Earth's End

Page 3

Elecia raised her thumb to her mouth, biting her nail in thought after Vhalla finished. “Well, that explains a lot,” she mumbled.

“Now tell me.” Vhalla repeated gently, “How is Aldrik?” “Not good.” Elecia shook her head.

Vhalla noticed the other woman’s tired hunch and braced herself.

“He shouldn’t be alive.” Elecia sighed heavily. “But now I understand why he is. As I said, the Bond you share is a deep connection between you both. I’ve never seen anything like it, though, I’ve not had much experience with Bonds ... Either way, I have little doubt that you are keeping him alive.”

“What?” Relief gave way to a new fear.

“Being the one who created the Bond, your magic is serving as an anchor. I told you, as you improved so did he. As you grew stronger, you had more to give—”

“So he’ll be all right?” Vhalla interrupted, too eager to let Elecia finish.

“I didn’t say that.” The other woman’s words were a knife to Vhalla’s chest.

“But, I-I’m better,” Vhalla sputtered uselessly.

“No, you’re far from it.” Elecia spared no truths. “You’re barely healed, and sustaining him put you out an extra day—at least—compared to what your body truly demanded to mend. One person can’t sustain two: you’re not strong enough.”

“He will be fine.” Vhalla wouldn’t believe anything else.

“You haven’t seen him!” Elecia spat. “I’m doing all I can, but our supplies are diminishing. He’s weak and fading—at best, I’m maintaining his stasis. But he doesn’t wake. He lost so much blood and the wound to his head was substantial.” The other woman’s clerical demeanor was beginning to crack under the strain of truth. “I don’t know if when he wakes he will even still be Aldrik.”

Silence settled upon the three of them as they all processed Elecia’s words. Vhalla gripped her shirt over her stomach. The world was cruel, too cruel.

“No,” Vhalla whispered. She refused to believe the Gods would allow him to live only to have her watch him die or have him return a different man. “What is the next course of action?” It didn’t take a military expert to know that lying prone in the heart of enemy territory was not a good idea.

“I don’t know yet. The Emperor was still discussing it with the majors last I heard. He’s not telling me anything.” There was genuine offense in Elecia’s tone.

Vhalla’s mind began to move faster than it had in a long time. She felt as though she was once more processing the depths of knowledge housed by the Imperial Library. Her thoughts whirred, focusing on a single instinct; to save the man she loved.

“What do you need to save him?”

“More medicine, clean bandages, real nourishment—even if I’m forcing it down his throat—a place for him to rest where we aren’t constantly worrying about being attacked.” Elecia didn’t say anything Vhalla hadn’t already come to assume.

“The Northern capital, Soricium.” Vhalla knew the army had settled in for siege months ago. It was one of the first things the Emperor had announced when he returned to the Imperial Capital, before Vhalla was even known as the Windwalker.

Elecia nodded. “But that’s the problem, we can’t move him as he is. He needs to be more stable for that. And when we do move him, we don’t have enough men to fight off attacks as we’ll be moving slowly.”

“Then we need to get better medicine here to heal him; medicine and more soldiers, for protection when he’s moved,” Vhalla thought aloud.

“What are you thinking?” Fritz finally noticed the expression on Vhalla’s face.

“Someone has to go deliver the message.” Vhalla didn’t know why she even bothered saying “someone”. “How long does he have?”

“I don’t know; he should’ve been dead already,” Elecia said grimly.

“How long does he have?” Vhalla repeated.

“Without medicine, maybe a week?” The words were a death sentence and they all knew it.

“And it’s a week’s march to Soricium.” No one corrected Vhalla’s assessment of where they were. She had correctly remembered what the Emperor had said before they started down the Pass. Vhalla balled her hands into fists. “I’ll go.”

“What?” Fritz balked. “Vhal, it’s a week through hostile territory to a place you’ve never been!”

“No one will ride faster than I.” Vhalla focused on Elecia as if her whole plan hinged on the woman’s approval. “I can put the wind under the horse. It’s a week for a group of soldiers, some on foot; it will be less than half for me.”

“Impossible.” Elecia shook her head.

“Your confidence is uplifting,” Vhalla said trenchantly. Elecia appeared startled to hear the tone come from the Eastern woman’s lips. “I will go, and I will send the fastest riders back with medicine, the men you need behind them.”

“Why would I condone you going on a suicide mission?” Elecia frowned. “I know you’re the main thing keeping him alive.”

“You said it yourself, I can’t keep him alive.” The truth was a hard potion to swallow. “Our Bond may have kept him from falling into the Father’s realms of the afterlife. But I can’t save him. If I go, maybe I die, maybe he loses that link, and maybe he dies.” The words cut her lips as they passed. “But if I don’t go, he will certainly die.”

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