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“You sure you’re all right?” he asked.

“Yeah.” I smiled up at him. “As long as you’re okay, I’m okay.”

Konstantin took his sword back from Ridley and wiped the blood off on his shirt, then turned toward Ridley and me. “Shall we move on? There’s still plenty more enemies to take down.”



The fighting had moved into the main hall of the palace. As Ridley, Konstantin, and I ran down the narrow corridor from the throne room, we could already hear the clash of swords. Baltsar and Bekk were fighting alongside other Skojare and Trylle allies against twenty or so Kanin guards and Omte.

Before we left the throne room, I’d torn off a strip from the white curtains and tied it around my waist, putting pressure on my wound to stop the blood loss. That helped some, but I could still feel myself moving more slowly than I should have. But I pushed myself on, refusing to quit or fail now, not when we were so close to defeating Mina.

Ridley had grabbed a sword, and when we reached the main hall, he joined the fight without missing a beat. Nothing that Viktor or Mina had done to him slowed him down, and I wished I had the time to admire that about him. Or admire anything about him. I wanted to relish the fact that he was safe and alive again, but an Omte soldier was trying to stab me.

I started fighting beside Ridley, but from the corner of my eye, I saw Konstantin running. He raced down the hallway toward the private quarters. I dodged the attack from the Omte soldier, and then I took off after Konstantin, running as fast as I could to catch up to him.

So far, the private wing looked untouched. The pearlescent tile wasn’t stained with blood. The ivory drywall covering the stone had no holes or dents. None of the furniture was broken and none of the paintings were torn.

Konstantin had stopped where the hallway T’d, looking in both directions, and that’s when I reached him.

“Where are you going?”

“To find Mina.” He looked down at me. “I should finish this on my own. You don’t need to come with me.”

“Of course I’m coming with you,” I insisted. “I want her dead just as badly as you do, and you don’t know what she’s up to.”

“Yes, I do. She knows she’s losing now, and she’s going to make an escape.” He turned to the hallway to the left, jogging ahead, and I went after him. “She’s in her room, gathering everything she needs to start over.”

The Queen’s chambers were in the top of the tower on the south side of the palace. On the stairwell just outside the landing were two dead Högdragen soldiers, both with their throats slit. These were the first bodies we’d seen in the private wing so far.

“She killed them,” Konstantin whispered. “They served their purpose, and she didn’t want them taking her jewels.”

He crept quietly across the landing, leading the way, and slowly pushed open the door. I peered in over his shoulder, and the room looked empty. Everything was in order—the satin bedding on the four-post bed was made, the lush white rugs were unruffled, and the sheer curtains were undisturbed over the windows.

I was about to ask if she was still here when I saw a small white rabbit hop across the floor. It was Vita, Mina’s pet rabbit, and on every trip she’d ever gone on, she’d taken it with her. As far as I could tell, Vita seemed to be the only thing Mina really cared about. The rabbit scampered under the bed at the sight of Konstantin and me, hiding from us.

Then I heard a sound, reminding me almost of rain on a windshield, coming from the dressing room off the bedroom.

“She keeps her private safe in there,” Konstantin whispered and pushed the door open farther. He crept into the room with his sword drawn, watching the half-open door to her dressing room warily.

I followed him inside, and he motioned for me to go toward a large armoire near one of the windows. It been painted white, but it was made out of wood, with an old legend carved into it with pictures—Odin gifting the Kanin people with the Gotland rabbits.

Konstantin came up beside me and quietly opened the armoire doors. From the dressing room, we could hear Mina softly singing an old Kanin war song to herself, and I heard the tinkling glass sound of jewelry and gemstones colliding with each other as she loaded up a bag.

“Get in,” Konstantin whispered, his voice so soft it was almost inaudible.

I did as he commanded, stepping up into the armoire, thinking that he meant for us to hide in here until Mina came out of the dressing room. If she was packing up all her riches and planning to make a break from a kingdom at war, she had to have a weapon on her, and clearly she knew how to use a dagger, given that she’d left two guards dead on the steps.

The armoire was large enough that I could stand up in it, and with the lift at the bottom, it made me as tall as Konstantin. He looked at me for a moment, his eyes studying me.

Normally his eyes were cool like steel, even when he was vulnerable, but now there was a strange smokiness to them, masking his thoughts. His hair fell across his forehead, and I wanted to ask him what was going on, but he suddenly grabbed me. He put an arm around my waist, his hand strong and demanding on my back, and pulled me closer to him. Without waiting for my reaction, he kissed me roughly on the mouth.

His mouth was cold, but heat rushed through me anyway. Under his insistent desire, I felt something tender and passionate. I wasn’t sure if I should embrace him or push him, and parts of me wanted to do both.

When he stopped kissing me, he kept his arm around my waist, and his eyes were filled with a yearning so strong, it took my breath away. Then he stepped back, and I still felt his touch lingering on my lips.