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Waters wrath air awakens.., p.30
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       Water's Wrath (Air Awakens Series Book 4), p.30

           Elise Kova

  “So bringing the Achel back to the caverns, and the Crystal Crown, Victor reunited the power and tapped into the font of magic itself in the process?” Vhalla tried to piece together.

  “Indeed.” The princess laced her fingers. “What was truly brilliant was how he paid the blood price to awaken the crystals while stealing your magic, giving him immunity to the crystal’s taint.”

  “It’s why I try kill you.” Za scowled at Vhalla. “If you die. He not win. But prince not love his people more than you. Prince let out power that will eat land and life.”

  Aldrik slowly lowered his hands to the table, his eyes narrowed. Vhalla swallowed hard. She couldn’t deny it. If Za had killed her before Victor could, they wouldn’t be in this position now.

  “Za.” Sehra watched Aldrik when addressing her handler. “You are not incorrect. But there is little point in saying such now.”

  “Why do the crystals not taint Windwalkers?” Vhalla wanted to glean as much information as possible from the girl.

  “Who knows?” Sehra didn’t seem as though she was lying or avoiding imparting a truth. “Because Windwalkers can radiate out magic more easily than other Affinities, they dissipate the taint into the air? Because the Goddess likes them better? Maybe because they were the first from the Crescent Continent? The early groups of Windwalkers weren’t very interested in sharing information with our clans.”

  “So what can the crystal magic really do?” Aldrik asked.

  “Anything.” Vhalla’s heart sank at the princess’s word. “It’s not a magic defined by the conventions we know.”

  “It’s a greater power like that of the Crescent Continent,” Vhalla finished, remembering the Emperor’s vision, to use her to unlock the caverns to take war across the sea.

  “Consider it, that you have just given birth to a demigod,” Sehra said solemnly.

  “We need to go back and warn the capital.” Elecia looked to Aldrik.

  “The capital is gone.” Sehra shook her head at the futility of Elecia’s suggestion.

  “Don’t you say such things!” Elecia snapped.

  “Elecia, calm,” Aldrik ordered. The curly-haired woman sat slowly. “The capital is bloated with soldiers from the war. If there was ever a time to brace for an attack, now would be that time.” The prince pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh. “All that said, we should return as soon as possible. If Victor hasn’t already launched an attack, we may be able to help warn them.”

  “Go on your suicide mission. Za and I will have no part.” Sehra drew her line in the sand. Aldrik studied his child bride for a long moment, his gaze searching. “I think, in light of recent events, we can reach a mutually beneficial agreement instead.”

  “I am listening.” Aldrik sat back in his chair. Vhalla had to blink twice. Despite being of basic construction, it suddenly looked like a throne.

  “My mother sent me south for two reasons: to thwart the Empire’s plans for the crystals and to protect our people.” Sehra was clearly ready to lay everything on the table.

  “And assassinate the Emperor.” Vhalla scowled at the Northern women.

  “Assassinating the Emperor would’ve supported both ends,” Sehra said easily. “But circumstances have changed.” The princess returned her attention to Aldrik. “You need my people. You need our knowledge of the crystals, our fighting prowess. Give me your word as a ruler that you will relinquish Shaldan from the Solaris Empire, and you shall have knowledge and arms for this fight.”

  “Impossible.” Aldrik didn’t entertain the idea for more than a breath. “As Vhalla so aptly pointed out, you need to fight or your people will surely perish. Why would I agree to something you will do anyway?”

  “The sea is not so wide between us and the Crescent Continent. We could flee.”

  Aldrik considered this a long moment. “You are smart, princess. So you know that I cannot make Shaldan a free state once more. My people will rebel after the price we paid to conquer it.”

  Vhalla almost pointed out that she had already said such to Sehra previously.

  “Shaldan cannot be bought with Southern blood!” Za interjected angrily.

  “Za, quiet.” Sehra wasn’t about to allow negotiations to be interrupted. “I want my people safe. I want Shaldan’s interests protected, now and in perpetuity.”

  “Tell me you will fight with us, give us your men, your weapons, your knowledge, and you will have my word,” Aldrik agreed.

