- Crystal Kingdom
It was a massive stone room with high ceilings that rose several stories high and had iron chandeliers. The only natural light came through stained-glass windows that faced different directions. Right now the sun shone through the window depicting the Long Winter War, which left everything glowing red.
Other than a few dead bodies scattered around, the front hall appeared empty. The rest of the palace wouldn’t be so easy for a horse of Bloom’s size to maneuver around, and I really didn’t want him getting hurt either. I swung my leg over and hopped to the floor.
“Son of a bitch,” Konstantin said, and I looked over to see him coming in from a corridor off to the left of the hall. He looked up at Bloom, shaking his head.
“What?” I looked up to make sure Bloom was okay, but the horse seemed fine.
“I told you that you couldn’t come in riding on a horse like a white knight, and so you had to go and prove me wrong.” He smirked at me.
I stroked Bloom, telling him he’d done a good job, then I smacked him on the side and told him to get out of here. He did as he was told, racing back out through the doors again, and I turned to Konstantin.
“Have you found Ridley or Mina?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not yet. I checked the dungeons for Ridley, but there was no sign of either of them there. I was heading to the throne room.”
“You think Mina will be there?” I asked.
“She’s obsessed with the crown, so it would make sense,” he said. “And if we find her, I’m sure she can tell us where Ridley is.”
I nodded. “Then I’m going with you.”
The throne room was rarely used, except for coronations and the occasional ceremony. It was at the south end of the palace, straight at the end of a long, narrow corridor that led out from the main hall.
I let Konstantin lead the way, jogging a few steps ahead of me, but we both slowed when we saw someone standing in front of the doors to the throne room, blocking us.
Wearing only a leather vest to reveal the scars and tattoos that covered his thick biceps was Helge Otäck. His greasy hair hung around his face, and he grinned at us as we approached, showing off his gold teeth.
“Well, well, well. You thought you could just come waltzing up here—”
“I really don’t have time for this shit,” I muttered, so I took my sword and threw it at Helge like a spear, right at his stupid grinning mouth with his gold caps.
The blade went through, knocking out one of his teeth, and going out the back of his skull. His open mouth tore around the blade, making him look like a mutilated clown, and when I pulled the sword back, the top half of his head fell to the floor.
“Well done,” Konstantin said. He kicked Helge’s body out of the way, and then he pulled open the door to the throne room.
It was a small square room, with white velvet drapes hanging over the stone walls, from the ceiling down to where they pooled on the floor. Two thrones sat at the back of the room, and Viktor Dålig sat in the larger of the two, looking like he owned the place. But that wasn’t what really caught my attention.
Hanging from the center of the room was a large metal cage. A black-bearded vulture sat perched on top of it, squawking at us, and Ridley was inside it, lying on the bottom with his clothes torn, looking badly beaten.
He lifted his head when the door opened, and I could see dried blood had crusted along his temple. He knelt at the bottom of the cage, looking down at me with fear in his dark eyes, and he clenched the metal bars.
“Bryn, get out,” Ridley warned me frantically. “It’s a trap!”
The white velvet drapes along the wall began to move, rippling like waves, and men dressed in black stepped out. There had been just enough space between the fabric and the cold stone to conceal them, and a dozen of Viktor’s soldiers filled the small room.
Behind Konstantin and me, the doors slammed shut, and that’s when Viktor threw back his head and began to laugh. His long, black hair swayed as he did. The dull red of his scar ran from just above his left eye down to his right cheek, a present from Ridley’s father before Viktor had killed him.
“The prodigal son returns,” Viktor said, grinning broadly at Konstantin.
“I was never your son,” Konstantin spat at him.
I had my sword at the ready, waiting for the soldiers to attack, but Konstantin stood with his weapon at his side, his eyes fixed on Viktor.
Viktor’s smile finally fell away. “I told you what would happen if you betrayed us. And I knew that eventually you would return to collect your punishment.”
“No.” Konstantin shook his head and pointed his sword at Viktor. “I told you that I would return to give you yours.”
“Enough of this,” Viktor growled. “Capture them. The Queen wants to torture them herself.”
The soldiers started coming toward us, and Konstantin and I moved so we were back to back. Our only advantage was that it was a small space, so we could rely on each other. That, and Konstantin was the best swordsman I’d ever met.
I pushed down my fear, my worry for Ridley, my anger toward Viktor and Mina. I blocked out everything, leaving my mind blank, so when a solider struck out at me, I reacted only on instinct. I let my body move the way it had been trained to, blocking every attack, and lunging when I saw an opening.
From the corner of my eye, I kept trying to look for a way to free Ridley as Konstantin and I pivoted around the room, fighting off the soldiers as quickly as they came at us. The cage hung from the ceiling by a long chain, and I finally saw where it attached to the wall, in a small gap between the drapes.