Their strength sapped by the battle, those who remained made for the forest, moving slowly.
The battle with the kyrie had been costly. There were only three knights left, not including Francois. Five of the ninjas remained, but Kaori and Sharwin had both been lost. Ana had been able to heal her injuries.
The others had survived. Many had insisted on taking the bodies with them, and burying them in the forest, but Gideon hadn’t allowed it. They were too exposed on the open plain. The kyrie would be back, and with more numbers. They had to get under cover, and as much as they all hated it, the dead had to be left.
That seemed to be the final straw for many. Dan saw them all watching him with expressions of distrust and dislike, and the three remaining knights even flanked him, escorting him as if he were a prisoner of war. Only Ana showed the faintest hint that she hadn’t completely turned her back on him.
Once they had been walking through the forest for an hour, Gideon called for a halt. It would take any kyrie a while to find them: they could spare thirty-minutes rest.
Dan was eager to rest, but Gideon pulled him aside as the others tried to find comfortable positions on the hard ground.
“I don’t trust you,” he began, “but there’s no denying that you’ve saved us twice. That’s the only reason you’re still breathing. You’ve said you’re on our side. If that’s really true, then I want you to tell me everything: what is Vydar’s plan which Terav spoke of?”
Glancing beyond Gideon, Dan saw Ana and Francois sitting nearby, listening. They might as well know everything. It couldn’t make things any worse than they were.
Dan started with Heleer. He explained how all he wanted when he was summoned was to see her again. Both Gideon and Ana seemed to understand. Dan then told them how he had uncovered Vydar’s plan, and how he had confronted the Valkyrie.
“And he confirmed it?” Gideon said. “He actually said he meant to betray the alliance?”
Dan nodded. Out of the corner of his eye, Dan saw a look of anger flash across Francois’ face. Gideon looked as if he couldn’t believe his ears. Dan told them everything Vydar had said, including his reasoning that the alliance would never give up their amulets, and what he had said about letting the alliance destroy Utgar for him.
“At least he hasn’t completely sided with that monster then,” Gideon said. “That’s some relief. But what part did you play in all this? You said you didn’t know everything.”
“I didn’t know what Vydar was planning for us,” Dan said. “Otonashi knew; she pulled me out when the rest of you got trapped, and told me that Vydar meant for you to die. It had been part of the plan all along. Apparently Vydar had been pretending he would join Valkrill, and tricked him into setting up a trap for you.”
“But he didn’t know about your gloves,” Gideon guessed.
Dan nodded. He had explained his gloves shortly after using them in the battle. “No one did. They’re the only reason I was able to get you out.”
“So you thought we were going to get Valkrill’s amulet and return it to Vydar just like I was told, and then you would simply wait for the end of the war?” Gideon asked.
Dan shrugged. “More or less. I’m sure Vydar would have found a way to keep me isolated, just in case I did decide to tell the alliance what I knew.”
“You never did though,” Ana said, speaking for the first time. “You never told them, I mean. You kept Vydar’s secret.”
“I wasn’t loyal to him,” Dan said, guessing where she was going. “I’m not loyal to any Valkyrie. From the moment I was summoned, all I wanted was Heleer. She’s still all I want. At least… I thought so. I guess I got involved in the war after all.”
Gideon looked doubtful.
“What would you have done?” Dan said, noting the look. “What if it was Laelia who you couldn’t reach, and Vydar was the only way back? I had no choice, Gideon. I had to go along with his plan.”
“Alright,” Gideon said, throwing up his hands. “Alright. You’ve made your point. You can stay with us. Just remember: we’re still watching you.”
Satisfied for the moment, he got up. Francois still looked like he didn’t forgive Dan, but after a moment of silence, he too stood and left, leaving Dan with Ana.
“He believes you,” Ana said, after a moment of silence. “Gideon. He believes you’re on our side,” she clarified at Dan’s questioning look.
“Do you?” Dan asked.
“I believe… I believe you had an impossible choice to make, and did the only thing you could do. I can’t fault you for that. When the time came and you had to make a decision, you made the right one. That’s all that matters to me.”
“That can’t be true,” Dan said skeptically. “I knew Vydar was going to betray everyone, and I didn’t say anything. If I had been smarter, I probably would have known that he would never trust representatives of the alliance with Valkrill’s amulet. If I had said something, you or Gideon might have guessed that, even if I didn’t. That’s got to mean something to you.”
“It means you’re human,” Ana said. “It means you did exactly what I would have done in the same situation. Controlling one through the one they love is low. I knew Vydar was one for mind games and deceit, but this…”
Dan shook his head. “I should have known better,” he said. “I shouldn’t have forced him into a corner by telling him what I knew. I didn’t think. If I just hadn’t said anything, I would be off in some corner of Valhalla, and the war would be winning itself. I would be sent back at the end with everyone else. Now… I don’t know if that will ever happen.”
“It will,” Ana said confidently.
“If we survive,” Dan added, a black feeling in his stomach.
“Vydar isn’t infallible,” Ana said. “We’re living proof that his plans don’t always work.” She stood. “That’s all we have to do, Dan: interrupt a few more of his plans. Do that, and you’ve defeated him.”
She walked away, looking for a place to sleep. Dan supposed she was right. They had survived despite Vydar’s attempts to kill them. If they could just stay alive, there was still a chance Dan could see Heleer.
There was even a chance they could salvage the war.