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Waters wrath air awakens.., p.28
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       Water's Wrath (Air Awakens Series Book 4), p.28

           Elise Kova

  The ice vanished from around her, removing the barrier between flame and skin. She rolled on the floor, trying to snuff out the blaze. Every nerve in her body screamed in unison, alerting her to a blisteringly hot agony that seared across her flesh until it bubbled.

  The moment her screams echoed through Aldrik’s ears, the flames vanished. Victor turned curiously, and both men seemed to be stunned out of their assault upon each other by the woman sobbing and rolling on the floor. Vhalla tried to catch her breath, but her skin was alive with red-hot burns. Everything hurt; it was a pain beyond all previous thresholds, and she saw stars behind her eyes.

  Victor turned and took a few steps toward her. He stared down at her writhing form. There was interest alight in his eyes at her pain.

  “Vhalla, Vhalla!” Aldrik began running once more. He sprinted through the first archway into the antechamber just before the inner-most sanctum of the caverns. Vhalla opened her eyes weakly. In a moment of desperation, she reached out to him. Victor stepped upon her hand, crunching her fingers with a twist of his boot.

  Aldrik was just at the doorway when a thick wall of ice covered it, stretching out from the crystals Victor had placed around the doorway. It was solid and almost perfectly transparent. Aldrik slammed into it hard, his momentum forcing him to collide. He barred his teeth in a frustrated grunt, banging his fists against it. He tried to burn his way through but the ice repaired itself as quickly as he could conjure flames to expel it. Aldrik punched it with a cry of frustration, blood smearing against the wall.

  “You fool,” Victor chided darkly. “You would burn her alive in your rage.” Aldrik’s jaw was so tense Vhalla could almost hear his teeth cracking. “Everything you love, or that makes the mistake of loving you, dies. Doesn’t it?”

  Aldrik gave a frustrated cry and tried again to destroy the wall. Crystals around the doorway glowed with the same light as Victor’s crown, responding to the madman’s will and foiling the prince’s best efforts.

  Vhalla stared at the ceiling, trying to piece together the world as it crumbled and fell into the howling winds of change that now blew around them. His fire had burned her. “The Bond . . .”

  “What?” Victor turned and looked at her.

  Even Aldrik stopped his assault on the barrier for a moment. His shoulders heaved with his rough breaths from the magical exertion and stress.

  The barrier had needed Aldrik’s magic to open it. When the young prince had opened it all those years before for Egmun, he had certainly exhausted himself, but his Channel would have begun supplying him with more magic instantly so long as it hadn’t been completely depleted. But, Vhalla did not have an endless supply as he had.

  The Bond had given her Aldrik’s magic, but Vhalla knew what power she had of his had been completely exhausted when Victor forced it out of her. Vhalla turned to Aldrik, tears welling up in her eyes. If a Channel could be blocked by exhausting a sorcerer’s magic and a Bond was nothing more than a Channel between two people, then it could break if the magic was completely ripped out of one person all at once.

  “Oh, I see.” Victor blinked and tilted his head, glancing from Aldrik to her. He leaned in close to Vhalla’s face. “Why, Lady Yarl, it seems I have done you a grand favor. I cannot find one ugly trace of the crown prince’s magic on you.”

  With a cry, Vhalla ripped off the crystal at her throat, the ice taking strips of skin with it. Victor allowed her, confident to the point of arrogance that she would not be a threat to him, even with her magic. Vhalla shifted her vision and stared at her hand, knowing what to look for. It was void of any of the brilliance that Aldrik was swathed in. The one shining hope that Vhalla had was that she could see traces of her magic still within him.

  “Aldrik, why don’t you have a look for yourself?”

  Aldrik glared darkly at the minister in reply. She was not sure if she had ever seen him look so bloodthirsty before.

  “Oh, wait, that’s right. Magical sight was yet another thing that you just couldn’t excel at wasn’t it?” The minister laughed and turned away. “You think you are so strong, but you are just a wildfire. You destroy everything in your path without restraint—”

  “I will destroy you!” Aldrik proclaimed, suddenly looking behind him. “Za, Sehra!”

