Somewhere on the horizon of her perception, a hot wind swept up toward her. Fire followed, setting the world ablaze around her: a mental defense.
Enough of this! she called, not allowing the childish protest to overwhelm her. Don’t fight me.
He was here. Vhalla’s heart—their heart—began to race and, with it, her metaphysical feet took flight. She ran through the flames that did not burn her. Through the darkness that spun into light.
In those flames, she saw the flickering outlines of figures. She saw a man she knew well and the boy he had grown from. Shadows of Aldrik’s past danced beyond her reach, too hazy to decipher, the glittering specters trying to distract her from her mission.
Aldrik! Vhalla cried once more. She was losing all sense of time. Seconds or days could have passed in the real world and she would not have known it. Vhalla raised her hand to her shoulder, sweeping it across her chest.
The wind scattered the flames, pushing them away. Vhalla turned and repeated the process, snuffing the burning memories. She rotated, banishing the horrors he worked so hard to keep confined within the dark corners of his mind. Vhalla removed everything, until all that was left was him.
There was nothing around them; they had no real bodies, but the illusion of Aldrik sat curled in on himself, his face hidden against his knees. Vhalla stepped forward slowly, or perhaps she willed the world to move around her. Either way, she reached her destination.
Dropping to her knees behind him, Vhalla wrapped her arms around the hunched man’s shoulders.
Aldrik, she whispered his name as soft as a lover’s caress. Come back with me. Please come back.
The world rippled around her in protest.
I know. I know, it’s awful out there. But you can’t stay here. Everyone needs you. Vhalla felt their heartbeat slowing. I need you.
The ground, which was not really ground, began to grow hazy. It steamed like hot stones after a short summer shower. He resisted their Joining or she was losing her magical strength to maintain it. Either way, she was running out of time.
Please, wake up. Come back with me, she urged. Vhalla knew she had to withdraw; if she didn’t now, she’d really be lost with him. Aldrik, I love you.
Her physical eyes fluttered open and her head swam. Vhalla swayed, her hands falling on either side of his head, gripping the pillow for support. She gulped down air, wondering if her physical body had even been breathing the entire time. Returning from a Joining that deep was cold and empty.
“Don’t make me do this alone,” she murmured. Aldrik was still, the moonlight freezing his face in time. “Aldrik, don’t do this to me.”
Vhalla dropped her forehead onto his chest. What a fool she’d been for thinking it’d work. For thinking she could bring him back. She had long accepted that she was a bringer of death.
Tears fell freely. Vhalla didn’t even try to stop them. Her lips curled and her breaths ran ragged as she tried to mourn with her entire soul while not making a sound.
Her eyes shot open, and Vhalla shot upright again. Aldrik remained motionless. Was it her exhaustion playing tricks on her? She gripped his fingers so tightly she might break them again.
His hand tensed under hers.
“Aldrik,” she breathed. Vhalla watched his face with avid interest, but there was nothing more. “Aldrik,” Vhalla demanded firmly. The Gods would give her this. They would give him back to her. “Damn it, open your eyes!” her voice rose to a near cry.
The door on the other side of the hall opened. Vhalla’s head snapped in the direction of the sound.
“What?” a weak voice muttered from the bed.
Vhalla turned back to Aldrik in bewilderment, her prince. Rough-faced with the makings of a newly-grown beard, greasy-haired, and eyes that were exhausted despite his sleep, he looked positively awful.
He looked perfect.
The door to the room swung open without a word; another slammed against the wall on the opposite end of the hall. Vhalla met Baldair’s eyes as he stood, candle in hand, so shocked that he didn’t notice the wax running over his fingers. Vhalla spun off the bed, darting for the window.
“What is going on?” the Emperor called from the hall.
She closed the shutter and shrunk against the wall behind the boards she’d placed earlier. Vhalla gripped her shirt over her racing heart, praying it did not give her location away. She tilted her head back against the wood of the building and listened to the wind for the first time in weeks. It sang such a beautiful hymn of joy that harmonized with her heaving breaths and silent tears.
Her prince had returned.
“Aldrik, you ...” Baldair eloquently ended what Vhalla presumed to be a staring contest between the three men. She could hear them without problem through the slats of the shutter.
“It is good to see you, son,” the Emperor said, having more control of his thoughts.
“Where are we?” Aldrik asked weakly.
“We are at Soricium,” the Emperor responded. His tone was gentler than Vhalla had ever heard it and, for all the anger she harbored for Emperor Solaris, she was relieved to hear a glimpse of his soul that love for his first born son could bring forward.
“Soricium?” Aldrik mumbled. “No, we were ... I was just ... Were we not at the Crossroads?”
Vhalla turned toward the shutters. Elecia had said they wouldn’t know the state of Aldrik’s mind. What if he had forgotten their time together?