and Fritz had heard an eternity ago. Larel’s words of encouragement and hope, echoed through the room, and Aldrik’s fingers slipped between hers. He had never heard the message, and Vhalla watched from the corners of her eyes as Aldrik listened to the farewells of his first true friend.

The last words faded and silence followed. Just as Fritz was about to pull his hands from the water, a new voice began to speak. Vhalla had braced herself for the mad voice of a man drunk on crystal magic. But what she heard instead was harder to handle.

“Vhalla, if you are listening to this, then Tim made it.” Grahm’s voice echoed across the water. It was weak and thin, whispered as though his lips were brushing right across the bracelet itself when he recorded his hasty message. “Tim, she—they-they did things to her. Anyone with a wing meets such a fate, or worse. We tried to get her out, but she was lost, she volunteered. She wanted to get our message to you before you left Norin.

“We’ve heard word that you will be our Empress. You and our Emperor rose from the dead; you’re the only one who can stop him now. You have defied him once; you can teach us all how to do it.”

Guilt burdened her heart. Her perceived resurrection was giving the people in the South a false hope. She was not their savior. She had been the one who dammed them to begin with.

“We’ve grown a Silver Wing network, there are many of us now. We will help, when the time comes. We could smuggle people out, but our routes have slowly been closed off. The best we can offer you would be a way in.” Grahm’s speech began to pick up pace. The man poured words frantically into the vessel. “When you come, carve a wing into the sky. We will know. We will lower the guard at any cost so you can enter. If—”

Grahm’s voice broke, and he rasped heavily.

“If there are any of us left.” He drew a long and quivering breath. “This place, is not what you remember. It is a city of taint, and death, and crystal. Be careful and-and . . .”

There was one final pause. So long Vhalla worried that he had somehow been caught and was never able to finish his impassioned plea.

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