49- In Which Winter Suggests Alternatives

Phinn actually took the news about what was going on fairly well. Elena explained the situation the best she could, and Trachter filled in all the holes. In the end, Trachter mused, "I doubt this dominance will last very long, Lord Phinn. I imagine the Binding is still going on and, once Isaac regains his strength, he will emerge again. But, if we remove the Thar that is weakening your body, then it should slow down the process and allow more time for Saul and William to recover in order to perform the Feat."

Elena knew Phinn followed roughly a third of what had been said to him because the terminology was still brand new. "Basically, you have to get really drunk," she translated for him.

"I can do that," he determined.

"The sooner, the better," said Hayden. "We'll be back in Cerah in about two hours."

"Cole, come on," Lawson said. "We'll get the alcohol. Phinn, you need to be watched at all times in case Isaac comes out."

Phinn frowned at this notion and Cole complained. Regardless, Cole and Lawson left to get Phinn something to drink.

"How's Wood?" Irving asked.

"The damage was severe," said Kieran. "But Isaac managed to repair a lot of it, so I predict there won't be any long-term effects."

"I have to learn how to do that magic," Clinton said, looking impressed as he watched Phinn curiously.

"I don't know how to do it," Phinn said, annoyed with anyone looking at him.

"Just in general," Clinton said, rolling his eyes.

"He might not be able to speak for a while," Kieran added since he was still talking about Wood. "Though, that will pass. He lost a lot of blood. Once he recovers from that, he'll wake up."

"How about Jasper and Garrett?" Hayden asked.

"I have to check on them," Kieran said. And, with a bow, he excused himself and entered the room where Sage also was.

There was a weird silence in the hallway until Danver spoke up. "My Lord," he began. "I know things were chaotic for a while there, but have you given any thought to Vincent's suggestion?"

"I have," said Hayden without hesitating. "And I've decided to allow him to Bind with me."

The response was more sweeping silence. They had all figured Hayden would agree to it, but it was still difficult to hear.

"Your personality could change," Irving reminded him.

"I know," Hayden said. "But…this isn't only about saving Garrett. This will also save anyone Zev would have done the Binding process with in the future. I don't mind risking taking on a few unfavorable qualities if it means doing that."

"Vincent's not really all bad, is he?" Elena tried optimistically. "I mean, he's patient and he's smart…"

"And selfish and arrogant," Clinton added.

"That's not really helping, Clinton," said Hayden passively.

"Sorry," said Clinton, lowering his head.

"If you really are serious about this, my Lord, then it might be best to begin as soon as possible," said Trachter.

"Yes," said Hayden firmly. "I want to do this."

Elena looked around the room at how people were taking the news. For the most part, they were frowning, but quiet. Winter was the only one who looked like he was approaching anger at the prospect. She was finding she understood less about him the more she got to know him, which certainly was odd.

After Hayden confirmed his decision a few more times, they asked to speak to Vincent. "Now you'll see what it's like when you become Isaac," Elena told Phinn softly as she took hold of his hand.

"I don't know if I want to see it, you know?" Phinn said, shifting nervously in his seat as he returned her grasp.

"It's a little hard to watch," Elena agreed as they both turned their attention to Hayden.

Elena had noticed in the past that when the foreign soul took over, it was a seamless process, like taking a deep breath. But, when they relinquished power back to the original owner of the body, it was much more jarring and generally involved passing out. In this case, there was no exception: Hayden remained upright, leaning back slightly, and then easily became oriented.

She imagined this had everything to do with the power of Isaac and Vincent's souls in comparison to Phinn and Hayden's. It was obvious that while they were not in control of their bodies, Phinn and Hayden were unconscious with no awareness of what was happening. However, Isaac and Vincent seemed to be able to watch and observe just fine.

If this was the case, then Isaac would be eavesdropping on everything Phinn said. This also meant that he was an audience to everything Phinn did. If Phinn saw it or heard it, then Isaac would too. This was something they would have to be very careful about.

"So, as I have come to understand it, I should begin the Binding process," Hayden said, now speaking as Vincent. "That is, unless you have anything to say, Sir Winter."

Apparently, Elena was not the only one who had noticed Winter was looking a bit unstable.

"You were the previous King nearly the entire time," Winter said, crossing his arms.

"Since before you were born," Vincent said.

"And you knew Hector Royce was really Zev so you knew the reason for why he was a traitor," Winter went on. "Yet you still punished me for being his son by suspecting me of treason and disapproving of promotions. Why?"

Hayden wasn't surprised by the question. "Zev and Isaac made a plan to recruit a new soul to join them," he said. "I imagine this was why they were performing magic on the children of the Elect, in order to find some strong souls. I always suspected they had chosen you so, frankly, I just didn't want you anywhere near me."

As soon as Hayden said it, Elena realized that she had sort of known that. Hints had been dropped in the past that they were trying to get Winter to change sides. And, of course, Winter was not interested in Hayden's reply after he heard the other piece of information he had presented. "Me?" he questioned. "Why me?"

"I don't claim to fully understand their reasoning," Hayden confessed. "But your magic is powerful, as is your soul. I suppose they must have believed they could entice you with the promise of an eternal life."

Winter obviously didn't know what to think about this. But no one could have anticipated what he said next: "Don't Bind with Hayden."

"Sir Winter, he said he wants this," Danver immediately argued.

"Hayden is our King," Winter said. "We can't allow him to change, no matter how slight the change would be. Allow me to take the risk."

"What are you saying?" Irving inquired, though he must have already known.

Winter cleared his throat and looked directly at Hayden. "Vincent, Bind with me."

"Why you?" Hayden inquired.

"If I'm honest, there is some degree of selfishness involved in my request," Winter said. "I would be honored to be the one who would destroy Zev for good, and help in any way I could to get rid of Isaac as well. But, it's more for Hayden's sake. He's just been married, after all."

Hayden glanced around the room at the faces looking to him. "Are you certain about that?" he asked Winter.

"Yes," said Winter. "You're going to disappear from existence inside one of us, aren't you? Why should it have to be him? I'm his bodyguard, but also his friend, I like to think. If any of you were to remain behind in me…then perhaps it would be a good thing. You never seem to get angry."

They had to go through the process of confirming and reconfirming all over again to make sure this really was what Winter wanted. At last, when everyone was satisfied, Hayden closed his eyes, let out a sigh and began to fall over.

Everyone lunged for him so quickly that they didn't even notice that Winter had hit the floor as well. Phinn and Clinton helped move Winter into a chair as Irving stayed beside Hayden, encouraging him to wake up. And, when he did, he wasn't even able to get any words out before Winter's compromise was hastily explained to him.

Above all else, he seemed exasperated. He got up and went to Winter's side just as he was waking up. For a few moments, Elena didn't know what they would say to each other. It looked almost like Hayden was going to yell at him, but then, much to everyone's shock, Hayden lowered his head and started shaking.

There was a sniffle, and then a few more, and soon there were tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry, James," he whispered quietly, trying not to whimper. "Thank you. I…I really didn't want to do it."

Winter was amused by Hayden's candid and truthful response. He laughed out loud and patted him on the shoulder. "I didn't think you did," he said.

Hayden laughed too, still emotional, as he wiped his eyes and thanked Winter again.

And, a few minutes later, Lawson and Cole returned, wondering if they had missed anything important.