Panting and determined, Vhalla pressed down harder. Their leathery, crystal-tipped wings functioned like sails, catching her gusts. Palms flat and open, Vhalla held two creatures against the sand.
The roar of the soldiers could barely be heard over the cries of the other crystal monsters taking to the sky. Fire and arrows rang out. Every time one tried to swoop down, a giant inferno or swarm of arrows kept it at bay.
Beads of sweat ran down her forehead. She could feel them, as though her hands were physically upon them. Struggling, twisting, writhing, they fought against her physically and magically.
Vhalla was so focused on her magic that Jax’s shout of warning went completely unheard. She had to keep the beasts down long enough for the soldiers to overwhelm them. She had to keep the wind focused only on them, but not on the swordsmen and women who had begun their bloody work of slaying the beasts.
A pair of arms closed around her, and Vhalla was pulled against Jax’s chest. Sand filled her mouth as she was tackled to the ground, face first, off her horse. Flames burst around them, burning as hot as she’d ever seen. The heat was suffocating a,nd Vhalla struggled to breathe, her body shielded by the one atop her.
A crack and sizzling noise threatened to split open the earth, and Vhalla cried out at the discomfort as electric magic pulsed through her mind. Sweat dripped from her face, and she stayed still, letting Jax’s body shield her from the flames as much as possible. Magic, powerful and wild, surged about them, barely diffused by Jax’s shield of flame.
“Jax! Too hot!” She was boiling alive.
“Well, I didn’t know they could use lightning!”
“You can’t sustain this for much longer.” Vhalla twisted, ready to make a break for it.
“Someone will take it down,” he insisted.
“After the next shot, Jax, send the fire straight up.”
“I am keeping you alive!” Jax shouted.
There was another crack, and his shield wavered.
“Quit this noble nonsense and be the insane asshole I want!”
His shoulders shook, and the man sprung to his feet. The fire that had been blazing about them shot up as a pillar through the air. Vhalla swung her hands down with a cry, giving the beast no option but to be impaled upon his flames. The creature’s cry was as loud as it was agonizing. And it only made Jax’s flames burn all the hotter and her winds blow harder.
With a mad dash, they both narrowly avoided the charred remains of the creature as it crashed down to earth. The crystals that had shone so brilliantly on its wings went dull, like scratched obsidian, then cracked. Vhalla scrambled to her feet, feeling her Channel in preparation for her next attack.
The remaining two beasts were engaged with different groups of sorcerers and soldiers. Fire, ice, and arrows sought purchase against their nearly impenetrable bodies, trying to bring them out of the air. Vhalla picked one at random, sending it out of the sky. By the time she could turn to the other, the sorcerers had finished it.
It was a small victory, but a victory nevertheless. It would be the first of many, she vowed. One after another, the tainted wretches that stood against them would fall.
They quickly moved on the wall. There wasn’t time to waste. Each moment that ticked threatened enemy reinforcements and monsters. Vhalla brought her fingers to her mouth and gave a sharp whistle. With a half jump and step on the air, she mounted Lightning in a single motion.
“Make a path!” she called at the top of her lungs. Soldiers were quick to oblige.
Like thunder, a War-strider appeared at her side. Aldrik’s new mount was as large as Baston ever was. Vhalla gave the Emperor a quick glance-over, looking for wounds—and he did the same to her.
He looked uneasily at the gate. “Are you sure about this?”
“Do you have a better idea?” Vhalla glanced at the Northern forces slowly regrouping around their princess. “Sehra said she can’t help here. What other choice do we have?”
They both pulled their mounts to a stop before the wall. Vhalla knew Victor would be aware when each of his beasts died. There was a connection between him and the crystals. She’d known it from the first abomination she’d encountered.
“Don’t come any closer, Aldrik.” Her words of caution were needless; the man knew as well as she the risks associated with crystals.
Vhalla dismounted, blinking her eyes. The magic was unlike anything she’d ever seen. It swirled in a tight jumble just above the crystal. But it was strangely familiar. She was reminded of the axe, the layers of magic that lingered upon it.
Holding out a hand, Vhalla made contact.
It was a mess of power, pulsing through her fingertips, testing her as much as she was testing it. It was like professional musicians sitting together, skilled but all strumming notes to a different song, creating nothing but a cacophony. Yet there was an underlying beat, one she knew. It resonated deep within her; it echoed across her being and accepted her.
Vhalla’s magic called to itself.
She broke away, peeling her hand from the wall. The residual magic swirled between her fingers, slowly fading. Vhalla began to laugh, dazed and shocked.
“What is it?” Aldrik took a cautionary step forward.
“It’s mine,” she observed. Amazement and resentment fought for her heart. “All of this, he’s doing by lacing my magic under it to hold the crystals together in the shapes he wants.”