  An arrow with Za’s fletching pierced Victor’s barrier. Runes like Vhalla had seen in the North spread out from the arrowhead and fractured the crystal-magic infused ice. Aldrik’s flame burst through behind it, shattering what had kept him out.

  Vhalla rolled away as Aldrik lunged, an inferno. She clenched her fists, feeling for scraps of her magic. She was still exhausted, and the abuse of opening the barrier was raw, but she wasn’t letting herself sit helpless.

  “You damn the world for a throne!” Aldrik shouted.

  “Not for a throne.” Victor dodged a flaming fist and shifted the air around him, the illusion hiding his movement as he got the upper hand on Aldrik’s next attack. “For the world, for our world. It will be a new order; the Commons will finally see that we are not ones to be put beneath their feet to lift them higher in status. Never will a sorcerer be mocked or feel the need to hide. No, our magic comes from the Gods themselves! Commons will kneel before us and cower at our wrath.”

  Vhalla’s eyes fell on the axe. She scrambled to her feet and reached out a hand, summoning the wind to bring it to her.

  Another arrow pierced the air and sunk into her shoulder. Vhalla stumbled and fell, her magic faltering in the shock of pain. Vhalla turned to see Za notching another arrow from farther back in the caverns. The woman was shooting to kill.

  “Traitor!” Aldrik turned his fire to the Northern woman.

  Sehra held up a hand and blocked the flame with a glittering of sigils in the air.

  Victor capitalized on the confusion, grabbing the axe for himself. Vhalla struggled to her feet, ripping the arrow from her shoulder with a cry. Victor moved before Aldrik, Sehra, or Za could turn their attention back to their real enemy.

  The axe cut effortlessly through her, severing Vhalla from shoulder to sternum. She coughed up blood, spitting it onto Victor. The axe shone brilliantly, as if satisfied its purpose was finally being fulfilled.

  The crystals that Victor had carefully placed on the floor sparked to life, and the minister gripped her, holding her impaled on the weapon. Vhalla blinked blearily, blood pouring from the mortal wound. Aldrik had said she would die.

  Magic lit up Victor’s arm, arcing from axe to crown. It was the same feeling as the barrier, a leeching, a pull. But this time, it was on her magic itself. Victor drained her of the well of power that existed within her. He siphoned it off, storing it into the crown that shone brightly on his head.

  By the time the axe finally dimmed, Vhalla was one shade away from death, and he dropped her husk to the floor. The crystal weapon turned dark, like obsidian, and fractured under its own weight. The room was alight, every crystal shining brightly in the same hum as Victor’s crown.

  “It is done,” Victor spoke in the aftermath, his words echoing through her fading consciousness. “It is done!”

  Aldrik raced to her side, scooping her up into his arms. Vhalla’s head rolled against his shoulder, unable to support it any longer.

  “Flee, flee!” Victor laughed, picking up a crystal. He crushed it in his fist, the magic coursing through his flesh with a flash of light. The caverns yielded themselves to him. “But there’s nowhere you can hide!”

  The large stone doors began to close, and Aldrik slipped through them, leaving Victor behind. Vhalla blinked blearily, the world racing around her.

  “Sehra.” Za supported the magically exhausted princess, calling her name.

  Aldrik ignored them and continued for the exit.

  A loud explosion burst from behind them as Victor emerged from the doors without effort. Aldrik stumbled and slid behind a crystal, holding her to him.

  “Aldrik, I’m sorry, I’m sorry . . .” she sputtered.

uiet,” he begged with terror-filled eyes.

  Vhalla watched as he grimaced and gripped the crystal next to him. His eyes flashed an unnerving red as Aldrik used crystal magic to build a stone cocoon around them. Vhalla closed her eyes, leaning against her prince for what she expected to be the last time.

  The crystal shone as Victor departed, the magic fleeing as if being drawn into its master. A deep rumbling began to echo up from the depths of the caverns. The crystals’ brilliance began to fade, spiderweb fractures overcoming their pristine surfaces.

  “Vhalla, don’t do this.” Aldrik pleaded, ignoring the world ending around them. “I need you. Don’t leave me, my lady, my love.”

  She didn’t respond, and the prince opened his mouth to let out the sound of his heart breaking.

