“What are you doing?” Curiosity still got the better of her.
“Seeing where the trees roots get the most water in order to find us a stream or spring.” Elecia glanced over her shoulder. “You’re painted red.”
Vhalla looked back down at her armor with a small frown. If only she could remember killing the people whose blood she wore.
Elecia’s magic delivered. The spring they found was small and shallow, barely up to Vhalla’s short-statured waist. They were still in the transitional shrub land of West and South.
Her armor felt heavy and her fingers uncoordinated as she tried to unclasp it. Elecia sighed softly and helped Vhalla. The women found a spot at the water’s rocky edge to sit.
“Elecia, look, I’m fine.” Vhalla held out her arms putting herself on display. “You don’t need to be here to check or heal me.”
“It’s not your physical body I’m worried about,” the woman solemnly uttered. “Now, in the water.”
Vhalla obliged, wading into the center of the pool. The spring was chilly on her skin. It sharpened her senses and grounded her in the present. Vhalla watched as the water clouded with blood.
“What happened today?” Elecia demanded.
Vhalla cringed inwardly. She wanted to scream; she wanted to sob. Vhalla tilted her head back and looked at the unbroken sky. She opened her mouth and took a deep breath.
“The wall had my magic in it.”
“Alongside Victor’s and the crystal magic,” Vhalla affirmed. “I don’t think he can quite control or manipulate the crystals without it. My magic was like a support structure holding the rest together.”
“He’s not a Windwalker, but if he has Windwalker magic to work with . . . I suppose it makes as much sense as anything else involving crystals,” Elecia worked out.
“I thought I could pull out the scaffolding, or that I could reclaim it and gain control of the crystals. I invited it into me. I invited him into me.”
Vhalla’s eyes drifted over to the other woman. She dropped her head to one side, debating between laughing and continuing to stare at her incredulously. “You’re not one to ask dumb questions.”
“I didn’t want it.” Vhalla returned to staring at her fingers, as though they were disconnected from her body. “But I didn’t think it could or would come in alongside my magic. Now he has some of my magic, I have some of his. I feel him. It’s like we, we’re . . .”
The word was thick and heavy on Vhalla’s tongue. It tasted like death. She was tainted, but it wasn’t the taint everyone knew.
There was nothing but the sound of the winds and the rustling of small trees and grasses. Elecia stared at her a long moment, blinking her eyes. Vhalla wondered if the woman could see it, now that she knew what to look for.
“You’re shivering.” Elecia quickly splashed some water over her own bloodstains and stood. “Come, we’ll get you back to Aldrik and get you warm.”
“I don’t think I should be around Aldrik,” Vhalla confessed.
“Well, you can tell him that, because I most certainly won’t be the one to do so.” Elecia held out a hand. “You’re stronger than this, Vhalla Yarl.”
Vhalla searched Elecia’s emerald eyes for the hint of deception. If the words were a lie, Elecia did a great job of delivering them with confidence. Vhalla stood on her own, ignoring the offered help up. She didn’t want anyone touching her. She had used crystal magic. She could be walking taint.
Night fell quickly and, despite Vhalla deciding to risk some magic to dry their clothing, they were both cold by the time they arrived back at camp. Jax and Aldrik stood around a campfire, speaking with Fritz and a few other majors who quickly cleared out when the Lady Ci’Dan and the Empress sat.
“Vhal.” Everyone looked at Fritz in surprise. Apparently, none of them expected him to be the one to break the silence. “What happened today?”
“No, I’ve seen you fight before. That wasn’t you,” Fritz said softly, almost fearfully.
He had no idea what he needed to fear.
“I’m Bonded to Victor.” It was going to come out sooner or later; Vhalla didn’t see the point in delay.
“What?” Fritz leaned backward in surprise.
“Vhalla.” Aldrik grabbed her hand from wringing her own fingers in her absentminded habit. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered and pulled her hand from his.
“His magic is in me, mine is in him. I feel him as I felt you.” Vhalla didn’t want to break her husband’s heart just weeks into their marriage.
“How?” Aldrik breathed. The majority of his brainpower was clearly being used to process what she was saying, rather than mustering eloquent words.
Vhalla sighed and summarized it as she had for Elecia, about the wall and Victor’s magic being atop hers and the crystal’s magic.
“Vhalla, are you sure?” Fritz had the audacity to look hopeful, as if she were somehow mistaken.
“I know what this feels like!” Vhalla snapped. Fritz’s eyes widened, and she immediately regained control of herself. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just—it’s been a long day.”