Yes, I had cursed the amulet. It was a protection charm through and through, up to the moment I placed a time limit upon it. Sixty-six minutes was the exact time during which it would remain a protection—after that, a curse that would drain life.
In my head, I heard a voice.
Is everything going smoothly? came Arula’s voice in my head.
No, it was not telepathy, but a blood pact. It had happened earlier that morning.
“Good morning,” Arula had greeted, both as a genuine salutation and a reminder of my promise the night before.
“Good morning, Lord Arula,” I said to him, beginning to pace toward the trees, away from the campsite, once again. “Have you a blood pact with anyone?”
“No. Is that what you wish to have?”
Then, there in the woods, we each made a slit in our arms and let our wounds meet, chanting our vows with our blood as the witness and seal: from here onwards, you and I are connected, body, soul, and mind; till death shall our fate lay entwined.
That was how he was able to speak to me effortlessly.
Remington just left for the frontlines, I reported.
Everything is in order, Arula told me.
No further explanation was needed. Shrouding myself in invisibility and disabling the illusion I had previously made of Arula, I took to the air and traveled just out of firing range. I made my way past Arula’s bowmen, Remington’s knights, and Calder’s warriors. Eventually, I came upon an area bounded by a magical force field—invisible to the naked eye, but otherwise easily detectable. Arula had snuck in using his own means; now, I would disable it altogether to pave the way for Remington’s army. From my sleeve I retrieved an orb, and crushed it in my hands. As the orb turned to dust, I rubbed my hands together to absorb it. Then, I touched the force field with both hands and felt it as it dissolved.
When the force field was gone, I entered, still invisible, the campsite of Calder’s army.
But still I continued, soaring past the site. The force field had been constructed in the form of a wall, separating the battlefield from what Calder claimed as his temporary lodging during this battle and everything beyond it. When I was far enough away from the campsite, I stopped. Standing before me was a field of illusions that I wouldn’t be able to make out had its caster not been Arula, and had we neglected to form a pact. Now, however, I merely closed my eyes and walked through it.
When I opened my eyes again, Arula was in front of me, sitting on the ground with his eyes closed.
I got you, I said to him.
Thank you, he replied, are you hurt?
No. I will transport us back now.
I couldn’t lift Arula’s body physically, of course. Instead, I pulled a rolled-up quilt from my sleeve and laid it on the ground. A poke was all it took to make the quilt slide under Arula; I, too, sat upon it afterward.
One arm around Arula and the other on the quilt was how I traveled back to the spot where I had bid Remington farewell. This time, I took a route just a bit farther away from the battlefield than before, just in case I would find myself facing a stray arrow or bolt of fire. With both hands occupied with invisibility, I could hardly defend myself, even if I had absorbed the force field and claimed it my own just a bit earlier. I traveled as quickly as I could even so, conversing with Arula once in a while to make sure his soul was still alive, even as his body was limp in my arms.
How is the situation? I asked.
I haven’t charged in yet. Calder’s body is perfectly fine and unbelievably sturdy.
Then, when I finally arrived, Arula?
I have arrived.
I will be there soon.
The slope didn’t have the best view of the battlefield. That was unfortunate, but at the same time, it also meant that the battlefield did not have easy access to the slope. I retrieved the quilt and waited, in my former position—as well as the former position of Arula’s illusion—for the men in war to return.
Arula had come first. He opened his eyes and began to stand, staggering a little in the process. There, he let out a soft chuckle.
“I have been in this position too long,” he explained. “But rest assured,” he added in a hushed whisper, “By the time I left his body, he was but a few hits away from death.”
I started. “A few hits? Your soul could have easily perished with him.”
“I know.” Arula smiled then.
His smile was bitter yet satisfied as he looked upon me and I turned away. I knew very well what it meant, and he did not elaborate, nor did he ask for my gaze in return. We both knew that if he only asked, I would turn my head and look at him as an apologetic lover would, with the gentlest gaze history will ever know of the “witch” Larissa. We both knew that he had risked his life possessing Calder more than I had asked him to, and that he had done it not to gain my sympathy but to ensure that my plan was executed with utmost precision, even though he did not have full knowledge of what my goal was. And we both knew what he would say if I only turned then, at that exact moment, to look at him: I have already lived longer than I should. I was fated to die before tomorrow’s sunrise. Every breath that I take from tonight onwards is for you. I would say then, that I hated how reasonable it sounded.
But I did not turn, and he did not say those words, because the time had not yet come, and romancing Lord Arula was not why I relived this life.