  THICK FURS WERE piled atop Vhalla, and bandages were wound tight around her chest and shoulder. There was pain, but none too great, and sleep sat heavy upon the tops of her closed eyelids. She stirred in the hazy dawn she should not have been able to greet, pulled from sleep by the long fingers weaving themselves gently through her hair.

  Aldrik stared down at her. A silent, relieved breath huffed across her face as a disbelieving smile crossed his mouth. His warm fingers stroked down to hold her cheek. He leaned forward.

  It was a dream. She had died and walked in the faraway lands.

  His lips pressed firmly upon her forehead. They were hot and soft, and his breath ruffled her hair as his body shifted closer to hers beneath the blankets. It was too wonderful a feeling to be real.

  She forced together her last memories. The crystal caverns, the fruition of Victor’s plans, Aldrik’s rush to her side. Vhalla inhaled sharply and felt an aching in her ribs. The wound that severed her from shoulder to chest, the wound he had foretold would kill her. Vhalla remembered the warmth of his body holding her as she slipped away from the land of the living.

  “Vhalla,” he whispered, just barely audible. “How do you feel?”

  “I’m dead, aren’t I?”

  Death was fitting. It had been because of her foolishness that Victor accessed the Crystal Caverns. The taint would be unleashed upon the world once more. Men and beasts would be twisted into monsters in addition to whatever great powers Victor had so clearly gained. She regretted so many of her actions, but the greatest ache was knowing that she had brought death upon the world and would never have the chance to fix it.

  “My Vhalla, open your eyes and look at me.” She obliged, trading her guilt for the visage of the crown prince. “You are not dead.”

  “But I . . .” She moved her good arm, wincing at the lightest touch on the bandage over her shoulder. “How?”

  “You gave me life once; I gave it back,” Aldrik breathed, nuzzling her neck lovingly.

  “I don’t understand.” Vhalla frowned.

  “Quiet.” Aldrik glanced across her. “Or else you will wake them up, and I will be forced to share you prematurely.”

  “Them?” Vhalla asked. Her body was stiff and ached as she tried to lift her head. Fresh skin pulled taut under the bandages, and Vhalla was careful of her healing body.

  It was a small room occupied by five others sleeping cramped upon the floor. On the other side of Aldrik, the feet of the ever-tall Jax poked out from under the blankets that he had effectively cocooned around his head. Elecia slept with her mouth open, her limbs spread wide and her breathing heavy. Cuddled closely to the woman and to Vhalla’s immediate left was a messy-haired man; words could not describe the immense relief that filled her at the sight of him.

  However, huddled in the corner were two people that Vhalla had never expected to see: Za was propped up against the wall, the princess clutched tightly against her. Vhalla scowled, remembering the arrow that had been shot for her heart.

  Aldrik’s arm tightened around her, and Vhalla allowed him to pull her back down onto the straw and woolen pallet that covered the floor. She looked to him in confusion.

  “What happened?” she rephrased her demand, keeping her voice low. There was seemingly no possible explanation for how she was alive or in the company she now kept. Least of all the questions swirling through her head was where, exactly, they were.

  Her eyes scanned the room once more. There was one window, though it did not appear to have glass. Shutters were pulled over it, which did little to keep out the icy cold. The walls were well made, but a rough construction of cut logs layered upon each other, with river clay packed between to keep out the draft. There was no ornamentation. Nothing showed the careful hand of a craftsman. Even the small table and wardrobe looked to be slightly off-level, the rough edges having been smoothed from the oil produced by the rubbing of fingertips over sandpaper.

  “Grahm found Fritz after he saw you leaving with Victor.”

  “But Victor—”

  “As a Waterrunner, Grahm saw through the illusion,” Aldrik preempted her question. “Fritz got Elecia, who went to me.” His dark eyes glanced toward the corner, his voice dropping again. “They were unexpected and insistent additions.”

  “But Sehra knows about the crystals,” Vhalla filled in logically.

  Aldrik nodded, continuing. “When Victor left the caverns, he collapsed the entry, leaving us for dead. Luckily, Elecia was waiting with Jax and Fritz. Fritz could hide them with his own illusion, and Elecia managed to reopen the caverns.”

