- Crystal Kingdom
When he grinned down at us, I realized that two of his front teeth had been replaced with gold caps, but that was really all I had time to notice, because then Helge was moving.
Before either of us could act, Helge grabbed Ridley. Ridley tried to fight him off, hitting and kicking him any way he could, but it was futile. Helge wrapped one arm across Ridley’s throat, and grabbed his hair with the other hand. Ridley clung on to his arm as Helge lifted him from the ground.
I pulled the dagger from the back of my pants and held it out toward him, not that I knew what to do to stop him.
Helge clicked his tongue at me. “Think carefully before you move with that knife, little girl. How long do you think it will take you to reach me? One second? Two? Because I can have your friend’s neck snapped in half that.”
“Just let him go,” I said, watching Ridley struggle against Helge. “You don’t want him. You want me. I’m the one that made the Queen’s most-wanted list.”
“Maybe so. But who says I can’t have you both?” Helge grinned, and I heard a growl behind me.
I glanced over my shoulder to see a giant Omte soldier standing a few feet back at the opening of the alley. I turned again to Helge and kept my eyes on Ridley as my mind raced, trying to decide what to do. I could hear heavy footfalls as the Omte stepped closer behind me, and I waited, gauging his movements until I thought he was right behind me.
Then, in one fell swoop, I crouched and whirled around. I raised the dagger up quickly, jabbing underneath the jaw and straight up through the head of the Omte. His blood ran warm over my hand, and when I yanked the blade out, it made a sickening wet sound.
The body collapsed to the ground, and that should’ve been a relief, except there was another Omte guard standing right behind him. He saw what I’d just done to his friend, and he did not look happy about it.
He growled and lowered his head like he meant to charge at me, but just before he did, I saw movement to his left. An arm cloaked in a black jacket was wielding a long sword, and with the guard’s eyes still locked on me, the sword sliced through his neck, decapitating him.
Baltsar stepped into the alleyway, holding his bloodied sword, and Konstantin pushed past him. He grabbed my arm, yanking me away. I looked back over my shoulder, at a grinning Helge holding Ridley hostage.
“Helge has Ridley,” I said, trying to pull away from Konstantin.
“Helge also has guards coming. We can’t fight them all, and we need to go before they get here,” Konstantin said, still dragging me. I tried to dig my feet in, but the ice kept making them slip.
“They’ll kill him,” I insisted, barely able to keep myself from shouting, but I couldn’t draw further attention to us.
Konstantin stopped long enough to turn on me. “No, they won’t. Not yet. Mina will use him as bait. Let her.”
I wanted to protest further, because it killed me to leave Ridley. And even though I knew Konstantin had a point, it felt like too great a risk.
Still hanging on to my arm, he broke the door in to a public outhouse. He went inside and kicked out the wooden base for the toilet. We couldn’t risk being seen, which meant that we couldn’t go back to the cemetery, so this would have to do.
Baltsar jumped in first, but I waited a moment longer. Konstantin put his hands on my face, forcing me to look up at him.
“You can’t save him if you’re dead,” he said roughly. “But I won’t make you come with me. This is your choice.”
He jumped down through the hole, and I looked back, as if I could somehow still see Ridley. I realized painfully that if Helge was going to kill Ridley, he would already be dead. Helge would’ve snapped his neck the second we walked away so he could go round up more of his guards.
It was either already too late, or I needed to get out of here if I wanted to come back with a rescue team. I closed the outhouse door, making it a bit more difficult for the guards to figure out where we’d gone, and I jumped down after Konstantin and ran after him through the sewers.
By the time we made it back to our camp, the snow was coming fast and heavy, creating whiteout conditions. The wind had picked up, officially turning it into a late-spring blizzard. They were rare for Doldastam, but not unheard-of, and it started to feel like even the weather was against us.
My mom was waiting at the bottom of the hill for us to return. Finn and the families had arrived at camp before Konstantin, Baltsar, and I, even though we’d run most of the way back. I didn’t know if Konstantin’s leg was still bothering him, but he pushed himself on it just as fast as Baltsar and I.
Mom hugged me as soon as she saw me. But I just stood stiffly and didn’t embrace her in return. Through the thick snowflakes, I saw Konstantin and Baltsar heading toward the King’s tent, so I untangled myself from my mom and ran after them.
“If it keeps up like this, the men won’t be able to see any of us commanding them,” Ludlow was telling Mikko when I pushed my way into his tent. Snow came up behind me, forming a drift in his doorway.
Mikko stood on the opposite side of the table while his advisers, Finn and Ludlow, stood across from him. Baltsar moved up to take his place beside Ludlow, while Konstantin lingered by the entrance.
“As much as it pains me to say so, I agree,” Finn said. “We should wait until the storm dies to make our move. We can’t properly give orders or create a formation if we can’t see anything.”
“We can’t wait. We need to go in and get Ridley.” I stepped forward, but Konstantin put his arm out, blocking me and holding me back.