Vhalla eased away. “I’m fine.”
“Vhalla, you should—”
“I am your Empress!” Her voice raised half a fraction as she raised a finger, pointing it at the tall Westerner’s face. “And you, you fallen disgraced lord, will not tell me what I should and should not do.”
Jax blinked down at her. Vhalla’s breathing was heavy. When he said nothing, she continued on her way alone. Being alone was fine, because if it came to it, Jax wouldn’t be able to protect her. None of them could touch her any longer. The more she trained, the stronger she became. She was evolving into something better than them all.
Her theories were proven true when an enemy force greeted them halfway through the Great Southern Forest. Victor had planned this attack carefully, and it wasn’t until giant flaming trees were falling upon the Imperial army that they even realized the enemy surrounded them. Vhalla watched as the first tree fell, soldiers scrambling out of its way ahead of her, and wondered if she should just let them die. Any who couldn’t protect themselves didn’t deserve life.
However, her hand moved and pushed tree after tree away with gust after gust, sparing her mostly Commons army.
The enemy charged from their hiding places on either side of the road. Vhalla was off Lightning within seconds, her sword drawn. She would tear them all apart herself, with steel or wind.
The first sound of her blade crunching through a skull was the sweetest sound she’d ever heard. Vhalla couldn’t keep a gleeful smile off her face as she turned and depressed a hand into another’s mouth. The woman’s eyes widened and Vhalla savored the look. There it was. That moment right before someone’s death. The split second when they realized their own mortality. That they were going to die by her fingers. She’d never allowed herself to enjoy it before and, oh, she’d been missing so much!
Licking her lips, tasting her kill, Vhalla was already onto the next one. The skies opened, and a late autumn rain drenched the field. Vhalla trusted wind more than ground to keep her feet from slipping.
The rain washed off her trophies, and Vhalla was forced to keep up with the downpour if she wanted any of the satisfying crimson.
Yes, she agreed.
Kill them all.
She vowed she would.
Enemy sorcerers were still in the treetops to rain arrows and fire down to the ground. Vhalla pushed them to their deaths one by one. She bobbled them like toys on the way down, deciding if she wanted to kill them from the fall or tear them apart with her hands.
The heartbeat in her ears would’ve driven her mad if she hadn’t given herself to it. It was physically painful to resist. And it had always been her lifeline in battle.
Vhalla’s hand clamped down on another mouth. What number was this? Too many to count. Too many to count! She stared at the wide eyes, a mad grin curling her cheeks.
A shoulder slammed into Vhalla’s side, destroying her focus before the final blow could be delivered. Vhalla snarled, ready to assault the wretch who had dared interrupt her.
“Vhal, stop!” Fritz shouted over the rain. His hair stuck to his face like a wet mop.
“M-my lady,” the soldier Vhalla had been about to kill stuttered. “The-the ‘X’ . . . I fight for you.”
“Go.” Vhalla didn’t even offer an apology to the ally she had been about to slay. She just grabbed her head with her hands.
“Vhal . . .” Fritz walked forward slowly.
“Fritz, I don’t want you,” she remarked with blisteringly short temper. Even his face annoyed her.
He took another step toward her. “What’s wrong with you?”
“If I told you, what do you think you could do?” she shouted. “You could not even complete your apprenticeship vessel creation!”
Fritz paled. He stared with eyes as hopelessly vast as the ocean. Vhalla panted, her nails digging into her scalp. Her head was beginning to hurt again, and, thanks to Fritz, she hadn’t even been able to assess the field to see if they could afford to be talking.
“Vhal, I . . . I never told you that.”
“Yes, you did,” she muttered trying to recall exactly when.
“No, I didn’t.” He blinked rain from his eyes. “I was embarrassed. I didn’t want you to think your friend was just a screw up.”
“I already knew you were a screw up!”
The look of hurt that crossed her friend’s face was so genuinely raw that it summoned something equally real from deep within her, a woman she once knew. A woman she’d been. Vhalla’s hand rose to her mouth in shock.
“Fritz,” she breathed at his back. “Fritz, wait—”
“Sorry, Lady Empress, I didn’t mean to trouble you with the likes of a screw up like me.” His voice was barely audible over the rain.
“I didn’t mean that!” Her efforts were for nothing as he walked back toward the main host where it regrouped along the road.
Vhalla stared numbly at the battlefield. How many people had she killed? Had any begged for their lives? Had she killed another ally before the one Fritz had saved from her? Vhalla honestly couldn’t say.
She dropped her head, her fingers digging into the blood and mud around her. This was not the Empire she had wanted to build. This was not the Empress she had wanted to be.