  “But, how did I . . .” Vhalla could logic together the events that led Aldrik to the Crystal Caverns and how he managed to escape alive. But he hadn’t had a wound from shoulder to chest.

  “You were weak, dying.”

  “I was dead,” she corrected morbidly.

  Aldrik didn’t argue that point. “Elecia couldn’t heal you; there wasn’t enough life left in you for her magic to mend. So I returned to you the life you gave me.”

  “The Bond,” Vhalla breathed, realizing while his magic had been taken from her when the barrier fell, her magic had still lived on within him.

  “It was enough, thank the Mother, for your body to accept her healing.” Aldrik’s hands were back to touching her, as though he needed to reaffirm each second that she was real.

  “Aldrik, giving me back the magic I used to form the Bond with you could’ve killed you.” Vhalla gripped him with her good hand. “What were you thinking?”

  “That I wouldn’t be able to face the world without you by my side.” The prince’s proclamation held no hesitation or thought beyond instinct. “Vhalla, I—” His words stuck. “I need you to know that how you are now has no bearing on what I feel for you.”

  “How I am?” Vhalla repeated, the moment too serious to merit a parrot comment.

  “Victor took all your magic. It blocked your Channel like an Eradication . . . The magic of the Bond was enough to give you a spark of life and get Elecia’s healing to take. But it was only a spark . . .”

  “I’m a Commons now, aren’t I?” Aldrik’s pained expression told her everything.

  There was a time when that was all she wanted, and now the knowledge threatened to crush her. She remembered the pull of Achel, of Victor using his magic as a Waterrunner combined with the crystals to steal her magic. It was all gone.

  Panic welled up in her and threatened to burn her eyes. She wanted to scream and shout and rave like a lunatic. Her magic was gone and it now sat in the hands of the most wicked creature she’d ever met. The thing that had been the catalyst for so much in her life over the past two years had vanished as though it had never been there. It was so unfair.

  Vhalla pressed her lips together and let the moment wash over her. She let the panic fizzle and die without being given life by escaping between her lips. Her heart shattered into pieces that would be put back together in a new shape. She had lost her magic. But she lived to fight another day.

  “Victor—” Aldrik spat the word with an instant malice. “Victor took everything. That bastard stole your magic from you. Curse him, damn him, fu—”

  “Aldrik.” Vhalla cut off his ju
stified tirade. Nothing could be solved with his rage or her panic; all it would result in was waking everyone else. He conceded, the anger vanishing just with a look. “I understand. And you have yet to tell me, are you all right?”

  “What?” Aldrik blinked.

  “Are you all right?” She moved her own fingers to touch his beautifully high cheekbones. Her hands were now in further contrast to the flawless alabaster of his skin. She had raised and ugly scars covering her fingers, the skin stretched thin to the point of shining. Burn scars from his fire. “The Bond, the magic, when you gave it back, did it hurt you?”

  “Vhalla.” His brow softened, and his eyes widened. “How, why, why do you worry for me when you have lost so much?”

  She smiled softly into the morning chill. He didn’t understand the precious thing that still clutched her.

  “Will my magic return?”

  “Not without enough of your own magic to call to your Channel and activate it once more. Usually, it would take a Vessel. But, we never made one for you. The only ones you ever created were unintentional and sent to me, and that magic has been exhausted. I’m certain Victor had a hand in seeing that overlooked, I should have—”

  She spoke again, stopping him before he fell back into anger and self-hating, “Then that’s that. And the Bond can never be reformed.”

  Even if she still possessed her magic, that fact would likely remain true from what she now knew of Bonds. It was not worth their lives to try to rebuild it. Sorrow threatened to consumer her again and Vhalla vowed not to let it. The Bond may be gone, but he was still her prince. She did not need to feel his emotions magically to know he blamed himself when that was the last thing he should be doing.

  “But I live,” she breathed in disbelief. “I live, and you live, because of you. Aldrik, you are amazing.”

  “Aldrik,” came a sharp whisper. “Are you awake?”

  “Yes, Elecia.”

  “What’s the . . .” Fritz rubbed his eyes, sitting. He looked at Elecia first, but it only took half a second for his head to snap over to Vhalla’s and his eyes to become twice their normal size. “Vhal!”

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