  “Your word isn’t good enough,” Sehra said sharply. To Vhalla’s surprise, the girl’s eyes turned to her. “You speak highly of peace.”

  “I do.” Vhalla wasn’t afraid to say so. “Our land has seen too much turmoil.”

  “Will you be peace’s champion in the battle to come?”

  “I will be.”

  “Are you finally ready to pay the asking price for it, when the time comes?” The princess’s words had a weight to them unlike anything Vhalla had ever felt before.

  “I will be,” she reaffirmed after a long moment.

  Sehra took a deep breath. “I will return home, and I will tell my mother of what has happened here. She will heed my counsel, and I will tell her to fight with Solaris. To remain a part of this Empire and its future leaders who vow to fight for peace and the wellbeing of our people.”

  Vhalla’s heart began to race. It was too easy. She braced herself for the princess to continue.

  “Needless to say, I will return to inherit my birthright of leading the Head Clan of Soricium as a Child of Yargen.” Her eyes turned to Aldrik. “I have no interest in mingling my bloodline with yours if I am guaranteed that my people will be looked after.”

  “You have my word.”

  Vhalla frowned at the fraction of relief in Aldrik’s eyes. It was too easy, she wanted to scream at him.

  “I told you, that’s not good enough.” Sehra smiled tiredly. “My people need assurance. And since I know you are one to value the life of one you love more than an entire people, I will ask for only one.”

  “You are not taking Vhalla from me.” Aldrik scowled.

  Sehra laughed. “Predictable, but no. She will stay to honor her words to me, to prove that the future Empress of this land is worth her word.”

  “Who then?” Aldrik let his unquestioning silence stand as affirmation to the princess’s assumptions that he and Vhalla would wed when he was no longer promised to Sehra.

  Vhalla’s hand went to the watch at her neck. Her heart was still beating frantically.

  “Your heir.”

  Confusion ran quickly across Aldrik’s feature, anger quick on its wake. Vhalla knew he was imagining the child he’d dreamed of. Their child.

  “You would ask for my first born?” His voice had gone deep and threatening.

  “I ask for your heir, future Emperor.” Sehra remained resolute. “If Solaris keeps their word throughout the battle that you will honor Shaldan and do everything to rid the world of this abomination, we will lend our strength. To ensure a lasting peace, your heir, which I imagine will be conceived quickly to fulfill your duty as a ruler, will come and live as a ward of my family for his or her first fourteen years of life. This will ensure that Shaldan is protected in the formative years of becoming part of your empire and that the next Solaris will care for and love our people as their own.”

  Vhalla gripped the oversized shirt she wore. If she and Aldrik wed she would be conceiving his heir, the heir Sehra wanted. They wanted her child.

  “Fourteen years?” Aldrik balked.

  The conversation faded a moment as Vhalla retreated into her own mind. She automatically assumed it to be her child. But who knew what would come to pass? Every day was less certain than the last. Taint had been unleashed upon the world, and she was nothing more than a Commons now. Vhalla looked at the turmoil on Aldrik’s face. He was being asked to choose between his Empire, and the family he’d been idolizing in his dreams. He couldn’t make the decision rationally, so she did.

  “I th
ink you should agree, Aldrik,” Vhalla interjected, not even noticing who she interrupted. The look on his face alone affirmed all her suspicions on what he’d been thinking.

  “That would be your child.”

  “I know.” As if she needed reminding. “And even if it is, I still think you should agree.”

  Sehra met Vhalla’s eyes, and the princess gave an appreciative nod. The girl wasn’t gleeful. Sehra clearly wasn’t relishing in the idea of separating a family. But she also wasn’t backing down from what she believed she needed to do to protect her people. Vhalla would never verbally admit it, but if she did have a child, there would be worse fates than being raised in a culture with such deep knowledge and apparent honor.

  Aldrik stood, pacing the room. Everyone remained silent as the crown prince visibly debated all his options. He was the only one who could make this decision, as he would be the one who would be forced to honor it as the future Emperor. He paused, staring at the fire, suddenly still after the momentary flurry of activity.

