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I shivered, and not from the cold. I’d never told anybody about the night that Ridley and I had spent together. And all of the ways I could imagine she’d discovered that secret were creepy and disturbing.

He lowered his eyes, his voice growing thicker as he spoke. “Then she started telling me how I’d brought you down and destroyed your chances of being on the Högdragen, how all I did was ruin everything I touch.”

“Ridley, that’s not true.” I shook my head. “You didn’t do anything to me. I made choices on my own, and most of the ones that have gotten me in trouble have had nothing to do with you.”

“I know. I mean, part of me knew that.” He sighed. “But after you hear it, over and over . . . Eventually, her words just took hold somewhere inside me, and she had me convinced that I would be the death of you.”

I put my hand on his face, forcing him to look at me. “It’s not true. Nothing Mina said was true.”

He swallowed hard. “When I was there, all I could think about was how I could get back to you, and how I was terrified of what would happen to you if I did. I couldn’t live with myself if I hurt you.”

“I know you’d never hurt me,” I whispered.

He kissed me again, softer this time and less insistent. “I love you, Bryn,” he breathed deeply. “And I want to spend all night with you like this, but we should get back and get some sleep.”

“Tomorrow we’ll arrive in Doldastam,” I said with a heavy sigh. His arm tightened around me. “Are you scared?”

“Yes,” he admitted. “But I’m mostly afraid that I’ll lose you again.” He rolled onto his side, so he could face me fully. He reached out and touched my face. “You have to promise that you won’t do anything too risky, Bryn. I know that you’ll fight, and that you won’t shy away from trouble. But I can’t lose you again.”

“I promise,” I said, but even then, I wasn’t sure if it was a promise I could keep.



At the top of the hill, I lay down on my stomach. The ground beneath me was a cold mixture of snow and mud, and it soaked through my clothes, but I barely noticed. The sun had just begun to set, casting everything in a beautiful bluish glow as the sky darkened from pink to purple along the horizon.

From the hill, we could see beyond the thick pine trees that rolled down the valley going toward the Hudson Bay. And there, on the flat land, was Doldastam in a way that I rarely saw it.

I could see the four stone walls that surrounded it. Over twenty feet tall, the stones kept out most of the invaders of the past two centuries. The palace loomed along the south side of town, with its back to us. The sheer size made it appear like a castle, and the outside adornments and stained-glass windows definitely added to the effect.

The west side of town held the large brick mansions of the Markis and Marksinna, but most of the town consisted of smaller cottages, looking like a quaint village from another time.

Not too far from the palace was the stable, where my loft apartment had been. The huge Tralla horses were out in the yard beside it, and though I was too far away to see for sure, I imagined that I saw Bloom running out with them, with his silver fur and lush white mane flowing behind him.

In the town square, the clock tower soared above everything, and it began to toll for the last time of the night. Between ten p.m. and six a.m., the clock went silent.

My parents lived right off the town square, and I tried to pick out their place. But the houses were packed in tightly, like town homes, and they all had matching roofs. There was no way to know for sure, but I strained my eyes, as if I would somehow be able to see my parents through the walls.

On the far east side of town along the wall was the house Ember shared with her parents. It was easier to pick out, because the houses were a bit more spread out in that area to make room for “farming.” Ember’s mother raised angora goats and Gotland rabbits, but I couldn’t really see them.

I could see people walking around town, and though I wanted desperately to see a familiar face, they were all too far away to discern. Occasionally, I caught a flash of light from the epaulets of the Högdragen uniform, so I knew there were many guards out patrolling Doldastam.

Mixed in with them, I saw much larger figures bundled up in brown coats. The Omte were inside, working with the guards.

Just outside the walls, a huge campsite had been set up in the valley. Personal tents were set up, along with larger rectangular marquee tents, where meetings could be held or meals could be served. Several fires were burning, casting plumes of smoke over the site.

Flying above the camp, bearded vultures circled. The Omte had brought along their birds. Legend had it that the Omte had chosen the vultures because of how much the Omte liked killing others. Since the vultures subsided mostly on bones, they would clean up the mess the Omte left behind.

“What do you see?” Finn asked. He stood back behind us, with Ludlow and Konstantin.

Baltsar, Ridley, and I lay at the top of the hill, scoping out Doldastam. Baltsar had a pair of binoculars, while Ridley and I were left gauging it with our eyes.

“It’s definitely not good.” Baltsar lowered his binoculars, so I held out my hand for them, and he passed them to me.

“What do you mean?” Finn asked. “Is it worse than we thought?”

I adjusted the binoculars, fixing them on the campsite outside the walls, and I immediately saw what the problem was. Not only were there a great deal of Omte soldiers, but members of the Högdragen and Kanin soldiers were mixed among them. It appeared that Viktor’s army had fully acclimated with the Kanin and the Omte, and they were all blended together.