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I was terrified about how this would play out. If Rutger believed the lies that Mina had told him, he would blame me for Kasper’s death and believe me to be an evil traitor. With that in mind, he might very well want to kill me, and I did not want to fight Kasper’s dad in a battle to the death.

“Go in the house,” he told Naima.

She did as she was told, rushing toward the relative safety of her home, and leaving Rutger and me alone in the street. At least for a moment. Other guards would surely be coming soon.

“Thank you for protecting my daughter,” he said finally.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t protect your son,” I said.

He lowered his eyes. “Go, and finish this for him.” That was all he said before he turned and walked back toward his house.

I looked back over the roofs of the cottages around us, toward the palace looming over everyone and everything, and I started running toward it, my legs moving as fast as they could.



On the way to the palace, I tried to avoid as many main roads and conflicts as I could. Not only because I wanted to get there as quickly as possible, but also because I wanted to avoid killing any Kanin if I could help it. And it was a bonus if I ended up not getting killed myself.

Still, I’d had to kill two more Omte soldiers before I found myself in close proximity to the palace. I crouched down next to Astrid Eckwell’s mansion, with the body of Simon Bohlin in the snow beside me.

On my way here, I’d seen Simon, with his head lolled to the side, bleeding from a fatal wound in his stomach.

For a nearly year we’d dated, until I’d broken up with him because I was looking for something more casual. He had been a great tracker, though, which was one of the things that attracted me to him. We’d grown up together, and he’d always been kind to me in a school where a lot of kids hadn’t been.

I couldn’t leave him in the middle of the street to get crushed under ogres’ feet, so I dragged him to the side of the house. I knew I couldn’t move all the bodies, that I couldn’t save everyone, but I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Simon out like that.

Leaning with my back against the cold bricks of the mansion, I tried to catch my breath and gather myself. I didn’t have time to mourn Simon or anyone else who would die today. Not if I wanted to save Ridley and stop Mina.

I looked back out to the street, where the fighting raged on, just in time to see Ember, fighting her way through the crowd. Behind her was Linus Berling, and while he wasn’t doing an amazing job, he was holding his own fairly well. He hadn’t been killed yet, but he did appear to be bleeding from his arm.

Ember finally managed to break free from the fighting, and Linus chased after her, following the path she’d made. They ran right up to the mansion next door to Astrid’s, diving over the fence and running around to the back door.

If I wanted to storm the palace, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone like Ember at my side. She was a quick, strong fighter, and there were going to be many more guards left to face.

I decided to go to Ember and see if she would help me free Ridley. I ran around the back of Astrid’s house, and then I jumped the neighbor’s fence. I wasn’t sure if I should knock or not, but since Ember had just gone in through the back door, I decided to try it for myself.

As soon as I pushed it open, Ember was there with her sword in my face.

“Oh, jeez, Bryn.” She sighed and lowered her weapon. “You really need to start knocking.” She opened the door wider for me, letting me in.

The door opened into the kitchen, where Linus sat shirtless at the kitchen table. A girl stood beside him, her dark hair falling around her, as she tried to clean up a nasty gash on his arm.

“Bryn.” Linus tried to smile at me, but his injury caused him to wince instead. “When I saw you on the wall today, I was so happy that you were okay and fighting to get rid of that witch in the palace.”

It had been nearly two months since Linus had first arrived in Doldastam, and in that short time he’d already grown and changed so much, even though he was barely eighteen. He’d spent time training with Ember, and his arms and chest had begun to fill out, with muscles bulking up his lanky frame.

Light freckles dotted his face, and he still had an openness to his expression, like he could never completely hide what he was feeling, but his eyes had darkened, taking some of the innocence he’d arrived with.

Around his wound, his skin had begun to change color, shifting to blend into our surroundings. When the girl tending his wounds tried to stitch up the gash on his arm, Linus winced, and the color intensified, making it almost appear as if his arm had disappeared, other than the parts stained red with blood.

“We just came here to fix Linus up, and I wanted to get Delilah somewhere safe,” Ember explained as she closed and locked the door behind me.

Delilah looked back at me, and I hadn’t recognized her right away because I’d only met her once before. She was very beautiful, with dark almond-shaped eyes and a soft smile. In her jeans and tunic sweater, she appeared slender and tall.

“We got Linus’s parents out of here already,” Ember went on. “My brother is helping refugees escape. Since most of the fighting is going on around the back wall, Finn is leading evacuees right out the front gate and to your camp on the other side of the hill.”

“I came back to help other people escape,” Linus said, and he gritted his teeth when Delilah turned her attention back to fixing him up.