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A bemused smile crossed his lips, and his eyes sparkled with wicked pleasure.

“I bet you don’t even have to go to the bathroom, do you?” Loki smirked at me.

“I—what?” I fumbled, startled that nothing had happened.

“I told you we shouldn’t let her out!” Ludlow shouted.

“Relax, Ludlow,” Loki said but kept his eyes on me. “She’s fine. Harmless.”

I redoubled my efforts, thinking I hadn’t tried hard enough. Maybe I’d weakened myself by using persuasion on Rhys so recently. Healers were tired and aged after they used their abilities. I was probably the same way, even though I didn’t feel tired.

I started repeating it in my mind again when Loki waved his hand, stopping me.

“Easy, Princess, you’re going to hurt yourself.” He laughed. “You’re persistent, though. I’ll give you that.”

“So, what? You’re immune or something?” I asked.

No point in pretending I hadn’t been trying to use persuasion on him. He obviously knew what I was doing.

“Not exactly. You’re far too unfocused.” He crossed his arms over his chest, watching me with that same curious expression he always seemed to have. “You’re quite powerful, though.”

“I thought you said she was harmless,” Ludlow interjected.

“She is. Without training, she’s almost useless,” Loki clarified. “Someday she’ll be a great asset. Right now she’s little more than a parlor trick.”

“Thanks,” I muttered.

I hurried to rethink the plan. I could probably take down Ludlow, but I didn’t understand how all the locks worked. Even if I got him out of the way, I wasn’t sure that I could open the door to Matt and Rhys’s cell to free them.

But Loki was my biggest problem, since I already knew how well I’d fare against him. Besides being taller and stronger than me, he had the ability to knock me out just by looking at me.

“I can see your mind spinning,” Loki said, almost in awe. I tensed up, afraid he might be able to read my mind, and I tried to think of nothing. “I can’t see what’s on your mind. If I had, I wouldn’t have let you out. But now that you are, we might as well make the best of it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked warily, moving away from him.

“You overestimate my interest in you.” Loki grinned broadly. “I prefer my Princesses in unsoiled pajamas.”

My clothes would’ve been relatively clean if it weren’t for the blood on my sweater and some dirt on my knees. I was sure I was a mess, but it wasn’t my fault.

“I’m sorry. I usually look much nicer after I take a beating,” I said, and his smile faltered.

“Yes, well, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that now.” Loki recovered quickly, his cocky edge returning. “I think it’s time you went and saw Sara.”

“Sir, I really think that’s unwise—” Ludlow interrupted, but Loki glared at him and he shut up.

“What about my friends?” I pointed at the cell.

“They’re not going anywhere.” Loki smiled at his own joke, and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

“I know that. But I’m not leaving without them.”

“You’re in luck. You’re not leaving.” Loki took a step back, still facing me. “Don’t worry, Princess. They’re perfectly safe. Come on. Talking to Sara is in your best interest.”

“I’ve already met Sara,” I said, attempting some kind of a protest.

I looked apprehensively back at the cell door, but Loki took another step away. I sighed, deciding that talking to higher-ups would probably be the only way I could barter for Matt and Rhys’s release. Even if I couldn’t ensure my own.

“How did you know?” I asked as I fell into step with him.

We walked side by side down the hall, passing several more doors like the one on my cell. I didn’t hear much of anything or see any other hobgoblins standing guard, but I wondered how many other prisoners were here.

“Know what?”

“That I was … you know, trying to persuade you,” I said. “If it wasn’t working, how did you know?”

“Because you’re powerful,” Loki reiterated and gestured to his head. “It’s like a static. I could feel you trying to push your way inside my head.” He shrugged. “You’ll feel it too, if anyone tries it on you. I’m not sure if it’d work, though.”

“So it doesn’t work on Trylle or Vittra?” I asked, doubting he would give me a straight answer. I wondered why he was telling me anything in the first place.

“No, it does. And if you were doing it well, I wouldn’t have felt anything at all,” Loki explained. “But we’re harder to control than mänks. If you do a sloppy job of digging around in our heads, we’ll feel it.”

We reached some concrete steps, and Loki bounded up them, barely waiting for me. He showed no concern for me escaping, and he had divulged more information than he needed to. As far as I could tell, Loki was a really terrible guard. Ludlow should’ve had more authority over him.

He pushed through the massive doors at the top of the stairs, and we stepped out into a grand hall. Not a hallway kind of hall, but hall as in a large room with vaulted ceilings. The walls were dark wood with red accents, and an ornate red rug lay in the center of the floor.