3. Ember

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Bryn – 

I'm not totally sure why I'm even writing this. I don't know how you'll get it, and if you do get it, I don't know if you'll even care. Hell, it might even be treason trying to talk to you. But I can't help it. It just feels strange not being able to talk to you about everything – especially with everything that's going on.

I just realized that I don't know if I'll ever see you again. I want to believe that I will, but the whole world feels like it's been turned upside down.

Kasper's funeral was yesterday. I kept expecting to turn around and see you there, coming in late, but you never did.

I don't know where to start with the funeral. Tilda has been trying so hard to hold it all together. I don't know how she's done as well as she has. It was almost creepy being around her. She was like a statue. She hardly ever cried. She'd just talk about the practical things that needed to be done.

Yesterday, she finally broke down. It was the first time she'd seen Kasper since he died. All fixed up in his Högdragen uniform, lying motionless in the coffin. The first thing she said when she saw him was, "He'd be so upset about his hair. It's not quite perfect."

And then she started sobbing uncontrollably. She basically collapsed, so her sister and I practically had to carry her back to her seat. To see Tilda like that...

The most heartbreaking part was probably Kasper's little sister Naima. She just cried and cried, and her mom kept trying to comfort her. But it's all so surreal and insane. There's no comfort in that.

The King and Queen came to give a eulogy, and it was all so bizarre. The King seemed so out of place. He kept sweating, and his face was all red, like he had a terrible windburn. The Queen keep doting on Tilda, almost pushing Tilda's own mother out of the way so the Queen could be the one to comfort her. When the King went up to give his speech, he mentioned a few things about Kasper – how great he was, how he died protecting his kingdom, and other generalities.

But it all seemed memorized, and he stumbled over the words a lot. Right after that, the King switched into this war propaganda speech. It was so gross and tactless. He started going on and on about how we can't let Viktor Dålig do this to our people, and we can't trust anyone because Viktor can get to anyone.

Then he started saying that they would stop at nothing until you were captured, and that's when Tilda stood up and said that she didn't think that this was the time or place to discuss these things.

The King finally shut up after that, but I'm almost surprised he let her talk back. He's cracked down on everything since you've been gone. It reminds me of that book I had to read for an English class at a human school when I was tracking a changeling. 1984, I think. Everywhere you go, the King is watching, and he won't let you forget it.

There are even posters hanging up all around town saying just that. It's this weird black and white image of his face, but somehow his eyes are always following you, and it's super disturbing. Above it says, "The King is Watching," and below it says, "Traitors of the Kingdom will be captured" with the Kanin symbol stamped over it.

Members of the Högdragen were going around tacking up all these posters – some of them are Wanted ones for you (you made the Kanin's Most Wanted list, that has to be kind of exciting, right?)

I wanted to tear them all down, but I didn't think now was the best time to deal with the wrath of the King. There was this freak rain storm yesterday anyway, and most of them are all destroyed and hanging in tatters. But my mom said she saw Högdragen replacing them already today.

There are Högdragen everywhere, and they'll stop you for no reason and demand to know where you're going and what you plan to do there. The guards have even grabbed random people off the street to bring in them in for questioning.

They brought your parents in, too, but I suppose that's not random. Your father has been put on suspension from his job as the Chancellor, and your mother was fired from her job as a teacher. Your mother's job wasn't a direct order from the King, though. People in town started complaining that they couldn't trust her with their children, given what happened with you.

At least your parents are free, though, and that's more than I can say for Ridley. They brought him in for an "interrogation" the day after you left, and he hasn't come out since. I've tried to ask about him, but nobody knows what's happening.

They would tell us if they executed him... wouldn't they? Another tracker was talking about how they used to have public executions of traitors in the town square. I think that's what they'd do, if they decided to hang Ridley. So he must still be alive.

Östen Sundt has been promoted to working as the "acting" Överste, but they haven't given him the official title yet, so I'm hoping that's a good sign and it means that Ridley still has a chance to return to his position. To be truthful, though, I don't think anything is a good sign anymore.

I'm just keeping my head down, training and doing what they tell me. I visit Tilda most nights, because I'm afraid to leave her sitting alone in her apartment. I've tried to sneak around to see Delilah. We only just officially became an item, and both of us are getting nervous about what would happen if we got caught. At least I still get to see her training.

The King and Queen have such a stranglehold on Doldastam now. It's like they want to crush us before Viktor gets a chance to. I guess the King thinks that if he couldn't trust you, he can't trust anybody, and there is some truth to that. Except I know that he could trust you.

I know you didn't do the things they said you did, but I wish I knew what happened. What did you do? And why did you do it?

Will I ever see you again?

I know you can't answer these questions, at least not like this. But I do feel better talking to you, even if you can't hear me. And hopefully someday, you'll be able to read this.

Your friend (no matter what),

Ember

This is the end of the exclusive excerpt for Crystal Kingdom but the complete novel is out now.

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To find out more about Crystal Kingdom and the rest of the Kanin Chronicles, please visit: http://www.hockingbooks.com/amanda-hockings-books/kanin-series/

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this story are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

CRYSTAL KINGDOM. Copyright © 2015 by Amanda Hocking. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

www.stmartins.com

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Cover design by Lisa Marie Pompilio

ISBN 978-1250049889 (trade paperback)

First St. Martin's Griffin Trade Paperback Edition: August 2015


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