Crystal Crowned (Air Awakens #5) - Elise Kova Page 0,1

draw whatever support he could from her presence. He had clung to her throughout the night, but withdrew before the sun rose.

She wanted to find the right words. She wanted to say something to give him strength, to remind him of all he still had. She wanted to say something that wouldn’t echo as a false display of support. But it would all be empty solutions to a problem that they both know couldn’t be fixed. What did one say to a man who had lost everything but gained the world?

“Aldrik,” she began weakly.

“We need to move.” His voice was stronger than she expected, and it gave her pause. “You said there was a messenger.”

Vhalla nodded, though she wasn’t sure how he saw the motion. His eyes still had yet to leave that distant point on the horizon.

“There will be others, many others. Victor is clearly trying to make a quick claim for the Empire, before any have an opportunity to group against him,” he spoke mechanically, emotionlessly. His mind was moving faster than the wind, but his heart seemed like it had stopped altogether.

“Aldrik,” Vhalla tried again, a little stronger.

He continued without giving her his attention, “We need to unite the people faster than he can, under the banner which they have been fighting for—the Solaris banner. We must protect them.”

“Aldrik.”

She tugged firmly on his hand, and his head finally swung to her. His eyes were listless, only the hint of red at the edges betrayed that a piece of his heart had survived the latest blow. A heart that had been shattered with the death of his brother no more than days before.

A weak condolence stopped before it could pass her lips. Vhalla swallowed it down. She pressed her mouth into a firm line, giving him a nod. “We will protect your people.”

The knot in his neck bobbed as he swallowed hard. Her arms slipped out from under the blanket, wrapping tightly around his shoulders and pulling him to her. His hands found life again and tugged her toward him and onto his lap, swaddling her under his blanket against his warmth.

The pads of his fingers dug into her side and shoulder. It felt as though they were trying to meld back into one mind and one body, as they had once before with the Bond. Aldrik’s face buried in the side of her neck, and Vhalla stared at nothing as his breath seeped through her layers to her skin.

“Our people.”

They remained until the sun crested the horizon, tucked against each other, the silence speaking louder than any words could. Aldrik hoisted her, carrying her halfway back to the Charem home, a happy trail of smoke emitting plumes from the chimney. Vhalla saw it only as a beacon. If Victor’s tainted monsters had any sentience left at all, they would know to come in this direction soon.

Or, far more likely, Victor would drive them in logical directions. The creature had demanded people kneel so the new king could see their loyalty. Clearly, the crystals created a magical connection between Victor and his abominations.

Back inside the house, no one said anything about the return of the Emperor and the woman who was once the Windwalker. Cass, the eldest Charem daughter, kept the conversation going throughout breakfast. But it wasn’t nearly as lively as Vhalla’s first meal with the brood. Reona sat listlessly, moving food around her plate as though the face of the tainted monster they’d witnessed in town was beneath it and she wanted to keep it hidden. Elecia alternated between concerned glances at Aldrik and hushed whispers