I tried to let the water wash over me, desperate for a reprieve from constant worries about work and Konstantin and Ridley. No matter how hard I tried, Ridley kept floating back into my thoughts, leaving an ache that ripped through me.
Thinking of him hurt too much, and I pushed away my memories of his eyes and the way his arms felt around me.
I closed my eyes, trying to clear my mind of everything, and I just focused on the sound of the lake lapping against the palace, the iciness of the water holding me up underneath the contrasting warmth of the sun.
That was all that mattered for the moment. Soon, I’d have to go back inside and try to untangle the mess of who was trying to kill whom and why here in Storvatten. But right now, I just needed this—to have a few minutes when nothing mattered and I didn’t need to think.
With my eyes closed, I could see the sun through my lids. Then the yellowish-red of my eyelids began to change, shifting into pure white bright light that filled my vision. It was disorienting and confusing, and when I tried to open my eyes, I realized they already were.
I was standing in the snow, but there was no horizon around me. Just whiteness, as if the world disappeared into nothing a few meters beyond where I stood. My heart began to race in a panic, and I turned in a circle, trying to understand where I was and what was happening.
Suddenly Konstantin Black was there, standing in front of me dressed all in black, smiling at me. “Don’t be scared, white rabbit.”
“What’s happening?” I asked.
This didn’t feel anything like a dream, but it had to be. There was no other explanation for how I could have been in the lake one second, and here in an impossible place with Konstantin the next. I didn’t remember falling asleep, but it was a possibility, given how exhausted I had been lately.
“I can’t stay long,” Konstantin said.
Already, his smile had fallen away. This was the first time I’d seen him without his hair pushed back, and his dark curls fell around his face. His eyes were the color of forged steel, the kind used to make our swords, and he stepped closer to me, looking at me intently.
“Why are we here?” I asked.
“Here is nowhere.” He shook his head. “You are in Storvatten, and you must leave.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “How do you know where I am?”
“I know a great many things, and it doesn’t matter how I know. You are not safe in Storvatten, and you need to leave.”
“It seems safe to me, now that you and Viktor Dålig are gone,” I said.
Konstantin pursed his lips, and for a moment he looked pained. “I am glad to see you’re okay after what he did to you.”
“Why?” I shook my head. “Why do you even care?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted with a crooked smile. “I just don’t want to see any more innocent people hurt.”
“Then you need to stop working with Viktor Dålig.”
The sky—if you could call the whiteness that surrounded us the sky—began to darken, turning gray, and the snow underneath my feet started to tremble.
“This won’t hold for much longer,” Konstantin said. Thunder seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at all once, and he had to shout be heard over it. “You must leave Storvatten! They plan to kill you because you’re getting too close!”
“Too close to what?” I asked, and by now the sky was nearly black. “How do you know?”
“Viktor Dålig gave the order. He wants anyone in his way dead.”
Konstantin receded from me, but he didn’t step or move himself. It was as though he were slowly being pulled into the darkness around us.
“Run, white rabbit,” he said, his voice nearly lost in the rumbles, and then he was gone.
I opened my eyes to the bright sun shining above the Skojare palace, and even though I was still floating above the water, I was gasping for breath.
Everything seemed peaceful and still. There was no thunder, no darkness, no Konstantin Black. I tried to tell myself that it was just a strange dream brought on by stress and exhaustion, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had really been talking to Konstantin. That somehow he’d managed to visit me in a lysa to warn me that there was a bounty on my head.
It was in the fishbowl of the meeting room that everything went completely insane, and this was coming from someone who’d just been visited in a dream by Konstantin Black.
The meeting room stuck out from the rest of the palace in a bubble, with one interior wall and one exterior wall of glass domed out around us. It left me feeling as if the lake were engulfing us, as if it were a sea monster trying to swallow us all.
At the end of the long table in the center of the room sat King Mikko, with his Queen sitting to his right and his brother to his left. Lisbet sat next to her granddaughter. Other than Kasper and me, they were the only people in the room.
“This is Bayle’s meeting, isn’t it?” Kennet asked, looking over his shoulder at the large bronze clock hanging on the wall. “Doesn’t he know it’s rude to arrive late to your own party?”
“When you arrived late to your own birthday party, you told me that was arriving in style,” Linnea reminded him.
Kennet smirked. “That’s because everything I do, I do in style.”
Kennet might have joked, but nobody else here seemed to be in good spirits. Bayle’s making us wait—twenty minutes so far—wasn’t making things any better. Kasper and I were close to the end of the table, a polite distance away from the royalty, and Mikko kept shooting icy glares in our direction.
I had a feeling if we didn’t solve things quickly, we never would, because it seemed like we had begun to wear out our welcome.
“Oh for Ægir’s sake.” Lisbet let out an exasperated sigh. “My King, perhaps you should send someone to fetch Bayle. This is getting tedious.”
“He will be here,” Mikko said, apparently immune to the same tension the rest of us were suffocating under.
Fortunately for the rest of us, Bayle finally arrived, with guards in tow. They were senior guards I’d met earlier in the week, decked out in their uniforms. Bayle had added a vest made of platinum, with carvings of fish scales. It was real metal that he wore over his jacket, armor to protect against attacks.
Looking back, that was the first sign that something was going on. Who wears armor to a meeting?
“I’m glad you could grace us with your presence,” Kennet said dryly.