We went through the trees, slipping through snow and branches cracking under our feet. On the far side of the palace, Loki led me to a small wooden door almost completely buried under vines. The vines looked brown and dead, but they were covered with sharp thorns that cut at Loki’s hand when he pushed them back.
He opened the door, then slid inside, and I followed. We stepped into a narrow, dimly lit hall. The floors were covered with red velvet carpets, and it helped silence our footsteps. As he led me through the back halls of the palace, I heard banging and yelling from far away. The fighting had started.
I jumped when something slammed into the wall right next us, leaving a large crack in the wood.
“What’s on the other side of that wall?” I asked, pointing to the crack.
“The front hall.” Loki took my hand and looked at me. “If you want to do this, we need to hurry. He’s going to hear this.”
I nodded, and we walked faster. The back hallways turned and twisted a few times before we came across a very constricted stairway. I almost had to turn sideways to climb up, the steps themselves were so thin, I had to stand on my tiptoes.
At the top of the stairs was a door, and when Loki pushed it open, I knew exactly where we were. Right across from us were the doors to Oren’s chambers. Vines, fairies, and trolls were carved into the oak, depicting a fantasy scene. The hall was deserted, and the cacophony of the fighting sounded farther away.
I heard a scream that sounded too much like Tove, and the entire palace shook.
“Go,” I said to Loki.
“I don’t want to leave you to face the King alone.”
“No, I can do this.” I put my hand on his chest and faced him. “They need you downstairs. I can handle the King myself.”
“Wendy, no,” he shook his head.
“Loki, please. You must help them. You’re strong. They need you,” I said, but I knew that wouldn’t convince him. “I will send you flying down the hall myself, but that will drain my abilities. I don’t want to do it, but I will if I have to.”
His eyes searched mine, and I knew he didn’t want to leave me. But I couldn’t let him come with me. I wanted him safe, or at least safer than he would be around Oren. And more importantly, my friends needed him to help fight against the hobgoblins.
“I can do this,” I repeated. “I was born for this.”
He didn’t want to, but he finally relented. He kissed me, quickly and fiercely on the mouth.
“I will help them, and then I will be back for you,” he said.
“I know. Now go.”
He nodded and dashed down the hall. Taking a deep breath, I turned around to face the doors. I went down the hall, prepared to kill my father.
24. Beginning of the End
I pushed open the doors, and I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t exactly this. Oren was awake, sitting on his throne. He wore black satin pants, and his robe hung open, revealing his shirtless torso, so I assumed he had been sleeping recently.
He sat casually in the chair, turned slightly to the side so one of his legs hung over the arm. His fingers were bedazzled with heavy, silver rings, and he held a glass of red wine in one hand, sipping it slowly.
I glanced around the room, searching for the swords Loki had told me about. The platinum ones that could cut through anything.
“My child.” Oren smiled at me in that way that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. “You’ve come home.”
“This isn’t my home,” I said, my voice as strong and sure as I could make it. I spotted the swords, their handles glistening with diamonds from where they were mounted on the wall, and that helped give me a bit more confidence.
“It sounds as though you’ve brought guests,” Oren ignored my comment. He twirled his glass, watching the wine swirl about in it. “You’re supposed to wait until your parents go out of town to throw a party.”
“I’m not throwing a party.” I grew irritated with his attempts at humor. “You know why I’ve come.”
“I know why you think you’ve come,” he clarified. He stood up, and in one quick swallow, drained his glass. When he’d finished, he tossed it to the side, making it shatter against the wall. “But if I were you, I would seriously reconsider.”
“Reconsider what?” I asked.
“Your plan.” Oren walked toward me in that same stealth-like gait he always had. “There is still time to follow through on the terms we agreed to. There is still time to save yourself and your friends, but not much.
“I’m not a very patient man,” he said, walking around me in a large circle. “If you weren’t my daughter, you would already be dead. I have given you more than I’ve given anyone else. And it’s time you show me some gratitude.”
“Gratitude?” I asked. “For what? Kidnapping me? Killing my people? Overtaking my kingdom?”
“For letting you live,” he said, his gravelly voice behind me, right in my ear, and I don’t know how he got that close to me so fast.
“I can say the same thing about you,” I said, surprised by how even my voice stayed. “I’ve let you live thus far, and I will let you continue to live. If you call this off. Let us go. Leave us alone. Forever.”
“Why would I do that?” Oren laughed.
“If you don’t, I will have no other choice,” I said as he strolled back in front of me, facing me as I spoke. “I will kill you.”
“Have you forgotten our deal?” Oren asked, a twisted smile on his lips and something dark sparkling in his eyes. “Have you forgotten what you agreed to when you gave me your kingdom?”
“No, I haven’t forgotten.”
“You’ve merely decided to back out on it?” he asked, smiling wider. “Knowing what it would cost you.”
“It will cost me nothing,” I said firmly. “I will defeat you.”
“Maybe you will.” Oren seemed to consider this for a moment. “But not until you lose everything.”
“Is this your answer then?” I asked.
“You mean will I give up, let you and all your friends live happily ever after?” he asked, his tone condescending, but that changed instantly. His face was hard, and his words were filled with venom. “I get the happily ever after, and I will not concede to a spoiled brat like you.”
“Then you leave me no choice.”
I summoned all my power, concentrating and focusing on everything I had been practicing. I held my hands out toward him, palm out, and using everything I had in me, I began to push. I knew I couldn’t kill him this way, but I hoped to get him incapacitated enough that I could get close to him. Oren would never let me just walk over to him and cut off his head. I had to get him down first.