“Do you know how much farther that is?” I asked. Before we left, we’d all looked at a map of Storvatten, but it had been hand-drawn and rather vague on detail and distance.
“Not that much farther, I don’t think.” He climbed on top of a large rock nearby so he could get a better gauge of the distance, and looked back toward the palace. “Storvatten isn’t that big. We must be almost out of it by now.”
An engine revved, and it was hard to tell the distance with the sound echoing off the trees, but based on the birds taking flight and scattering in the sky, it couldn’t be that far.
“The road must be that way.” I pointed toward where the birds had fled from, and Tove slid down the rock and followed me.
We went into the woods, ducking under low branches, and the pine needles stung my feet. Through the trees, I could see a highway, and I could still hear the car. When I glimpsed the black sedan through the branches, I picked up my pace, starting to run toward it.
I broke through the trees and ran onto a worn, deserted stretch of highway. Several feet down the road from me, the car sat idling on the side of the road. The car door opened, and in the seconds before the figure stepped out from it, my heart stopped beating.
Then Bent’s lopsided head rose above the door. His left eye appeared slightly larger than the right, and his massive hand gripped the door as he scowled at me.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he shouted. “I thought Konstantin took care of you.”
“Where’s the Queen?” I asked him and ignored his question.
He laughed, a dumb, heavy sound that bounced off the trees and startled the birds that hadn’t left yet. He stepped around the door, lumbering, really, and I realized that he was much taller and larger than I’d originally thought.
“You tell me. You’re the one with all the answers.” Bent grinned as he walked toward me, his steps large so he’d reach me quickly, but I refused to step back. I never backed down from a fight.
The trees rustled behind me, and I glanced back, expecting to see Konstantin, but it was only Tove finally catching up to me. He hadn’t started running when I had.
“You better run while you can, little girl,” Bent said, and I turned back to face him. He’d nearly reached me, and I squared up, preparing to do whatever I had to do to take him down. “And this fight ain’t going like last time.”
Just before he reached me, he suddenly went flying back—soaring through the trees, with branches cracking as he hit them. I stood frozen and stunned, and then looked over to see Tove standing with his arm extended and his palm out.
I knew that the Trylle had the power to move objects and people with their minds, but I’d never actually seen it in real life before. But Tove had just picked up Bent and thrown him through the trees, and honestly, it left me breathless for a moment.
“I’ll take care of him,” Tove said and nodded toward the trees. “You look for the Queen.”
“Okay,” I said, and as he started jogging into the woods to go after Bent, I added, “Be careful.” Though I wasn’t sure if he needed that.
I ran over to the sedan and looked in through the open door. I hadn’t exactly expected to see Linnea sitting in the backseat, but it was still disappointing to find it empty. Hurriedly and without really knowing what I was looking for, I searched through the glove box and around the seats—but other than empty food wrappers and water bottles and a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt, there wasn’t really anything.
I popped the button for the trunk and I lifted it very slowly, steeling myself in case I found a body. But there was nothing.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement, but when I looked over, there was nothing. Dark clouds hovered overhead, but there was no wind, so the branches were still.
Then I saw it again, just in my peripheral vision—something was moving. But when I turned to face it, there was nothing.
And then, intrinsically, I knew it. His chameleonlike skin let him blend in with the trees, and I had no idea where he was exactly, but I was certain of it—Konstantin was here, stalking me.
I stood in the middle of the highway, not moving—just listening. Twigs snapped, but I didn’t look toward them. I didn’t want him to know that I had heard. I just listened, following the sounds of his movement.
He was coming closer, trying to sneak up behind me. I kept my head forward, but from the corner of my eye I saw him. The briefest shadow of movement and the dark tufts of his hair, and then I knew exactly where he was.
I waited a second more, letting him take a step closer to me, and then I turned and sprang on him. I swung and my hand connected firmly with his face, and it felt a bit strange, like the air had suddenly become solid matter.
His color instantly began to change, hurrying to blend in with the surroundings, but in his panic ended up more of a mottled gray. I grabbed his hair and I whirled him around, slamming him against the car.
I had no interest in repeating our fight in Calgary, and when he tried to move, I just slammed him harder against the car.
“You don’t have to be so rough with me.” Konstantin groaned, with his face pressed in the glass.
His skin changed back to flesh tone, and I held his arms, twisted them up behind his naked back. He’d taken off his clothes so he could blend more easily into his surroundings—fabric didn’t change color—and his well-toned arms and torso felt cold under my touch.
In my back pocket I had a length of leather strapping that I’d brought with in case of just such a situation. Now I tied it around his wrists, binding him tightly.
“What did you do with the Skojare Queen?” I demanded, once I was certain that he was secure.
“Just because you’ve got me doesn’t mean that I’ll confess.” He looked back at me over his shoulder. “Now I’m assuming you’ve taken me prisoner, so you might as well take me to my cell. Because I am done talking, white rabbit.”
Still catching my breath from the fight, I met his gaze, trying to get a read on him, but his gray eyes were stony and cold, giving up nothing.
“Why did you come here?” I asked breathlessly. “What are you trying to do?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Konstantin replied. He tried to turn around, so I slammed him harder against the side of the car, letting him know that things were going to go much differently than they had last time.
“I’m trying to make sure that you don’t kill anyone else,” I told him through gritted teeth.