  “You have your deal.” Aldrik didn’t look at anyone as he spoke. “Now leave me.”

  Sehra stood gracefully, leaving with Za’s arm tucked around her. Elecia gave Vhalla a glare. Clearly the woman didn’t approve of Vhalla’s influence on Aldrik. Vhalla pursed her lips, she wasn’t going to be made to feel guilty for doing what she felt was right.

  “Not you, Vhalla,” he ordered without turning.

  Vhalla sighed softly and crossed to her prince. His shoulders were stiff and his eyes focused on the flames, as if he prayed for them to tell him the answer. To present him with an alternative to what he had just agreed. Vhalla wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her cheek on his back.

  “How could you?”

  “For the same reason you agreed,” she whispered.

  Aldrik gripped her hands, holding her against him. “Our child will go and live with them.”

  “If everything comes to pass.” Vhalla was back to being a Commons, and it felt as though war was about to break out once more. She couldn’t stop herself from subtly pointing out that she may not even live long enough to marry Aldrik, more or less conceive a child.

  Aldrik didn’t entertain the thought, but continued, “The child won’t even know us.”

  “The princess has not barred us from visiting. If the child could visit us—”

  “You think they’ll let the Solaris heir out of their sight?” Aldrik scoffed.

  “Not at first,” Vhalla agreed. “But I don’t think they wish us harm, Aldrik.” She rounded to his front, reaching up to cup his cheeks. “We’re all just trying to survive.”

  Aldrik pressed his eyelids closed. “This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was going to wed you, and we would live and rule, fat and happy.”

  “What storybook do you think this is?” Vhalla laughed tiredly. “Aldrik, do you feel no joy for the fact that this new sorrow only exists because we can now wed?”

  He looked at her for a long moment, as if considering what he had been assuming all along for the first time.

  “If you still wish it.” Vhalla’s palms fell from his cheeks.

  He caught them quickly. Aldrik pressed her fingertips to his lips. “My love, there is nothing more in this world I wish for.”

  “Then let us fight for that dream.” Vhalla ran her hand over the plain clothing he’d been loaned. She smoothed the abundance of fabric down over his lean frame, finding it where she always knew it to be. The prince was hers. “Your father . . .”

  “Will be convinced,” Aldrik finished confidently. “I will never let you go again. You shall stay here, at my side, as long as your heart is content for it to be so.” She studied his face as he spoke. There was pain that fueled determination. There was fear that powered a resolve that hoped against hope.

  Vhalla tilted her head upward, her eyelids slowly closing. They no longer shared the Bond, and so she could no longer feel his mind’s inner design as though it was her own. He would need to show her, just as she would need to show him. His breathing washed over her cheeks as he paused, timidly.

  Vhalla rose to her toes, closing the gap and gripping his shirt. It was the first time his lips had met hers in months and, despite all that had happened, they still fit perfectly.

  VHALLA SPENT THE night securely tucked within Aldrik’s arms, though it wasn’t entirely comfortable. Any amount of pressure set her scarring shoulder to aching and reminded her where she was and why.

  She listened to the wind as it whispered through the cracks around the window shutters. At times, she could almost believe that her magic was still there, that the wind was still calling only to her. But when she slipped her fingers out from under the heavy blankets, she felt nothing other than chill air. Just the air had become torture.

  Even Aldrik’s breathing kept her awake. She’d only ever been close to the prince Joined, and now his out-of-sync breathing sounded loud. She didn’t cry, however. She didn’t let herself shed a single tear. It would be giving Victor what he wanted. Mourning the loss of her magic and Bond would grant Victor far too much control over her emotions.

  No, Vhalla pushed closer to the man behind her. She had found love in spite of fate’s design and Victor’s plot. She still had her knowledge and her will. With those things she would still be deadly.

  The first light that cut through the darkness roused Vhalla. She’d spent the night plotting and planning her next steps, how they would manage the Emperor when they returned, if they could truly trust Sehra to keep her word.

