- Crystal Kingdom
While Konstantin had been busy entertaining me, Ulla had been helping Mia around the house. She’d been sleeping in Liam’s room and helping take care of him and Hanna, which seemed to make both Mia’s and Finn’s lives a bit easier.
“Who will kill Bryn?” Ulla asked, trying to follow along with the conversation as I went around the room, tossing aside toys and books in search of my passport.
“The guards. The Kanin. Maybe the Queen herself.” Konstantin shrugged. “It doesn’t matter who. But somebody will kill her. Mina can’t let her live.”
“I’ll sneak in,” I said absently.
“You are being ridiculous, Bryn, and you know it.” Konstantin sounded exasperated.
“I’ll go with you, and I can help,” Ulla chimed in.
I shook my head. “No, you can’t come. I told you I won’t let you go anywhere dangerous.”
“Why not?” Ulla whined. “I saved your life. If it hadn’t been for me, that polar bear would’ve killed you.”
“I know, and thank you.” I paused long enough in my search to look at her sincerely. “But this is different. I’m not going to let you risk your life like that. You haven’t had any training, and you’re too young.”
“I could say the same thing to you,” Konstantin countered, giving me a hard look.
“What would you have me do?” I asked, nearly shouting at him. “Twiddle my thumbs and hope Mina isn’t killing and torturing everyone I care about? No one will help me, Konstantin! The Omte said no. The Trylle said no. The Skojare don’t have anybody left. If I don’t do something, who will?”
“It’s still early in the fight,” Finn interjected, and I turned back to see him standing in the doorway. “There’s still time for Wendy to change her mind.”
“And what do we do until then?” I asked. “Wait for Mina to start killing innocent citizens off?”
“You’re not the only one that has people there,” Finn reminded me darkly. “You think I’m not worried about my parents and my sister? Of course I am. But I know that getting myself killed won’t save them.”
“He’s right, Bryn,” Konstantin said. “There has to be a better way.”
Liam began to babble happily about something—I’m not sure what—and Ulla started to say that she could help me come up with a plan, while Konstantin and Finn were both staring me down, and suddenly it all felt like too much.
“Enough!” I held up my hands. “I just need everyone to go and let me think for a minute. Okay? I just need some space.”
Ulla mumbled some kind of apology as she scooped up Liam and headed out. Finn followed behind her, but Konstantin lingered a moment longer.
“Take all the time you need to sort this out,” he said softly, then he left and closed the door behind him.
I sat back on the bed and ran my fingers through my hair. I wanted to scream in frustration, but that would only frighten Liam and Hanna, not to mention Ulla and everyone else. Finn and Konstantin were right, returning to Doldastam would be a suicide mission, but I didn’t see any other option.
I couldn’t just sit here and hope that something would change for the better. It had been over two weeks since I’d left Doldastam, but it felt like a lifetime. Two grueling weeks where I had no idea if my parents or my friends were okay, and from what I’d heard, things only seemed to be getting worse for them.
How could I just stand by and let it happen?
Someone knocked gently on the door, and based on the meekness of it, I assumed it was Hanna or maybe Liam. I still wasn’t ready to talk to anyone, especially a child who probably wanted to play, but I didn’t want to yell at them.
“Just go away for a little bit,” I said as kindly as I could. “I’ll be out soon.”
The door creaked open anyway, and I was about to snap this time so they’d get the message, but then I saw who it was, poking her head around the door. Long chestnut hair, dark gray eyes, bronze skin, and her full lips in a timid smile.
It was my oldest friend, Tilda.
At first I could only gape at her, in part because I wasn’t even sure if she was real. But also because there was so much I had to say to her, so much that had happened since the last time I’d seen her that I hadn’t been able to apologize for. Not that I’d ever be able to make up for it.
And top of all that, here she was, alive and safe. I’d spent so much time worrying about her, and now here she was at my bedroom door.
“Can I come in?” she asked quietly and opened the door a bit farther.
I meant to say, sure, or hello, or anything normal, but what tumbled out of my mouth was one big hurried, desperate apology, “Ohmygod, Tilda, I’m so sorry.”
As soon as the words escaped my mouth, she began crying. In all our years of being friends, I’d only really seen her cry a handful of times, and never like this. These were big, heavy tears streaming down her cheeks, and she looked completely shattered in a way that I’d never imagined Tilda could be.
I wasn’t sure if she hated me or not—I wouldn’t blame her if she did. But at that moment, I didn’t care. I rushed over and threw my arms around her. She leaned against me, letting me hug her, and sobbed into my shoulder. The fullness of her pregnant belly pressed rather painfully against the wounds from the bear attack, but I didn’t care.