- Crystal Kingdom
It all happened so quickly, and I was flying through the air before landing painfully against the damp asphalt of the highway. It took me a second to catch my breath, then I pushed myself up onto my elbows to see the giant stomping toward me with that awful toothy grin on his face.
Across his chest, he had the word MÅNE tattooed in huge black letters, and as he rapidly approached—he walked slow and deliberately, but he took giant steps—all I could think about was Ulla. She was a fourteen-year-old half-Omte and she’d pushed the two-ton SUV out of the snow. And this guy was at least a foot taller than Ulla, with hands the size of her head and arms thicker than her waist.
He was going to crush me with his bare hands.
As I jumped to my feet, my mind raced, trying to figure out how I could possibly fight someone as strong as this Måne guy. Behind him, I saw Ridley running toward him, wielding a huge chain. Based on the size of it and the hooks on either end, I guessed it was a towing chain that had been in the back of the SUV.
Ridley swung it hard, whipping Måne in the back. That would’ve been enough to knock a normal man down, but it barely fazed him. He stopped walking and turned to face Ridley, and he growled. Actually growled, like a wolf guarding a bone.
But Ridley didn’t back down. He swung the chain again, harder, and this time the hook managed to take hold in the tough flesh of Måne’s shoulder. I think Ridley’s plan was to pull Måne down and tie him up with the chain.
But that’s not what happened. Måne yanked the chain and pulled Ridley toward him, and I knew that I would have to act fast if I didn’t want Måne to crush both of us.
I raced past Måne back toward the SUV and grabbed a dagger off the highway. Behind me, I heard Ridley let out a guttural moan that made my blood run cold.
When I turned back I saw that Måne had gotten the chain around Ridley’s neck. He stood behind him, pulling the chain taut with his enormous hands, and as Ridley clawed futilely at the chain, his face had begun to turn purple.
I charged at Måne, and holding the dagger with both hands, I drove it into his back. I did it again and again, each time causing more blood to splatter back on me. It took five thrusts of the blade between his shoulders before he finally dropped to his knees. That brought him low enough so I could jab it into his spine, severing his brain stem, and he fell forward onto the road.
Ridley crawled out from underneath him, gasping for breath. His neck was red and raw and bleeding in a few places, but otherwise he looked like he would survive.
“Thank you,” he said between breaths.
“Anytime,” I said, then turned my attention to the fight between Konstantin and Drake.
It was still going strong, but Konstantin’s face was looking more bloodied than Drake’s. He was taking a beating.
I moved down the highway toward them. Drake had his back to me, and as soon as Konstantin looked at me, I tossed the dagger to him. He caught it easily just as Drake tried to come at him again. With one quick move, Konstantin sliced Drake’s throat, and he collapsed to the ground.
Konstantin wiped the blood from his face, then stepped over Drake’s body to walk to where Ridley and I were standing in the middle of the road.
“That’s it, then,” Ridley said, surveying the carnage around us.
Someone whistled loudly from the ditch, and I realized too late that we’d forgotten about Tilda. I couldn’t see anything from where I stood, so I ran closer to the SUV, and then I saw them, standing in the brush just on the other side of the vehicle.
Bayle Lundeen—the former Skojare head guard—had one arm wrapped around Tilda, pressing her to him, while the other one held a knife to her throat. She had her hands on his arm, trying to pull it away, but he didn’t seem to be budging.
“It’s not quite over yet,” Bayle warned me.
Konstantin rushed behind me but I put my arm out to stop him, so he didn’t go charging toward them. Bayle’s knife was poised to slice right through Tilda’s throat, and he raised his arm higher, making Tilda squirm.
Ridley came up beside me, and we stood frozen on the embankment, unsure of what the next move should be.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said, trying to remain calm, and I was acutely aware of the bloodied blade clenched in Konstantin’s fist.
“I really didn’t want it to come to this,” Bayle admitted, but he didn’t relax his stance.
When I’d been at Storvatten before, it had been hard for me to get a clear read on Bayle. He’d been standoffish but professional when Kasper and I interacted with him. We were never able to entirely discern what Bayle’s role was in everything that had transpired in Storvatten, but as the head guard, he’d definitely had his hand in things.
It had been his guard, Cyrano, who attempted to murder King Mikko, and it had almost certainly been Bayle who falsified the safe records that got Mikko arrested. From the best I could gather, he’d been working with Kennet from the start of the fallen Prince’s plan to dethrone Mikko.
If it hadn’t been for Bayle, I wasn’t sure how much Kennet would’ve been capable of on his own. But I doubt Mikko would’ve been arrested, which meant that Kennet wouldn’t have come to Doldastam to pay Mina for her help, and then Kasper wouldn’t have been killed.
“I worked my ass off for that kingdom, if you can even call it that,” he said, his words dripping with venom. “For years. All I wanted was to be paid my dues! And Kennet came up with this plan, and it would all be so simple.”