  The limp arm that had been wrapped around her waist most of the night tightened the moment Vhalla tried to wiggle free. Vhalla turned, carefully positioning her right shoulder against Aldrik’s chest. A pair of dark eyes studied her, and Vhalla allowed herself a small smile.

  “Go back to sleep,” she whispered. “You need your rest.”

  “So do you.”

  “I am no longer sleepy.” Vhalla rolled her eyes.

  “Did you have a bad dream?”

  “No.” Vhalla averted her eyes so he wouldn’t see the pain he’d parked in them. She knew he had not meant to, but just the mention of dreams made her think of what was lost between them. Never again would she see his memories in sleep.

  “Is it keeping you up?” His fingers rested lightly on her shoulder.

  “The pain is manageable,” Vhalla sighed. “Elecia said it will scar.”

  “And?” he murmured nonchalantly. Aldrik leaned forward, pressing his lips into the fabric over the mark where Victor had stolen her magic and nearly her life. “You’re not one to worry about feminine notions of your complexion.”

  “I’m not,” she agreed. “Are you?”

  Aldrik laughed lightly. It was a throaty whisper. “You could turn green with yellow spots and I’d find myself uncaring. If I’d wanted a dainty court queen, I would have picked from my father’s lineup.”

  “The Fire Lord with a dainty court queen?” Vhalla grinned playfully. “Now there’s an image.”

  “Ah yes, quite the hilarious failure.” Aldrik brought his lips to hers lightly.

  “Will you two get a room?” Jax groaned from Aldrik’s opposite side. Aldrik was pushed closer to Vhalla as a swift kick was placed on his lower back. “Tired of listening to lovers’ sweet nothings.”

  “Jax!” Aldrik snapped, rolling over. “I did not realize you wanted accommodations in the dungeons upon our return.”

  “After all I’ve done for you?” Jax snorted.

  Vhalla took the opportunity to stand, stretching out her stiff limbs. Being brought back from the dead took a toll on one’s body.

  “It seems your lady does escape, my prince.”

  “Boys, I swear, do not make me get up from this pallet,” Elecia threatened without so much as a hint of movement.

  Vhalla grinned and held up an index finger to her lips, motioning for the men to be silent. Jax gave Aldrik a satisfied smirk before rolling over. Fritz snored on as though nothing had happened.
The two Northerners in the corner ignored their companions. Aldrik just shook his head, running a hand through his limp hair. Her eyes caught his, and they had one more moment before Vhalla crept out to the main room.

  She was not the first to wake. Cass had already stoked a fire. The tall woman now stood at the end of the large table that dominated the space closest to the crackling hearth. Her cerulean eyes turned up at Vhalla’s sock-muffled footsteps.

  “Good morning,” she said softly, clearly still mindful that most of the people in the home were still in the depths of slumber.

  “Good morning, Cass.” Vhalla smiled, meeting the other woman’s kind and toothy look.

  “Did you sleep alright?” she asked as Vhalla joined her at her side.

  “I did,” Vhalla affirmed. She assumed the space next to the woman as one of Cass’s sister’s would, beginning to slice some of the root vegetables. Vhalla winced as she tested out what sort of pressure her shoulder could withstand.

  Cass noticed, but kept silent about Vhalla’s pain.

  “I hope we’re not putting your family out too much.” Vhalla noted the quantity of food they were being forced to prepare.

  “Don’t worry.” Cass shook her head. “It’s nice to have Fritz home. It’s not every day that we have a prince with us either.”

  Smiling to herself, Vhalla slipped the knife through another potato. She remembered being awe-struck and dazed at the notion of being near royalty. There was a time when just proximity to Aldrik could fluster her. Now she spoke with him without thought. She had no qualms when it came to scolding him or encouraging him to do something he may otherwise not consider.

  Then there was Baldair. He had flustered her also. It had been his flirtations, then his misguided protection, and somehow at the end he was as good as a brother. The idea that he was gone still rested cold in her core. Vhalla sighed softly, her knife paused.

  “You’ve been through a lot.” It was not a question. Vhalla looked up at the Charem girl. “We all know the story. We heard it not long after the Night of Fire and Wind. You were the low born library girl turned sorceress who rode with princes.”

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