“You two are staying together?” Vhalla blinked at the single tent in surprise.
“This one here couldn’t handle being alone.” Elecia rolled her eyes, but her words lacked bite, clearly only pretending to be put out.
“I was worried,” Fritz said for a second time, sitting heavily. “I thought I was going to lose you too and be alone.”
The words were more chilling than a dagger made of ice, and Vhalla moved quickly next to her friend, her side flush up against his. “I’m sorry.”
“I still can’t believe you made it.” Fritz shook his head and, with it, cast aside his worry. “You’re amazing, Vhal.”
“What happened after I left?” Vhalla braved the question, thinking once more on the Emperor’s actions upon seeing her.
“The Emperor made it out that he had sent you.” That much Vhalla had already been told, but there was a heaviness to Elecia’s words that didn’t sit well with her. “But he knew someone in the Black Legion had orchestrated your escape, and there was an accident.”
“An accident?” Vhalla glanced at Fritz, who hardly moved. “Major Reale was killed.” Elecia didn’t have to say any more—neither of them did.
Vhalla hadn’t known the major for long, but she had known Reale to be a tough-as-nails woman who exemplified what it meant to be a soldier. From Elecia’s tone, Vhalla knew the major hadn’t gone out in the blaze of glory she’d deserved. There was a time that the guilt of the major’s death would’ve crushed Vhalla. But now it only added force behind the winds that were beginning to howl for blood in the back of her mind.
“The Emperor ...” Elecia glanced at the open tent flap, searching for anyone who may be within earshot. “Vhalla, I would be very careful. He’s suspicious of even me and has been obviously cutting me out of meetings,” she huffed. “And I’m kin to the crown prince. He has no reason to even pretend to care for you.”
Vhalla leaned back on her palms. “He’s already taken everything he could from me.”
“No, he hasn’t.” Elecia knocked Vhalla’s arrogance right off her face with her words. “The man owns the world. There will always be something he can take from you.”
Vhalla looked away rather than arguing. Any protest would serve no purpose; the woman was clearly convinced. “How is Aldrik?” she asked about the only thing that was a balm to the rage within her.
“He healed well,” Elecia reported. “But ... I still fear for his mind. He hasn’t woken.”
“Not once?” Vhalla frowned. Elecia shook her head.
“What can we do?”
“The clerics and I have already tried everything. He can live until the natural end of his days as he is, but ...” Elecia’s face was as pained as Vhalla felt.
“There must be something else.” They had come so far. Vhalla wasn’t about to give up now.
“There is nothing else.” Pain made Elecia short-tempered. “So you’re giving up on him?” Vhalla snarled, letting out some of her own frustration. “How dare you!”
“There is something else.” Fritz placed a hand on each of the women’s shoulders.
“What?” both snapped in unison.
“There is something else that hasn’t been tried,” Fritz repeated.
“Fritz, you know I’ve done all I could.” Elecia was honestly offended that he could even suggest she hadn’t.
“You have, I know,” Fritz agreed. “But that’s not everything that could be tried ...” He turned to Vhalla, and she instantly knew where his mind was.
Vhalla’s heart betrayed her at the idea. It pulsed with a hope, a hope that was ignorant of all the flaws to the plan. It was a beam of light cutting through the darkness that had been slowly suffocating her.
“You mean their Joining.” Elecia fearlessly gave words to what Vhalla was still chewing over. “Absolutely not. It’s far too risky.”,
“We’ve already Joined,” Vhalla reminded.
“Every time is a risk,” Elecia insisted. “His mind isn’t strong. You could get lost in that void or—I don’t even know what. A Joining is dangerous in the best of conditions.”
Vhalla brought her hands together. She wondered why she was even debating. The moment Fritz suggested it, she had known it would be the only course of action.
“Why do you think it would work?” Vhalla turned to Fritz. “You can’t be serious,” Elecia balked.
“It’s only a theory.” Fritz suddenly seemed insecure, glancing between the two women. “But a Joining is essentially a merger of two minds, right? I thought that, perhaps, you could go into his mind and bring him back.”
“I’ll try,” Vhalla resolved before Elecia could get in another objection.
The woman was clearly not to be easily dissuaded. She gripped Vhalla’s shoulder. “Are you even listening?”
“There’s nothing more the clerics can do; you said it yourself.” Vhalla was not backing down, not until she’d tried. “If not this, then what? We let him spend forever locked away in the prison of his mind? We watch him waste away into nothing, sustained by potions and your magic?”
Elecia dropped her gaze, her hand going limp. Vhalla pulled away, rising to her knees.