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Linus took Delilah’s hand and led her out the front door, looking for the quickest escape route to the front gate, where Finn could lead them to. And that meant I was alone with Astrid.

I turned back to face her, and she flinched. She hadn’t moved from where she’d been before, with her back pressed against the wall.

“Bryn, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean any of those things,” she said in one hurried sentence, almost as if it were all one word.

I grabbed the sword from Janus’s throat, which caused him to fall to the floor, and she cringed. I stalked over to her with slow, deliberate steps and Astrid began to whimper.

“Please, Bryn. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

Astrid kept right on talking until I pressed the blade to her throat, still warm from Janus’s blood. Then her eyes flew open and her mouth flew shut. I didn’t break the skin—I held the blade just hard enough so she could feel exactly how sharp the edge was.

“I could kill you right now,” I growled. “And I should. But I’m not going to.” I stepped back from her and took the sword from her throat.

“Thank you, Bryn. Thank you so much. I don’t know—”

“But I’m not going to save you,” I said, cutting her off.

Her hand was on her throat, rubbing where the sword had been. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s a war going on, and I just killed your only protection.” With my sword, I pointed to the window, where the fight was coming increasingly closer to the doorstep.

I grabbed her wrist and started dragging her outside. She was pleading with me to stop, but it fell on deaf ears. As I pulled her out to the street, a Tralla horse came racing by, its heavy hooves pounding on the snowy cobblestones. With all the fighting, the fence outside the stables must’ve been broken down, freeing all the horses.

But that was the least of my concerns. I dragged her toward two hobgoblins who were just finishing taking down an Omte ogre at the edge of the fray. Astrid began to scream as soon as she saw them, since she was unaccustomed to them and frightened by their appearance.

“Bryn! Please! Let me go!” she begged.

“Hey, guys!” I yelled, and the hobgoblins looked over at me, and then I motioned toward Astrid. “She just had a soldier killed that was helping us, and she has close ties to the Kanin Queen.”

“Queen Mina will have your head if any of you lay a hand on me!” Astrid shouted, her voice growing shriller.

Since she seemed like she would do just fine digging her own grave, I let go of her and started walking away. The two hobgoblins smiled before they pounced on her. I heard her screaming, but I didn’t look back. I didn’t need to.



At first I’d been trying to avoid hurting any of the Högdragen. But after Janus, I would kill anyone who ran at me with a sword. I’d always known that war wouldn’t be so black-and-white, but I’d come to realize that there was a darker shade of gray, where right and wrong came second to simply surviving.

I wanted to make a straight line to the palace and find Ridley, but the fighting made it hard to move quickly. I could make it a few feet, stepping over bodies, before I’d find myself in combat with someone else. My hands and clothing were soaked with blood, and there had to be a quicker way to get to the palace.

Then, almost like a guardian angel, I heard Bloom. I looked back and saw the massive Tralla horse running through the streets. His sterling mane flew behind him, and I whistled for him. He reared up on his back legs, braying loudly, and I saw that the fur around his hooves had been stained dark crimson.

He saw me and raced toward me through the crowd, knocking over anyone who got in his way. When he reached me, I sheathed my sword, and I jumped up to grab on to his mane. I tried to hoist myself up, but Bloom was over seven feet tall at his shoulders, so I couldn’t exactly just hop up on him.

Then I felt a hand under my feet, pushing me up, and I finally got high enough so I could swing my leg over. I looked down to see who’d helped me, and Baltsar smiled up at me before taking on a Högdragen guard.

“Go, Bloom,” I commanded, but he didn’t need more prompting. Even he knew that a war zone was no place to pause.

He charged ahead, his massive size chasing everyone out of the way. People either dove to the side, or he ran them over. I buried my fingers in his mane, leaning into him and urging him to go faster.

After losing Ember, I knew I had to get to Ridley as soon as possible. I couldn’t waste any more time killing Omte or helping anyone. I couldn’t let him die because I’d been busy somewhere else.

Delilah’s last words to Ember, the poetry, pounded in my head like a death knell. I wouldn’t let all be taken away from me. Not without a fight to the bloody end.

For so long, I had thought of love as a weakness—as something that would only make you distracted and vulnerable. But what I’d come to realize was that love had only made Ember braver than she’d ever been before. Love made Tilda find the strength to carry on. Love made my parents willing to sacrifice everything for each other.

And love made me stronger. I would do anything to save Ridley. I would do everything I needed to do.

The massive door to the palace had already been knocked down, but after seeing the way the hobgoblins had handled the wall, I wasn’t surprised. The door was over twenty feet tall, so Bloom ran through the opening with ease and straight into the grand front hall.