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Konstantin got up from the bed and walked over to the window. His arms were folded over his chest, and the rising sun cast a long shadow behind him that overtook the room. When I finished my push-ups, he was still standing like that, staring through the bars.

I stood up and wiped the sweat from my brow. “I can’t believe how hot it is for how early it is. How can people live like this?”

“It is actually kind of beautiful here,” Konstantin said.

I went over to see what he saw. Our room was just above the tops of the trees, and from here we had a stunning view of the trees and the water below. A few birds flew by, their wings like arcs in the bright sun, and I had to admit that he was right.

“Do you think you could fit through these bars?” he asked.

“What?” I’d been looking past the window and now I turned my attention to the three thick bars that held us in the room.

“The bars.” He started pushing at the stones that lined the window. “This place isn’t in the best shape, so I think I could loosen a couple stones, and”—he glanced over at my waist, then looked back at the width between one bar and the window frame—“I think you could just squeeze through.”

I leaned forward, poking my head through the bars and looking at the sheer drop many stories below to the muddy banks. The image of Kennet falling to his death flashed through my mind, and I looked away, hoping to stop the replay.

“Maybe, but then what?” I asked as I stepped back from the window. “I’ll die on the way down.”

“You can climb. There’s grooves between the stones.” Konstantin peered down. “If you climbed out carefully and went slowly, I think you could do it.”

“Even if I can, what would you do?” I asked. “I’d probably just barely be able to squeeze through, and you’re much broader than I am. You wouldn’t be able to make it.”

He turned back to me and shrugged. “So?”

“So?” I scoffed. “How will you get out of here?”

“I won’t,” he replied simply. “I’m the one that suggested we come here and got us into this. We don’t both need to rot in this tower until the end of time.”

I shook my head. “We’ll come up with something so we can both get out of here together. I’m not leaving without you.”

His mouth hung open for a moment, like he wanted to argue with me, but there was something in his eyes—a mixture of surprise and admiration—that stopped him. He seemed stunned that I meant what I said, and in all honesty, so was I.

I’d spent years plotting my revenge against him, and now I had a chance to leave him behind to suffer, and I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. After everything that had happened, and everything we had been through, I realized that Konstantin Black had somehow become my friend, and I wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to him if I could help it.

The locks on the door started to creak, and we both turned our attention back to the door. The heavy wood slowly pushed inward, and Bekk Vallin came in, carrying black fabric in her arms.

“The Queen has agreed to meet with you for breakfast,” Bekk said, and she tossed the clothes at me. “She wishes for you to get changed and ready yourself for the meal, and I will come back and get you when she’s ready to receive you.”

“Thank you,” I said. Bekk simply nodded and left, locking the door behind her again.

I set the clothes on the bed to see what she’d brought us, and the clothes smelled musty and looked worn, with holes and threads coming loose. My outfit was a black dress with a corset waist, off-the-shoulder sleeves, and a large ball gown skirt. It looked like something someone might’ve worn to a Gothic wedding. And then they’d been buried in it for a few months.

Konstantin’s outfit was about the same—a worn black suit with a Victorian flare to it. He changed before I did—slipping off his muddy clothes and pulling on the new ones while I had my back to him. When he’d finished, he came over to help me lace up the corset in the back of the dress.

“I feel like Dracula or something,” he said, looking down at himself. “But after he’s been staked.” He sighed. “There’s still time for you to escape instead.”

“No, we’re doing this,” I told him firmly. “It’s our only chance of making things right. We have to get the Queen on our side.”



A big black beetle scurried across the long wooden table, running directly toward the fried rabbit carcass in the center, and Helge Otäck walked over and smashed it with his fist. One might have expected him to wipe the mess off the dining table, but instead he left it and returned to his place standing behind Queen Bodil.

It felt like Konstantin and I had somehow slipped into a bizarro world, where everything was like a twisted version of troll culture, and nothing was quite right.

To start with, the dining hall was a rather small square room with no windows. It wasn’t nearly as mossy or moldy as our room had been, but it was still dank. In compensation for the lack of windows, two large tapestries were hung on the wall, and they appeared to be depicting rather brutal Omte battles that I wasn’t familiar with. The edges were frayed and coming loose, and I saw a huge brown spider crawling across one.

Two iron chandeliers hung from the ceiling, both of them lit with candles, and there were four torches on the wall. It seemed like overkill for such a small space, but the interior still ended up somewhat dim.