The cold night air hit me when we ran outside. Duncan led the way, stumbling through the dark with Rhys at his heels. Both Tove and Matt kept stopping to make sure that Finn and I were coming, with Matt’s gaze particularly wary.
The ground felt icy, and branches and rocks stung my bare feet. Whenever I slowed down, Finn squeezed my hand, and that spurred me on. The air smelled of winter, like ice and pines, and I heard an owl hooting in the distance.
I glanced behind me once, but since the palace had no windows to light it up, I could hardly make out its dark shape looming behind us.
Finn’s silver Cadillac waited for us at the edge of the trees. The moon filtered through the branches, glinting on the car, and I quickened my pace. I didn’t have the stamina to run all the way to Förening, and I had become a little afraid I might have to.
When we reached the car, Duncan had already jumped in back, and Matt stood next to the open car door, waiting for me to get there. Rhys stood next to him, but he was far more anxious, shifting his weight from one leg to the other.
“Get in the car! Let’s go!” Finn commanded, looking at them like they were idiots. Tove was the only one who complied, climbing in the front passenger’s side.
“Wendy,” Rhys said. “I can’t sit down.”
“What?” Finn looked irritated, his eyes bouncing between Rhys and me.
“I used my persuasion on him, and I got him stuck—” I tried to explain lamely, but Finn cut me off.
“Just tell him to get in the damn car,” Finn said. I didn’t understand, so he elaborated. “Use the persuasion. Make him sit in the car. We’ll sort it out when we get home.”
I looked at Rhys, barely able to make out his eyes in the moonlight, but I didn’t know if seeing him actually mattered. Using all my concentration, I told him to get in the car. A few seconds later, he got in the car and let out a massive sigh of relief.
“It feels sooo good to sit down!” Rhys said, and a fresh guilt washed over me.
Matt got in the car after him, but he didn’t close the door. He was waiting for me to get in back with him, but Finn still had my hand. He led me around the front of the car, and I got in the driver’s side. I slid over so he could drive and sat on the armrest hump in the middle.
Matt started to voice his complaints, but Finn put the car in drive. Matt swore, slamming the car door shut as Finn sped off down the road. The rest of us settled into a tense silence. I think we all had expected the Vittra to put up more of a fight, especially after the way they’d pursued me. This felt almost … too easy.
“That’s weird,” Duncan said. “They didn’t do anything. They didn’t even try to stop us.”
“We did just damage their army,” Tove said, offering some kind of an explanation. “I’m sure most of their people are recuperating or…” He trailed off, unwilling to verbalize that the Trylle had been forced to kill some of the Vittra in the attack.
Duncan made a few more comments about how strange it was and how Ondarike was different from how he’d thought it’d be. Nobody said anything in response, so eventually he stopped talking.
I got as comfortable as my seat would allow. Once I felt safe, my exhaustion really had a chance to take hold, and it no longer mattered where I was sitting.
I rested my head on Finn’s shoulder, taking a small, private glee in being close to him. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear him breathing, and that definitely helped me relax.
It may have felt good falling asleep next to Finn, but it did not feel good waking up. My body still felt sore from Kyra’s recent attack, and the uncomfortable way I’d slept had left me full of kinks and aches.
When Finn pulled up in front of the house, I stretched, and my neck screamed at me. I got out of the car, rolling my shoulders, and Matt stared up at the mansion with shock.
Opulent and gorgeous, it really was a palace, resting on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, vines covering the white exterior. It hung off the edge, held up by thin pillars, and the entire wall facing the river was made of glass. I remembered how the mansion’s elegance had hit me when I first arrived, but now I was too angry to even look at it.
I wanted to talk to Matt about everything, but I had to talk to Elora first. She had lied to me, again. If I had known that the Vittra King was my father, I never would’ve taken Rhys to see Matt. I would never have put them in danger that way.
When we went into the house, I left Rhys to help show Matt around. I hadn’t figured out how to fix him yet, so I’d settled for telling him to stand up, and leaving Finn and Tove to help him sort it out.
Finn told me I should calm down first, but I ignored him and stormed down the hall to see Elora. She didn’t scare me anymore, not in the slightest. Oren would actually hurt me. At her worst, Elora would just humiliate me.
The palace was divided into two massive wings, separated by a rotunda that served as the front hall. All of the official business took place in the south wing, where there were meeting rooms, a ballroom, a massive dining hall, offices, the throne room, as well as staff quarters and the Queen’s bedroom.
The north wing held the more casual rooms in the house, like my room, guest bedrooms, and the kitchen. Elora’s sitting parlor was at the far end of the north wing. It was a corner room, so two walls were made entirely of windows. She spent most of her free time there, painting and reading, and whatever else she did to relax.
“When were you gonna tell me that Oren is my father?” I demanded, throwing open the door.