- Crystal Kingdom
When we reached the top of the bluffs, the road began to narrow, making it nearly impossible for more than one car to pass at a time. Fortunately, there weren’t any other vehicles for us to contend with, so I didn’t have to see how the Mustang would handle the sharp embankment that began right at the edge of the asphalt.
For a moment I could see the river clearly over the tops of the trees, and then the car was plunging down a steep hill, with Konstantin laying heavily on the brakes to keep us from going off the road and crashing into the trees.
The pavement leveled off a bit, and Konstantin pulled over as far to the side as it would allow and put the car in park.
“What’s happening?” I looked around, searching for any sign of the Trylle palace, but it was only trees that surrounded us. “Why did you stop?”
“Förening’s just up there.” He motioned in front of us, but the road curved just ahead, so I couldn’t see anything. “Maybe a quarter of a mile. You can walk it from here.”
“I can,” I agreed tentatively. “But why would I? Why aren’t you driving?”
He turned to face me, a sad smile on his lips and his gray eyes hard. “I can’t go with you, white rabbit.”
I sighed. “I know that you don’t know Ridley or Ember, and you have major trust issues, which I get, but—”
“Ridley doesn’t know you’re with me, does he?”
I hesitated. “No.”
“And if he did, I doubt he would’ve suggested I go with you to Förening to ask for amnesty.”
“The Queen is open to things here—” I tried again.
“Yes, but the difference between you and me is that I did the things I’m accused of. You didn’t,” he said, smiling wanly at me. “I would not fare as well there as you, and I would only hurt your case.”
I pushed back my hair from my face and let out a heavy breath. For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me that Konstantin wouldn’t come with me. We’d made it together this far. I thought we’d go together until the end.
“What are you gonna do?” I asked finally.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll figure something out. I always do.”
“Will you go back to Viktor?” I asked.
“No.” He shook his head with finality. “I’ll do what I can to buy some time, to keep them from coming after me, but I’m not going back.”
Since there was nothing more to say, I smiled at him, and then opened the car door. Konstantin got out and walked around to the back of the car, so he could grab my duffel bag from the trunk. I went over to him, and we stood together awkwardly after he handed me my bag.
“Should we hug or something?” I asked.
Konstantin smirked. “I don’t think either of us is the hugging type.”
“That’s true. So this is good-bye, then.”
He shrugged one shoulder. “For now.”
We walked back together until we reached the driver’s-side door, which he’d left open. I gave him a small wave, then walked ahead down the road. The asphalt felt hot on my bare feet, but I didn’t mind. Konstantin hadn’t left yet, and I could feel him watching me, so I glanced back over my shoulder.
“I’ll find you if you need me,” he called to me, and he got into the Mustang. I made it around the curve, and then I heard his engine rev and the tires squeal as he sped off, leaving me to continue the journey on my own.
A massive gate blocked the road heading into the Trylle compound, not unlike the one in Doldastam. This one was shiny silver, whereas ours was made of worn iron. The guard shack appeared freshly painted sage-green, with vines growing up the side.
The guard manning the gate slid open the glass window and leaned down to get a better look at me. He wore a uniform of dark emerald, and he had eyes that nearly matched.
“This is private property,” he said, not unkindly. “If you’re lost, you need to head back up to the main road.” Since he was Trylle, he probably wasn’t used to seeing blond trolls and assumed that I was a human.
“I’m not lost,” I told him. “I’m here to see Finn Holmes. He used to be a tracker, but I believe he’s a guard now.”
The guard pushed up the brim of his hat and narrowed his eyes at me. He scrutinized me for so long I was afraid he’d had a stroke or something, but finally, he nodded. He closed the sliding glass window, and I watched as he picked up a black phone that sat on his desk.
When he hung up, he glanced back at me, but he didn’t open the window. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew I had no place else to be. I dropped my duffel bag on the road and I leaned against the gate, pressing my face against the cool metal so I could peer into Förening.
I spotted a few luxurious cottages, nearly hidden among the trees, all poised to take in the full view of the river below us. Knowing trolls, I was sure there were more that were camouflaged better. But still, it reminded me of an affluent gated community in northern California that I once visited while tracking a changeling. The Trylle were by far the most contemporary of the troll tribes.
My feet were sore from walking down the road, so I sat down on my duffel bag, using it like a chair, and leaned with my back resting against the bars. And I waited, and I waited some more.
Without warning, the gate groaned and started to move back. I scrambled to get to my feet before I fell over, then I turned around to see Ember’s older brother Finn walking toward me. I wasn’t sure what he’d been doing before I arrived, but he was dressed in black slacks, a dress shirt, and a vest. He wore variations of the same clothes every time I saw him, and I was beginning to wonder if he slept in them.