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Konstantin had said that Viktor’s army had been camping outside of Doldastam, and we were hoping that we could take care of them before moving on to deal with the Omte. Doldastam was too big to house the entire Omte army, so we’d assumed they’d also be camping outside the city walls.

Our plan had been to take out Viktor’s men and the Omte without ever having to touch a Kanin. If we eliminated the first two threats, there was a good chance that Mina and her army would surrender, because at that point they would be outnumbered. Assuming we could take out Viktor and the Omte first.

But I wanted to avoid Kanin bloodshed as much as possible. These were people I had grown up with and trained with. They were good people, and they were going to end up dead.



Shit,” I swore as I lowered the binoculars.

Baltsar stood up, wiping the mud from his clothes, and turned back toward Finn and Konstantin. “We’re going to have to take on everyone all at once.”

“We can’t do that,” I protested. As I got up, Ridley reached out and took the binoculars from me. “Innocent people will get hurt.”

“You act like all the Kanin are saints and everybody else is a sinner,” Konstantin said harshly. “Those Omte soldiers down there are just following orders, the same as the Kanin. And you don’t have any qualms about killing them.”

I shook my head. “It’s different.”

“It’s different how? Because they’re not like you? Because you didn’t grow up with them?” Konstantin shot back. “Proximity doesn’t make some people more worthwhile than others, Bryn.”

“That’s not what I’m saying. I don’t want to kill anyone, but the Omte volunteered for this fight,” I argued. “The Kanin were manipulated into it.”

“You don’t think the Omte were manipulated at all?” Konstantin arched an eyebrow. “You said yourself that weird things were going down in Fulaträsk.”

And I had. I remembered how the Omte Queen Bodil had seemed eager to help Konstantin and me stop those who had gotten her nephew Bent Stum tangled up in the mess. She’d agreed to aid us in our quest to stop Viktor Dålig.

But later that night, her right-hand man Helge had done a total about-face. Not only had he refused to help us, he’d banished us from Fulaträsk in the middle of the night.

It all seemed very odd, and now it seemed even more suspicious that the Omte had aligned themselves with Viktor and the Kanin. Bodil had wanted revenge on Viktor one moment, and then she was apparently helping him the next.

The Omte were known for being finicky thanks to their short tempers, but this was ridiculous even by their standards.

“Fulaträsk?” Baltsar asked, looking from Konstantin to me with a quizzical expression. “When were you in Fulaträsk?”

Both Konstantin and I had failed to mention our excursion to the Omte capital city, since it hadn’t been relevant before. But now, with the Omte so involved, it definitely wouldn’t hurt for everyone to know.

“Finn.” Ridley stood up, extending the binoculars toward Finn. “You should come see this.”

“What?” Finn rushed up the hill, nearly knocking me over, and he snatched the binoculars from Ridley. “Oh, hell.”

“What?” I demanded.

“My sister is with them.” His shoulders slumped. “I just saw her go into a tent with Viktor Dålig.”

“But she’s not with with him,” I said, almost insisting it when I looked at Baltsar and Ludlow, so they wouldn’t think less of her. “Ember would only work with him to bide time. And this is what I’m talking about. We can’t just storm Doldastam and hurt innocent people like her. We need to get them out.”

“Most of the ‘innocent’ people down there would kill us on sight.” Konstantin motioned toward the town. “They think we’re the villains. So how do we decide who is safe and who dies?”

“Let’s stop this before it gets too heated.” Baltsar stepped in between us, raising his hands palms-out toward us. “It has been very a long day, and pressure is high. It’s getting dark, so we should camp out tonight, and we’ll come up with a plan of attack in the morning.”

Below us, most of the troops were already setting up camp. We’d driven most of the day, and then spent the last four hours making the arduous walk toward Doldastam, through crowded forests and rough terrain. Everyone was exhausted, myself included, but that didn’t stop the adrenaline from surging through me.

Baltsar managed to calm us down, and Finn agreed to a meeting at dawn with Mikko and all the captains. While everyone made their way back down the hill, I lingered behind to walk with Konstantin, who still moved more slowly because of his leg.

Ridley paused, looking back up at me with concern in his eyes. I nodded my head, motioning for him to go on ahead without me. He let out a heavy sigh, but he left me to argue with Konstantin on the side of the hill

“Why are you fighting with me so hard?” I asked him in a hushed voice.

“Because you’ve got to get the fantasy out of your head that you can ride in on a horse like some white knight and vanquish the dragon and save the kingdom,” he replied wearily.

I stopped. “I don’t have that fantasy.”

“You do,” he insisted, and he stopped so he could look at me.

It had started to rain, and it was just above freezing, so the rain felt like ice. We stood on the side of the hill, among the trees that smelled of damp pine. The light was fading, thanks to the expanding cloud cover blotting out the setting sun, but I could still see the steel in his eyes.